More than 300 eighth graders from across Massachusetts came together Jan.26 in Boston as part of the third annual Project 351 community service day, including O'Donnell Middle School student Zaria Durant, who represented the town of Stoughton at the event.
Launched during Governor Deval Patrick’s second inaugural in 2010, Project 351 is dedicated to celebrating youth leadership, inspiring the ethic of service, and recognizing the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., according to a press release from the Governor's office.
After the Governor hosted a Youth Town Meeting at the State House to kick off the event, Patrick joined the ambassadors for an afternoon of service at five non-profit and educational organizations across Boston - Cradles to Crayons; the Greater Boston Food Bank; Pine Street Inn; Hennigan Elementary School and BCYF Community Center; and Amory Street Housing.
Durant spent much of her day at Cradles to Crayons in Brighton, with about 50 other students. Cradles to Crayons "provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive - at home, at school and at play," according to its website.
The students broke into six different groups at the Cradles to Crayons warehouse, Durant said. Her group's job was to sort through donated clothing and make sure it was suitable for donating.
The eighth graders participating were all nominated by education leaders in their hometowns, based on their exemplary service ethic and spirit of generosity, according to the press release from the Governor's office.
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.
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, and the OMS faculty panel ended up selecting Durant as Stoughton's representative. Durant was originally nominated for consideration by 8th grade social studies teacher Caitlin Murphy.
Durant is part of the yearbook club and chorus at the OMS, and outside of school is an active member of her girl scout troop.
"I absolutely loved it," Durant said of her experience taking part in Project 351. "It was so much fun to meet and interact with different people there. Everyone was so nice and shared my same interest in helping people who truly need it. I would absolutely do it again if I could do it every weekend...I would even bring some of my friends to join in with me because I know they would love it just as much as I did."
Durant said because of her experience, "I will bring back a better attitude towards those who are less fortunate than I am and engage myself in more community service."