Young Heroes

Madeline Shields

by Susan Gabriel Bunn

The Scoop on Seventeen Year Old Madeline Shields
Behind the Scene’s Family Hero of Four Generations

When Madeline (Maddie) Shields turned sixteen she, like any other celebrant of this exciting passage away from youth, was legally eligible for a job. Inheriting her dad’s red jeep, also a new driver, she tooled down to Cleveland Ohio’s hottest after school hangout, Mitchell’s Ice Cream Store to fill out her first job application. Not only did she land the job, over the past fourteen months of employment there, she captured the hearts of fellow workers, customers, and one of the inventors of Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Mike Mitchell. By now, the buzz about Maddie Shields at Mitchell’s is on. She has made an after school job hip and happening.

Her parents, Mike and Janet Shields, had no idea she had stirred up such enthusiasm until recently. “Pete Mitchell, Maddie's boss, answered the phone at the ice cream store when Janet called to speak with Maddie at work, “ her dad explains. “Pete couldn't say enough about Maddie's work ethic, conscientiousness, promptness and generally pleasant demeanor. He said that she was the litmus test for all employees, and especially, team leaders. He subsequently mentioned to Maddie that if she decided to go to Ohio State University she might consider managing a store down there while going to school.”

4 Generations
4 Generations

First job and already Maddie’s offered a promotion with a future from the boss. This recognition is a bit unusual to find in a world where a lot of her peers are often drawn to a different kind of celebrity; bling from the cash a day job offers more than delivering the performance that earns it. Driving at sixteen is also hip and happening but giving your all to the construction of a sundae or single, double scoop service from behind a counter? How could this be considered cool? Who better to answer that question than Maddie:

“Many people think of high school jobs as nothing serious. You see in movies all the time how the lazy teenager hates work and ends up quitting or putting little effort into it. But little do teenagers know that the attitude that you have towards the first time experiencing things forms the attitude that you have later in life. I have worked very hard to become what is called a “Team Leader”. Which is a leadership position in which you are “in charge” of the people working when the manager is or isn’t there. That may sound silly. But to me it is important. I want to learn through experience how it feels to work at something and succeed. It doesn’t matter what type of job it may be. Everyone knows that when you really work at something and are rewarded for it, it feel amazing. So learning when not to quit, even when times are rough, to stick to it, is something that everyone appreciates. If you put your heart into something, whatever it may be, it will pay off.”
grandma's hand - Photo by Madeline Shields
grandma's hand - Photo by Madeline Shields

My interest in this teenager prompted me to explore the roots of such character. I found my evidence on Tuesday nights at Grandmother Shields’ house. It is here, actually right next door to Maddie’s house, that her parents, aunts, cousins, and neighbors gather every Tuesday night to at least a good game of scrabble and a lot of great gab on the latest current events, or commentary on whatever stories are spinning out there in the world at large. A circle of tradition that Maddie’s been part of since birth, swimming around in a family that remains intact in the midst of a fragmented society.

“Not many people have the experiences that I have had. The privilege of growing up with four generations filled with knowledge that flows through me and forms me from my heart and moves out from there. Knowledge from four different periods of time. Four different views, opinions, world events, politics, moral values, influences. Four different lifestyles. Not many people have what I have, which are “Tuesday nights.” And for these I must be grateful, very grateful. Every Tuesday night my grandma, my aunt, her daughters (my first cousins), and sometimes one of their daughters (when they are home form college) go out to dinner and come back to my grandma’s house after. These are times I will remember forever. On Tuesday nights my grandmother’s house turns into a shrine. A shrine of stories and lessons. Of laughter and freeness. It becomes a place of peace. Somewhere where I can honestly say I will not be judged. And you’re thinking “Yeah, right, in you’re dreams honey…someone will always judge you.” And yes, true, I will always be judged. But not by my family. On Tuesday nights anything goes. Nothing is and uncomfortable topic, and I mean nothing. Ask anything, you’ll get an answer. You’ll get an answer from four different walks of life. Four different generations. You can pick and choose what you want to incorporate into your life, into you, as a person. Take the best of four influential and amazing generations and combine them into who you want to be. Not many people have had an experience like that.“

Maddie’s the first to admit this rare occasion has gifted her with a terrific ability to think for herself, act wisely, and reach out to others. She is endowed with everything money can’t buy. A wealth of a big heart, generous spirit, and desire to share in lasting friendships.

“Without the family that I have today and everything I have received from them, honestly I have no idea who I would be. I know I wouldn’t be as willing to listen, as willing to help as I am now. My family has taught me to be someone who is strong, but yet kind and gentle. Having the family that I do has taught me to think. Think in real terms, to recognize the important steps that I continue to take towards becoming an adult, becoming my own person. Having the family that I do has taught me to be the one that people rely on, who they can trust. To my friends I am the person they come to when they have troubles, when they get in fights with parents, boyfriends, etc. Without the knowledge, patience, and kindness that I have received I wouldn’t be someone to go to. The only reason I know what to do in times of crisis, in times of need is because I listen. I listen to the wise people in my life. And listening has taught me how to make better choices. I learn lessons without having to experience the painful events. (Now, don’t get me wrong, I still make millions of mistakes and learn “the hard way”, but not every time) Therefore, it’s almost like a shortcut into the years of wisdom I would have otherwise gained later in life.”

