FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Nov. 8, 2019) - Nine years ago, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation introduced a season-long theme called Celebrate Volunteerism. The main focus of the initiative was to recognize community volunteers and to promote the importance of volunteering.
Since its inception, New England Patriots players, coaches and alumni have donated tens of thousands of hours to giving back to their New England communities. During their weekly off day, Patriots players volunteer throughout New England to support children and families in need. Patriots season ticket members have also teamed with Patriots players to better their communities.
Throughout the 2019 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.
"Volunteerism is at the heart of giving back and bettering our communities," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "We will continue to honor and thank the many deserving volunteers in our region that are often not recognized for their valuable contributions. Through this Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, we hope to inspire Patriots fans to make a difference and become lifelong volunteers."
Michael Wisecup from Windham, Maine was selected as a 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for his commitment to Camp Sunshine.
Sixteen years into his military career and serving as a Navy SEAL Commander, Michael was preparing for the next phase of life. During a trip home in 2014, he pondered how he might give back to the community that taught him the qualities and leadership skills that led to his military success.
Family members shared information with him about Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Within days he scheduled a tour of the nonprofit. Michael was blown away by the courage and strength of the ill children and their families who attend camp. It changed the way he looked at service and he began to devise a plan for how he could help.
Later that summer, he established the SEALs for Sunshine initiative, whereby he recruits and organizes Navy SEALs and other military personnel to complete unparalleled endurance events with the goal of increasing awareness and raising funds to bring military families with ill children to Camp Sunshine. With challenges like deployment, frequent relocations and the additional job-related risks that military families already face, it is hard to imagine finding out that your child has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, leukemia or another life-threatening illness that Camp Sunshine faithfully serves.
"I am honored by this recognition and to represent the over 2,500 annual volunteers it takes to make Camp Sunshine run and provide the best experience for our families," said Michael.
Fitness events have included a 95-mile reverse triathlon and a 14-mile swim across Sebago Lake in Maine. Michael creates new challenges every year, encouraging new participants and spreading the word about Camp Sunshine. He did this all while still on active duty and juggling time with deployments. Now retired from the service, Mike continues to organize annual events that have allowed hundreds of families to attend camp.
Through his tireless efforts, Michael has raised more than $500,000 for Camp Sunshine and created ongoing relationships with military hospitals and bases across the nation.
"There is an unspoken bond between the SEALs and the children, in that they routinely face possible death," said Michael. "We chose our lifestyle. The children have to deal with the hand they are given. Neither of us can ever quit, but they are the amazing ones."
Fifteen individuals will be named Patriots Difference Makers throughout the season. The outstanding volunteers will be recognized on the Patriots website and will be honored during a special ceremony at the Patriots final regular season home game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, December 29.
Fans are encouraged to nominate a local volunteer for the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week award by visiting www.patriots.com/community.