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Twin peaks: Dover sisters in service

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By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Staff

When it comes to twins, the common misconception is that physical similarity translates into a sameness of personality. Dover twins Jennifer and Nadine Cutler would be the first to tell you that's not quite correct. The two sisters, while close, are not quite the carbon-copies of each other that one might expect.

"It is interesting because Jen is an extrovert, while I am very much an introvert," says Nadine, reflecting on the ties that bind her with her sister. "But when I am with her, I catch myself talking constantly. She is one of the only people in the world that I can be myself around, and never ever feel self-conscious. My twin sister is my rock in so many more ways than one."

The Cutlers share one very deep similarity, though - one that transcends personality traits and physical appearance. They have both committed themselves to serving their communities. The devil, as always, is in the detail.

Cadet Jennifer Cutler has devoted herself to serving her country as a student at the United States Air Force Academy. Nadine, on the other hand, chose education as her focus of service, completing a year in the AmeriCorps City Year program in Jacksonville, Florida.

City Year is a program that matches high-poverty communities with enthusiastic, intelligent young teachers. "In high-poverty communities there are external factors and obstacles students are faced with every day that can interfere with their ability to both get to school and be ready and able to learn," reads the City Year website. "But it's these students who need a bit of extra, individualized support. But there’s a gap between the kind of help they need and the support the schools are designed to provide."

To say the least, both Jennifer and Nadine have had some eye-opening - if radically different - experiences in their work. The differences in their service make them unique individuals. The deep similarities, though, make them Cutlers.

"My parents have always been strong willed, generous people," says Jennifer. "They encouraged us to challenge ourselves through wilderness trips and striving through club sports to become the best that we can be. No matter what, they would drop everything to help their friends and family. They taught us to have good manners and respect," she concludes.

Nadine concurs. "My parents did an incredible job in raising four independent women," she mentions. "We were never discouraged from our dreams, regardless of how different they may have been, and definitely regardless of our gender. With this confidence instilled in us also came the belief that we could truly do anything. I learned perseverance and hard work came a long way, especially through my dad, and I also think that a lot of that can be attributed to the athletic organizations and teams I had the opportunity to be a part of."

Still, it is curious how these identical core values manifest themselves in such drastically different ways.

"I cannot say that I ever wanted to be a teacher or work for AmeriCorps," says Jennifer. "I have never had the patience that Nadine has with teaching which I highly respect about her. She has the amazing skill of connecting with everyone, and taking a step back with a student to help them re-approach an issue they are struggling with."

"I wanted to go into the military because I believe it was a good fit for me," she continued. "I grew up a gymnast at Gymnastics Express, which required a good deal of discipline and attention to detail, which I learned was an environment I thrived in. The military requires men and women to have discipline, commitment, and respect that my parents instilled in me."

Nadine, for her part, reveals her own flirtation with a possible military career. "Before I found and committed to City Year, I did in fact look into joining the ROTC program at my school in Denver," she admits. "However, the more that I researched and looked into it, the more that I realized it wasn’t for me. I support the individuals that serve in our armed services and I know that the institution as a whole plays vital roles for our society, but the career that I want to have is working very closely with teenagers, and being a role model for them, especially for struggling queer teenagers."

She then delivers and impassioned explanation of her commitment to education: "I chose public education specifically because I firmly believe that almost all issues may be combatted through education. Violence, crime, poverty - all of these enormous and daunting issues can be cured through education. I believe that racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc do not exist in people that have been truly educated," says Nadine, whose idealism is rooted in a healthy, robust awareness of the world around her.

"This should not ignore the problems that I have with the current educational system," she adds, "because I think there are obvious and gaping flaws in the public educational systems. The differing educational experiences based on socioeconomic status and the area that one lives are catastrophic. I am appalled by the school-to-prison pipeline and the opportunities and resources that are available to public schools in marginalized communities versus those in wealthy communities. I know that I will not single-handedly change any of these issues, but I have an incredible passion for youth and teaching, and I hope that through this passion I am able to show at least one child that there lies hope and opportunity in education."

Both Jennifer and Nadine share another thing in common: the centrality of Dover in their commitment to service.

"Dover is a very supportive community; my family has found an amazing neighborhood along Saddle Ridge Road," says Jennifer. "We learned from our parents that you will cooperate with others to ensure we can all get to the right place at the right time. I also saw great support when someone in the neighborhood had a passing of a loved one, we would all get together and ensure they had meals to take one less task off their plate. There was always great joy found in friendship and helping each other out, and I have carried those into my life at the academy to make my small circle of influence a little better for everyone."

Nadine adds her own agreement. "I think that Dover, specifically the Dover-Sherborn school system, provided me with the tools to think critically about the rest of the world, and show me how effective public education can be," she says. "I ask questions, I am extremely critical of the media, news, and politics. I have a lifelong urge to learn and I would be mistaken if I said that much of that wasn’t attributed to my public educational experience."

Another area of agreement? Both the Cutler women would recommend a service path for anyone contemplating it.

"I would absolutely recommend following that urge," says Nadine. "If you give a year, the worst case scenario that will happen is that you gave a year and considered the opportunity, and through your work became a more humbled human being. The best possible scenario could be that you discover that a life lived to create a more just and equitable world for others makes you happier than you ever thought you could be."

"Without a doubt, go for it! What is the worst that you can happen? You commit a few years of your life to service, and you do not need to commit your whole life," adds Jennifer. "Whether you do that through the military or through other service programs such as Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, or AmeriCorps, you are gaining life experience."

At the end of the day, both Jennifer and Nadine would also agree that service isn't all about giving - it's about enriching their own lives, as well.

"The one thing I would like to add is that working in service has made me appreciate where I have come from, and my future," says Jennifer. "I appreciate any time I am allowed to sleep in a bed for more than 6 hours, and any meal I can share with my family. I have much more gratitude for the people around me, and the opportunities that I am offered. My friends and I remind each other to be present and enjoy the moment, but don’t forget to plan for the future."

She then sums it up a bit more succinctly: "Whether that is getting good grades for future graduate school, or preparing for that meeting with the officers that oversee my squadron, I live a much fuller, organized, satisfying crazy life."

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