Spaulding senior recognized for volunteerism
Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Justill Sell, 18, of Barre Town, has been recognized for his volunteerism and community involvement with a presidential award. Among his other activities, Sell is a camp counselor and a student member of his school board.
BARRE TOWN — Justin Sell isn’t sweating the fact that he missed out on $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., later this spring. The Spaulding High School senior says he’s more than satisfied with the letter of appreciation he recently received from President Barack Obama.
The letter, and an accompanying presidential award celebrating Sell’s penchant for pitching in, were plenty for the young man for whom volunteering has become second nature.
Truth be told, Sell said Sunday, he would have settled for a smile. He had already generated a boatload of those before applying for the prestigious award that he didn’t get and receiving the one that he didn’t see coming.
“If I can put a smile on someone’s face, that’s enough for me,” said Sell, who has spent the better part of his young life finding new ways to do just that.
One of the latest examples involved Sell’s service last summer as a “cabin counselor” at a Christian camp for children with a mom or dad in jail.
Camp Agape (pronounced “ah-gah-pay”) was a life-altering experience, according to the kid who was born and raised on Sesame Street — a Barre Town road that was renamed at the urging of his parents, John and Wendy, to resolve an E-911 conflict that existed before he was born.
Sell, 18, said that working with the young campers, who came from homes far less settled than his own, was one of the most rewarding things he has ever done.
“Just seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces was amazing,” he said. “It’s really hard to describe.”
Sell, who was encouraged to spend a week at the camp by Spaulding’s school nurse, Kathy Gardner, is hoping to double down this summer — provided there are enough children to warrant two one-week sessions at the camp in Cabot.
If not, Sell will find other ways to occupy his time, because that’s the way he’s built. It’s a big reason why Sue Chickering, his guidance counselor at Spaulding, suggested he consider competing in a nationwide program that honors young people for exemplary acts of volunteerism.
While he wasn’t chosen as one of this year’s 102 winners of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards — two from every state and the District of Columbia — he did receive a President’s Volunteer Service Award.
“I’m happier with what I got,” he said. “I think being recognized by the president is a big deal.”
But recognition isn’t why Sell, who is a student representative to the Spaulding High School Board and will be this year’s valedictorian, does what he does.
“I just really enjoy helping people,” he said, crediting his older brother, Christian, for helping cultivate that particular ethic.
Christian Sell has special needs, and ever since his younger brother was a sixth-grader he hasn’t needed to look for a Special Olympics partner. The two have participated in bocce and bowling over the years, and while Justin Sell said he’s a little better at bowling, he has enjoyed helping his brother and other team members.
He has been incredibly active since arriving at Spaulding. As a freshman, he was asked by Assistant Principal Chris Hennessey to handle the audio-visual equipment for the school’s monthly student-run assemblies. He has been doing it ever since.
“I said: ‘Sure, why not?’” he recalled. “I guess I say that a lot.”
Indeed he does. Last year Sell received the Governor’s Award for Community Service for organizing an annual Red Cross blood drive for three years running. It will be four years later this month, according to Sell, who volunteered to coordinate the blood drives when he was a freshman.
“No one else was raising their hand, so I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’” he said.
Sell is co-chairman of the Spaulding student council’s community service committee — a group that helps sort food every other Saturday at the Vermont Foodbank — has organized a winter clothing drive, and recently raised $300 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through a “Pennies for Patients” coin drive.
Now Sell is in the final leg of his career at Spaulding. He has a graduation speech to write and is waiting for word from his top choice of colleges, Dartmouth. He has already been accepted at several other colleges on his short list, including the University of Vermont. He knows he wants to be an emergency room doctor but is less sure where he will land.
What Sell isn’t worried about is finding his way back to Sesame Street, though he admits the signs there are stolen with alarming frequency.
“Someone will always tell me how to get there,” he joked.
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