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2021 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week


Nathan Larabee

Becket, Mass.
New England Adventures

Six years ago, Nathan began volunteering for New England Adventures, a nonprofit that facilitates all expenses paid outdoor sporting events, therapeutic events, and activities for New England veterans, service members and their families.

Nathan has served as the nonprofit president over the past three years. In this role, he manages all fundraising initiatives, coordinates schedules for veterans and leads hunting and fishing trips, family gatherings and other outdoor events. In some scenarios, adventures last several days and serve as a natural opportunity to communicate with and counsel veterans in a relaxed, outdoor atmosphere. 

Nathan is a disabled veteran, having served in the United States Marines in Iraq. He understands what his fellow veterans have experienced and is able to create a safe environment to discuss alcohol and drug abuse, family and financial concerns, mental health and more. The bonding and strength that comes from these trips creates life-long friendships and a crucial support network for these disabled/combat veterans.

Nathan also spends hours writing grants, managing the nonprofit's website, contacting and screening veterans and creating and promoting opportunities for disabled veterans. Thanks to his efforts, New England Adventures has proudly served more than 3,000 veterans and their families.


Nancy Vitorino

Attleboro Falls, Mass.
Foster Forward

Foster Forward's mission is to empower lives impacted by foster care. The nonprofit ensures all children and youth impacted by foster care have safe, healthy, and nurturing families. They continuously innovate to provide proven programs that engage, naturally supports and promotes healthy development.

Nancy has played an instrumental role as a volunteer for the organization. She sorts and organizes donations and puts them out on the display for foster families and the youth that participate in the various programs. She is very comfortable talking to the families, playing with the children and assessing their needs during each visit. Nancy truly enjoys meeting the families and youth we serve and is always eager to help out when she sees a need.

Nancy goes above and beyond in every way possible. As a talented sewer, she has been known to create customized bags for children. She also makes cloth dolls that are a more accurate representation of the population served by Foster Forward. Nancy is a fierce advocate for the organization, serving as a key solicitor and volunteer recruiter.

In addition to her weekly volunteer shifts with Foster Forward, Nancy is a mother to three teenagers, volunteers at a local animal shelter, mentors a young girl, works a full-time job and recently completed her master's degree at Harvard. There is no job too big or too small for Nancy and she brings a positive energy to everything she does.


Phil Newth

Bowdin, Maine
Little Angels Service Dogs

Little Angels Service Dogs in Bartlett, N.H. is a nonprofit organization that prepares and places fully trained service dogs with approved individuals living with a disability. Dogs are trained to provide services specific to their recipient, including autism assistance, alerting for diabetes and seizures, hearing impairments, mobility assistance, psychiatric services and more.

One of the training method's utilized by Little Angels is their Puppies Uplifting Prisoner's Spirits (PUPS) program. Dogs receive hands on training at Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, Maine. Phil works full-time at the facility and volunteered his time to oversee the PUPS training program. He hand selects the inmates and coordinates all of the training activities. The program ensures that dogs in training receive around the clock support and has a positive impact on the inmates.

With travel restrictions during the pandemic, Little Angels could not train or place service dogs with their recipients. As a result, Phil took on additional responsibilities, single-handedly managing all aspects of the PUPS program.

As travel restrictions were lifted, Phil spent hundreds of hours transporting dogs back and forth between Bolduc Correctional Facility and the Little Angles ranch in Bartlett, N.H. He also spent more than 200 hours volunteering at the Little Angels ranch as a groundskeeper and building a whelping center for new generations of service dogs.


Richard Jacobs

South Dartmouth, Mass.
Angel Flight Northeast

Since 1996, Angel Flight Northeast has donated more than 100,000 free flights to provide patients with access to specialized medical care that is not readily available in their area. The nonprofit primarily covers all six New England states, plus New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, but has also conducted cross-country and international flights. Since its inception, Angel Flight Northeast has flown patients more than 14 million miles.

The nonprofit relies on volunteer pilots, like Richard Jacobs, to offer their services free of charge to ensure that distance is never an obstacle for those who need life-saving medical care. Richard has been with the organization since its inception, completing more than 800 flights. He is always on call and is ready to donate his time, aviation fuel and airplane to help those in need.

