Neighborhood Heroes

While looking through one of the many cardboard boxes she has from me and my brother’s time at home, my Mom came across a questionnaire that was part of a sixth grade homework assignment:
Reading this brought up many questions for me. Shouldn’t I want to be a baseball player, an astronaut, a rock star or a firefighter? When did I learn about architecture and that it could be a job? Why did it appeal to me at such an early age? Why did I so quickly say, “I hope to go to a school” after the question clearly states, “ when (you) graduate”? But the most important question for me is: 
How was I able to actually follow through with my dream and become an architect*?
This is a difficult question to answer, even in hindsight. My earliest memory of architecture is one of a guest speaker who came in and presented house plans he had designed for some clients. I remember the presentation being bumbling, incoherent, and…awesome. I must have expressed interest to a teacher about how that speaker helped me determine what I wanted to be. That teacher in turn fostered my interests and pretty soon the school had enlisted a local architect to spend time with me after school. This volunteer would assign me mini projects such as drafting my own house’s plan or drawing shapes in perspective. This experience served to augment my interest in a profession from an early age, while also giving me a taste of things to learn and skills to practice to set me on that path.
Did that one volunteer, who talked about his job spark my dream, foster it, or keep it alive? Was it nature and/or nurture? Was it lots of practice? Was I just extremely lucky? Lucky that the guy was an architect, which happened to align with my predisposed interest? Or did my exposure to him plant some kind of seed? 
Once we begin high school, our dreams have a tendency to fade. We become distracted by reality, are more aware of what resources we need to get the degree, social status’, and grades. Somehow though, I kept architecture in mind in high school, college, and even through my successful amateur athletic career**. I was encouraged by family, friends and coworkers to apply to graduate school after an unhappy stint working as an engineer. I was accepted to a great school, and earned my Masters degree. Eventually, I moved back to Maine with my family where I now work in architecture. I couldn’t be happier.
Although I can’t know for sure how my dreams developed, I do know I should try to help young people find and realize theirs.  Through a resource like School Square I am able to pay forward the favor that that guy paid me twenty years ago. I can volunteer in the classroom like he did, consult with teachers about how design can complement current learning trends, or I can help generate cross-disciplinary topics to utilize and promote teamwork in the classroom. I can talk to educators about the emerging frontier of online learning and show them what free and paid resources are available to them. I can teach kids how to run faster and jump higher or throw fastballs. But mostly, I just want to ask students “what do you want to learn about?” and when they give me the answer, use my skills to help them reach their goals.
-Greg Norton

* Actually I am currently an architectural designer if you want to get technical about it.  I will be an architect after I pass the seven (yes seven) architectural registration examinations (ARE’s).

** Pro tip for young student-athletes: If you have a borderline chance to get into professional sports after high school or college, it’s probably not in your best interest to openly explain how’d you like to go to graduate school in interviews, articles etc.  Scouts tend to frown upon such statements.

 Greg with his daughter Mary.

Greg with his daughter Mary.

The preceding story was submitted by Greg Norton a good friend and former teammate of mine. He asked to contribute and I am so happy he did. When I read through Greg’s piece I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life and the significant moments and people surrounding them that shaped who I am today. My brother always kids with me that I never would have played sports if it weren’t for him. He is probably right. My mom recollects the attendance of her first little league game as stepping into a “whole new world”. Our parents could never be described as athletic; sports were not a “thing” in our house. So where did Sam learn to love sports, which he in turn exposed me to?  Like Greg we learned from a caring adult in our community.

Growing up, our neighbor Mr. Kress, a high school teacher and father of two would hit the neighborhood kids fly balls in a parking lot at the end of our street. This happened every day. I remember my first time heading up to “the lot”. We all stood in line, me at the back (obviously). One at a time, Mr. Kress hit a fly ball to my brother Sam, Jeremy, Mike, then Billy, who all caught them with ease. If you’ve ever seen “The Sandlot”, you can guess what happened next. Mr. Kress hit me a high fly ball and I gracefully caught it…with my face. 

 Mr. Kress and team Hub Furniture of Deering Center Little League in 1989.

Mr. Kress and team Hub Furniture of Deering Center Little League in 1989.

Because Mr. Kress took the time to teach us the art of baseball, something that he loved, we learned to love it too. Greg learned from an architect who took the time to demonstrate what he loved to do. These men are neighborhood heroes and champions for our communities' kids.

What I find fascinating is that my athletic abilities may have laid dormant inside me if it had not been for my exposure to my brother and my brother’s exposure to Mr. Kress. Greg’s passion for architecture might have never been revealed had he not seen the architect’s plans in elementary school. School Square operates under the belief that all children should have opportunities to be exposed to a variety of diverse, caring adults throughout their school career. Architects, athletes, business owners, baristas, carpenters, computer engineers, designers, doctors, farmers, and fisherman, just to name a few could play a part in supporting the growth of children in our communities. School Square looks to help make that happen by providing an online hub for teachers and caring adults to connect. Share what you love, share it with kids, be a neighborhood hero.

Simon Williams1 Comment