FOXBOROUGH, Mass.- Though the spirit of volunteerism will continue beyond the 2018 football season, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation celebrated the ongoing Celebrate Volunteerism initiative in a special halftime ceremony during the Patriots' regular season finale versus the New York Jets on Sunday, Dec. 30 at Gillette Stadium.
As part of their commitment to celebrating volunteers, the Foundation presented the "Patriots Difference Maker of the Week" award each week during the season, which aims to recognize deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to give back to their community. Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft and Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett were on the field at halftime to congratulate all of this year's winners.
"There are so many volunteers doing great things in our communities," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "We receive hundreds of nominations for the Patriots Difference Maker each year. Reading their stories is heartwarming. We love highlighting the contributions of a deserving volunteer weekly throughout the season and rewarding them collectively with a special halftime ceremony in their honor in front of a capacity crowd at Gillette Stadium."
At Sunday's game, Kraft and Tippett announced that each of the Patriots Difference Makers would be receiving a $5,000 grant to support the nonprofit organizations for which they volunteer. During the halftime ceremony, Kraft and Tippett also presented a $20,000 grant to Experience Camps on behalf of the 2018 Patriots Difference Maker of the Year, Sara Deren.
More than 10 years ago, Sara created Experience Camps as a way to teach children how to deal with their grief. She merged a traditional summer camp experience with a substantive and well-prescribed grief program that allows children to bond with each other while building a supportive community.
"I founded Experience Camps to create a community for grieving children," said Sara. "At camp, our kids are able to break down the walls of isolation and experience the playfulness of childhood that is often overshadowed by their loss."
The program develops a platform for children to share their stories, remember the person they lost and to find a healthy emotional balance. Under the guidance of licensed clinicians, campers have the opportunity to remember the person who died, while developing the tools they need to help guide their grief through adolescence and adulthood. In the program's first year, 27 boys attended the week-long summer camp in Maine. Today, the camp serves more than 600 boys and girls ages eight to 18 at five different sites nationwide.
As part of the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative and Patriots Community Tuesdays, current and former Patriots players made more than 500 appearances in New England communities throughout the year, participating in activities that included reading books to students, visiting patients in hospitals, giving back to children and families during the holidays and encouraging children to exercise 60 minutes a day through the NFL Play 60 campaign.
The Patriots Women's Association and Patriots families also joined the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative by participating in the annual toy drive. They also teamed with more than 20 current and former Patriots players to distribute 220 complete Thanksgiving meals to families in need and led children on a holiday shopping spree.
Patriots season ticket members were also involved in the year-round Celebrate Volunteerism initiative. Throughout the year they prepared meals for people experiencing homelessness, planted American flags to honor fallen heroes, created birthday packages for children in hospitals, and much more.
The Kraft family and the Patriots Foundation will continue to Celebrate Volunteerism during the postseason, off-season and seasons to come. 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.
For more information about the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, including resources and information about volunteering, the "Patriots Difference Maker" award, and to join the Celebrate Volunteerism movement, visit www.patriots.com/community.