Richard has conducted many flights during the pandemic, ensuring patients arrive safely and under the best health conditions. He provides compassion and essential support to many during some of their darkest days.

Over the past 25 years, Angel Flight has steadily grown, recruiting hundreds of pilots to support their efforts. Richard has been an instrumental part of that growth and continues to be one of the nonprofit's go-to pilots.


Phyllis Brooks

Lexington, Mass.
English at Large

English At Large (EAL) is a nonprofit organization that helps adult immigrants gain greater understanding of English language and U.S. culture through personalized instructional programs designed to support their highest aspirations. They provide free, relevant, practical and accessible services to adult immigrants and refugees in 21 communities in Middlesex county. 

Phyllis joined EAL in 2004 as a volunteer English tutor for Boston-area immigrants and newcomers. As EAL's longest-serving volunteer tutor, Phyllis has tirelessly dedicated 17 years and more than 1,200 hours of individual instruction to English learners who would not otherwise have access to language instruction. 

In her weekly tutoring sessions, Phyllis has helped her learners gain the English language and cultural skills needed to fully acclimate to life in the United States. While she has tutored English learners of all proficiency levels, she is particularly dedicated to working with beginner English speakers, whose language needs are more critical and immediate. With each new learner, Phyllis tailors her instruction to their individual needs, meeting the learner where they are in their English language journey to fluency.

Phyllis has positively impacted countless lives through her patient instruction and guidance. Her many learners have gained the necessary skills to achieve their life goals including employment, passing the citizenship exam, furthering their education, confidently communicating with their children's teachers and doctors, and participating more fully in their communities.


Tony Abreu

Fall River, Mass.
Angels Anonymous

Angels Anonymous strives to improve the quality of life for all those living in the city of Fall River and in surrounding communities. This service includes but is not limited to a monthly food pantry, neighborhood-cleanups, community restoration projects, charitable drives, holiday assistance, LGBTQ events and more. They are committed to serving all patrons in need with dignity, respect and inclusiveness.

Tony is a founding member of the nonprofit and has served as a board member since day one. Utilizing his professional skills as a chef, he created the mobile food pantry. They started small, distributing food at local parks for those in need. Two years later, Tony was able to secure a permanent location and became a member agency of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

With the help of the food bank and other donors, the Angels Anonymous food pantry now serves 600 families each month. During the pandemic, the pantries doors stayed open and Tony facilitated contactless pickups. In November, the pantry provided 500 Thanksgiving meals to local families. Thanks to Tony's leadership, the pantry has distributed 500,000 pounds of food and supplies to the Southcoast region.

Tony was also very involved with the creation of "Miracle on Weaver Street," a free holiday event benefiting 300 local families. He has dedicated thousands of hours to Angels Anonymous, helping to serve the Fall River community and beyond.


Cindy Brenner

New Haven, Conn.
Camp Rising Sun

More than 40 years ago, Cindy lost a close friend to cancer. After seeing what her friend experienced, she started volunteering at the Cancer Information Service Center at Yale New Haven Hospital. Cindy took classes and learned about all the different resources for families. She also sat on the board of the Tommy Fund, a pediatric oncology program that funded a toy closet at Yale and raised funds for families battling cancer.

In 1992, Cindy learned about Camp Rising Sun, a safe, nurturing environment for kids who have faced the diagnosis of cancer. She joined the nonprofit as a volunteer cabin counselor. A tremendous storyteller, Cindy oversaw the teenager cabin and enjoyed late night chats with the campers.

Cindy's role has continued to evolve over the years. As the nonprofit's arts and crafts instructor, she leads activities for campers every summer. Cindy is also a welcoming presence for the campers, greeting them at registration and helping to run the camp store.

Whether it's picking up camp supplies and prescriptions, creating birthday cards for campers, making scrap books for graduating seniors or assisting at fundraising events, Cindy is always ready to pitch in and support Camp Rising Sun.


Jean Larsen

Hampden, Conn.
A Place to Nourish Your Health

APNH: A Place to Nourish your Health (APNH) was started by a group of volunteers in 1983. The organization was called AIDS Project New Haven for 35 years and is the oldest AIDS service organization in Connecticut. In 2018, the nonprofit changed their name to APNH: A Place to Nourish your Health and broadened their mission and vision to provide services for those who face stigma or challenges in receiving culturally competent care.

