Last Saturday, William “Tyler” Alford-Getchell spent the day performing community service with the Governor of Massachusetts and making new friends – both made a lasting impression on the eighth grader from Stoughton.
Tyler was one of 351 eighth graders from around the state who were hand-chosen by school principals and superintendents to participate in Project 351, an initiative created by the Patrick-Murray Administration to encourage community service in young people, held January 15 in Boston.
Tyler, age 14, was chosen to represent Stoughton’s O’Donnell Middle School.
“It was amazing, it was great,” he said after the event.
Tyler started his day by boarding a regional bus that transported students to the Cradles for Crayons headquarters in Brighton.
The bus was quiet because no one knew anyone else, said Tyler; the ride home would be much louder.
“At registration, people started talking to each other, I was talking to someone from Bellingham and someone from Mansfield,” Tyler said of his new friends Kalvin Cho and David Bogdon. “The whole day was a great way for kids to branch out of their comfort zone in their own town, and get to know other people.”
The day opened with registration and opening remarks by Governor Patrick. The students were then fanned out across the City of Boston to serve at either Cradles to Crayons, the Catholic Charities Haitian Multi Service Center, The Dimock Center in Roxbury, Greater Boston Food Bank, or Countdown to Kindergarten.
Tyler and his group spent three hours painting the William J. Blackstone Elementary School in the South End of Boston where the Governor stopped by to help the students.
“I found it cool because he was just wearing jeans and a Project 351 shirt, he walked around and took pictures and helped us with the drawing,” Tyler said.
According to the Governor’s press release, the Blackstone School has 600 students and is one of 35 schools in Massachusetts to be named a “turnaround school” because student performance on the MCAS test has been in the bottom five percent of schools statewide, without showing improvement, for the past five years.
New leadership, dynamic community partnerships, investment in the learning environment, and a shared “whatever it takes” attitude have all contributed to a positive and productive year.
Project 351 painted a mural on the walls of the school and created a welcoming resource center for parents.
“Someone from CityYear drew the outline of the city in the background, the bus, and doves flying around, and then we painted it in,” said Tyler, noting the group also made blankets.
Tyler said he later found out that his father had attended Blackstone Elementary School many years ago.
“So that was pretty cool to me,” he said.
At the end of the day, the students gathered again at Cradles for Crayons for dinner and closing remarks by the Governor who asked them if they learned anything.
Tyler answered the Governor’s question.
“I said I learned that community service is not boring like some people think it is, it doesn’t take much to make people smile, and you can have fun doing it,” said Tyler, who has a strong interest in politics and government and says he would like to be Governor some day.
It was not the first time that Tyler had the chance to ask the Governor a question, however. Tyler actually met Governor Patrick when he came to the school during his reelection campaign this fall.
“I asked him what his average day was like as Governor of Massachusetts. His answer was that every day is different, that he never has to do the same job twice, and that got me more interested in his job because there is always something new to do,” Tyler said. “It was an honor to be able to speak to the Governor because not a lot of people get to do that.”
At the end of the day, the Project 351 students had formed bonds with each other and bonds with the community.
“The bus ride home was a whole different story with David and Kalvin,” said Tyler, adding the Governor’s office started a Facebook page for the students of Project 351 to stay in touch. “I’m happy that I made a lot of great friends.”
For more information, visit www.Project351.com.