CHATHAM – Elementary school students received a lesson in kindness, patriotism, sacrifice and what it means to be a hero last Wednesday afternoon when a Yarmouth police deputy chief and officer, a Chatham author and a drug-sniffing police dog addressed an all-school assembly.
“Do you know what a hero is?” author and photographer Kim Roderiques of Chatham asked the Chatham Elementary School students. “When everybody else runs away, the heroes come running in.”
With the cover of her 2017 book “Max and Charlie Help a Hero” projected onto a screen as a backdrop, Roderiques was joined by a real-life character from her book, Yarmouth Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos. Also on hand were Yarmouth Police Officer Nicholas Ambrosini and his police dog Gauge.
One way to make a positive difference in the world is through kind acts. Since 2017, Chatham Elementary School has had a “Kindness Club.” Students commit to giving up one recess or lunch period each week to perform a kind act. The club had an initial membership of three. Within two months that expanded to 25 third graders. There are now 125 students in the Kindness Club. This month alone, 93 of those members performed 836 acts of kindness. Third grader Annaleigh Massey called three students from each grade whose kindness “went above and beyond” up to the front of the gym to receive star stickers from Xiarhos.
“You’re never too young to make a difference” is the theme of Roderiques’s book, which all the students at the school read. The beautifully-illustrated book tells the story of a young Chatham boy named Charlie who, with his newly-adopted rescue dog Max, raises money to buy a wounded veteran on Nantucket a service dog. The proceeds of the book, $5,200, went to the three organizations written about in the book: the Nicholas G. Xiarhos Foundation, MSPCA Cape Cod and Holidays for Heroes (a group that gives military families respite in Nantucket.)
In the book, Charlie and Max became “super duper fast friends,” Roderiques said. Then, when Charlie met Xiarhos at a road race raising money for veterans and their families, his life changed.
Xiarhos stepped up to the microphone. “It’s pretty cool to be in a book,” he said. “I love veterans.” Xiarhos noted that only 1 percent of the population “serves our country.”
Xiarhos is a Gold Star father. His son, U.S. Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, was killed in action in Afghanistan in July 2009. He was just 21. Big Nick’s Ride for the Fallen takes place each July when hundreds of motorcycles drive along Cape Cod roads from Bourne to Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, Nick’s alma mater. Funds raised go to the Nicholas G. Xiarhos Foundation which supports local veterans and wounded warriors and funds a scholarship at the high school.
Xiarhos, who has received 22 awards from the Yarmouth Police, pulled up his right sleeve to show the children that his late son’s picture has been tattooed onto his arm.
“My son came home underneath the American flag,” Xiarhos said.
Xiarhos advised the children that they ought never forget the fallen and should thank veterans for their service. He added that he is very glad to be a police officer. “If you see a police officer be safe,” he said. “If you need help, you ask for help from the police.”
Xiarhos held up three stuffed toy dogs. All three are modeled after the department’s drug-sniffing dogs. There is Nero, a Belgian Malinois; Satu, a German shepherd; and Thor, a black lab. The dogs and other items such as sweatshirts and T-shirts are being sold to raise funds for the Sgt. Sean M. Gannon K-9 and Police Officer Training Complex at the Yarmouth Police Department. Gannon, 32, was shot and killed in April 2018 while serving a warrant in Marstons Mills. His dog, Nero, was shot in the face but survived after treatment at the Hyannis Animal Hospital, the official veterinarian for police dogs. The Yarmouth Police Department has had police dogs continuously for 50 years.
The Yarmouth police have another drug-sniffing dog, Gauge, and Xiarhos introduced the black lab/great Dane mix, and his handler, Ambrosini. Gauge, who is about three, stepped onto the school’s stage. The young audience was very attentive.
“He loves playing with his ball, right Gauge?” Ambrosini said. “Where’s your ball?” Gauge cocked his head and put up his ears. Ambrosini held up the stuffed toy version of Gauge. “Do they look alike?” When Gauge took his stuffed twin in his mouth, the children laughed.
A girl asked, “What does he do when he’s not sniffing out drugs?”
Ambrosini said that Gauge has a kennel in the back of the patrol car that’s “all his.”
Gauge was trained in Norfolk, Mass., at the state department of corrections. The training lasted for 12 40-hour weeks. Ambrosini and Gauge return to Norfolk for refreshers twice a month. When Gauge, who lives with Ambrosini’s family, retires, he will continue to live at Ambrosini’s house.
“He gives good licks, too,” Xiarhos said as Gauge licked Ambrosini.