By Karen Riggert
ASHBY/TOWNSEND — She’s a special young lady. She is involved in the Hawthorne Brook Student Council, Rachel’s Challenge/Unity Club (a group dedicated to the first victim, Rachel, from the Columbine School massacre), and Destination Imagination. She helped coordinate “Unity Days” at her school, where activities are created to have students come together with other students with whom they may not normally interact. She plays field hockey and works on her school yearbook. This special young lady is Jordan O’Brien, an eighth-grade student from Townsend.
She is an amazing young lady. She has a way of recognizing the difficulties new students have when fitting into school. She was observed reaching out to a new student at lunch one day by her vice principal. As a result, she was chosen to participate in a one-day leadership program offered at Fitchburg State University.
She is a member of the Student Council, has worked in the Circle of Friends group (helping autistic kids make friends), participated in Relay-For-Life at North Middlesex Regional High School, is an avid basketball player, and maintains honor-roll status in school. This amazing young lady is Kristina Osborne, an eighth-grade student from Ashby.
Together, with more than 350 other eighth-grade student from around the commonwealth, Jordan and Kristina were selected as the representatives of their towns to attend “Project 351” in Boston on Jan. 15.
To demonstrate the commonwealth’s commitment to the next generation of learners and leaders, a “Congress” of youth known as Project 351 assembled Jan. 15 for dialogue, action and celebration. Selected for their strong service ethic, 351 eighth-graders representing every city and town in Massachusetts joined Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Governor Tim Murray, Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Faulk and Brandon McGowan of the New England Patriots, and Jay Heaps, formerly of the New England Revolution, to launch Project 351 — an ambitious and unprecedented youth service day. Marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the event was organized by the Patrick-Murray Inaugural Committee to help honor Dr. King’s legacy of service.
“Project 351 is designed to inspire, challenge, and motivate our next generation of learners and leaders to give back and make a significant impact on the community,” said Patrick. “As we serve together, we join thousands of citizens across the nation honoring Dr. King’s example.”
School superintendents and principals selected the 351 youth ambassadors based on the students’ strong ethic of service in his or her community. With a full day scheduled, Project 351 participants arrived by bus, were treated to a breakfast of bagels, muffins, and juice, and then joined Patrick and Murray to kick off the day with a Youth Town Hall meeting at Cradles to Crayons in Brighton. The youth ambassadors then fanned out across Boston to join leaders in the pro-sports community to serve in partnership with numerous service and non-profit organizations.
Providing a “home base” for the Project 351 assemblies, Cradles to Crayons is a nonprofit that equips homeless and needy children with the basic essentials they need to feel safe, warm, ready to learn and valued.
Through Project 351, the ambassadors created a critically-needed impact at six service sites throughout the Boston area. More importantly, the participants provided service to more than 10,000 children facing economic challenge.
Jordan and Kristina were both scheduled to work at Cradles to Crayons for the day. Jordan’s responsibility was to sort three big bins of books into new and used, and then sort them by gender and into age-appropriate categories. The new books were to be given to local children in need and the used books were donated to the Salvation Army.
Kristina cleaned toys and made sure they were in good shape for use by children. She changed the batteries in toys that did not work and bagged the toys to be given to children.
“Together, these amazing students are building bonds of friendship that span the commonwealth, while impacting the lives of over 10,000 children,” said Murray.
Build friendships, they did. With the exchange of cell-phone numbers and Facebook names, students who worked side-by-side all day plan to text each other or keep in touch with messages to friends they hope to keep for a long time.
“I was glad I could help kids and make a difference,” Kristina shared. “I was happy knowing I could help someone who needed it, and if given the opportunity to help in the future, I will.”
At the end of the day, Jordan felt a great sense pride, and said it was “a great experience. I got new ideas and I’m motivated to bring them back to community to get them involved. Gov. Patrick told us to ‘look at the big picture in Massachusetts and to get kids together’ and I’m going to follow his advice.”
Kristina hopes that she and Jordan will be able to share their experience with their peers at school.