The Patriots will continue to Celebrate Volunteerism in 2018

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.

Patriots players, including Devin McCourty, will be out in the community on a weekly basis during the season.
Patriots players, including Devin McCourty, will be out in the community on a weekly basis during the season.

Throughout the season, the Kraft family and 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. They will each be featured in print materials, including Patriots Football Weekly and Patriots GameDay magazine. They will also be featured on our website and they will be recognized at the Patriots final regular season home game against the New York Jets on December 30.

During the players one day off, they are giving back as part of Patriots Community Tuesdays. Current and former Patriots players will interact with children and families each week and speak about the importance of volunteering. New England Patriots cheerleaders, mascot, Pat Patriot, and families of Patriots players and coaches will also be actively involved in the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative throughout the season.

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. Each week, we will post volunteer opportunities that are available with our partnering nonprofit organizations.

The Patriots Women’s Association are active volunteers throughout the year, helping to collect coat and toys for children, serving food to women in need and more.
The Patriots Women’s Association are active volunteers throughout the year, helping to collect coat and toys for children, serving food to women in need and more.

Be sure to check back here throughout the season for the most up to date information on the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative.

Click here to view 2017 Difference Makers

2018 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week


Rodney Flynn

Angel Flight of New England

Angel Flight of New England (AFNE) is a nonprofit organization based at the Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover that is dedicated to providing free air and ground transportation, so children and adults may access life-saving medical care that is outside of the geographic area. The organization was founded back in 1996 and since its inception, volunteer pilots have scheduled more than 77,000 free flights across the northeast region, covering nine states including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. They also rely on volunteers to assist with the ground transportation for patients that they refer to as “Earth Angels”. That’s where Rodney comes into play. For more than 17 years, he has volunteered as an Earth Angel for AFNE. In this role, Rodney donates his time, gasoline, automobile and compassion to provide ground transportation from airports and hotels to medical facilities throughout the Greater Boston area. He has become the go-to-guy for the organization. Whenever someone is in need of a ride, Rodney will offer his services free of charge. If someone is stranded and can’t get road transportation from a Boston-based airport or medical facility, Rodney will volunteer to drive them. Rodney loves what he does and is guaranteed to greet each patient with a smile. When dropping off a patient at a doctor’s office or hospital, Rodney will wait for the patient to finish their appointment and then drive them back to the airport or hotel. He builds a connection with everyone he serves and many of the patients consider him a part of their extended family. He also refuses to accept any form of compensation, even a gift card for gas. Each year, he averages 150 Earth Angel missions and over the past 17 years, he has provided transportation to more than 2,500 patients and their families.


Sara Deren

Experience Camps

Experience Camps is a nonprofit organization providing a unique camp experience for children that have lost a parent, sibling or caregiver. More than 10 years ago, Sara created Experience Camps as a way to teach children how to deal with their grief. She merged a traditional summer camp experience with a substantive and well-prescribed grief program that allows children to bond with each other while building a supportive community. The program develops a platform for children to share their stories, remember the person they lost and to find a healthy emotional balance. Sara and her team of volunteer counselors help to build confidence, encourage laughter and teach the children that they are not alone in their journey. Under the guidance of licensed clinicians, campers have the opportunity to remember the person who died, while developing the tools they need to help guide their grief through adolescence and adulthood. In the program’s first year, 27 boys attended the week-long summer camp in Maine. Today, the camp serves more than 600 boys and girls ages eight to 18 at five different sites nationwide. Sara has continued to lead the program through unprecedented growth and now manages more than 325 volunteer counselors. She works with children from all walks of life and teaches them that while we all suffer loss, we all can and will endure when we stick together.