APNH strives to build a community where everyone has access to high quality, relationship based, holistic care to inspire health and well-being and to empower people at risk of, or impacted by, HIV, substance use, mental illness and related conditions. Their clients often feel marginalized and are at great risk of experiencing food insecurity and homelessness.

Jean began volunteering for the nonprofit six years ago as a volunteer reception coordinator. Whether on the phone, or in the office, she is the first person that clients and staff meet every day. Her warm and welcoming demeanor allows clients to feel safe. Through her smile and contagious positivity, she makes everyone feel valuable, special and loved. 

Thanks to volunteers like Jean, APNH also provides home-delivered meals to homebound clients who would not receive proper nutrition otherwise. She is always eager to help and both APNH, and their clients, can always count on her.

After many years of volunteering in the reception area, Jean took on an additional role, devoting several hours each week to assist the pharmacy program at APNH. Her genuine and non-judgmental approach enables her to create instant friendships. Clients rave about Jean, admiring her willingness to talk, listen, offer advice or just be a sounding board. She makes other people's days a little bit brighter by exuding love to everyone she meets.


Bill Buckley

Bangor, Maine
The Challenger Learning Center of Maine

In 1986, the crew of NASA's Challenger shuttle died tragically when a booster engine failed, causing the shuttle to break apart just 73 seconds after launch. In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew's families came together, firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew's educational mission.

Their efforts resulted in the creation of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and its global network of Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed simulated learning and role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate skills needed for future success.

Bill proudly served in the Maine National Guard and has a longstanding commitment to serving the community. In 2000, he rallied community members to create the Challenger Learning Center of Maine. After lots of hard work, the Challenger Learning Center of Maine open its doors for its first space mission for Maine students March of 2004.

The center engages students and teachers in dynamic, hands-on exploration and discovery opportunities that strengthen knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), inspire students to pursue careers in these fields, and provide an outlet to learn and apply important life skills.

Twenty years later, Bill still volunteers tirelessly as the board president. He has seen the nonprofit through tremendous growth, helping to create a STEM center for students all across the state. Thanks to his leadership, the center now serves up to 6,000 students each year.


Jennifer Caruso

Lynnfield, Mass.
Swirls Around the World

In 2013, Jennifer lost her 19-year-old cousin, Matt, to Ewing Sarcoma. His nickname was Swirls and, in his memory, Jennifer started Swirls Around the World.

What began as a small gesture of distributing bracelets to spread Matt's story and raise awareness for Ewing Sarcoma, has evolved into a nonprofit foundation raising funds for scholarships. Each year, the nonprofit provides scholarships to Medford High School students that exhibit a strong commitment to community service.

Jennifer leads all fundraising initiatives for the foundation, which includes fitness events and an annual Thanksgiving flag football game. In addition to the scholarships, Jennifer delivers special Swirls packages each month to pediatric and young adult cancer warriors and continues to find ways to remember and honor those warriors who are no longer with us.

While an undergrad student at Northeastern, Jennifer was a member of the Love Your Melon campus crew program to engage and unite these students in the fight against pediatric cancer. She served as Regional Manager, overseeing more than 120 college campus crews across New England. Jennifer coordinated weekly calls with each campus to set goals, coordinated hospital visits and donation events, collaborated with other organizations on campus and connected campus crews with cancer fighting families in the area to coordinate visits with kids battling cancer.

Now as a physician assistant, Jennifer will continue her philanthropy work with Swirls Around the World and give back to communities through volunteerism and paying it forward.


Marc Cremer

North Easton, Mass.
The Haley Cremer Foundation

In June of 2014, Marc suffered an unimaginable loss. On Father's Day, his 20-year-old daughter Haley was out for a run when she was tragically struck by a vehicle. Haley lost her life that day, but her family was determined to keep her memory alive.

In 2015, the Cremer family established the Haley Cremer Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing financial assistance to aspiring physical therapists and associated rehabilitation professionals, medical research organizations, as well as programs dedicated to heal, grow and strengthen families facing profound challenges due to serious illness, trauma or death. 

As a co-founder, Marc serves as the treasurer and a member of the board of directors. He diligently manages the foundations budget and fundraising initiatives, including the annual golf classic and dragonfly dinner. Marc oversees all aspects of these events, from creating collateral to soliciting donors to managing the auction and raffle. With these funds, the foundation provides an annual scholarship to an aspiring physical therapist in Massachusetts and funding for physical therapy students from Massachusetts colleges and universities to attend professional development conferences.

