Originally created 01/03/06

Teen's family has instilled invaluable lessons in giving



Her name means "helper," and not only does Paige Hamilton, 17, know it but she also lives it.

The Evans High School senior is always involved and serving others, from serving as president of the Evans High School Student Council to volunteering with INTERACT, Young Life, the gospel choir, Students Against Destructive Decisions, the Health Occupations Students of America, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, not to mention her roles at church and at work at Gymnastics Gold.

"I'm usually known as the girl involved in everything," she said without a hint of boastfulness. "I'm in a lot."

So is her heart.

On the Thursday before Christmas, while most of her classmates had fled to the mall or were spending the start of their vacation in sublime slumber, she was making a meal for a friend's mother who had surgery.

The meal wasn't something Paige had to do; it was something she wanted to do.

"I know what it's like when your mom's in the hospital and people keep bringing you over all that fried chicken," she said.

Yet the fact that she helps out, in school and in her community, has deeper roots than mere sympathy.

"My parents (Dale and Sharon) helped instill in me to do this and help improve things, to be involved," Paige said. "My family has a lot to do with the person I am and the person I will be. The way I interact, talk to and relate to other people all comes from my family."

As one of 14 children - the oldest is 24 years old and the youngest just 6 months - it's hard to not believe her when she gives the credit for her leadership skills and spirit of service to her home life.

As the sixth-born, and nestled between two sets of twins, Paige has learned to thrive in group situations, and that has translated outside her home, where her classmates consider her a role model (they named her homecoming queen) and friend, and adults consider her responsible and trustworthy.

"When I was born, there were five before me," she said. "I always had that awareness that I'm not the only one."

As she got older and the siblings "kept coming," she said, she had little reason or desire to forget.

"Compared to an only child, who might be shy, I've grown up around people so I don't have that problem," Paige explained. "With public speaking, I'm pretty sure my family had something to do with that. You sort of need to be able to say what you want, and say it loud enough for people to hear it, in a family this big."

Though being from such a large family has caused disbelief in strangers, a large family has tons of benefits, Paige said.

"It's pretty cool. Most people want to peg big families as chaotic, where you don't get enough love and attention. That's not true at all," she said. "Sure, it has its ups and downs, every family does, but there's always someone to go to the movies with or sit at home and watch a movie with."

The biggest advantage is always learning about life from the people who are around her most.

"You always need a big brother to tell you what not to do and a big sister telling you if you're dressing badly," Paige said. "And the little children, they can tell you lot, if you just listen."

About those downsides:

"Sometimes you're in a hurry and there's someone in the shower or someone eating the last Pop-Tart. I've had some days where I had to be to school early and I had to go without (breakfast) because someone had eaten the last Pop-Tart," Paige said. "Running out of milk is a really big problem, too."

Besides being a constant fountain of advice and the occasional missed meal, Paige said, her family also has given her a firm spiritual foundation. Her father is in the ministry, and the family is doing missionary work with congregations in Thomson and Warrenton, Ga.

It's that part of herself that she said she wants people to recognize, not her leadership positions or school titles.

"The clubs and extra-curricular stuff, that is extra. I don't think it really means anything," she said. "Being homecoming queen was great. I'll always look back on it. There are people who really get into titles.

"My parents are always teaching me how to be humble. There is so much more God is going to have for me to accomplish. ... He's put a lot (of opportunity) before me."

Paige hopes that some of what lies before her is a chance to work with young people, particularly as a registered nurse specializing in pediatrics. She's already received her license as a certified nursing assistant.

It will be a fitting occupation for the girl they called "Mama Paige," she said.

"I was the one in the corner saying to the kid, 'You're not supposed to be doing that,'" she recalled. "I got that from my mom."

What others get from her is someone who wants to keep giving back and doing all that she can while she can, instead of taking time out for TV.

"I don't want to be on the couch," she said.

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.