The Patriots will continue to Celebrate Volunteerism in 2020

The Celebrate Volunteerism initiative aims to share examples of dedicated volunteers, build awareness of the need for volunteering, identify and educate others about volunteer opportunities and inspire New Englanders to follow the Kraft family's example of becoming lifelong volunteers.

Throughout the season, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation will celebrate volunteers that work tirelessly to support children and families in need throughout the New England region, while also encouraging Patriots fans to get involved in their communities.

Each week, the Kraft family and Foundation recognizes one outstanding volunteer as the "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week." Fifteen outstanding volunteers will be named as a Patriots Difference Maker of the Week and will be featured on patriots.com.

The Kraft family and Foundation encourage all Patriots fans to join us by nominating an individual for the "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week award, making a donation to our coat and toy drives or by volunteering in their local communities. Be sure to check back here throughout the season for the most up to date information on the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative.

Robert Kraft helps to plant flags outside of Gillette Stadium during Memorial Day weekend.
Robert Kraft helps to plant flags outside of Gillette Stadium during Memorial Day weekend.

Patriots Difference Makers of the Week


The LeBlanc Family

Ashburnham, Mass.
Sew the Masks

Back in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, many businesses were forced to close their doors. One local business – AIS from Leominster, Mass. – wanted to do their part to support first responders and those most at risk. The office furniture manufacturer partnered with the United Way of North Central Massachusetts to launch the "Sew the Masks" campaign. With the support of volunteer sewers, the initiative is committed to donating one million high-quality, reusable cloth facemasks.

AIS and the United Way recruit volunteers and sends each of them a sewing kit. Each kit contains pre-cut materials for 50 facemasks. All of the materials are designed and developed on the AIS manufacturing floor in Leominster. Once the sewing is completed, the volunteers use a prepaid shipping label to return the facemasks. AIS then conducts a quality check and donates the masks to first responders and those at risk.

The LeBlanc family jumped in with both feet to support this initiative and made it a true family affair. Three generations of LeBlancs – Edith LeBlanc, Therese Packard and Skyler Packard – have been actively involved, sewing more 250 masks as a team for this campaign. But their efforts don't stop there as the family has sewn additional masks for family, friends and local frontline workers.

Since its inception, the "Sew the Masks" campaign has recruited nearly 1,000 talented sewers from 45 states. Over 250,000 facemasks have been donated to first responders and organizations in need.


Isabel Povey

Hampstead, N.H.
Seeds of Hope

Isabel started volunteering in her hometown of Hampstead at age seven and has become a force for good, serving with multiple organizations through food drives, coat drives, crop walks and charity events. Over the past three years, Isabel has been growing the scope of her efforts and recruiting new volunteers while leading high impact service projects. On Saturday mornings, you'll find her sorting, packing food boxes and helping the NH Food Bank distribute donations. On Sunday, she volunteers at mobile or local food pantries while helping secure donations to Tag Out Hunger.

When she learned that demand at the NH Food Bank had tripled in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly organized a virtual "Povey Power 5K" on Global Youth Service Day to raise needed funds. She recruited more than over 80 participants and raised over $4,200 in one week. Those funds helped to provide 8,400 meals for the NH Food Bank.

Beyond her work in New Hampshire, the 16-year old has also created an international nonprofit called Seeds of Hope that delivers vegetable seeds to schools, orphanages and churches in Africa, Pakistan, Haiti and Tonga. She visits Girl Scout Troops and after school programs locally to teach elementary aged students how to grow and share. She has already volunteered more than 1,300 hours in 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down.

"I am so thankful to the Kraft family and the Patriots Foundation for this recognition and for allowing me to spread even more hope with this donation," said Isabel. "The need is unprecedented right now so this will make a huge impact for local families. Most of all, I am grateful for this opportunity to show people young and old that we have the power to make a difference, because from the smallest of seeds grow the mightiest of trees."