Sharon Siegel

Regional Hospice & Palliative Care of Western CT

Sharon began her volunteer efforts back in 2001 as a support group facilitator in the nonprofit’s Healing Hearts program, a children’s bereavement program. Several months after joining, the September 11th tragedy at the World Trade Center affected many families in the western Connecticut area. Sharon stepped up and co-facilitated a support group to help children and families who lost someone in the attack. Six years ago, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Sharon was called upon to support families from the school. She offered a critical service to children who lost a sibling in the shooting and continues to offer grief and bereavement support to the families. Sharon’s trademark contribution to the Healing Hearts program was the invention of the “Comfort Pillowcase.” She invited the children to bring in a piece of clothing that belonged to their loved one, who passed away. Sharon sewed the clothing into the pillowcase, in the shape of a heart. As the grieving families lay their heads down to sleep, this special pillow case provides immeasurable comfort and healing. In addition to her volunteer efforts with the children’s bereavement program, Sharon is a family support volunteer for the agency’s hospice program. She works with adult and pediatric hospice patients and their families at their homes and at the in-patient hospice center. Sharon has taken on a leadership role, serving as a teacher and mentor to new volunteers. She considers her volunteer role to be an honor, often emphasizing that she is part of a team and a family.


Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg & Leominster

Brett arrived at the Boys & Girls Club as a very shy and quiet freshman in high school. He started volunteering at various club events and now, five years later, he is their most active volunteer. Each summer, Brett volunteers as a junior staff member with the club’s summer brain gain program. He spends more than 40 hours each week with younger students helping them to retain their academic knowledge during the summer months. Brett has developed a strong rapport with the younger students, who look up to him as a role model. During the school year, he offers homework help to some of the younger club members. Brett also assists with All Stars, an early intervention program to help youth commit to a life free of alcohol, drugs, opioids and tobacco. He also collects donations for the Salvation Army and during the holidays, he sings Christmas carols to the elderly at local nursing homes. When the club is in need of volunteers, Brett is always the first person to sign up. Whether it’s checking people in at the front desk, handing out flyers at festivals or assisting with the Keystone Café, he is always willing to lend a helping hand. Having been diagnosed with autism at a very young age, Brett refused to let the diagnoses define him. He has volunteered thousands of hours to help make the world a better place, inspiring many of his peers in the process. Brett aspires to be a special education teacher so he can support the many students who struggle in the classroom.

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Patrick Lacey

Beat NB Cancer Foundation

In 2005, Patrick was informed that his seven month old son, Will, had neuroblastoma cancer. Eighteen months later, Patrick was told that Will’s cancer was incurable. Patrick refused to accept that fate and set out to find a cure. In 2007, Patrick established the Beat NB Cancer Foundation to help children, like his son, who are battling neuroblastoma. His fundraising has allowed the organization to establish life-saving clinical trials across the country. Since its inception, Beat NB has created more than 20 clinical trials spanning more than 40 hospitals across the United States. More than 1,000 children have been treated and positively impacted by these trials. Patrick also started a drug company to manufacture the therapies needed to save lives. Thanks to his volunteer efforts, Patrick has positively impacted the lives of thousands of children, including his son, Will, who is now in middle school, playing a variety of sports and has been free of cancer treatments for more than three years.

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Ashia Ray

Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange

One of the many volunteer roles at MARE is a volunteer photographer, as the right shot of a child makes all the difference in attracting a prospective adoptive family. One of the nonprofit’s most utilized recruitment tools is an online photo profile, which allows prospective adoptive families to learn about waiting children on the MARE website. Ashia is one of the organization’s outstanding photographers and has been capturing photos for MARE’s Heart Gallery for four years. She has photographed MARE events and donated photo sessions with waiting children, producing highly impactful blog posts about the experiences. The first post Ashia created about a young boy was shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook and the organization received 48 requests from prospective families. Another blog and photo session she posted on MARE’s Facebook page led to the adoption of a young autistic boy. Ashia also wrote a feature article about a young woman that resulted in her finding an adoptive family after 8 years on MARE’s caseload. Aisha is a photographer, neurodiversity and disability rights activist and a mother of two. She has brought her professional skills to MARE and through her tireless volunteer efforts, she is giving these children an opportunity to express themselves while ensuring that they are matched with loving families.

