Superintendent’s Spotlight: Teddy Gower, Michael Reilly, & Thomas O’Mahony


Superintendent’s Spotlight: Teddy Gower, Michael Reilly, & Thomas O’Mahony

January 6, 2023

Three Warwick Valley Middle School students with family ties to 9/11 raised money this fall for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Sixth graders Teddy Gower, Thomas O’Mahony, and Michael “Mickey” (Mantle, not Mouse) Reilly decided to raise money for the organization, whose programs benefit first responders and catastrophically injured service members, all while paying homage to the 343 FDNY firefighters, law enforcement officers, and civilians who lost their lives on September 11.

“It was Ms. Flynn, who shared that some students in her class were so inspired by our visit earlier this year from the motivational group Sweethearts and Heroes, that they wanted to do something to give back,” said WVMS Principal Georgianna Diopoulos. “It was the story of retired US Army Sgt. Rick Yarosh, who brought his Purple Heart with him, that inspired them to raise money for the Foundation.”

On September 1, 2006, Sgt. Yarosh sustained severe burns when his military vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device and engulfed in flames while on routine patrol in the Abu Ghraib region of Iraq. Today, Sgt. Yarosh shares a story that is as much about perseverance and resilience as it is about tragedy. As a motivational speaker, he promotes a message of “HOPE” – Hold On, Possibilities Exist!

“My mom was at the Towers when they fell, but luckily she got out,” shared Thomas. “When I saw Rick come out – and his injuries – I felt really bad that people have to go through that, especially people without homes. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation helps with that.”

Mickey was compelled to fundraise and donate because his dad was a New York City firefighter at the time, and said he appreciates that Tunnel to Towers helps people who are affected by unexpected circumstances to succeed.

“I donated in memory of my dad’s friend,” added Teddy. “He passed away in the 9/11 attack.”

The Foundation’s main event is its annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, held on the last Sunday of September in New York City. The race traces the final footsteps of fallen FDNY firefighter Stephen Siller, who carried 60 pounds of gear, on foot, from the Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center so that he could be a helper in the rescue efforts (even though his own shift had just ended).

“What these students are doing encompasses everything we try to teach our kids here in Warwick,” said Principal Diopoulos. “We try to teach them to be empathetic; to be kind. We try to prepare them to be global citizens and to be considerate of others. All three of these guys have done that!”

To raise money, the trio had the idea to combine learning and philanthropy. Thomas, Teddy, and Mickey decided to complete extra online assignments that were aligned with their school classes, in exchange for monetary sponsorships of their progress.

“We asked family members for sponsorships, and we would make a certain amount of money based on however many [online quizzes] we completed,” said Thomas.

Mickey continued, “It’s basically a website where you can do math, language arts and stuff, and once you get to 100% on a skill test, that means you completed that skill.”

All together, the boys completed enough skills to raise and donate more than $800 to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation!

All three students are looking forward to the return visit from Sweethearts & Heroes this month. In particular, they are excited to reconnect with Sgt. Yarosh and hear more about his message of finding hope and happiness in the face of adversity, and being an agent for good.

“One thing in Rick’s message that really resonated with Teddy, Mickey, and Thomas is that you can always make someone happy, you can always do something to make someone’s day. You can be an ally,” said a very proud Principal Diopoulos. “Another thing we try to teach our students is to be helpers, and it’s always wonderful to see those lessons take root and bloom like they have with these young men.”

(l-r) Mickey Reilly, Teddy Gower, Thomas O’Mahony


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