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By Hannah Kiefer
When a class of third-grade students from Mt. Tabor Elementary School was tasked with choosing hometown heroes, some of the choices were obvious.
The mayor seemed like a natural fit as a person who served as a visionary for the city. Josh Dallas – an actor from the city – was another easy pick as an emblem of success. Of course, there was Romeo Langford, the basketball player who caused quite a stir as the media awaited his college selection.
Then, there was Jessica Stavros – regional director for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites and site manager for the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site.
She was chosen along with other civic and cultural leaders as one of eight hometown leaders from a list of 30 nominees.
When the teacher called to tell her she’d been nominated, she told Jessica she was chosen by the students for saving and sharing the city’s history.
“She said that I was chosen as one of New Albany’s ‘Hometown Heroes,’ and that all the heroes were people that make a difference in New Albany, and that they are people that the students can relate to,” she said.
Immediately, Jessica was excited and honored to be seen by a group of students as someone on the same level as their mayor, police chief, and Indiana’s Mr. Basketball among other nominees. As one of only two women selected – by a class of students that’s predominantly male – she said that also meant so much to her.
“The fact that we impacted them enough on their field trip for them to think that the work that we do makes a difference – especially shining against sports – is an honor,” she said.
Culbertson Mansion sees thousands of school kids each year, and Jessica is one of many staff members and volunteers responsible for teaching them about the house in an engaging, memorable way.
One of the main stories at Culbertson is about William Culbertson himself – a man who was extremely wealthy, but created a culture of benevolence that lives on through his legacy today. They talk about that history at the house, and they work hard to try and show kids that they can continue that legacy in their own lives, through their own words and actions.
The kids remembered that when they chose Jessica.
“That makes me feel good, because that’s what it’s about,” Jessica said. “We reached them just enough for them to know that we are actually doing things in the community that mean something. And they don’t just mean something to anyone – they mean something to children. And that’s something they’ll always hold onto.
“They’ll remember that and keep that experience with them” she continued. “That’s the kind of stuff that helps form their identity for who they are and where they came from.”
Jessica accepted her award – along with the other nominees – during a ceremony at the school. Prior to the ceremony, she also was interviewed by the class to talk about the path that got her to where she is, and how they can continue to positively effect their community.
“(At the mansion), we tell them there are ways to be benevolent and kind, because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We’re all members of a community…and it’s our responsibility as people to make others’ lives better.”
Learn more about Culbertson Mansion here.
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