We are thrilled to spotlight our 2018 gala honorees, three long-time Village volunteers: Phyllis Lerner, Martin Phillipps, and Mikey Walker!
Phyllis, Marty, and Mikey will receive this year's Anne Heyman Spirit Award, which honors those who demonstrate the best of what makes ASYV a family: passion, dedication, and love for the Village's kids.
Learn more about Phyllis, Marty, and Mikey from their biographies and our Question & Answer session with them below!
Phyllis Lerner is affectionately known as “Auntie Phyllis” at ASYV. A master teacher, Phyllis has served as an education volunteer and Fulbright Specialist with us since 2016. On what she calls “senior semester abroad,” Auntie Phyllis lives and works in the Village from January through April to support our family across a wide range of program areas. Phyllis completely embodies her title, serving as a mentor to our students, a supporter and friend to staff from Management to Mamas, and a champion of the Village’s comprehensive enrichment model. When Phyllis is not living and working in Rwanda, she serves on our Formal Education and LEAP (Life Enrichment Applied Programs) Committees and often as a local Auntie to many of the alumni in North America.
Outside of ASYV, Phyllis has been a faculty associate at Johns Hopkins University, Graduate School of Education since 2009, where she contributes to the university’s national partnership with Teach For America. Phyllis’ career in education began at Springfield College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, which she followed with a Master’s in International and Comparative Education at Chapman University. Her passion for gender and racial equity led to her global work with adolescents and teachers, including projects in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, India, and in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand.
Martin Phillipps is Director of the Continuing Day Treatment Program in the Department of Behavioral Health at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Marty, who initiated the family treatment program in RUMC’s oncology and pediatric oncology departments, leads a group of pediatric mental health specialists to the Village annually. While at ASYV each year, he and his colleagues, who are now considered part of the Village family, provide medical and behavioral health services to our students. When not in the Village, Marty leads the Health and Wellness Committee to ensure that our team of nurses and social workers are equipped to provide the compassionate, individualized treatment that our students need to recover from past traumas.
Mikey Walker is the president of the Kerry Jon Walker Fund, whose mission is to promote humanitarian programs that improve health, education, and economic opportunity for vulnerable people in the United States and Africa. Through her work at the Fund, Mikey has been leading underserved Boston youth on service-learning trips to the Village since 2013. By providing young people with this opportunity for cultural exchange, Mikey highlights their capacity to give and receive from others – to celebrate both our shared humanity and what makes each of us unique. In addition, trip participants work together to fundraise for ASYV students and collect supplies, which they deliver during their stay to support the Village’s programs.
Mikey worked in teaching and business before finding her calling in school leadership. In 1995, she joined Old Colony Montessori in Hingham, Massachusetts as the Head of School, where she has been ever since.
Honoree Q & A:
1. How did you first get involved with ASYV?
Phyllis: I've had a global mindset about education from the beginning. That's meant considerable time with kids and teachers from India and Burmese Refugee Camps in Thailand over the past 50 years. Learning is a human right and all of us are educators. That said, my best friend Jane and I met when we first taught in Philly. We climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for our 40th birthdays. When Jane calls, I listen. She knew about ASYV through Anne Heyman and the University of Pennsylvania. Jane said simply, "You have to go." So at first Google, I was en route. The website didn't really ask for seniors and my 3-4 month availability was considered "short term." I persisted, packed and arrived with limited connection to anyone or anything. Within days, I not only felt at home, I was working hard, having fun and became part of an extraordinary family as Auntie Phyllis.
Marty: [ASYV Board member] John Hoover invited me into the ASYV Family in order to look into the mental health needs of our kids. ASYV’s founder, Anne [Heyman] contacted me and we immediately discussed plans to visit the Village in January 2014.
I selected my Health and Wellness team [which visits the Village annually] based on four criteria: Caring, Compassion, Competence, Commitment. My greatest contribution has been to choose Health and Wellness team members who have greater expertise than I do.
Mikey: The story of my journey to ASYV actually began with the passing of my son, for which the Kerry Fund is named. During the very early time of my heart’s healing, I made trips with a friend to his home village in Guinea, West Africa. These trips literally shifted my soul. Trip after trip we made, purchasing school uniforms, registering children in schools, and bringing books, medicines, clothes and supplies. The more I allowed my heart to pour into giving, the more my heart healed. Tikkun Olam. It was then that I also began to think about the privilege it was to be able to see the world in this bigger way, and to share in this kind of experience. I started to think about the many kids in our own country who were too poor to see the world beyond their own neighborhoods, too poor to realize how much they also had to give. Realizing that I wanted to provide our vulnerable youth with an experience well beyond their reach was how The Kerry Fund was born.
In 2012, the Kerry Fund acquired a large donation of children’s books in French, and three students from Boston were selected to participate on our first mission trip. Our original journey was to Guinea, where the books would be distributed to village schools. As fate would have it, though, a new election year caused upheaval in the streets and the temporary closing of the U.S. Embassy. I was devastated but knew I could not bring these kids with me to Guinea.
