The Mary jo Brown Foundation

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2018 Finalist - Meredith Casey

Meredith Casey is a 14 year old 8th grader at the North Reading Middle School.  Late in 2015 what seemed to be a non-incident turned into an event that has changed the rest of her life.  Bending over to pick up her homework she hit her head on the granite countertop.  At first she seemed okay, then it was thought she had a concussion -eventually she was diagnosed with a blood clot on her brain—no more soccer or lacrosse.  No skiing, sledding or roller coaster rides as she is now prone to blood clots and suffers from fatigue, chronic pain and cranial pressure.  Meredith decided that her new normal would be being kind.

Her nomination by Middle School principal Cathy O’Connell is about Meredith re-defining her new normal way of life.  One of the things that boosted her spirits during many hospital visits was the swag bags she would receive—sometimes a gift card-always something that helped divert her attention to what was being done and made her feel better.  Deciding she wanted to help others feel better, with the help of her parents and other family and friends, Meredith started the Mighty Meredith Project, a charity that has 3 particular initiatives:

Mighty Giving:  The first is to give back to the medical community and support Child Life Services at the hospital where she has received treatment.  From October through December they have a “Fill the Box” drive to collect toys and games to be donated.

Mighty Kind:  The second is to perform random acts of kindness. The Mighty Meredith project focuses on providing random acts of kindness especially to those who suffer silently.  Via the website people can submit the name and contact information for someone who is going through a hard time.  (Send a Random Act of Kindness).   Meredith sends them a note of encouragement and a gift card sharing that she knows what is like to be going through something that no one understands.

Mighty Smart:  Raising awareness of traumatic brain injury.  Resources for information on this disease are on the Website.  They also conduct a “helmets for heads” campaign where helmets are collected and purchased to be distributed to hospitals for their pediatric patients.

Funds are raised through numerous bake sales and other activities to add to the donations received on the website.

Meredith has been featured twice this year on the  WCVB 5 for Good segment and has been featured several times in the weekly newsletter of Tufts Medical Center.

Meredith meets regularly with Principal O’Connell to plan kindness lessons and activities throughout their school. In the winter of 2018 she worked with video production teacher Dana Sinerate to create a kindness video that was broadcast throughout the school.  Every student had a magnet waiting for them at their desk which reads “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”  Then each student was asked to pledge to go out a do a random act of kindness for another individual or the community.

From science teacher Jennifer Novicki:  Before I met Meredith two years ago,, I had never had a student quite like her.  Kind, compassionate, brilliant! She has shown such grace in the face of adversity and I am ever in awe of her.  She is truly an inspiration.

From teacher Dana Sinerate who worked with Meredith on the Care Day Video:  Being a middle school student is not easy and one can only imagine the struggles of being a middle school student with a traumatic brain injury.  But somehow Meredith finds strength to stay positive in and outside of the classroom.  No matter how much pain she is in, or how much work is piled up on her plate, she always keeps a smile on her face.  Her strength, kindness and compassion for others inspires me to be better every day.  It’s students like Meredith that remind me why I became a teacher.

We are honored to introduce a very Mighty young lady named Meredith Casey.

2018 Finalist - Julia Degnan

Julia Degnan is a 10-year old 5th grade student at the Englesby Elementary School in Dracut. 

At a young age, Julia particularly shined when it came to being sensitive to the needs of others.  Her parents taught her to always be willing to give before receiving.

In early 2016, Julia was diagnosed with atrial septal defect, which would require surgery.  Julia was frightened and anxious, but continued to stay positive.  She had surgery at Tufts Floating Hospital in March, 2017, which went great, but one-week post-op, Julia developed a blood clot on her atrium.  Because the regular pediatric floor was fully occupied, she was admitted to the Cam Neely Bone Marrow unit to await diagnosis.

During Julia’s stay, she began to focus on the needs of the other patients.  There is a playroom at the Floating, but because the children in the unit have weakened immune systems, they are not able to leave the floor.  They instead have a small supply closet.  Julia wanted to provide these other children with more toys to play with throughout their stay to brighten their spirits, and came up with the idea to raise money for toys.

At Christmastime, she made homemade candy and sold it to relatives to start raising money for toys. 

After that, she hosted a lemonade stand.  She raised $1200 at her first stand and used this money to purchase Kindles for every room on the Cam Neely Floor, made cash donations to the hospital, $200 to the Lucy’s Love Bus Music program that visits Tufts, and numerous toy donations.

Julia also made a cash donation to the Adam Keenan Foundation.  Adam was a young, family-friend that died of heart disease while playing baseball.

Adam’s Mom, Audrey told us that AEDs were purchased with help from the money Julia raised.  Julia is on a committee for the Adam Keenan Foundation and Audrey praised Julia for all the time she and the Degnan family spent volunteering at their recent fundraising event, but was most touched by a note that Julia penned herself with the $200 check that read, “This is to buy a good heart machine”.

Julia hosted her 2nd lemonade stand this summer and raised over $4500.  This allowed her to purchase a Nintendo Switch and a Children’s Bible for each room in the unit, along with, toys, and gift cards that could be used to purchase games and apps for the Switches and Kindles, as well as further cash donations to the Floating, Lucy’s Love Bus, and the Adam Keenan Foundation.

