Published in the February 18, 2016 edition

NRMS EIGHT GRADER Bridget Grew was North Reading's representative to Project 351. (Bob Turosz Photo)

NRMS EIGHT GRADER Bridget Grew was North Reading’s representative to Project 351. (Bob Turosz Photo)


NORTH READING – Bridget Grew, an eighth grade student at the North Reading Middle School, was chosen to be one of hundreds of young ambassadors from across the state, all eighth graders representing all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, to participate in Project 351, an annual day of public service in Boston honoring the memory and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Grew was chosen from all the students in the eighth grade to represent the Middle School at the annual event, originated by former Gov. Deval Patrick and continued by his successor, Charlie Baker.

Every year the decision of picking one eighth grader to send to Project 351 proves to be a difficult one, said Middle School Principal Catherine O’Connell, and 2016 was no exception. The Middle School has two eighth grade “teams” of equal size and O’Connell asked each team to nominate a student they felt would best represent the school’s core values. Bridget and Sean Dorosh were nominated by their respective teams and so O’Connell put their names out to the entire staff, grades 6 through 8, to select this year’s representative and Bridget was chosen.

Bridget was very excited to be chosen to represent NRMS – after she got over the anxiety of an unanticipated summons to the principal’s office. “I was very nervous when my teacher said I had to go down to the principal’s office, I was wondering what could I have possibly done?”

But the excitement set in when O’Connell assured her she wasn’t in trouble. “I had heard about Project 351 from last year’s ambassador, Rowan Hunt, who had talked about it when I was in seventh grade. It seemed like a very interesting experience so I was very excited to be selected.”

Like all of her North Reading predecessors, Grew caught an early morning bus to Boston from the Woburn Mall on the day of the event, Saturday, Jan. 16. There were 17 people leaving from Woburn and the bus stopped in Charlestown to pick up another 10.

Their destination was Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where they met in the grand rotunda, and where they met Lisa Hughes from WBZ Channel 4. Gov. Baker spoke to them as well as Carolyn Casey, executive director of Project 351.

Bridget’s day of service took place at the charitable organization Cradles to Crayons’ giving workshop in Brighton, where she and her cohorts were split into teams and worked in sorting clothes, toys, creating packages of school supplies. Bridget wound up in the toys group and they worked on “quality control” for the donated toys – “that they would be something we’d be proud to give to someone” and weren’t broken or damaged, she recalled, then packing the toys for distribution to schools, shelters or churches.

One of the packages was for a 5–year–old named Kyle. Bridget learned that Kyle’s mother had two young sons and she often had to decide which would go to school on a particular day, because she owned only one winter coat for the boys and she couldn’t send them both. “Throughout the day we were focusing on each care package and how they affect each child so greatly and how many children are in need of their services.”

In Massachusetts alone, there are 300,000 kids under the age of 12 who don’t have the everyday essentials – backpacks, winter coats, school supplies, everything needed to go throughout the day, she explained.

“It was horrible to hear there are so many students in our own communities that can’t go to school because they don’t have a jacket. That was what we thought about throughout the day.”

“The challenges of children in other communities gives you perspective on what you consider your problems that really are nothing compared to what some of these very young children are going through, so I think it’s very important to be involved in community service.

“We learned that everyone has something to give and you can always give your service. No matter where you live, you should be willing to contribute to society and to make the world a little better,” she said.

After their stint at Cradles to Crayons ended, the teens boarded the bus again for a trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where they met Sixth District Congressman Seth Moulton, who spoke about the importance of service. “He was very excited to see an entire state coming together to make our commonwealth better.”

Bridget plans to continue with Project 351’s spring service project by running her own drive in North Reading. She hopes to run a clothing or a shoe drive in late March or early April.

It was a long and eventful day for Bridget and the other teens. The only drawback to the whole experience, she recalls, is missing the Patriots game that day. “But it was absolutely worth it.”

In addition to being a huge Patriots fan, Bridget is also student–director for the middle school’s drama club, which recently performed Bugsy Malone Jr. and is planning a spring production of The Odyssey. Boiling down Homer’s epic poem about Odysseus’s 10-year-long journey home after the Trojan War into about 25 minutes will be a monumental challenge in itself. The students plan to enter their production in a drama competition and Bridget knows they can show the judges NRMS students are capable of running the production.

The show is short and designed to be taken on the road so the students can be more involved and really run the show “and also so I don’t have a heart attack.”

Project 351 impressed on Bridget something she already knew – there are many people out there less fortunate than the rest of us.

“I’m a very fortunate person. I go to an amazing school and I have a roof over my head and food on my table. I’ve never really had an instance where I have really suffered.” When she was going through the toys at Cradles to Crayons, she came across a broken toy that she had loved as a child.

“It was humbling to see that something I had loved so much was now going to another young child who maybe didn’t have a family to play with. It was humbling to see this small game could make their day so much better.”

Bridget hopes 351 continues in the years going forward, because she knows there’s a need for it. “To learn the need in our state and to not volunteer is incredible to me. How can you go through life and know that people out there need help and not be willing to help?

“You need to be the one to go out there and make change, not to sit back and say we need change.”