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Kathan Pierce

FRAXA Research Foundation

Kathan and her husband, Michael, have two young boys with fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that is the most commonly inherited cause of intellectual disabilities and autism. Since their diagnoses, she left her full-time position in the corporate world to focus on the well-being of her two sons, raise money to find a cure and to spread awareness for this disability. Kathan’s family foundation, The Pierce Family Fragile X Foundation, has raised over $200,000 through its fundraising efforts and donated all the proceeds to FRAXA Research Foundation to fund the most cutting-edge research. Her commitment to FRAXA’s mission earned her a seat on its Board of Directors in which she partners on strategic focus, development efforts and research grant selection. Kathan and her husband, Michael, have been true advocates, traveling across the country to speak with congressmen and senators to advocate for more government funding. She also volunteers to speak with newly diagnosed families in greater Boston and at the Boston Children’s Hospital Fragile X Clinic. Kathan offers her support following their diagnosis and assures them that they are not alone.

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Wilda Hayes

Ann's Place

Wilda, a pharmaceutical marketing and advertising executive, was one of the first people to volunteer for the Ann Olsen Endowment in 1987, a fund designated to support cancer patients and their families. Ann lost her life to cancer at the age of 38, before she could fulfill her desire to support others on their cancer journey. The Endowment partnered with I Can, a support services group, and eventually merged into Ann’s Place, a full-service nonprofit agency that now supports more than 1,100 clients across Connecticut and New York. Wilda joined the board of Ann’s Place and later served as its pro bono Executive Director, then President, for 16 years, leading the organization through dramatic clinical services growth during challenging economic times. She played a key role in creating and running key fundraising events like the Ann Olsen Golf Classic, now in its 30th year, and the Festival of Trees in its 16th year. Wilda currently serves on the board and chairs the festival which attracts 5,000 each year to support people facing cancer.  One of her greatest accomplishments was creating a permanent home for the organization. Thanks to Wilda’s efforts, thousands of volunteers came together to build a beautiful 17,000 square foot facility offering comprehensive counseling, support groups and wellness activities.

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Serge Wechseler

Rhode Island Community Food Bank

Chef Serge has more than 45 years of experience in the food service industry. Fifteen years ago, while he was the Executive Chef of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, he began his involvement with the Rhode Island Food Bank’s Community Kitchen job training program. Chef Serge offered the Crowne Plaza kitchen as an on-the-job training internship site for students in the Community Kitchen program. Students learned valuable kitchen and employment skills under his tutelage and he was personally responsible for hiring at least 20 students after they completed their training. Five years ago, he retired from the Crowne Plaza Hotel and expanded his volunteer efforts in the Community Kitchen to teach knife skills and knife cuts. Since then, his role has continued to grow. A chef by nature, Serge couldn't stay out of the kitchen and wanted to share his knowledge with others. He now provides cooking demonstrations of sauces, meats, desserts and more to his students. He also conducts life skills classes to teach employer expectations, professional attitude and demeanor to low-income adults that are looking to improve their lives.

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Tara Ball

Connor's Climb Foundation

Tara lost her 14 year old son Connor to suicide in 2011. Instead of running from her loss, she has led the charge to change the culture around mental health and suicide prevention. Tara has volunteered tirelessly to provide the evidence-based Signs of Suicide (SOS) program, free of charge, to New Hampshire schools. Her work has provided the SOS program to 58 schools, trained more than 20,000 youth and over 500 educators and community members. Tara has spoken throughout the state about her loss and how it evolved into the formation of a foundation dedicated to making sure that no other family ever experiences the loss of a child to suicide. She has built a community dedicated to suicide prevention and her work has brought many other organizations and stakeholders together to prevent youth suicide. Tara has turned her loss into something positive and through her volunteer efforts, she has brought attention to mental health and helped to save lives.