FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Dec. 27, 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."
Richard Cohen from Somerville, Mass. was selected as a 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for his commitment to Partners for Youth with Disabilities.
Richard joined Partners for Youth with Disabilities in 2012 and went through a comprehensive training on the elements of effective practices in mentoring. Since that time, he has been matched with five different youth, working directly with various types of disabilities and backgrounds. His mentees have been from the foster-care system, juvenile justice system and those experiencing homelessness. He has also worked with youth from low-income and single parent households.
Richard's goal as a mentor is to help youth feel self-confident in their social skills, youth identity and well-being. In each of his first years mentoring, each of the youths Richard has supported has seen growth in their self-esteem, developed a positive self-image, improved their communication and relationship-building skills, developed a stronger connection to their communities and they have become self-advocates in speaking up for themselves and expressing their needs.
"In 1997, when my wife and I moved to Boston, we saw an ad from Horizons for Homeless Children asking for volunteers," said Richard. "We wanted to get involved in our new community so we decided to try it. The first night we went I was actually nervous. I was a cabinetmaker in my early 50's – what did I know about how to interact with these children?
"I looked around the room and saw a very shy little girl sitting alone in the corner," Richard continued. "I asked her if she'd like to draw a picture with me. We took turns drawing a house, trees, clouds and the sun. Then she began slowly printing something at the top. She told me she was writing a letter to God, and it said, 'I know you are always there watching out for me.' It was at that moment that I realized how rewarding volunteering would be for me."
He is currently matched with a 24-year old that has autism, dyslexia and global apraxia of speech, which affects fine motor planning and speaking. Richard and his mentee meet nearly once a week for breakfast where they talk about their artwork, museums and current events. Richard is helping his mentee to search for a part-time job, apply to undergraduate courses and helping him to achieve his dream of becoming an English teacher.
As a volunteer, Richard is always communicative of his and his mentees needs. He is patient, resourceful and a man of high integrity. For his tireless commitment, Partners for Youth with Disabilities selected Richard as their Mentor of the Year in 2016.
"Volunteering has always been an enriching and fulfilling part of my life," said Richard. "It's a chance to interact with all kinds of people with special challenges and unique gifts. Boston is loaded with so many wonderful opportunities of this kind.
"Over the years, I've had the privilege of volunteering at Horizons for Homeless Children, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Chilton St. Hospice, the Rhode Island Foster Care Association and, of course, Partnership for Youth with Disabilities," Richard continued. "They all do an excellent job of matching mentors and mentees and provide great training, coaching and support. I believe the interest and care you show to another person always makes a difference and they, in turn, change your life in ways you never could have imagined."
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.