FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Sept. 30, 2021) – Throughout the 2021 season, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation will recognize 17 local volunteers with the "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award." The honorees will be celebrated for going above and beyond to support nonprofit organizations in our New England communities.
As part of this recognition, the foundation will present a $5,000 donation to the nonprofit organization represented by each honoree. The Patriots Difference Makers will participate in a special year-end celebration and receive a pair of tickets to attend the Patriots final regular-season home game on Jan. 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We are excited to once again recognize local volunteers with our Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award," said Josh Kraft, president, New England Patriots Foundation. "Each of these honorees has their own unique story of community service and we are proud to shine a light on the tremendous work they are doing. We would like to thank all of this year's Patriots Difference Makers for helping to build stronger New England communities."
Anita Johnston from Gorham, Maine was selected as a 2021 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her commitment to My Place Teen Center in Westbrook, Maine. As part of this recognition, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation will be making a $5,000 donation to support the nonprofit.
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.
"Once I retired as Nurse Manager of a busy operating room in Portland, I began looking for a volunteer position that would give me a sense of fulfillment and community service," said Anita. "I did not have to look far. I heard through friends that My Place Teen Center in Westbrook needed help with gardening and kitchen work. I liked the mission of the organization, which is helping at-risk middle and high school age kids and I felt I had skills that I could share. I think the teenage years are critically formative and it is so rewarding to support this organization."
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.
"During the pandemic, president and CEO Donna Dwyer and her staff quickly changed gears and organized the preparation and distribution of meals to the teens and their families," said Anita. "The chef was by himself, so I offered to come often and help in any way I could."
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.
"The work that was accomplished distributing food to needy folks through the Teen Center is a tribute to Donna and her staff," said Anita. "It's wonderful to be a part of something so important, helping to relieve hunger and to provide hope to those in need."
The Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award is part of the foundation's Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, designed to educate fans about the need for volunteering, highlight deserving volunteers from across the region and inspire Patriots fans to become lifelong volunteers.
This marks the 11th season that the Kraft family and the Patriots Foundation has presented their Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award to volunteers from all across New England. Since its inception, 150 individuals have received this award and more than $675,000 has been donated to local nonprofit organizations.
To learn more about the program or to nominate a volunteer for the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week Award, visit www.patriots.com/community.