Tag Archives: Nellie Stagg

Staples Grads Serve America, Find Themselves

Nellie Stagg has led teams that created trails in the Rocky Mountains, surveyed endangered cacti in the Sonoran desert, transformed a burning landfill into a nature preserve in Texas, tutored struggling 6th graders in Denver, and built homes for low-income families in Oklahoma.

And those are just the highlights of 2 years of service.

“I gained a lifetime’s worth of interesting stories, and more leadership experience than some managers earn in their careers,” Nellie — a 2009 Staples High School graduate — says.

More important, though, she “learned I had the power to get things done. My team and I worked every day towards the world we want to live in.”

Nellie Stagg (center, in green) with her team. They built Habitat For Humanity homes in Oklahoma.

Nellie Stagg (center, in green) with her team. They built Habitat For Humanity homes in Oklahoma City.

Nellie was a team leader for Americorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a program called “the domestic Peace Corps.” Teams of 10 volunteers — between 18 and 24 years old — travel around a region in a van for 10 months. They work on diverse projects for 6-13 weeks at a time.

Every NCCC experience is different. “The mystery is part of the fun,” Nellie says. “You learn to adapt quickly to constant change.”

Both Nellie and classmate Andy Friedland served as team leaders. Both, she says, “had the transformative experience of being trusted to lead teams in the field, empowering our members to grow in sometimes unexpected and beautiful ways.”

Andy worked with HERO and Habitat for Humanity in Alabama and Florida, assembled and distributed care packages to victims of flooding after Hurricane Joaquin in South Carolina, and fixed trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield in Georgia.

Andy Friedland, hard at work for AmeriCorps NCCC.

Andy Friedland, hard at work for AmeriCorps NCCC.

Thrown together with a diverse group, Nellie says the “immersion experience of living and working with communities in need taught me more about poverty in America than I ever learned in a sociology textbook or documentary.”

She learned hard skills too. “If you need a trail built, a long division lesson taught, a huge hole dug, a wall built or demolished, a house weatherized, or some 2x4s cut at 45 degrees, I’m your gal.” She learned not only how to use and love power tools and pickaxes, but how to harness her strength and skills in physical labor.

NCCC covers travel costs, housing and food. They even pay a living stipend.

While serving with AmeriCorps, federal student loans go into forbearance — and the government pays the interest that accrues. Graduates of the program get an award of $6,000 to pay back student loans or put toward future schooling.

Nellie calls it “a community service road trip bonanza — hands-down the best thing I’ve ever done.” The experience catapulted her into a job managing AmeriCorps programs for the governor of Colorado. Andy works as an assistant regional director at the Connecticut office of the Anti-Defamation League.

AmeriCorps NCCC is not all about backbreaking work. Nellie got eaten by this hippo, while helping renovate a Head Start playground in Idabel, Oklahoma.

AmeriCorps NCCC is not all about backbreaking work. Nellie got eaten by this hippo while helping renovate a Head Start playground in Idabel, Oklahoma.

As Nellie watches her younger brother, JimmyRay, navigate the college process at Staples, she reflects on the expectation in Westport that everyone go immediately to a 4-year university. She wants Staples students to know that there are other options — and AmeriCorps NCCC is one of them.

She joined NCCC after graduating from the University of Connecticut. She did not know what she wanted to do next (other than not live in her parents’ basement). A former boss at the Longshore pool had joined NCCC.

Regardless of why people start, she says, everyone leaves the NCCC journey with “new friends, countless stories, a new perspective on the US, and a service ethic that stays with you.”

Nellie asked “06880” to spread the word about her life-changing experience. And, she adds, “if the whole living in a tent/church basement/empty office building with 10 other people isn’t your style, there are thousands of different AmeriCorps positions across the country to choose from.” For more information, click on www.nationalservice.gov.

Nellie Stagg's team builds a trail in Ridgway, Colorado.

Nellie Stagg’s team builds a trail in Ridgway, Colorado.


Tuition Grants Change Lives

Graduating senior Santiago Cuartas received 4 grants.

Last year, Staples Tuition Grants gave away $198,000 to 90 graduating seniors, and alumni already in college.

This year, they set a goal justthismuch higher:  $200,000.

But the economy remains weak, and every organization in town has its hand out.  When the final count was in, they did not give out $200,000.

Try $265,000.

That spectacular leap was accomplished thanks to a supreme effort by the Staples PTA.  Tuition Grants also made special appeals to past donors, reunion classes (new this year), and parents of graduating seniors.

The family of the beloved Lou Santella — who died in February — also gave fundraising a boost.  They named Tuition Grants as a recipient of gifts in Lou’s honor.

Last night, that $265,000 went right back out.  In a moving ceremony, 119 Staples seniors and alumni received grants that, in many cases, can mean the difference between receiving a college degree, or not.

Scott Bennewitz — Staples ’75 — described the difference Tuition Grants made to himself, his 2 siblings and his single mother.

Lee Bollert of the committee choked up describing the memorial award named for Ann Keister and Katy Macieski — best friends killed 3 decades ago, by a drunk driver.

Nellie Stagg — Staples ’09 — spoke with poise and pride of her many activities and projects at UConn.

But the highlight for me was watching so many deserving young men and women receive scholarships named for people I personally knew.  Some died far too early; others led long and fruitful lives.  All are now honored through named gift awards.

Dr. Jean Beasley.  Richard Cion.  Noel de Caprio.  Irwin Donenfeld.  Doug Donovan.  Chuck Elliot.  Sharon Frey.  Jim Gillespie.  Bill Horne.  Michael Kowall.  Phil Schuyler.  Betty and Ralph Sheffer.  Ken Sweetnam.  Joan Wilder.  Ted Youngling.

Their names do not mean as much to the recipients as they do to me.

But that’s okay.

The gifts that they inspired now have the capacity — 5, 15, 40 years later — to impact new lives.

And if, decades from now, today’s recipients pay it forward — as others have done for them — then all the names read aloud last night will truly live forever.

(Click the Staples Tuition Grants website to donate online.  The mailing address is PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881.)