We all know not every child has the benefit of family in the way Maddie has known it. She responds to that reality with compassion and openness, offering hope.

“For everyone family is different. Being around kids who haven’t had the close knit family experience that I have had is a learning experience in itself. I have noticed that the people who don’t have this family experience are not as open. They are less secure with opening up to talk. I feel like there is a wall up, that they feel like they are going to be targeted, because that’s what they are taught. To not open up, to keep their distance so that they won’t get hurt. I feel like they feel if they reveal too much they have made themselves vulnerable. That is definitely a reason why I think that having a “family” is important. As long as you have support in who you are and what you are doing you won’t be scared to say….”This is who I am.” “Family can come in all shapes and forms. It can be a group of friends. It can be the old lady who lives across the street. It can be your cousin. It can be your friend’s mom. Anyone who you feel that inspires you to be who you want to be, and encourages you in the right direction, anyone who you feel you can confide it, who will guide you, who you trust, is your family.”

Maddie’s mom Janet has made a point of introducing her to many situations. A strong believer that exposure to the tribal aspect of community has been essential to Maddie’s healthy development. “It takes a ‘village concept’, and the support of many strong women in her life, has greatly impacted her in a positive way. Since she is an only child, she has been around adults alot in her life. She has heard stories and situations that many youngsters normally would not be exposed to. I believe it is important to expose a child to a variety of situations and be there to discuss the impact of these situations. The more people involved with the discussions, the more diverse opinions will be. Children are like sponges in many respects. They take it all in, and hopefully with the proper guidance, they will figure out what is best for them.”

Clearly Maddie is a role model among her friends and co-workers with a personality that reflects the very hero she describes when asked to name the true characteristics of a hero.

“In my opinion a true hero is someone who inspires you, brings out who you want to be. Someone who is a role model. Someone who isn’t perfect, because imperfections are what make us unique, they make each any every one of us beautiful in our own way. I have many different heroes. I could never pick one. Each person who inspires me inspires me for a different reason. My grandmother is probably at a tie with my Aunt Janet as the two most influential people in my life. They have talked to me about everything there is to know about anything. They are where I go for support. Every teenager is pressured into doing things that they are not comfortable with doing. I can honestly say that I have never given into that pressure because of the support that I get from my aunt and my grandmother. I can share things with them and know that they won’t go saying anything to anyone else. They tell me when I do something wrong, they are blunt about it, they don’t hold back, but I don’t want them to. They teach me how to look at things from both sides of a story. They teach me how to act maturely in situations where other people aren’t. They teach me how to be a friend, a daughter, a consoler, a lover, and most of all they teach me how to be myself and be proud of it.”

“My grandmother inspires me to stay true to myself make the right choices. My aunt inspires me to keep my feet on the ground, to think things through, and stay happy My father inspires me to think. To think about everything there is to think about. To be creative and to make people feel good about themselves. My cousin Mary inspires me to stay organized, to help others, to always be there, and to never be scared. Terri (family friend) inspires me to do what I feel is right, and to make the right choices even when they are hard. My mother inspires me to “stay cool” and to remember to have fun.

Speaking of fun, double scooping ice cream is not the only combination of entertainment and hard work in Maddie’s life. A love of photography and great talent for composition gives birth to her dreams and even expresses her true heart’s desire.

bird photo - by Madeline Shields
bird photo - by Madeline Shields
“I wasn’t aware of my interest in photography until about a year an a half ago. About a year and a half ago I went to a concert for The Fray. Their opener was a band called Mute Math and I immediately took a liking to them. Fortunately for me they came back to Cleveland a few months later to The Cambridge Room at The House of Blues in Cleveland. And one of their openers was a band called The Cinematics. I immediately fell in love with the sound of their music. It didn’t just sound like a few guys in a band who like what they do; you could hear the passion that they had for the music. What I heard that night opened up a new confidence in me. It made me want to feel and produce that same passion that they felt about their music. That’s when I really realized that I could feel that same emotion with pictures. When I take pictures I don’t just look for what’s pretty. I look for the emotion it evokes from people. Pictures are so powerful and in some cases can say more than words. If you find what you are passionate about it brings a whole new dimension to your life. If I were to dream I would hope that my photography would make other people feel the way that I do when I show them my pictures. I would hope that they would make an impact on them as much as they do on me. Photography is different than my other interests because it is something that I don’t feel like I have to get done. It’s not a chore. It catches me in a moment and fills me happiness. What more could you ask for?”

“ My dreams, I have only a few dreams. I dream that one day (as every other teenage girl) I can find love. Love that will last. No divorces, no “breaks,” just devotion to one another. I dream that my art can be an inspiration to others and make people feel as good as I do. I dream that I will be a successful. Not necessarily with money. But happy with where I am and what I have don’t with my life. To have no regrets.”

To other teenagers in search of a road map to help navigate this world we inhabit, Maddie offers to share her family flashlight: Above all else:

-to people
-to music
-to family
-to your mind
-to love
but most importantly
-to your own heart, and follow it…”


Perhaps the most heroic act that follows Maddie wherever she goes is best expressed by her ninety-six year old grandmother Josephine. It is something found in the power of subtlety. The very special and real effect the presence of one human being can have on another just by being who they are. "If it weren't for Maddie living next door to me I wouldn't have the incentive to keep going each day."

Page created on 7/18/2008 8:54:19 AM

Last edited 8/19/2018 5:51:40 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.