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Patriots honor Community MVPs

The Kraft family has long been known for its involvement in philanthropic activities.

But for Patriots owner Robert Kraft, his favorite comes this time each year. That's when his Patriots Charitable Foundation honors New England area residents with Community MVP Awards.

Since the beginning of this decade, the team has recognized local community volunteers for their above-and-beyond service to others in the six New England states. At a ceremony inside Gillette Stadium Tuesday, the Kraft family announced this year's honorees, ranged in age from 14 to 81.

Along with a football shaped wooden trophy, the award winners receive much-needed financial assistance in the form of agency grants, ranging from $1,500 to as much as $10,000 for the Grand Prize Winner.

This year, that winner was Cheryl Opper, founder of School on Wheels in Easton, Mass. Her organization provides tutoring and academic support exclusively for homeless children.

The runner-ups' story is equally impressive, including that of Anthony Hayter. Confined to a wheelchair after developing lung cancer, the 73-year-oold North Providence, R.I. man still finds a way to coach swimming at a nearby Boys & Girls Club.

Kraft was visibly moved by all the efforts of the 2008 Community MVPs.

"It's great to see, in this age of technology, when people go their own ways, to see the kind of selfless work that these people do," he noted. "It's remarkable. I'm glad that we can help in a small way to support that."

Because the awards come with a financial incentive as well, each year the Patriots Charitable Foundation receives more and more applications from qualified individuals. That makes the job of selecting the winners tougher each year, Kraft pointed out.

"You see the quality of work that people are doing. It's just unbelievable."

He also observed that the money his foundation gives out is being used wisely for great causes.

"They're using what we call social entrepreneurism to use the dollars very effectively and efficiently."

Kraft also alluded to the money that he's been spending of late, to construct the second phase of the Patriot Place development surrounding Gillette Stadium. When asked for an update on the project, Kraft mentioned the anchor venues, the Hall at Patriot Place (the New England football hall of fame) and CBS Scene (a trendy new restaurant), both of which are scheduled to open in time for football season.

"We'll have an exciting time here come the end of August," Kraft said with a wide grin.

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