Once considered a troublemaker by his elementary and middle school teachers, AmeriCorps volunteer Trampas Stucker, 19, is now a hero in the eyes of many youngsters and staff in the Tonasket School District.
Kids flock to the 1997 Tonasket High School graduate, undaunted by the wheelchair he’s used since a 1996 motorcycle wreck left him partially paralyzed in his junior year. Three months ago, he and nine other volunteers began working with children in the Tonasket schools through the AmeriCorps program.
His experiences - and his willingness to share them - are inspiring some of the most challenging students, who are latching onto his attitude toward life.
His supervisor, AmeriCorps director Mandy Edwards, says she’ll be nominating him as a national hero for his inspiration, his dedication to the program and the special gift he has with children.
Edwards asked him to write an article for the school newsletter about the AmeriCorps puppet show designed to teach acceptance. Now he’ll be traveling with the show in March to nearby towns to speak about the importance of accepting people with learning or physical disabilities.
“The accident totally changed my life,” he said, “but not my attitude. No matter how bad you’ve got it, there’s still so much you can do.”
True to his outlook, Stucker returned home from rehabilitation at Seattle’s University Hospital in seven weeks and graduated with his class. Doctors had predicted he’d be there six to nine months.
The wheelchair hasn’t slowed him down. He still rides horses and skis, and plans to start competing in team roping this summer. “I do just about everything I did before, except ride bulls,” he said.
Stucker said he’ll be happy to receive the $4,725 scholarship that goes with 11 months of service in AmeriCorps. It will help when he goes to Wenatchee Valley College-North next fall. He wants to become a teacher and counselor.
But he said his best reward has been seeing the change in students who were considered discipline problems or slow learners. One second-grader recognized only half the letters of the alphabet when the school year started. After three months of working one-on-one with Stucker, he knows all his letters and the sounds they make and is beginning to sound out words.
Similar results can be seen throughout the AmeriCorps program in Tonasket, where 75 elementary students increased their reading fluency in one quarter by an average of 25 percent, and many doubled their original scores.