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OMS 8th Grader Zaria Durant to Represent Stoughton in Governor's Community Service Project

Zaria Durant will join hundreds of other eighth graders from across the state in Boston on January 26 for Project 351, an event designed to encourage community service in young people.

O'Donnell Middle School student Zaria Durant will join hundreds of other eighth graders from across the state in Boston on January 26 for Project 351, a third annual statewide youth community service event, sponsored by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

Launched during Governor Patrick’s inaugural in 2010, Project 351 is dedicated to celebrating youth leadership and inspiring the ethic of service.

Class of 2013 Ambassadors were selected locally by educators and submitted to Project 351 in December, according to the Project 351 website.

"Ambassadors are nominated and selected for an exemplary ethic of service and the values of compassion, commitment, humility, kindness, and generosity of spirit," the website states.

O'Donnell Middle School faculty nominated 8th graders Marco Antunes, Caitlin Jung, Rebecca McSweeney, Jon Podesta, and Tim Raeke, as well as Durant to be considered for this honor and ended up being selecting Durant as Stoughton's representative.

"Zaria just seems like a natural leader," said 8th grade social studies teacher Caitlin Murphy, who nominated Durant. Murphy said Durant was and active participant in her class and aware of current events and issues. "She's a great kid overall, very well-rounded and mature. She's a great person to represent the O'Donnell Middle School and Stoughton overall."

Each of the OMS nominees were required to write a short essay about the meaning of community service/volunteerism and how they have given back to the community. The nominees presented the essays before a faculty panel (essays are posted below).

They may only be 8th graders, but OMS principal Matt Colantonio said that after seeing the essays it was clear that the nominees were "so impressive and so mature and so dedicated to making their community a better place."

"With my high school background, it's hard not to think these are the future Golden Knights," Colantonio, the immediate past principal at SHS and a former SHS English teacher, said. The Golden Knight is awarded to five members of each SHS graduating class who have "demonstrated outstanding qualities of character, leadership, and service to the school community."

Durant, who was active in collecting donations for those impacted by Superstorm Sandy back in October and does a number of service projects with her Girl Scout troop, wrote in her essay that "I strongly believe that volunteerism is more than an act. It’s a mind set. Therefore, it is important for us all to take some time out of our lives and help others. It is my desire to continue to be a passionate volunteer and giver for the rest of my life."

"It felt good that [Murphy] trusted me to go on a trip like this and meet the Governor," Durant said.

As the only Stoughton student attending Project 351, she hopes to make new friends as she meets other 8th graders from around Massachusetts. She's also looking forward to making a difference through the community service work done that day.

Past service sites in Boston have included Cradles to Crayons, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Towers.

"I'm hoping to help people and get a new perspective and sight on things," Durant said.

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O'Donnell Middle School Project 351 Nominee Essays

Zaria Durant

Volunteering is a perfect way to give back to the community. Personally I have given countless hours to helping out in and around my community. Most recently I have collected gently used clothing, toiletries, and non perishable food for families within the Long Island, New York, area affected by SUPER STORM SANDY. Not only was it important for those affected by the storm to know that people from all around cared but, we were doing something about it. Being a part of the Girl Scout Troop 81007 for 2 years has enabled me to continue to be an active supporter for various causes.   

Girl Scouts offered me the privilege to see life through the eyes of those in need. While volunteering with Girl Scouts, at the Main Spring House in Brockton, Massachusetts, I made sandwiches to feed those who are unable to provide for themselves. I strongly believe that volunteerism is more than an act. It’s a mind set. Therefore, it is important for us all to take some time out of our lives and help others. It is my desire to continue to be a passionate volunteer and giver for the rest of my life.

Marco Antunes

My name is Marco Antunes. To be completely honest, I’m not
involved in any volunteering programs, but I do show service to my community in some other ways. My OCD might trigger this, but I can’t stand litter on the sidewalk or on a school field or anything in that category. I’ll always be sure to pick it up and throw it in the nearest trash bin. After all, that’s what they’re there for and it’s an easy way to help keep my community clean. I also help my stepdad with the Portuguese bulletin at my local church. The Portuguese bulletin is basically a bulletin with announcements and schedules from the church to Stoughton’s Portuguese community. Another way I show service to my community would be donating to the food drive and donating to St. Vincent De Paul, an organization that offers tangible assistance to people in need. My parents and I donate old toys, blankets, and some outgrown jackets and winter wear. It’s a little sad saying goodbye to some of my fun childhood memories, but the thought of a little boy or girl getting the same amount of fun out of it as I did is heartwarming.

I believe that volunteer work and donations are very important parts of helping your community. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who takes time out of their own lives to help someone who truly needs it. A simple way would be to lend a hand to a new neighbor who just moved in, or maybe help a senior citizen cross the street. A lot of people do not realize how easy it can be. Especially now, around Christmas time, acts of random kindness could perfect someone’s holiday season. If you have the chance to help clean up, repair, or donate things to your community – DO IT. You can only improve the lives of the less fortunate by doing so.

