Amie Murray holds a picture of her sister Shauna as her mother Patricia stands behind her. Shauna, who is originally from Bennington, is raising money for
Amie Murray holds a picture of her sister Shauna as her mother Patricia stands behind her. Shauna, who is originally from Bennington, is raising money for a trip to Zambia to care for children with disabilities. Shauna was inspired by her sister Amie, who suffers from cerebral palsy. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com)

BENNINGTON -- Twenty-six-year-old Shauna Kearns is finishing her clinical fellowship in Denver, Colo. for her specialization in speech pathology. She is raising money to make it to Zambia at the end of her fellowship to teach graduate students and to implement feeding and swallowing protocol for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Kearns was given the opportunity to go to Zambia on a mission trip as a volunteer by Connective Link Among Special Needs Programs. Initiated in 2010, CLASP is a nonprofit healthcare and social service organization that advocates for those with special needs with a speech therapy training program to help Zambian natives.

Kearns recalled the support from her mother and individuals in Bennington had on her passions to go on to help others.

Kearns' mother, Patricia Kearns of Bennington, has been a nurse for her entire career, and likes to think she has set a precedent for helping others. "I feel like there may be areas in life where as a parent you feel like you could have done better, or you were lacking, but I must have done something right," Kearns said.

One of Shauna Kearns' sisters, Kaitlyn Hunt, teaches special education at Monument Elementary School in Bennington.

Kearns' older sister, Amie Murray, has cerebral palsy. Growing up in a household with Murray, Hunt and a brother, Kearns learned how valuable communication was for making her family's lives run easier.

During her community service time while a student at Mount Anthony Union High School, Kearns worked with a young boy named Ben at Molly Stark. The 3-year-old Russian boy did not know any English. Kearns said finding ways to communicate and observing Ben's language acquisition influenced her interest in communication.

"Between Amie and Ben, I found inspiration not only in them, but also in the ability to communicate, which is ultimately what led me to pursue a career in speech pathology," Kearns said.

Speech pathologists abide by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association code of ethics, which states that "individuals shall engage in lifelong learning to maintain and enhance professional competence and performance." Kearns said she is confident that her work in Zambia will help further this duty of hers.

Kearns is raising money to pay her $5,500 dues for travel to Zambia, supplies, food and shelter. If she raises a good portion of those dues by April 20, she will leave for Zambia in early June.

Kearns said that though Bennington does not always receive the most positive media attention, residents shouldn't get caught up in what's bad.

"I think Bennington needs a reminder of all the good that has come, is coming and will continue to come from our small town," said Kearns. "I hope that news of my journey adds something positive for people of Bennington to feel proud of."

A 2006 graduate of MAUHS, Kearns graduated from Keene State College in 2009 and Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2013.

She has set up a donation site at http://www.gofundme.com/shauna-goes-to-zambia for those who would like to help her on her mission. To learn more or to contact Shauna, find her on facebook by the name Sholanda Kurnz.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg