Your Town

Teens prove age doesn’t matter when doing good deeds

Credit: Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe

HULL — For years, Jonathan Bloch has been the Drowned Hogs’ top fund-raiser for Wellspring, bringing in thousands of dollars to the nonprofit social service agency in its annual dash-into-the-frigid-ocean-for-cash event — and he’s still not old enough to vote, buy alcohol, or rent a car.

“He’s been raising money for us since he was little; he’s a dedicated, dedicated young philanthropist,” said grateful Wellspring spokeswoman Monica McKinney.

Bloch, a 17-year-old who lives in Hull and is a junior at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, is not the only young person making an impact beyond his years. He’s one of many young volunteers in the south suburbs who are dedicating time and energy to community service.

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In Weymouth, 16-year-old Matthew Bryer devotes hours each week on Safe Soldier, which sends care packages to military men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. He started the organization when he was in sixth grade and his older brother was serving in the Army in Iraq.

“He said toiletries were pretty hard to come by, and that’s been our main goal – toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, hand sanitizer,” Bryer said. He estimates he’s sent more than 150 boxes overseas, filled with close to 10,000 items — and his family’s front hall is filled with more waiting to be shipped.

”At first it was to help my brother, but then I saw the difference it was making when I got letters and thank-you notes. It was a good feeling to know you were making a difference,” he said.

Weymouth High School, where Bryer is a junior, wants all of its students to experience that satisfaction, says associate principal Peter Haviland. The school requires 10 hours of community service each academic year, and has partnered with the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation to “celebrate volunteerism” as more than an obligation, Haviland said.

As part of the effort, the high school’s 2,003 students delivered more than a ton of food to the Weymouth Food Pantry in December and had recorded 26,011 volunteer hours as of mid-February, Haviland said. And the school and the Patriots recognized Bryer and 40 other Weymouth High students for their outstanding volunteerism in a December pep rally attended by former Patriot Kevin Faulk and some of the football team’s cheerleaders.

While most high schools encourage students to volunteer, a relatively small number of districts make it a requirement. Those schools include Avon, Dedham, Milton, Pembroke, Randolph, Rockland, Scituate, Silver Lake Regional, South Shore Charter Public School in Norwell, and Weymouth.

At South Shore Charter, the requirement starts in kindergarten, where students are asked to participate in five acts of community service, according to executive director Alicia Savage. By the time they’re seniors, students are required to do 40 hours of community service each year, she said.

“We don’t check [the hours]; it’s completely on the honor system,” Savage said. “But usually we find out they’ve done more than required. Community service is an integral part of our school culture.”

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Guerrier, a junior at the charter school who lives in Whitman, has volunteered at Pine Street Inn in Boston and at a nursing home in Dedham. But she said most of her volunteer work is with young children, both in the elementary grades of South Shore Charter and at her church, the Haitian Assembly of God in Brockton. She also helps take care of a youngster with autism, an experience that has made her want to study occupational therapy as a career, she said.

Randolph High School requires students to give at least 60 hours of community service over their four years, and new football coach Keith Ford is helping both his team and the cheerleaders find meaningful ways to reach that goal. Starting this month, students will teach technology to seniors citizens at the local senior center or library, lead free football clinics for local youth, and take part in a fitness forum for Randolph elementary school students.

Seventeen-year-old Lanajah Simon, a sophomore cheerleader at Randolph High who hopes to become a psychologist, said she’s getting involved in the projects because she wants to give back to the community. “We’re going to show that we’re not just taking and taking,” she said.

Sixteen-year-old Brianna Lopes, a junior and cheerleader, said she’s excited about being a role model for younger students. Football players Brent White, a sophomore, and Emmanuel Neal, a junior, also said they want to be role models and to give back to their community and, as Neal said, “let them know that we care about them as much as they care about us.”

Milton High School started requiring students to do community service in the 1996-1997 school year “to develop and instill in all students a sense of citizenship, community and the responsibilities that good citizens demonstrate by giving back to the community,” the student handbook says.

Rebecca Simms, a senior at Milton High, agrees that she benefits from her volunteer work as much as she contributes. She has volunteered at the Museum of Science in Boston, a nursing home in Natick, and now the emergency room at Milton Hospital — and has gained valuable skills that will help her when she studies nursing at the University of Massachusetts Boston next year, she said.

“I would definitely keep doing it, even if there wasn’t a requirement,” she said. “I think it’s really important to volunteer and help people who need help. I think it’s a good way to spend my time instead of doing something that’s not as productive. And it’s fun.”

Three students at Notre Dame Academy in Hingham provided fun for their entire school with their community service initiative. Freshman Abby Rouleau of Hingham — whose uncle Dr. Frank Duggan spends most of his year volunteering in Third World countries — and seniors Hannah Paradise of Scituate and Marissa Gildea of Cohasset led their school in collecting 2,779 coats for needy people as part of a competition sponsored by Mix 104.1 radio station.

Notre Dame Academy won, and the prize was a January concert at the school by English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

“It was just amazing,” Rouleau said of both the concert and the coat drive. “I’d come home some days, and I would have bags of coats on my front door from my neighbors. At school, people would come in with bags every morning. We had so many coats, the whole front foyer would fill up. It was just crazy. We are a small school, but clearly we can make a difference.”

For his part, Bloch has been named a Hull Hero for work in making a difference in his community and beyond. He started raising money for Wellspring when he was 10; he raised about $700 that first year and is now up to about $25,000, he said. He has also collected soccer balls to send to children in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of a Connecticut-based effort.

Between school and sports — he plays lacrosse and wrestles — and activities like debate, model United Nations, and the school newspaper, Bloch said he spends about an hour a day writing e-mails for his volunteer work.

“Basically I write to everyone I know to find someone to sponsor me,” he said. “And then I spend a lot of time writing thank-you notes.”

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