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By Jon Bishop

jbishop@nashobapub.com

AYER — John Finlay always wants to help out — whether it’s through coaching or counseling friends or through raising awareness for his father, Richard, who underwent a kidney transplant a few months ago.

It’s no surprise, then, that the 14-year-old won a John F. Kennedy Make a Difference Award for everything he does.

But talk to him and you’ll find a kid who isn’t interested in accolades. Helping others is just in his nature.

“I really don’t look for the attention,” he said.

Which is why, when his parents asked him what got him the award, he said he didn’t know.

The notification came in the form of a letter to their home.

“It was really a shock. It was surprising,” Richard said.

Karen Finlay said it gave her a “really proud feeling. It really just gave us a great feeling,” she said.

Receiving the award “meant a lot to me,” John said. It came with a trip to the Kennedy Library in Boston for a ceremony, at which Steve Grossman, former treasurer, gave the keynote address. That was on April 9.

In total, 100 students in grades 6, 7, and 8, throughout the entire state of Massachusetts, received awards.

“It was kind of amazing that all these people were there for different things,” John said, also noting that it was “nerve-wracking.”

“All in all, it was a very good day for me,” he said.

And what made it even better was that Grossman pulled John aside and complimented him for everything he did to get his father a kidney transplant. He said this, by the way, without a prompt: no one at the ceremony said what John did.

Grossman knew.

“To have him even remember that” was great, Karen said.

John said he remembers when he spoke to the 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade lunches to tell people that his dad needed a new kidney.

“After the 7th-grade one, I started to cry,” he said. “The amount of support I got during this time was incredible.”

Karen said it was great to see her son get so involved in spreading the word to his classmates and friends and teachers.

“It really did help,” she said, noting that Richard received a lot of calls.

“We know that John had a big part in that,” she said.

And this is what they’ve always taught him.

“I always say: ‘Give back; give back,'” RIchard said. “That’s how it goes.”

It’s how you demonstrate you’re a good person, he said. “It’s almost like the ‘Pay it Forward’ theme.”

And John does pay it forward, beginning right at home. His younger brother, Conor, a 5th-grader, looks up to him.

“He’s a mini-me,” John said, also noting that “it means a lot” to know Conor views him as a role model.

On the Make a Difference Award, Conor said, “I was really happy for him. He does deserve it.”

“He does a lot of great things,” he said.

Especially when coaching. John always takes the time to teach and guide younger kids, because he wants to make sure they learn the right way, Conor said.

And John said he just wants them to have fun.

“They love the things I put on for them,” he said.

It’s something Jeff Thomas, Ayer’s supervisor of recreation and maintenance, can certainly vouch for.

“John is an exemplary young man who demonstrates positive things,” he said, “a quiet young man who leads by example.”

Added Thomas: “He just does things for the right reasons.”

At the Kennedy Library, the Finlays learned that President Kennedy wanted everyone to make a difference.

“That’s his saying — one person can make a difference,” Karen said.

John certainly does. And then some.