Another area of the foundation's focus is providing funding for programs dedicated to healing, growing, and strengthening families facing profound challenges due to serious illness, trauma or death. The foundation has supported children and family bereavement centers across the state, including Children's Friend Carriage House, Hope Floats Healing and Wellness Center, Jeff's Place, Joanna's Place and Wildflower.


Nathan Persampieri

Newton, Mass.
Understanding Our Differences

The mission of Understanding Our Differences is to educate communities to value and accept people of all abilities through school-based, interactive disability awareness programs. The nonprofit serves more than 80 schools in eastern Massachusetts and beyond and is committed to teaching students to see the whole person and better understand the disability.

Living with cerebral palsy has presented a variety of challenges for Nathan, but he refuses to let it slow him down. Four years ago, as a junior in high school, Nathan coordinated a "Beyond Kindness" event at his school. The event featured a panel of students sharing their experiences about living with a disability, emphasizing the importance of understanding diversity and promoting inclusion. That summer, he served as an intern for the nonprofit, helping to assist staff members and building a disability curriculum for students.

Nathan is currently on the advisory board for the nonprofit and plays an active role as an advocate, ambassador and volunteer. He meets with school and city leaders to raise the profile of people with disabilities and encourages them to create new programs that raise awareness and encourage inclusion. Nathan continues to coordinate events and serves as a volunteer speaker for the nonprofit's physical disabilities unit.

With boundless energy, a great sense of humor and a welcoming personal style, Nathan instills confidence in people with disabilities and encourages them to share their stories. He also encourages people who do not have disabilities to better understand people who do and to be more comfortable interacting and making real connections.


Kenny Ouellette

Burlington, Mass.
People Helping People

For the past 40 years, People Helping People has been serving individuals and families in Burlington, ensuring they have basic needs including food and utilities. Growing up in a large family that experienced food insecurity, Kenny wanted to help those experiencing a similar situation.

Kenny has been volunteering at the nonprofit since 2016, providing weekly support as a volunteer for their food distribution programs. He has guided clients through the food pantry, helping them to select items and load up their vehicles. Kenny makes sure the pantry remains well-stocked at all times with fresh produce, dairy and meat.

He is the go-to guy for all necessary food pickups and delivers meals to families that are unable to visit the nonprofit. Over the past few years, Kenny has helped run the nonprofit's meal program for kids. He helps to provide breakfast, lunch and snacks to children who receive free or reduced lunch at school.

Kenny is also known as the handy man. From assembling shelving units to moving refrigerators to building ramps at the facility, Kenny continues to go above and beyond to ensure that the nonprofit continues to provide essential services to individuals and families in need.

During the pandemic, the nonprofit's client base increased by 40 percent and the kids program increased by 300 percent. Kenny remained steadfast in his commitment to the nonprofit, volunteering full-time to ensure their doors stayed open and securing additional food and storage space to meet the increased demand.


Monica Brady-Myerov

Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Hospitality Homes

Many individuals and families traveling to Boston for medical treatment simply do not have the means to stay in a hotel in Boston for one night, much less for weeks or months at a time. Hospitality Homes provides free and low-cost short-term housing in volunteer host homes and donated accommodations for patients, families and caregivers who travel to Boston for specialized medical care.

Monica began hosting patients and families traveling to Boston for medical treatment in 2010 when her children were young as a way to instill the importance of giving back. As they got older, she started hosting more families on a regular basis. Each year, more than 10 families are welcomed into Monica's home. Monica treats the patients and family members staying at her house as part of her own family. In addition to providing a clean and comfortable room with bathroom and kitchenette, she can also be found going above and beyond by cooking meals, driving them to appointments and simply being a good listener.

This past year, Monica was a lifeline to a young mother and her baby girl for more than six months. She offered them a personal connection and daily support in lieu of a place to stay, due to pandemic restrictions. Monica provided home cooked meals, groceries, arranged visits outside the hospital and even dropped off cupcakes and a personalized baby book for the family. She is improving the lives of these patients and families every single day that they are in Boston and this connection and support continues long after treatment. Monica continues to check in with the families once they return home, welcomes them back for follow up appointments and has been known to send the families holiday gifts.

