HARVARD -- Seven years ago, a science teacher at the Bromfield School was approached by a 10th-grade student whose brother had dealt with cancer.
She explained how the local community got together to help support her brother and family and how she now wanted to give back and help support other families in the community.
This led teacher Trish Nilan to start the club "Bromfield Against Cancer."
"We were trying to educate people about different cancers and collect donations and have fundraisers to support local families who had a loved one with cancer," explained Nilan. "We started a Relay for Life team, which we are still committed to today, but after a couple of years, we wanted to help more people in the community, so we changed our club to "Bromfield Cares."
This year Bromfield Cares will participate in Relay for Life on May 9 at North Middlesex Regional High School.
Bromfield Cares is a club for high-school students who want to help those in need and make a difference in people's lives. Bromfield Cares students are heavily involved in community service by volunteering, raising awareness for various causes and fundraising to support those causes.
The club is always looking for new service opportunities and lets the students take the lead. The student leaders this year are Lena Karotkin, Jackie Planchet and Andrew Moore. Bromfield Cares meets Friday mornings before school.
"The Bromfield Cares kids just love helping others," said Nilan.
For the Easter season, Bromfield Cares collected donations of Easter candy and small toys, like bubbles and chalk, to hold an Easter egg hunt for the children at Transitions at Devens. Bromfield Cares donated 23 Easter baskets and hid more than 100 Easter eggs and enjoyed playing games and lacrosse with the children. This is the second year Bromfield Cares has supported Transitions at Devens. In the past the club has collected Halloween costumes and board games for the children at Transitions.
Nilan started Bromfield Cares Jr. a couple of months ago for middle-school students who were expressing interest in community service. This junior club held a can tab competition in the middle-school to support the Ronald McDonald House. The students collected little tabs from soup cans and the funds generated from recycling these can tabs will go to offset the House's expenses.
Over the past three years, Bromfield Cares has donated more than 11,000 can tabs to the Ronald McDonald House and hopes to make it part of the school recycling program. There are eight Bromfield Cares Junior club members who meet Monday afternoons at dismissal.
One of the favorite, long-standing Bromfield Cares initiatives is the "Giving Tree." This service project begins in October of every year when the students gather the names of children and make paper mitten ornaments with their specific holiday gift item requests. Students, staff and parents from the Bromfield School community may take a mitten from the tree and purchase a holiday gift, wrap it and leave it under the Giving Tree. The Giving Tree supports the local nonprofit social service agency, LUK, in Fitchburg, and Transitions in Devens, in addition to the Department of Children and Families.
"We give five gifts for every child so we do lots of fundraisers -- bake sales and we sell coffee and tea during parent/teacher conferences in November to collect donations for the Giving Tree," said Nilan.
Bromfield Cares also participates in "Holiday with Heart" with NMRHS students. This occurs the Saturday before Thanksgiving when the two groups of students carpool to Worcester to buy fresh produce that comes from the farmers in Western Mass. The students then travel to eight or nine food pantries, churches and veterans houses and they literally make a human chain, unloading all the produce that will be used in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner at the shelters.
Although the Giving Tree is Nilan's favorite initiative, Holiday with Heart is where she sees community service really having an impact on the students.
"When you explain to them that they will be working hard and lugging boxes of vegetables that will be prepared and served at Thanksgiving tables at churches and pantries across the area, you see the smiles on their faces and they get it -- they really change," said Nilan.
"The kids are so excited about meeting other people and helping other people that it becomes life-altering, life-changing for them," she said. "This is what I treasure about Bromfield Cares, seeing the kids, themselves, be transformed by their own service and realizing they truly can help somebody else."