When you think about bullying, you might not imagine that an athletic, smart and energetic girl like Maura McCann would make an easy target. But this year’s Saline Youth of the Year, as selected by the Saline Youth Council, went through a tough spell in middle school and high school and learned enough to help lead others out of the darkness.
Looking back, the 17-year-old McCann said she sees bullying as silly, middle-school behavior.
“I liked a boy and some of the other girls didn’t like that I liked him. Going down the hall in school, they called me every name in the book,” said McCann. “Being a teenager, I took it to heart.”
The bullying affected McCann, driving her into depression.
“I lost confidence and lost friends. I shut down,” McCann remembered.
With help, McCann started to come out of her shell. In her sophomore year, she approached Mark Schuby, the Students Against Destructive Decisions coordinator at the , about trying group therapy with other students. The group started with five girls. Within three weeks, there were 15 students participating. McCann said Schuby encouraged the students to talk openly and honestly.
“I wanted to show people that you don’t have to stay like this forever. That you can come out of it,” McCann said. “We took turns telling our stories and then we all went around and shared our comments. We saw that we were going through many of the same things and we shared the ways we dealt with it. You could really see a difference with some of the girls right away.”
And McCann said the group helped her, too.
“Taking part, I knew I had to keep my backyard clean,” said McCann, who stayed involved in SADD and is own on the group’s executive council.
This year, as part of a SADD activity, McCann went back to Saline Middle School and talked to kids about bullying and dealing with peer pressure. She closed the event with a talk to the younger students.
“I think I connected with the kids in a way that maybe some people couldn’t, because I was in their shoes four years ago. So I think it helped for me to share my story and let the kids know that everyone went through it,” said McCann.
Schuby commended McCann’s commitment to helping others.
“Maura has been involved in bullying prevention programs at the and at the elementary schools,” Schuby said. “What is amazing about Maura is her awesome sense of humor and her wonderful personality. She can capture a crowd of adults, adolescents, or younger kids instantly. She is the kind of person that you love to be around because you don't want to miss something. She has utilized her abilities to help other students."
McCann has been involved with dozens of initiatives in and around Saline. She took part in the campaign to bring Michigan Main Street to Saline.
“Maura decided she wanted to get involved and played an active role, volunteering at events and coming with us to Lansing for the big presentation we did,” said Cindy Czubko, who led the Main Street effort. “If you ask Maura for help, she’s eager to pitch in.”
Over winter break, she and her older sisters volunteered for Food Gatherers, packaging food on its way to local food banks. She spent a Saturday at Winterfest helping with the children’s events at the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce office. She played high school basketball and was on student council for three years. She was a cheerleader this year. All this, while working a part-time job at an Ann Arbor salon and maintaining her grades.
McCann likes to stay busy because, she said, she functions best when she’s planning and doing.
“And I like the feeling of accomplishment when you get something done,” she said.
She said some of her community activism comes from her parents.
“When I was young, they dragged me to volunteer at soup kitchens and everywhere else. I loved spending time with my sisters, and I enjoyed meeting different people,” she said.
Mayor Gretchen Driskell is among McCann’s fans.
“She’s an impressive young lady who is involved in a lot of different things in the community,” said Driskell, who will be among those honoring McCann at Saline Salutes Friday at Saline High School.
Interim Saline High School principal Eric Diroff said McCann is an excellent choice as Youth of the Year.
“Maura is a reflection of the type of student Saline High School is known for. She is a very good student who values academics, is involved in sports, as well as extra curricular activities and clubs,” Diroff said. “She is truly a well-rounded student who represents herself, as well as the entire Saline community in remarkable fashion.
Karen Miller has known McCann since she was in elementary school.
“Maura continues to demonstrate the qualities desirable in youth today by taking leadership roles in the community and being an example for other youth. She has faced personal adversity and grown through the experience, which resulted in the formation of several community support groups,” Miller said.
McCann said she is honored to be named Youth of the Year.
“I am friends with the two other nominees (Julia Hogikyan and Hayley Byrnes), and I know how much they’ve done, so it means a lot to me,” McCann said.
McCann plans to study industrial and organizational psychology at Carthage College or Baldwin-Wallace College. Having watched two sisters graduate and go off to college, she plans to enjoy her last few months in Saline.
“My sisters always say that they miss high school. So I want to spend my last few months here with my friends and my parents and really get the most out of it,” McCann said.