In addition to hosting, Monica regularly attends monthly brown bag lunches at Hospitality Homes, helping to bring together families and hosts. She participated in marketing sessions with the board of directors, offered support for fundraising endeavors and successfully recruited several other families to join the program.

03. Anita Johnston - My Place Teen Center

Anita Johnson

Gorham, Maine
My Place Teen Center

Opened in 1998, My Place Teen Center is an after-school oasis for youth in Cumberland and York counties. Their mission is to provide a safe haven for youth ages 10-18, sustaining them with comfort, meals, resources and hope. The Teen Center provides free, year-round, positive youth development programs specializing in academics, character and leadership development, financial literacy, self-esteem and workforce development.

Anita has been with the Teen Center for more than five years. As a mentor, she works with the kids on their homework and socialization skills. As a volunteer cook, she oversees the production, service and clean-up of more than 9,000 meals per year. As a volunteer gardener, she can be found mulching, planting and watering the nonprofit's three perennial gardens.

On a typical day, more than 40 volunteers are on-site serving meals and facilitating programs for youth. During the pandemic, the Teen Center was down to just two volunteers – one of them being Anita. For the next nine months, Anita spent 20 hours per week hauling food supplies, unpacking boxes, manning the food pantry and cooking thousands of meals.

Thanks to Anita, the Teen Center never closed down. Instead, they expanded their efforts, providing essential services to more than 250 individuals each week, including gift cards, hygiene products, meal deliveries and curbside pickups, wellness checks and more.


Deborah Antanavica

Cherry Valley, Mass.
Deja New Leicester

Deja New Leicester is a nonprofit organization, led by a group of volunteers dedicated to improving the quality of life for local families. Having grown up in Leicester, Deborah co-founded the organization as a way to give back to neighbors in need.

The nonprofit assists families during emergencies, pays household bills for families in crisis and lends medical equipment not covered by insurance. They also sponsor targeted fundraisers for one-time necessities and provide students with internships focused around service and vocational skills.

As a co-founder and the secretary and clerk for the board of directors, Deborah wears many hats for the organization. Together with the Board of Directors, she develops the annual strategic plan, manages the budget and oversees Deja New's unique marketplace where they sell new and gently used furniture, home décor, toys and more. Thanks to her leadership, Deja New has purchased a wheelchair-accessible van for a child in need, helped purchase a seizure alert dog for a child with epilepsy, and much more.

In addition to her efforts at Deja New, Deborah is the founder and president of Leicester Hearts for Heat, helping to provide heat to more than 100 families each winter. She informs residents on how to apply for fuel assistance, reviews all of the applications to ensure that they meet the criteria for receiving aid, approves applications based on responses, manages the budget, and raises funds by doing targeted fundraisers. During the height of the pandemic, demand increased significantly, but due to Deb's diligence, she earned and saved enough money to help everyone in need.


Max Surprenant

Needham, Mass.
Catching Joy, Inc.

In 2008, when Max was four years old, he saw a homeless man for the first time and wanted to help. With the support of his family, he co-founded Catching Joy. Inc., a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and acts of kindness beginning with kids, teens and families. He spends 10 to 15 hours per week organizing hands-on service projects to help share the responsibility and joy of giving.

At the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic, when the Boston Marathon was canceled, Max launched, "Catching Joy Marathon: 26 ways to aid essential workers and people in need." That has since evolved to an Ultra Marathon, rallying thousands of people to do good from home, providing 100 different opportunities to help, including collecting toiletries, clothing and making hearts cards with positive messages to spread empathy, kindness, love and hope.

Max donated blessing bags filled with much needed toiletries, disposable masks and heart cards to local nonprofits including St. Francis House and Pine Street Inn. He collected coats, hats, scarves and clothing for underserved schools. He also led Operation Sock Drop, providing more than 7,000 pairs of socks to those in need. Max also serves as a leader for several youth empowering organizations, encouraging his peers to get involved in their communities.

Over the past 13 years, Max has partnered with schools, nonprofits, businesses and community leaders, mobilizing an estimated 100,000 people to participate in various service projects. He proves that age is not a weakness but a strength as he demonstrates that you are never too young to start giving back.