The School Committee on Wednesday, March 7 saluted current eighth-grade Project 351 ambassadors Allie Erikson of Whitman Middle School and T.J. Woodward of Hanson Middle School, as well as recent program alumni now attending WHRHS and serving as adviser/mentors to this year’s ambassadors.
“When I first found out what Project 351 is, it inspired me,” Erikson said. “I truly did not understand how many people needed our help.”
She is conducting a sock drive at WMS on March 26 and has volunteered at Boston’s Pine Street Inn.
“It’s such a great organization and I’m so glad that I was chosen,” said Woodward, whose sister Courtney was also a Project 351 ambassador. “I’m looking forward to doing clothing drives and a canned food drive later on. I just think it’s a great organization to be part of.”
On launch day he was working with a group of students at the State House assembling school kits for Haitian children moving to Massachusetts and hygiene kits for families who can’t afford a lot of those items for their children.
The program, begun in 2011 as a student service project in coordination with the observance of Martin Luther King Jr., Day and incorporated that first year as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s inaugural festivities. An eighth-grader from each of the state’s 351 cities and towns travel to Boston to participate in the service learning program’s day of service.
It now has been expanded to include fall and spring service projects and leadership training.
School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes shook each student’s hand, telling them how proud the committee is of their work, “What you’re doing is really making a change,” he said. “Keep up this good work.”
“Project 351 is honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Chris Blackman, now a W-H freshman. “It’s incredible to have the feeling of helping people and the community who you may not even know, but you know need help.”
An annual clothing drive for Cradles to Crayons is a key aspect of the W-H students’ work.
“ My experience has been life-changing, because it kind of opens you up to the real world, in that more people need help and there’s always a lending hand to give,” said W-H junior Abigail Trongone of Hanson. “When you give that lending hand, people give it back – one act of kindness leads to another.”
Whitman junior Rachel Putur, who still volunteers for the community at the Whitman Food Pantry, also spoke of the good feeling derived from helping others.
“People come together as a community and make a great difference,” she said.
“Project 351 is the most fulfilling and inspiring experience a kid my age could take part in,” said freshman Emma Rodgers of Hanson, who conducted a clothing drive through her dance school, Boss Academy and St. Joseph the Worker Church. “[It] also taught me to express gratitude to people who help me along the way because every little thing really matters.”
“I’ve been able to help a group of 10 eighth-graders through their year of service so far and was with them on launch day,” sophomore Courtney Woodward. “My experience with Project 351 has been pretty amazing. I changed my attitude on how everything is in the world around me and have been able to give back to my community and help people.”
W-H senior Regan Hayes said she has seen a lot of personal growth within herself through participation in the program.
“You can see that there’s a lot of hope for the future,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner said. “These are wonderful leaders and they will become even better leaders as a result of Project 351 and the work that they do.”
School Committee member Robert Trotta said he hopes the students’ enthusiasm continues as they grow older.
“I think your generation is the one that can hopefully make a positive change in the world,” he said.
School Committee member Steven Bois, who works at the JFK Library in visitor relations, where last year’s program culminated, urged all the students to visit the library and remarked how they reminded him of some of the points President Kennedy made in his inaugural address.
“He talked about how [change] would not take place in the first 100 days, or the first 1,000 days, or the lifetime of his administration, or of us on this planet, but said, ‘Let us begin,’” Bois said. “Those are such strong words but I think it resonates in everything that you do.”