TOWNSEND -- When two eighth-grade students were chosen to participate in a statewide project, they had already proven they have what it takes.
"It takes leadership and character and all these other things, and we think you fit the bill," Steve Coughlan, principal of Hawthorne Brook Middle School, told Kelsey Rainville.
Rainville, 14, from Ashby, and Joshua Harrison, 13, from Townsend, are this year's student ambassadors from their towns for Project 351. Each year, one grade-eight student from each of Massachusetts 351 municipalities is chosen to be part of the program begun by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2011.
In January, these two students joined their peers for a day in Boston. They developed more leadership skills as they visited Faneuil Hall, the Statehouse and nonprofit groups and schools in the city.
"They showed us how to take command and get things done," Harrison said.
Service-learning is familiar to these middle-school students. As part of her grade 5 requirements at Ashby Elementary School, Rainville donated 12 hours to the town's Pumpkin Festival, making fleeces and blankets. The proceeds benefited the Friends of the Ashby Public Library.
Harrison volunteers for projects and drives at Hawthorne Brook. "I do what I can to help out," he said.
For part of the day in Boston, Rainville volunteered at Cradles to Crayons, a Boston-based charity providing essentials for homeless and low-income students.
Seeing the needs of kids "who don't have all the clothing, toys and books and everything that we do" stuck with Rainville.
Across the state, Project 351 participants are running Spring Greening initiatives to benefit Cradles to Crayons.
The two local students decided to team up and be part of the clothing drive. They are equipped with guidelines from the charity and all the knowledge they gained from Project 351.
Seeing how working together makes a big difference inspired Rainville.
The good feelings that come from helping others resonated with Harrison as well. "Wow, that felt really good to do ... I want to do more," Harrison said about his day in the city.
The student leaders plan on placing one collection box at Hawthorne Brook and another at the Townsend Public Library. Once the clothes are collected, they will sort through them and send them out.
The students have started to use leadership skills to get the word out about the drive.
Rainville enlisted the help of the student council to make posters and hang them up all over school. Harrison approached the principal about including a notice on the sign in front of the school's entrance and in the morning announcements.
Project 351 gave the students a chance to meet peers from across the state. Initially, Rainville feared she would just be sitting there since she would not know anyone on the bus. She was proven wrong. Both students made friends they are still in contact with.
"The coolest thing," Harrison said, "was meeting so many new people -- the friendships I made that day."
Spring Greening, the clothing drive to benefit Cradles to Crayons, will run from March 31 through April 10 at Hawthorne Brook and the Townsend Library.