FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Sept. 21, 2018) – Eight years ago, the Kraft family and Patriots Foundation introduced Celebrate Volunteerism, a season-long initiative focused on recognizing community volunteers and promoting the importance of giving back to the community through service.
Throughout the 2018 season, the foundation will continue its Celebrate Volunteerism initiative by teaming with nonprofit organizations to educate fans about the need for volunteering, highlighting deserving volunteers from across the region and seeking to inspire Patriots fans to become lifelong volunteers. The foundation will present a weekly "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week" award, which recognizes deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to support their New England communities.
"We originally started the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative as a tribute to my sweetheart, Myra," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "Over the past eight years, it has become the heart and soul of the Patriots Foundation, just like Myra was. We enjoy shining the light on local volunteers that are committed to improving the lives of children and families across the region and we hope that this inspires our fans to get more involved in their communities."
Ashia Ray from Newton, Mass. was selected as this week's Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her commitment to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE).
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.
"As an autistic woman and a neurodiversity advocate, I feel it is very important to advocate for these children," said Ashia. "Neurodivergent and disabled children are often overlooked for adoption due to stereotypes and stigma. Many kids are kept in segregated in schools and institutions, and kept out of the public eye, which makes acceptance by the broader public - and adoptive families - that much harder. That is a shame because we are all valuable members of society who are competent enough to speak for ourselves, even those of us who don't use spoken language."
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.
"The 'Somewhere Out There Series' in coordination with MARE is not just to get single children adopted," said Ashia. "But to make the need for welcoming families who accept and celebrate neurodiverse kids open and visible."
Fifteen individuals will be named Patriots Difference Makers throughout the season. The outstanding volunteers will be recognized on the Patriots website and in print materials, including Patriots Football Weekly and Patriots GameDay magazine. They will also be honored during a special ceremony at the Patriots final regular season home game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 30.
Fans are encouraged to nominate a local volunteer for the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week award by visiting www.patriots.com/community.