It was through a friend that I learned of ASYV. The more she told me about the Village, the more interested I became, and in June of 2013, those three Boston students made their first trip to Africa. Little did I know at the time that the mission of ASYV and the mission of The Kerry Fund were so completely aligned, and that The Kerry Fund and ASYV would become intertwined as partners in helping the young. The greatest blessing came from being able to help support the mission of ASYV, while building a bridge for our less financially able Boston students to see the world through bigger eyes.
2. What is a memory that stays with you from your trips to the Village?
Phyllis: Come on! One memory? That's hardly possible or fair.
I was working with one student on a story-telling essay. His writing (English and grammar) was limited, and out of habit I started to correct and edit it like a college paper. Then I shifted gears. I just read it for meaning. What was the writer's truth? What was his tale? The student wrote about a father, whose wife had died. The man soon remarried. The step-mother didn't like the kids, or much else. In a short time, the father took both children into the woods, and left them. This was the student's own story--left in the woods with his sister, to survive or not. Every kid (and adult staffer) in the Village has a story. Most of them start off pretty lousy. Most of their stories grow, and many glow, as they heal a bit and hope a bit more.
Marty: I cherish several memories: the warmth, sincerity and commitment of the kids to learn and grow, the warmth, competence, commitment to excel, and mutual respect of the staff, and the excellent leadership and friendship of my mentor, Executive Director, JC.
Mikey: My first memory of the Village is wrapped up in the joy of meeting [ASYV’s founder] Anne. She greeted us soon after our arrival and spent hours with us on the lawn in front of our guest house. We talked about the Village, the vulnerabilities of the children who lived there, how the Village was structured, its growing needs and future goals. We were so honored to have her with us, and she glowed with the knowledge of having created something so important in this world. I carry that moment in my heart always, as an honor, and a blessing.
3. What changes have you seen at ASYV over the course of your visits?
Phyllis: I arrived in what's called stage 3. The Village was built and populated thanks to Anne and all who went before me. Now it's time to deepen the program and deliver what's needed and wanted. I've seen an increased professionalism in the caliber of staff and in their goals and objectives. I've seen some fluidity and needed change, in schedules, patterns and practices. And I've seen rituals and approaches stay the same—Village Time and Family Time as examples. The kids are a constant. They evolve yet are individually charismatic, quiet, demanding, isolated, sophisticated, shy, brilliant, joyful and every other word any language uses to describe adolescents.
Marty: The growth and maturation of the ASYV staff and organizational structure, especially our Health and Wellness department with whom I have the pleasure and honor to work. Anne’s spirit truly lives within the Village and within all connected with ASYV!
Mikey: ASYV is in continual bloom. I did fear after Anne’s passing that the soul and spirit that filled ASYV with love would somehow slip away, but that is surely not the case. The seeds she planted were seeds of longevity and strength, and the dedicated commitment of the people who carry the mission forward have nurtured ASYV’s growth. From the farm and gardens for food sustainability, to new classes in cooking, photography, art and technology, ASYV is ever expanding to meet the needs of its young people. Each year there is a new surprise, such as the spigots for fresh water now everywhere in the Village.
4. What have you enjoyed most about your involvement with the Village?
Phyllis: I am (maybe?) a better person at the Village than at home. Living with second language learners, I think before I speak and parse words within Rwanda's cultural context. I try to listen and ask, not to talk and tell. I realize I'm a role model, easy to spot almost anywhere. I'm on my best behavior, conscious of how kids and adults look, see and learn around me. I'm also ridiculously silly. How can you be an educator and not be theatrical, singing and dancing your way through math lessons or professional development workshops? And those ASYV Core Values? They are like a T-shirt that we all wear every day, all day.
Marty: I love the kids and staff. I am especially proud to experience their growth. My only need for gratitude is that they enrich their lives as good people with whatever I may have to give them and that we all continue to “Pay it forward!”
Mikey: 2018 will mark our 6th annual trip to ASYV, and I am as excited now as I was the first time. I love being at ASYV because it is truly a place for our world’s most vulnerable youth to thrive, to grow, to become the best at who they are. ASYV provides kids with every forum imaginable for learning and self-expression. It’s been a joy to watch the ASYV kids grow over the years into confident and competent young men and women.
I am blessed to bring kids who might never have had the opportunity to see the world through a global perspective to ASYV. ASYV shows my Boston kids that there are others who have had to struggle to survive, who are happy and grateful and work hard to succeed. ASYV teaches them to not take any of life’s opportunities for granted, and that we all have something to give, to share, and to learn from one another. These kids are going to ASYV on a mission to serve, but what they receive from ASYV is a gift for life.
5. Anything else the ASYV family should know about you?
Phyllis: How about if anyone wants to know more about me and/or our ASYV family, email Phyllis@ASYV.org. The Auntie is available.
Marty: Yes…the kids, staff, Board members and NY staff have given me far more and taught me far more than I can ever give them. Thank you so much! One final thought… every year’s visit to the Village is a homecoming!
Mikey: I am a bit of a spiritual person. Without having any answers, I believe in all the magic and wonder and mystery of life, and that each of us, when we find it, has a purpose. How lucky I’ve been to connect with the beautiful purpose of ASYV.