Donna Fessler

Wellesley, Mass
Women's Lunch Place

Women's Lunch Place is a safe, welcoming day shelter community, providing nutritious food and individualized services for women who are experiencing homelessness or poverty. They are dedicated to meeting their guests where they are and treat them with dignity and respect.

For the past 12 years, Donna has gone above and beyond as a volunteer at the Women's Lunch Place. She was introduced through a mutual friend and instantly fell in love with the nonprofit's mission. Donna has volunteered in their kitchen, preparing and serving meals to women experiencing homelessness. She has helped in their welcome center, greeting guests and helping them find the resources they need to self-advocate. Donna has also served on various fundraising committees and recruited dozens of volunteers.

"The ability to serve the beautiful ladies of Women's Lunch Place is an ongoing gift to my heart," said Donna. "It's a blessing to witness the positive, life altering impact Women's Lunch Place makes in the lives of vulnerable women and children experiencing homelessness."

Back in March when the pandemic spread across the country, she began volunteering for the nonprofit's Back-door Meal program which brings prepared food to shelters that were unable to keep up with the demand for food. She helped with their mobile food pantry program by delivering meals and pantry items to individuals who were sheltering in place in temporary housing.

Donna also led the effort to bring the Mask Makers Group to Women's Lunch Place. She and other mask makers donated time and materials to sew and donate masks to women living on the street. Thanks to her and the other mask makers, thousands of masks have been distributed to those in need.


Kevin Sullivan

South Kingstown, R.I.
Southern RI Volunteers

Kevin is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of senior citizens. He provides seniors with transportation to and from their medical appointments. Regardless of the driving distance or the length of the appointment, Kevin is always available, often re-arranging his schedule to help someone in need.

He also helps with the nonprofit's grocery delivery service, delivering food each week to between 40 and 50 senior homes. Kevin has continued to provide this essential service during the pandemic, making sure that all seniors receive the proper nutrition.

"I'm lucky enough to be able to devote time to assist some of those in the community who are most in need," said Kevin. "Beyond a significant sense of personal fulfillment, it affords opportunity to meet remarkable individuals, most of whom I would not have crossed paths with otherwise. I particularly enjoy talking with the veterans I spend time with as part of my work with the SRIV and the Providence VA Medical Center." 

As the chair of the board of directors, Kevin oversees all of the nonprofit's programming and manages more than 400 volunteers. He remains steadfast in his commitment to providing meals, companionship and support to those in need.

"Our SRIV services, for the most part, involve engagement with seniors," said Kevin. "They, as well as our military veterans, have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they're eager to share with those who are willing listen. I have developed true friendships among them, and have heard amazing life stories. I value the patriotism, humility, acceptance, steadfastness and optimism that the seniors exhibit."


Joanie Cullinan

Watertown, Mass.
15-40 Connection

Less than two years ago, Joanie – a firefighter in Wellesley – was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. She was just 37 years old at the time and was shocked by the diagnosis. However, she was determined to not only beat cancer, but to serve as a tireless advocate for early detection and cancer research.

Joanie joined forces with 15-40 Connection, a nonprofit organization focused on teaching people how to detect cancer early. The organization treats healthcare as a team sport and empowers people to be active patients. 15-40 Connection's "3 Steps Detect" teaches people how to recognize cancer symptoms, gives a timeframe for action and the skills to self-advocate. The result is often less intrusive treatment, a quicker return to health and lives saved.

As a firefighter, Joanie was aware that cancer is the number one line of duty cause of death for firefighters. After her own diagnosis, she made it her mission to educate her brothers and sisters in the fire service about the importance of paying attention to symptoms and getting timely help. The delay in diagnosis is often what makes cancer deadly, and many firefighters minimize symptoms and have a hard time asking for help.

Joanie agreed to participate in a 15-40 Connection public service announcement for firefighters, sharing her story in person and in firehouses. She has participated in local community television programs, served on several cancer survivor panels and led discussions at local high schools.

