Shawnee senior raises the curtain for charity

Ackerman honored by Lenape district for her volunteer work

As a member of Shawnee High School’s Kids for Wish Kids club, Volunteer Service Award winner Christina Ackerman raises funds for Make a Wish, a nonprofit which sends terminally ill children on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In this photo, Ackerman (right) carries a Make a Wish banner outside of Shawnee (Christina Ackerman/Special to The Sun).

Christina Ackerman has been on stage since she was a child.

Years ago, she began using her talent to do good, acts that have since won her recognition from the Lenape Regional High School District as an outstanding volunteer.

“In theater, you need to be enthusiastic, you need to be outgoing and you need to be optimistic,” Ackerman said. “It really does make a difference when you’re helping the community. It gives you such good motivation and commitment.”

Ackerman began hosting Perform-a-Thons, events where local budding stars showcased their talents for charity. She has fundraised for the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and other organizations. 

When she arrived at Shawnee High School, where she is now a senior, Ackerman joined the Kids for Wish Kids Club, a group that fundraises for  Make-a-Wish recipients. Through it, she visited and performed at Give Kids the World Village in Florida, a resort that houses children who are on Make-a-Wish trips.

“It was really fun performing in front of the kids,” she recalled. “We just got to learn other wish kids’ stories and just really make a connection with them.”

In Medford, Ackerman brings the lessons she’s learned performing to middle and high schoolers in the township. She served as assistant director for the Medford Panther Players and made Broadway Bound Players, a summer program, into a nonprofit that makes singing, acting and dancing more accessible.

The student remembers a time when she was performing and fell off the stage. While embarrassed, she realized it’s okay to make mistakes.

“It’s okay if I mess up,” Ackerman noted. “As long as you stay dedicated and committed to it.”

She uses this story and others to help her young mentees feel more confident about their abilities.

“It’s so good to be a mentor,” Ackerman acknowledged. “You can push kids to say, ‘It’s okay to be different.’ And it’s okay to be in those lights and embrace it.”

When she learned she would be recognized at the district’s board of education meeting, Ackerman was shocked.

“I do what I do for me and for the community, not necessarily to be recognized for it,” she noted. “Hearing from administration and my principal and my teachers who have seen me grow up, saying that I did a good job and giving me the reassurance that I’m doing something right, made me so happy.”

After graduation, Ackerman plans to study occupational therapy, an interest that grew from conversations she’s had with Make-a-Wish kids and their families. 

She will also spend summer on the board of Foster the Family, a New Jersey nonprofit that supports children in foster care.

“It’s such an adrenaline rush,” Ackerman said of volunteering. “It’s just something I’ve prayed to do. It really is just something that will always be a top priority in my life.”

Shawnee’s parent volunteers, Beth Heine and Cindy Kelly, were also surprised to hear they would be honored by the district.The pair has spent the past few months planning weekly events for the school’s senior class.

“They’ve been having a rough year,” Heine said. “It’s really nice to be honored.”

The duo has collected donations from parents and businesses to host spirit days,  where seniors play games, eat and socialize. Shawnee’s senior class trip to Disney World was canceled this year, along with other traditions, because of  COVID, something Heine saw disappointed her daughter.

Throughout planning, Kelly said, she’s realized that even small acts of kindness can make a big difference.

“I would say to younger people don’t ever think something is too little to make a difference in somebody else’s life,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going on in their life and the little things can turn things around in a big way for them.”