FOXBOROUGH, Mass.– The Celebrate Volunteerism initiative aims to share examples of dedicated volunteers, build awareness of the need for volunteering, identify and educate others about volunteer opportunities and inspire New Englanders to follow the Kraft family's example of becoming lifelong volunteers.
Though the spirit of volunteerism is felt throughout New England year-round, the Kraft family, the New England Patriots Foundation and cornerstone partner Gillette celebrated the season long initiative in a special pregame ceremony during the Patriots' regular season finale versus the New York Jets on Sunday, Jan. 7 at Gillette Stadium.
Throughout the season, the foundation presented a weekly "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week" award, which aims to recognize deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to help build stronger New England communities. Chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots Robert Kraft, President of the New England Patriots Foundation Josh Kraft, Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett and Community Affairs Coordinator for P&G Rachel Forbes Elwell were on the field prior to the game to congratulate all of this year's winners.
"The volunteers we are honoring today represent the very best of New England and we appreciate the positive impact they have made in each of their communities throughout the region," said Chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft. "Celebrating volunteerism and giving back to the community have always been, and will always be, of the utmost importance to our family. We are proud that these volunteers and the good work they do will serve as excellent examples and inspiration for others to serve their own communities and to give back to our region."
At Sunday's game, the Kraft family announced that each of the Patriots Difference Makers would be receiving a $5,000 grant to support the nonprofit organizations for which they volunteer. They also presented a $20,000 grant to WARRIORS SOAR on behalf of the 2023 Patriots Difference Maker of the Year, Major Shannon Blake, U.S. Army (Ret.).
Shannon has spent his entire adult life focusing on service to others. After graduation from the University of Vermont and the Reserve Officer Training Program, Shannon entered the United States Army and became a combat helicopter pilot. While deployed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom he sustained physical and psychological injuries due to numerous and sustained combat operations.
In 2017, Shannon established WARRIORS SOAR (Support, Outreach, Assistance, Recovery) to help wounded veterans reintegrate into society and heal from both physical and mental injuries. The program focuses on mentorship, outreach, comradery, and the opportunity to participate in a variety of indoor and outdoor sporting activities. WARRIORS SOAR has approximately 350 wounded veterans participating in events and mentorship across the Unites States.
"As an American Patriot, and Army combat veteran, it's my honor to accept this award on behalf of WARRIORS SOAR as we continue to be committed to serving our wounded heroes throughout America," said Shannon. "On average, 22 daily suicides occur across the military veteran community. WARRIORS SOAR was established 7 years ago upon my return from deployments in Afghanistan. I not only lost fellow service members to dangerous military operations, but also to veteran suicide. I established WARRIORS SOAR to assist in the reintegration and healing process for members returning home, and to have long-term outreach and assistance programs to help them heal from physical and mental injuries."
Shannon has selflessly served his community, fellow wounded military veterans, and our country with pride and distinction. As the founder, and current leader of WARRIORS SOAR he continues to make a lasting and positive impact on the lives of others. He has been instrumental in the recruiting and retention of his volunteer base of individuals to provide interactive sports programs and mentorship. His spirit for volunteerism and supporting wounded military personnel is not only inspirational but attracts the time and talent of others.
The 2023 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week range in age from 16 to 85 and support communities across New England. Charitable causes include equity and inclusion, healthcare, veteran support, youth mentoring and more.
"We are thrilled to stand alongside the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation to honor this year's exceptional Patriots Difference Makers," said Kara Buckley, Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs at P&G Gillette. "This community has been home to Gillette for well over a century and it is undoubtedly stronger and brighter because these 17 individuals have dedicated their lives to helping others. We thank them for their work and for serving as a true inspiration to those around them."
For more information about the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative and the 2023 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week, visit www.patriots.com/community/pdm.
2023 Patriots Difference Makers of the Week:
|PATRIOTS DIFFERENCE MAKER
|Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro South
|Follow My Steps Foundation
|Joe Q Veteran Coffee Break, Inc.
|East Falmouth, Mass.
|RAMP (Real Access Motivates Progress)
|Day Kimball Healthcare Foundation
|East Greenwich, R.I.
|Alzheimer’s Association MA/NH
|Special Olympics Maine
|De Novo Center for Justice and Healing
|Girls on the Run Rhode Island
|Hope Valley, R.I.