Samantha Cunningham and Thea Person honored with this year’s Lifelong Learner award
Two community members will be honored with this year’s Lifelong Learner Award by the Friends of the Homer Public Library on Saturday. The nonprofit has organized the celebration of lifelong learning since 2009.
Every year, the local Friends of the Library seeks out nominations from the general public for two lifelong learners — one adult and one youth. Those nominations are then reviewed by a committee, which chooses the awardees.
“We really want to recognize people who have dedicated their lives to making Homer a better place, and also encourage people for the future: Do more reading, do more self development and make yourself a better citizen,” said Dave Berry, director of the Homer Public Library.
Thea Person, a senior at Homer High School, won this year’s youth award. She’s part of the high school swing choir and Pier One Theatre, as well as captain of the school’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team. She also works as a deckhand on the Danny J in Kachemak Bay during the summer.
“It's been such an amazing honor to receive this because as a freshman, a friend and role model of mine received the award,” Person said.
Person was born and raised in Homer, and is still considering her options after graduation, but she’s looking into the maritime transportation industry. For now, she’s still studying and working on finishing high school.
“I enjoy learning a lot. I enjoy teaching to some degree,” she said. “I think it's always been my passion to try new things. I hate being bored and being stuck in one spot. So I love doing new things and developing my own skills in areas that I enjoy.”
Samantha Cunningham is this year’s adult award winner. She’s assistant EMS chief at the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, a local farmer and so much more.
“Learning a new skill in any way, shape or form that I can is always a pleasure,” she said.
Cunningham’s been a volunteer paramedic for nearly three decades, has taught CPR and first aid to thousands of kids and fishermen, mentored and hosted youth through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and also coordinates the live action role playing group — or LARP group — at the library every Friday afternoon.
Cunningham said the label of “lifelong learner” is apt. She grew up in Nova Scotia and Alaska, where her parents homesteaded and practiced unschooling, an educational philosophy that relies on a child's innate curiosity and desire to learn. Ever since she was a child, she’s been a voracious reader. She said, if it wasn’t tied down, she would read it.
“To this day, I find myself reading the back of toothpaste tubes. I read everything,” Cunningham said. “I was very motivated to learn, to read, but also to learn about the environment I was in, what kind of trees there were, what kind of plants and are they edible or not? What would kill you if you ate it? How to track animals, how to find your way home after you got really good and lost way out in the woods — which I did on a regular basis. How to solve problems for myself that didn't have easy solutions. I did that pretty much the whole time I was growing up. And then I just kept applying it to my adult life.”
Cunningham said she loves being a paramedic, and that it keeps her constantly on her toes. Since graduating paramedic school in 1992, she said medicine has changed significantly.
“It's not something where you can achieve it and then rest on your laurels and dust your hands off and say, ‘Well there, I did that,’” Cunningham said. “I'm constantly having to challenge myself with new information, new medications, new ways of taking care of people that never occurred to me before, tremendous shifts in taking care of patients and what's expected of you, how to document things, everything.”
And among keeping up with shifting information, she said she also maintained a passion for basically everything else.
“There are a million other things. When I started finding myself having to spend lots of time sitting through meetings, I decided that I would learn how to knit socks. And I figured that if I could learn how to read 12-leads [electrocardiograms], I could learn how to turn a heel on a sock,” Cunningham said. “And I remember learning how to quilt and deciding that I didn't like the fabrics that were available. So I learned how to dye my own silk and make quilts out of that….I can't think of any time that learning something new hasn't been somewhere on my horizon.”
She said when she’s looking at where to put her energy and focus, the most critical thing to consider is what will make her community a better place.
“If I'm making a quilt, it's probably going on someone's bed, someone who needs it,” she added. “If I'm up making cookies at night, it's probably for the LARP group in the morning. And if I'm putting together a lesson plan, it's probably for EMTs who are going to go out so that they can save a life and I don't have to. I can empower other people to do better than me, with luck, and take care of their own community and make it safer, make it better on their own. So if there's a motivator, that's what it is. It's improving the place that I've chosen to call an amazing home.”
There will be a formal presentation of the Lifelong Learner Awards at the Homer Public Library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25. The celebration will include live music from the Spit City Slickers and speeches from Cunningham and Person. There will also be food, trivia, a Live Action Roleplay demonstration and a silent auction. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the library at (907) 235-3180.