This story appears in the Graduation 2019 special section.
Mary Flanagan came back from a mission trip to Mexico the summer going into her junior year at Pinecrest Academy with a clear challenge to herself.
“I was so touched by helping out in this community,” Flanagan said. “I was like, ‘What can we do here at home?’”
The answer for Flanagan was the Mission Club, a student organization she started that school year to coordinate service events in the community.
They started by collecting supplies for victims impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Later that school year, Mission Club helped organize a carnival for a refugee community in Clarkston.
This year, the club held a drive for Operation Christmas Child, a “shoebox ministry” of Samaritan’s Purse that sends toys and household items to kids in need around the world.
Flanagan’s efforts model one of Pinecrest’s core missions — for students to “use their gifts in service to others.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Flanagan so easily embraced those values. She’s the last of her three siblings to go to Pinecrest, and she started from the very beginning in Pre-K3.
Along the way, Flanagan recognized the unique close-knit community at Pinecrest. She became familiar and close with not just friends and school staff but also their whole family unit.
Once, when Flanagan was in fourth grade, her family’s storage shed was destroyed, and with it all their Christmas decorations, including a cherished advent calendar. One day, while visiting her brother’s class, Flanagan noticed his teacher had the same advent calendar their family had just lost. Flanagan told the teacher about the storage fire.
That Christmas, the teacher gave Flanagan’s mom, Madeliene, the principal of Pinecrest’s Lower School, the advent calendar.
“It was such a touching moment for us to realize they personally remember you,” Flanagan said. “It’s not just about your academics here; it’s about the whole person.”
Even Flanagan’s future plans are influenced by this environment. She will attend the University of Georgia in the fall and major in education and English to pursue a career as a teacher, a path influenced in part by Carla Chwat, one of her former teachers.
“Her example has impacted me so much that I want to be able to continue that,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan hopes the Mission Club will continue too. She can’t be sure it will, but the club’s members were enthusiastic and devoted, Flanagan said, and she’s confident they felt the benefits of fulfilling one of Pinecrest’s primary missions.
“The best joy is in giving, not receiving,” Flanagan said. “And you receive love that way. It’s way better than any monetary gift you could get.”