Cornwall teen's volunteerism lauded

CORNWALL — Emery Tillman takes community service seriously — and not only in her backyard of Addison County. At the tender age of 17, Tillman has donated her time to environmental and humanitarian causes stretching from her hometown of Cornwall to Uganda, Africa.

Her efforts recently earned statewide recognition and will soon get national exposure, thanks to an award from Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

The “Prudential Spirit of Community Award” recognizes a variety of volunteer and outreach services that Tillman, a Middlebury Union High School senior, performed during the past four years during her involvement in academics and while competing around the world in freestyle kayaking events.

“I was pretty honored to be considered,” Tillman said.

 The award carries a $1,000 prize, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where she and other young honorees from all 50 states will participate in several days of recognition events. Ten of the award winners will be named “America’s top youth volunteers for 2012” at that time.

Todd Boisjoli, 13, of Shelburne, is the other Vermont award recipient. Tillman and Boisjoli were among other nominees for the award submitted by their respective schools.

Tillman’s foray into community service began in earnest around four years ago, when she enrolled as a freshman in the New River Academy in Fayetteville, W.V. Tillman has long been serious about freestyle kayaking, and decided to temporarily leave her hometown of Cornwall — where her family runs the Moonlit Alpacas Farm — to study at the academy and heavily immerse herself in her chosen sport.

She was pleased to find a strong public service component to her school. Tillman participated in numerous river cleanup projects after kayaking events. She saw, unfortunately, that not all people leave a river in as good shape as they found it.

“We got to see how waterways were affected,” said Tillman, the daughter of Cass and Carol Tillman.

After helping to organize a cleanup project on the Ottawa River with her boarding school, she said she “knew I had to continue giving back to the community, wherever that community may be.”

Tillman found herself back with her family on Cornwall during her sophomore year, and became involved in the U.S. Freestyle Kayak Association, through which she organized community service events nationwide.

Not one to stay still for long, Tillman’s wanderlust kicked in again during her junior year. She headed to another kayaking/academic academy, this one based in Montana. While there, she again participated in river cleanup activities and took advantage of some academy-organized trips to the African nations of Zambia and Uganda.

While in Africa, Tillman got a chance witness a new culture while paddling the White Nile and Zambezi Rivers. But it wasn’t all fun and games. During their two-and-a-half months in Africa, Tillman and her classmates volunteered at an orphanage, helped at malaria clinic and did some environmental work. They also donated a large percentage of their respective wardrobes to people who had very little.

Tillman returned to Cornwall for her senior year, and has already earned enough credits for graduation. While she no longer has to attend classes, she is staying active. Tillman is working at the family’s Moonlit Alpacas store in Merchants Row in Middlebury. The store offers a cornucopia of alpaca-related items, including scarves, hats and clothing made from fiber harvested from the alpaca herd at the family’s 450-acre farm in Cornwall.

She has also helped out at a series of community suppers organized by Middlebury-area clergy for folks who are hungry.

Tillman will attend the College of Charleston next year, majoring in business administration with a minor in philosophy. She hopes to become a lawyer, and will soon intern at a law firm in New Orleans. As she continues life’s journey, Tillman said she plans to continue her pattern of community service.

“I think it’s important that when you are in a community, you are giving something back and not just taking from it,” she said.

John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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