She may be a high school student, with practically her whole life ahead of her, but Taylor Cusick-Wetta already knows how meaningful just a few hours can be to someone.
Take this year’s Walk to Defeat ALS, when Cusick-Wetta and other volunteers – who had set up the event – hung around the finish line afterward. They cheered and chanted and did “the wave” as families came through.
One woman who had pushed her mother in a wheelchair couldn’t stop crying as she thanked them.
“It was such a special moment,” Cusick-Wetta wrote. “I truly get so much more from volunteering than I could possibly give.”
Cusick-Wetta, a 17-year-old senior at Wichita Collegiate School, is the winner of the 2017 Brian Bergkamp Student Service Award.
Cusick-Wetta is active in Young Life, the Fellowship of Christian Students, Capernaum, Special Olympics, Walk for Cure, Mission Jamaica, Operation Christmas Child, Buddy Walk, Race for the Cure, Light the Night Walk and the Red Cross Blood Drive.
And she’s captain of the school soccer team.
“A lot of times friends ask me why I do every event, and the truth is just that I genuinely enjoy it and it is life giving to me,” she wrote.
Cusick-Wetta, who has attended Collegiate since she was 3, is part of a large, close family that includes three sisters, four brothers, a dog and a bunny.
One family member in particular inspired her: her sister Allie, who was born with cerebral palsy. Despite being unable to walk, talk or communicate her needs, Allie was joyful, with a sweet smile and personality.
Cusick-Wetta admits she hated the looks that Allie sometimes got as she was rolled through church or a restaurant, but that didn’t stop her family from trying to make her feel included in everything they did. Allie died two years ago, surrounded by her family in the hospital.
Cusick-Wetta serves as a leader of Capernaum, which is a branch of Young Life for kids with special needs. This summer, she will go with them to a Young Life camp in Colorado for what she promises will be “the best week of their lives.”
She also led Cancer Awareness Month activities at her school, organizing a “Yarn Storm” where various forms of cancer were represented on trees on the front lawn of the school.
Volunteering at the Special Olympics has been a part of her life for years. Cusick-Wetta treasures the relationships she has developed with the athletes and their families, mentioning in particular a man named Robert, who in addition to competing helps run some of the events. At times, Cusick-Wetta said, such experiences can cause her to miss her sister, but watching a withdrawn girl sing at Capernaum or a shy boy compete in the Special Olympics outweighs any feeling of loss.
Not surprisingly, Cusick-Wetta is an officer with Pro-Humanitate, which is her school’s volunteer coordinating group.
“I would encourage everyone to find something they are passionate about and get involved in it,” she wrote.
Cusick-Wetta isn’t just busy as a volunteer. In the fall, she took part in the school’s musical, “Mary Poppins,” performed at football games with the dance team and played tennis. She says her schedule “really lightens up” during the winter, allowing her to focus on studies and college applications, but soccer season is approaching.
Cusick-Wetta’s sister Allie inspired her in one more big way: She plans to become a physician.
“I am motivated by the years that I spent watching medicine work wonders for my older sister,” Cusick-Wetta wrote, adding that she “taught me so much of what I live by today and what I hope to keep living for in the future.”