FALMOUTH – The numbers speak for themselves: Ellie MacEwan has logged more than 600 hours of community service in the last four years, far exceeding the 30 hours needed to graduate as a member of Falmouth High School’s class of 2011.
Her long list of activities ranges from leading children’s visits with residents at a local retirement community to volunteering monthly at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland as a Key Club member.
She coaches a preschool soccer team each fall and works weekly during summer and school vacations at a household essentials pantry for needy families. She helped to build houses with Habitat for Humanity in Bay Saint Louis, Miss., after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
On vacation recently in Orange County, Calif., she visited the Project Hope School for homeless children so she could learn more about that program.
She also has spent several hours each week at Reiche Elementary School in Portland’s ethnically diverse West End neighborhood, working with first-graders in Anthony Derrig’s classroom.
It’s service she has done with uncommon dedication, recruiting other Falmouth High students to join her. She even showed up to help out on “senior skip day” recently because the weather wasn’t that nice.
“From day one, she has taken her own initiative and got down with the kids on their level,” Derrig said. “She has a knack for taking leadership upon herself. She’s the type of person who enjoys giving back.”
MacEwan has a simple explanation for her commitment to community service.
“Six hundred hours sounds like a lot, and I guess it is, but if I wasn’t here (at Reiche) right now, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything else,” she said. “I love it here. I love interacting with the kids and I love listening to what they have to say about the world. They say things you wouldn’t hear anybody else say.”
In addition to her community service, MacEwan is a top student who was elected to the National Honor Society and excelled on Falmouth High’s sailing team, which placed 8th in national competition this spring. The oldest of three siblings, she will attend Boston College this fall to study psychology and photography.
Community service runs in MacEwan’s family. Her mother, Holly MacEwan, is a service learning coordinator at Falmouth High. She introduced her daughter to the joys of helping others when she was about 5 years old, which is when MacEwan started visiting OceanView at Falmouth, a retirement community.
When MacEwan was 11, she started “Notes of Hope,” a program in which Falmouth children and elders made and sold note cards to benefit the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. The program raised more than $9,000 and the Maine Legislature recognized MacEwan for her humanitarian efforts.
Her late grandfather, Bill Eastburn, a retired lawyer who lived in Bucks County, Pa., was active in efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He was a founder of the Bucks Mont Katrina Relief Project, which has built a food pantry, child development center and an animal shelter in Bay Saint Louis, Miss. He died in 2008.
“He got my mom started on this stuff and my mom got me into it, so it’s like a chain,” MacEwan said. “I’m carrying on his legacy.”
Staff Writer Ellie Cole contributed to this report.