FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Dec. 7, 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."
Millie Lafontaine from Concord, N.H. was selected as a 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for her commitment to the Friends Program.
Founded in 1975, the Friends Youth Mentoring Program provides boys and girls, ages six to 17, from Merrimack County with a mentor who serves as a positive role model and a supportive advocate. Millie has been a volunteer mentor with the nonprofit for 10 years. Her passion for the program and her effectiveness in reaching these youth is unsurpassed.
The program's minimum expectation is a one year of commitment from volunteers. Millie has exceeded this minimum with each child she has worked with. Mentors typically spend three to five hours per week with their mentees in the first year, and meet once per month in subsequent years. Millie has met with her mentee weekly during their entire time together, sometimes more frequently if there is a need.
When Millie ends her time with a mentee due to age or relocation, she immediately requests to support another child on the waiting list. She meets each child where they are and helps them to thrive. Her approach is both simple and effective. Millie begins with basic care and hygiene, simple food preparation and help with homework.
For the past five years, she has been a reliable role model to a now 16-year-old Nepali refugee who came to the United States with her parents. Together Millie and her mentee have worked in a community garden raising fruits and vegetables that are widely shared. Her mentee has learned about biology, nature and stewardship during her time in the garden. It has been an effective remedy in building confidence and skill, as well as learning creativity in the kitchen.
"Not a day goes by that my experience with my mentee doesn't end up enriching my life," said Millie. "The perspective I've gained from simply spending time with my mentee adds depth to my conversations with others, helps me reset my priorities and opens up new avenues for exploration or just plain fun. Who would have guessed that looking at the world through a new set of eyes would do so much?"
Local art field trips have expanded her mentee's world view. Ballet, baseball games, hikes and shows are all experiences Millie has introduced to her mentee. In all these pursuits, Millie remains open-minded while demonstrating a strong and unwavering value on education for each mentee. She continually exceeds program expectations, always going the extra mile to support mentees in her care, enhancing their lives with access and experiences they would not otherwise have.
"This is a win-win relationship," said Millie. "My mentee knows there is someone who is consistently there just for her. I get to have a good time planning simple activities that allow her to experience new things. That brings us both joy."
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