Despite her ongoing cancer treatments and the pandemic, Joanie continued to find ways to share her story and share the importance of patient action in early detection. She wrote blogs, filmed vlogs, advocated on social media and fundraised for the nonprofit.

Joanie recently returned to work after more than a year of cancer treatment at the Wellesley Fire Department and continues to be an invaluable volunteer for 15-40. With her infectious enthusiasm and tireless dedication, Joanie is positively impacting countless lives.


Kim Carrington

Boston, Mass.
Playwords New England

Growing up in Mattapan, Kim always understood the value of volunteering. It is something that her mother instilled in her at a very young age and she always finds time to give back to her local community.

Playworks is a national nonprofit that leverages the power of play to transform children's social, emotional and physical health. They partner with high-need elementary schools to ensure recess is an opportunity for students to learn the skills needed to thrive in and out of school. Playworks' ultimate goal is to create an educational environment free from conflict where students interact and play with their peers respectfully, develop healthy lifestyles, take on leadership roles and become successful learners.

Kim initially starting volunteering eight years ago as an assistant coach during recess, helping to engage all students in inclusive play opportunities. She now volunteers as a junior coach for the organization, serving as a positive adult role model and mentor to fourth and fifth grade students. Through this youth leadership program, Kim teaches the students how to lead recess activities for their classmates while utilizing critical skills including communication, conflict resolution, empathy and teamwork.

The students Kim serves are from low-income areas across Boston. Kim helps them to express themselves through play. She continues to engage with the students, offering words of encouragement while also ensuring they have access to tools that will make them better students. In addition to her efforts at Playworks, Kim has volunteered countless hours at Daily Table in Roxbury, where she helps to feed Boston's most vulnerable population.


Heidi Holland

Lakeville, Mass.
The S.E.A.L. Foundation

The mission of the Specialized Education for All Learners (S.E.A.L.) Foundation is to create and fund educational and social opportunities in non-public school and camp settings for students who learn differently in order to ensure they maximize their potential. As the chairperson of the board of advisors, Heidi works closely with the founder, executive director and other board members to carry out the nonprofits mission, implement fundraising programs and strategies and introduce new schools in New England to the services they provide.

As a highly talented and motivated individual with dyslexia, Heidi has used her personal challenges with a learning difference to create awareness and greater opportunities for others who may also learn differently. She works with S.E.A.L. Foundation staff, introducing them to schools who could benenfit from simulations that allow teachers to experience what it's like to have a learning difference. Heidi works closely with parents, ensuring their children have the resources they need to reach their full potential.

Heidi works with coaches, helping them to understand the best way to communicate and instruct children with different learning abilities on and off the field. She also educates parents on the certain behaviors of students with learning differences to dispel myths and stereotypes of certain diagnoses in an effort to ensure full inclusion in all social, emotional and educational opportunities.

In addition to her community service at the S.E.A.L. Foundation, Heidi, a Middletown, R.I. resident, has volunteered for addiction and recovery organizations, coached local lacrosse teams, been an active member of parent-teacher organizations, given her time to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum and advocated and fundraised for the National Brain Tumor Society.


Bill Wolff

Boston, Mass.
Friends of the Blackstone School

For the past 15 years, Bill has volunteered countless hours advocating for families, students and teachers at the Blackstone School. As an inner-city public school, many of the students come from single parent families in some of the more unstable neighborhoods in the city. Frequently, English is not spoken at home, making it challenging for a young student to read in English for comprehension.

As the president and a founding member of the organization, Bill has worked with school leadership and staff to obtain funds to improve the capability and impact of the school on its students. The Blackstone School has a very high percentage of "high need" students and the current Boston Public School funding levels need to be supplemented by privately raised funds.

A stable, supportive presence at the school, teachers and students affectionately and enthusiastically refer to him as "Mr. Bill." He is well respected by the teachers and is known for fostering a sense of community between educators, students and parents. He listens and empathizes with any issues the teacher may have that can improve the teaching and learning experience and works with them to find solutions.