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Erin O'Donovan, of Cumberland, earns 2018 Gold Award


In the fast-paced society of the world we live in, we find that unless people take positive steps to preserve history, it is often lost forever. Knowing the value and the lessons that history can hold for us, Gold Award Girl Scout Erin O’Donovan wanted to do her part to preserve her hometown’s history, and make it accessible to all.

Choosing a topic was tough, as Cumberland is a town rich with history. Erin decided to focus her lens on the one-room schoolhouses in town. After surveying a number of long-term town residents, Erin secured 14 different interviews with residents who had attended these schoolhouses as children.

Visiting residents at their homes, the library, and nursing homes, Erin captured each of their stories on audio. Later, she reviewed each story and edited them into smaller audio clips that she incorporated into a webpage she was developing to house these historical treasures.

Erin worked with the town’s communications director to establish a page for the Historical Society on the town’s website, and include a subpage that would house Erin’s work in a page titled “Cumberland Schools Through the Ages.” Her webpage provides a summary of the history of the schools, a map, photos, and the audio clips from her interviews.

Erin is using her webpage to encourage others to help add to the schools’ history, as well as history of the town. Since the publication of her project’s webpage, four additional pages have been added by others about the school district!

In addition, Erin has coordinated with second grade teachers in her school district to incorporate her project into their curriculum, supplementing their lessons with a one-page description with photos of the one-room schoolhouses in town.

Because of Erin’s project, people from Cumberland – and around the world – will be able to learn important pieces in the history. Friends and family of the people she interviewed will be able to hear the recording of their loved ones, and hear their stories.  More importantly, though, her project helps preserve the oral history of “Smalltown USA,” establishing its importance in history, right alongside big cities and famous Americans.

Erin says the importance of this project really hit home for her when her neighbor, one of the town’s long-time beloved residents, passed away just weeks after she interviewed him and recorded his story. In her own way, she says, she was doing her part to preserve oral history before it was gone forever.