GROTON/DUNSTABLE — Is it obvious what these three eighth-grade students from Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School have in common?
She is involved in community-outreach programs centered around playing music and performing concerts for senior centers in her area. She helped to organize a school-service project, collecting gifts and putting baskets for soldiers serving overseas during the holidays. Through her church, she sponsors a young girl living in Haiti and has raised money to send to this young victim, along with gift baskets and other supplies to help her cope with the devastation in her Haitian community. Her name is Sophia Berard.
He visits nursing homes and has helped serve people food on Thanksgiving. He also takes care of children at his local Mosque in Fitchburg and he helped in a blood drive. His name is Musawir Chaudhry.
He is a member of the Boy Scouts and helps to run lots of food drives. He participates in occasional community-service work through his church and has been involved in the Groton-Dunstable Bookmakers and Dreamers Club Big Book of Peace. His name is Sam Tellier.
As a result of their strong-community service, these three students — Sophia Berard of Dunstable and Musawir Chaudhry and Sam Tellier of Groton — had the privilege of being selected to participate in “Project 351.”
To demonstrate Massachusetts’ commitment to the next generation of learners and leaders, a ‘Congress’ of youth known as Project 351 assembled last month for dialogue, action and celebration.
Selected for their strong service ethic, 351 eighth-grade students representing every city and town in Massachusetts joined Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Gov. 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.
In addition to the student representatives, other students were selected who have family members active in the military or designated “Fallen Heroes.” Sam Tellier was asked by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund if he would like to participate and he was honored to do so. Sam lost his brother, Sgt. Zachary Tellier, in Afghanistan while he was serving there in the U.S. Army.
Marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this event was organized by the Patrick-Murray Inaugural Committee and was intended 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 Gov. 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 student’s own strong ethic of service in his or her community.
Sophia Berard was shocked and surprised when told that she had been selected. “I didn’t think my community-service work would lead up to this; it’s a big honor!”
With a full day scheduled, Project 351 participants arrived by bus, were treated to a breakfast of bagels, muffins, and juice, and then joined Gov.Patrick and Lt. Gov. 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 nonprofit organizations.
Providing a “home base” at the beginning and end of the day for the assembly of Project 351 students and volunteers, Cradles to Crayons is an innovative nonprofit organization that equips homeless and in-need 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, including Catholic Charities Haitian Multi Service Center, Countdown to Kindergarten, Cradles to Crayons, The Dimock Center, Greater Boston Food Bank, and Blackstone Elementary School. More importantly, the participants will provide service to more than 10,000 children.
As they split into groups, Musawir Chaudhry thought to himself that he didn’t know anyone, but “someone broke the ice and then we all started talking and having fun together, and we made new friends.” Working with about 40 to 50 students from places like Martha’s Vineyard, Cambridge and Boston, Musawir was assigned to work at Countdown to Kindergarten and was part of a group that packed more than 4,000 bags of school supplies.
“I had a lot of fun…a blast!” remarked Sophie about her experience. She worked a food assembly line at the Greater Boston Food Bank packing apples and other items for senior citizens. “It was just a group of eighth graders who made an impact on the lives of others and it helped me as a person knowing that I helped those less fortunate.” Berard was lucky to stand between Gov. Patrick and Allen while packing bags of food. About Allen, Sophie said, “he’s wicked tall and his head is insanely shiny!”
She is planning to return to the food bank to volunteer again.
Sam also joined the Countdown to Kindergarten activities, where he found Brandon McGowan of the New England Patriots working on the same assembly line for a while. Sam worked side by side with students from Lincoln and the suburbs of Boston, bagging up art supplies, construction paper, markers, colored pencils, crayons, and books.
“Together, these amazing students are building bonds of friendship that span the commonwealth, while impacting the lives of over 10,000 children,” said Lt. Gov. Murray. And build friendships, they did. With the exchange of cell phone numbers and Facebook names, students who worked side by side all day long plan to text each other or keep in touch with messages to friends they hope to keep for a long time.
Seeing Gov. Patrick and Lt. Gov. Murray at the assembly was exciting for Musawir. “They explained why we were there and what they hoped we’d achieve. They also shared a lot of information with us and asked us to take what we learned there back to each of our communities to spread the effort,” Musawir explained. He liked what Gov. Patrick said, that “…we have a stake in each other and we have to help each other.” Musawir’s team leader, Conrad, was motivating as well, telling the students to “imagine the kid who’s going to get the bag of supplies and imagine what that child will be feeling.”
Listening to Gov. Patrick as he spoke, Sam heard him ask the kids to “make an example of the day and bring it back to your schools.” Sam was inspired by the day’s service activities and said he would hope to do more of the same again.
Dianne Bunis contributed to this report.