Caitlin Jung

Community service and volunteering are extremely important to me. When someone volunteers to help out a great cause, it makes my day. What do I do to help out my community? I know that there are people out there who are struggling to survive each day to try to put food on the table for their family. It’s hard and it hurts to know that this really happens in the world. It could even be happening to the people around us. So, I donate canned goods and nonperishable items to food pantries in Massachusetts, including the food drives we have here in Stoughton. Every year when it’s time for the food drives, I urge my friends and family to donate because it is for a good cause.No one should have to go hungry. Everyone should be able to have a good nutritious meal. Another thing I do to help my community is by donating clothes to the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation. Many people cannot afford to buy clothes.It saddens me to see people in the kind of situation where they are just barely making it by each day. To me, showing community service is to help those in need.

Why is it important to volunteer and show service to the community? It’s important for many reasons. Volunteering and helping our community is really about helpingpeoplewho are less fortunate than others. Although no one says it, a lot of people are struggling. By volunteering, you can help someone get a start for a better future. Another reason is that by helping out, your community can be clean, healthy, and able to thrive. By lending a helping hand, you are actually giving hope to others. This lets them know that there is someone out there who is willing to help and be there for them. Knowing this would reassure them that they are not alone.  Volunteering and showing service to your community are beneficial to you and the people in need. We all must work together to make the world a better and safer place for everybody.

Rebecca McSweeney

Giving back to my community is something I have believed in since I was a child.Recently, especially during the holidays, I have participated in various projects that benefit those around me, especially those who are less fortunate than I am. At the end of October and beginning of November, I help out with the food drive at my parish. We place bags at people’s doors, asking for contributions to benefit numerous nonprofit organizations acrosstown. Then, we pick up the bags and go back to the church and sort the food. It touched my heart when our religious education director read us some of the thank you letters from the food pantries and other places that we have helped. Every
year for the past 5 years, I have also helped serve a Thanksgiving dinner to veterans with my friend and a few of her cousins. It is a lot of fun, and I hope I get to do it again next year. In addition, I participate in “The Giving Tree”, a service project at my church which helps members of the community who are less fortunate receive something for the holidays. This year, I also helped with the annual children’s Christmas pageant at my church. I helped out at every Wednesday rehearsal. Despite the fact most nights I had a lot of homework, I didn’t skip one day just because I didn’t want to go. Volunteerism is important, and there are various projects people can help with to make the world a better place.

Even though giving back is important, I feel that some people do not understand just how important this is.People often complain that they do not have enough time to help. Even though the majority of people have busy schedules, there are quick things that will make the world a better place, such as holding the door for someone or treating all people with respect.Some people think that volunteering is boring. However, there are numerous projects within the community that you can do, depending on what you are passionate about. Another common excuse is that nobody needs their help, but that is not true. People around you could use a helping hand every day, even if you do not know who they are. Some individuals feel they are powerless because they are just one person. Despite that, every little bit counts. Giving back to society is a part of life, a part which I hope people consider it as important as it really is.

Jon Podesta

When you help other people, it makes a difference in their lives. Every day, there are many people in your community who need help. Some people don't have enough food to feed their families, and rely on assistance from food pantries or meal delivery programs. Many parents need help with buying clothing, books, and toys for their children. Donating items through churches or temples is one way to help. There are also people who may have everything they need, but are lonely and need companionship. Anyone can volunteer within their community. Many opportunities for volunteering don't require money or other items to be donated, because your time is equally important and helpful. Being on the student council or school committee can assist your school and the students, while helping to make it a better place. Something as easy as cleaning up trash in a park or any public area can really have an impact on the community. There are organizations that build affordable housing that need volunteers to help with the construction. Many people do not have transportation to get to doctor's appointments. There are support groups that need volunteers to drive these patients to their appointments.Volunteering is very important because it can change a community or neighborhood. When you help others, you don't only make them feel better, you feel better. It helps families in need and keeps the community clean and safe. Volunteers can educate people or teach them by sharing their skills. The most important thing a volunteer can do is give hope. When people know that others are willing to help them, it lifts their spirits.

Tim Raeke

In a speech John Kennedy took a verse from the bible and said “To those who much is given to, much is expected.” This has inspired me to help my community. One way I do this is work at my brother’s keeper in Easton. I was blessed to have a beautiful house, a loving family, and great friends. I realize there are not people to be as fortunate as me. Every year around Christmas time me and family get assigned a family that doesn’t have a lot to get presents for. We find the presents in a big warehouse and wrap them for Christmas. I realize this will probably be all they will be getting this year.

It humbles me that what I take for granted every day is their only Christmas wish. For example I got a little girl whose only wish was to get a winter coat to stay warm. The work I do doesn’t only help the people who are asking but also helps me put things in perspective.

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