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Fighting for ‘Her Kids’

Fighting for ‘Her Kids’
By Greg Sukiennik

Young Heroes Nightgroup-pic

The second component of CSC is Young Heroes Night, an evening honoring children who have gotten the message about community service at an early age and are making a difference. The event outgrew its original home at the Worcester Boys and Girls Club and was held in September at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester, with Liam Fitzgerald — The Fist Bump Kid you’ve seen at Bruins games — as the honored guest.

Youngsters are nominated for the award, and winners get the royal treatment — a key to the City of Worcester, citations from Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Rep. James McGovern, and a gift.

Wessell’s thought process was that kids sometimes make the news for making mistakes and poor decisions — and that kids who do the right thing deserve their moment of recognition and the encouragement to keep serving their community.

“Some kids can go out and do this and not care what people think,” she said. But for others: “If no one’s paying attention, are they going to keep doing it?” 

“Mary Ellen is always working 24/7 to find ways to help the children,” says Vanessa Costa of Worcester, who is among the financial supporters of Young Heroes Night. “There is always a special project in the works, and she consistently finds new ways to better the lives of children.”  

Costa says the example set by the award-winners is making a difference: “It’s a lesson all of us can learn from, and it has encouraged my daughter to get involved as well.”

Project KIN

The coalition’s newest initiative, Project KIN, started at the end of the 2015-16 school year when Wessell, having heard from teachers in Worcester that there were older kids who quietly needed a way to get needed health and hygiene supplies, decided to act.

“Teachers know which kids are hungry. Teachers know which kids are coming in without coats or with torn-up shoes. And the teachers I know take money out of their pockets to help these kids,” Wessell says. “If I can get them to keep a bin or a couple of bins in their schools with food, healthy snacks, toiletries, winter coats, dental supplies…if I can do that and they can give them out as they need them, then middle and high school-aged kids will get what they need without having to broadcast their need to their friends and peers.”

Currently, CSC has KIN bins in three Worcester schools, “which may not sound like a lot, but the numbers are overwhelming,” notes Wessell, who is growing the program as time and supplies allow. “I have over 1,000 students in the schools I am helping, with poverty rates in two of those schools over 95%, and the third has a poverty rate of 75%.

“I am fine-tuning the process and hope to be in 10 schools next school year, depending upon grant funding” she adds, noting that the Staples Foundation recently donated $3,500, which will be spent specifically on Project KIN bins. “For now, I do it with my daughter and we do OK. However, I really need to expand this project. These poor kids are hungry.”


Children’s Smile Coalition Names 2016 Young Heroes

The latest recipients of Children’s Smile Coalition’s Young Heroes Awards were honored this fall at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester.Honorees included:

Julie Dougherty founded The Bernadette Project (thebernadetteproject.weebly.com) named after her late friend. Dougherty collects and distributes Christmas gifts to pediatric patients at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Hollyann Edwards led a student team to inform students about depression, healthy strategies for coping, and how to recognize signs of suicide ideation in a peer.  

Lauren Eppinger raises money for Achilles International (achillesinternational.org), an organization that provided prosthetic limbs to survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Liam Fitzgerald has raised over $150,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Better-known as mega Bruins fan “The Fist Bump Kid,” Fitzgerald was also the evening’s guest of honor.

Jill Folger, a volunteer coach for younger kids at Greenwood Swimming; Folger also organizes activities for the elderly, volunteers at the Breast Cancer Walk in Boston; and mentors younger students at school.

Zachary Lavoie was raised in foster care under difficult circumstances, yet always volunteered many hours each week at the Boys & Girls Club. Now attending college, he still volunteers at the club.

Zeke Lemieux founded “High Fives for Soldiers, Nickels for a Higher Cause.” Money raised is used to help soldiers with PTSD who are in need of service dogs.

Martha, Mabel, Agnes, and Jack McDonald spend months training to compete in Fitness for a Cure, raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital over the past 6 years.

Anna Murphy founded Warming Families Makes Cents (warmingfamiliesmakescents.com) and has raised $35,000 to help those in need heat their homes.

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