Six Vineyard 8th graders — one from each Island town — spent last Saturday in Boston taking part in a massive youth community service project as part of the inauguration celebration for Governor Deval Patrick and Lt. Governor Tim Murray.
Called Project 351, the program included one student from each of the 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts. It was intended to highlight the Commonwealth’s interest in finding and furthering young learners and future leaders.
“Project 351 is about encouraging the next generation of leaders to give back to our communities,” Gov. Patrick said in a press release. “The goal is to generate 351 ripples of impact as the young people return to their homes and schools, spreading the spirit of service all across the Commonwealth.”
The Island youngsters were chosen by the teachers and principals of their individual schools based on their involvement in service to their schools and the community. They were Paul Jeffers-Mayhew from Aquinnah, Andrew Ruimerman from Chilmark, Megan Hurley from Edgartown, Noah Kleinhenz from Oak Bluffs, Liam Smith from Tisbury, and August Welles from West Tisbury.
Accompanied by teacher Marsha Curtis from the West Tisbury School, the students were picked up in Woods Hole by a representative from the host organization, Cradles to Crayons, in a Peter Pan bus dedicated just to the Vineyard students, plus one from Falmouth.
The event kicked off at 9:30 am with a Youth Town Hall meeting in Brighton, where the students were greeted by Gov. Patrick and Lt. Gov. Murray.
After breakfast and a short inspirational talk by Gov. Patrick, the kids split into teams and fanned out across Boston to participate in six different community service activities led by as many non-profit and service-oriented organizations.
Professional sports figures Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Faulk of the New England Patriots, and Jay Heaps formerly of the New England Revolution, joined the kids at some of the locations.
The projects that the kids undertook included packaging nutritious food for schoolchildren in need, assembling kindergarten-readiness kits, preparing packages with books and other needful items to be send to Haiti, and painting a mural at an elementary school.
Ms. Clark said she was very impressed with the organization of the project, the way that the 8th graders connected with their peers from other areas, and with how approachable Gov. Patrick was. She said that he was happy to give out autographs and pose for photos, and even obliged August Welles with a hug.
The kids’ enthusiasm about the project led to talk on the bus ride home about keeping up with the other kids on a Project 351 Facebook page.
“It was amazing,” said Megan Hurley of the experience, before rattling off a number of figures during a phone conversation after the event. “Altogether we were helping 10,000 kids in need.”
Megan was assigned to a program in which Boston-area schoolchildren are provided weekly with backpacks of healthy food to take home with them for the weekend. She said that a principal from one of the receiving schools told the kids that about 90 percent of his students benefit from the bags each week.
Surprised by the extent of need she witnessed, Megan is inspired to go back to Boston and help out with the project sometime in the future and perhaps even devote her life to helping others.
“I think that after being there and knowing all those facts, I’m more likely to go and help in that way as a career,” she said.
Liam Smith, a football fan, was excited to have the chance to work alongside Kevin Faulk of the Patriots, but his most enduring impression of the project was how many were helped by the kids’ service work. Liam helped out with the Countdown to Kindergarten project in which the students filled backpacks with school supplies for impoverished kids.
Asked to describe what he liked best about the experience, Liam said, “Knowing that you helped 4,000 kids in poverty who don’t have the things that you have, and they probably wouldn’t get any chance to have that stuff without this project.”
A member of the Junior National Honor Society, Liam has helped out in the past at Island senior housing and with other local service projects. Alongside his father, Edgartown police officer Thomas Smith, he lays memorial flowers on the graves of police officers in Edgartown each year. Liam is himself thinking of going into law enforcement some day.
“It taught me a lot,” Liam said about Project 351. “It gave me ideas for the honor society. They’re always looking for service projects to do.”
Liam was excited to be able to help so many at once, and he feels lucky to have been given the chance to get involved. “I was honored that I was chosen out of all the incredible kids in Tisbury who do so much for the community.”
At the end of the day the students were reunited at the Cradles to Crayons facility in Brighton for a service celebration.
Ms. Hurley related an anecdote that Governor Patrick shared with the kids. As a child, one day the future governor attempted to board a city bus with the exact fare on hand. However, not realizing that the fare had just risen, he found himself short. The bus driver covered the difference and said to him, “Pass it on to someone else.”
Originally scheduled to occur just two days after the inauguration, the event was rescheduled, because of threatening weather, to the actual date of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. “It just happened to fall on MLK’s birthday after we rescheduled, but we were happy to invoke and spread Dr. King’s ethic and example of service during our event,” said Alec Loftus, communications director for the Patrick-Murray Inaugural Committee.
In a revised press release issued after the postponement, Governor Patrick said, “As we serve together, we join thousands of citizens across the nation honoring Dr. King’s example.”
In the print edition, the name of the West Tisbury School teacher who accompanied the students to Boston was incorrect. She is Marsha Curtis, not Marcia Clark.