FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Dec. 20, 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."
Laurie Keegan from Methuen, Mass. was selected as a 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her commitment to ABLED Advocacy in Lawrence, Mass.
Six years ago, Laurie founded the nonprofit ABLED Advocacy with the goal of helping low-income families successfully advocate for educational services for children with special needs that attend public schools. Laurie created ABLED based on her own personal experience trying to secure services for her kids who have special needs. She found that it was more affordable to train herself to be an advocate than to pay for one.
Over the past few years, Laurie has worked directly with more than 120 families in the Merrimack Valley, helping them navigate the special education systems within public schools. More than half of the families she works with fall below the federal poverty level and most of them speak a primary language that is not English.
Laurie meets parents in their homes to understand their child's needs and develops a plan for obtaining appropriate services that will help the child academically and social-emotionally. She then accompanies the family to meetings with the school team, aiming to foster a working relationship between both parties.
"It is such an honor for ABLED Advocacy to receive recognition from the New England Patriots," said Laurie. "It is my passion to make sure that all children are able to receive the individualized support they need to learn in school, regardless of their income. I know firsthand how hard it is to advocate for your own child and how unaffordable it is to hire someone to help."
Where Laurie differs from other education advocates is that she is aware of how school resources are strained and works to find solutions that meet each child's needs while utilizing resources already available. She finds creative solutions that are practical and doable within the public school setting to ensure the child's academic, social and emotional needs are met. Laurie also writes letters on behalf of the families and ensures documentation is completed on time.
She sets parents' expectations in a realistic way, training them on how to work within the system to effectively advocate for their child. Most importantly, through her work, Laurie seeks to restore hope for parents who are feeling a sense of desperation as they watch the negative impact of a disability on their child's academic and emotional well-being and the disruption it causes in the school environment.
Laurie is a single mom with four children with special needs, yet she finds time to help other families. Since she began her work through ABLED Advocacy nearly 6 years ago, she has dedicated every day to helping each family receive the highest quality advocacy.
"I want all families to have the same ability to get an appropriate education for their child, not just those who can afford to hire an advocate or lawyer," said Laurie. "All children deserve the opportunity to learn with appropriate support, so that they are able to grow into successful members of their community. Every child ABLED Advocacy supports ultimately benefits the community as a whole."
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.