In speaking with Andrea Colliton of Child Life Services, she described Julia as “a firecracker” and talked about the wonderful job that Julia did speaking at an event hosted by the Bruins.  She was genuine, driven from positivity and has a very big heart.  Julia loves to help and is always asking, “what else can I do?” or “How can we make it better?”  This is so admirable for someone at such a young age.

Julia is an amazing example of how important it is to give to others in time of need!

2018 Finalist - Sarah Podradchik

Sarah Podradchik is a 14 year old 9th grade student at Austin Preparatory School.

Her nomination by her dad Eric and supported by her Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom of Melrose, as well as Suzanne Crane at Dana Farber is of a strong young girl who has decided not to let a little thing like a Germinoma Brain Tumor define her.

Two brain surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the Jimmy Fund gave her a front row seat to the many challenges faced by children and she saw an opportunity to help.  Her compassion and concern for those who might not be able to afford the same care and treatments that she was receiving prompted her to start #Sarah Strong to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber.  Through this effort she raised over $18000, which won her an award from Dana Farber for surpassing her initial goal by 800%. Sarah requested that the monies raised be allocated to 2 specific purposes: for research on brain tumors and to help families who need financial support while they are going through treatment.

She participated in the Jimmy Fund Telethon –was part of the opening ceremony at Fenway Park—She has become a very polished and successful public speaker, presenting to managers of Home Goods, Dave and Busters and a golf tournament—each time speaking with poise, intelligence and humor while relaying what is like to be a child to battle cancer and how important the Jimmy Fund and the research at Dana Farber are in the life of these pediatric patients and their families.

Sarah participated in an art contest run by Home Goods at the Jimmy Fund—and her art work was chosen as one of two designs that were used for reusable shopping bags that were sold at Home Goods stores throughout the country.  50% of the monies raised through their sale went directly to the Jimmy Fund.

She has been featured in stories in the Melrose Free Press and Wicked Local Media, by Conor Powers Smith. 

In June of this year, Sarah finally had her Bat Mitzvah—her surgeries and therapies delayed this a year.  For her project she spoke about Tzedakah—which translates to “charitable giving typically seen as a moral obligation.”

Sarah’s Rabbi, Artie Fertig shared Sarah’s Torah from her Bat Mitzvah—following is an excerpt we feel best describes Sarah:

"The symbol of Sarah Strong was a butterfly.  Throughout the butterfly were symbolic messages:  the color grey represents gray matter for brain tumors.  Inside the wings were S’s for Sarah Strong.  The butterfly is a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings and within the butterfly was the cancer ribbon for cancer awareness.  I decided to make Sarah Strong because every time I went into the Jimmy Fund I felt loved, cared about, and safe.  There was not one time, even while sitting there in pain having a needle in my chest, that I was not thankful for having been presented the opportunity to save my life.  I can remember one time before my cancer started we had visited the clinic at Children's Hospital and there were bald sick little kids who were hooked up to all kinds of tubes and machines and the only thing going through my head was 'This will never be me," but when I received the news I had a brain tumor and would be just like those kids I realized that this can happen to anyone".

After Sarah finished her presentation, Rabbi Fertig announced that the Temple had decided to go out and purchase 150 Home Goods bags to be given to the families of the Temple at Rosh Hashanah.  On Yom Kippur families returned the bags filled with groceries that were delivered to the Bread of Life Food pantry in Malden.  The seed planted by Sarah was already growing.

Rabbi Fertig spoke of Sarah's incredible commitment to giving back, her concern for others, and her joy for living.

 In her own words from her Bat Mitzvah “Out of all the characters, Miriam impacted me the most. She was strong and independent just like a woman I want to become”.

It is our honor to recognize a very strong young lady named Sarah Podradchik.

2017 Finalist - Mason Adams 

Mason is a 6 year old in kindergarten at the Plum Cove School in Gloucester.  Nominated by Officer Heidi Fialho of the Gloucester Police Department, Mason was honored for his fundraising efforts for the benefit of “Cops for Kids with Cancer”.  In March, Mason asked that instead of birthday gifts he wanted to do something special for his “hometown heroes”.  With help from his mom, Gretchen, and Officer Fialho, he established a fundraising page and combined those proceeds with his birthday gifts.  In total he raised a whopping $900 which he presented to the police department in a special ceremony attended by the Chief and Mayor.  The event was covered in both the Gloucester Daily Times and the Boston Globe.  According to Police Chief John McCarthy:  “Mason’s desire to support his heroes and put his community ahead of himself closely mirrors all that it means to be a police officer.”  As a result of Mason’s contribution, the Gloucester Police Department now works more closely with “Cops for Kids with Cancer’ in their fundraising efforts.

2017 Finalist - Anna Burtnett

Anna is 14 and a student at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School. When Anna had difficulty transitioning from Roosevelt Elementary School, she had the good fortune to be paired with para-professional Christina Hutson.  Through Christina’s advocacy, Anna truly flourished and was able to try cheerleading, learn yoga and gain the confidence she needed to attempt new things.  She also proved that her extra chromosome does not define her and that the only limitations we have are the ones we impose on ourselves. Shortly after Christina moved away, Anna learned that she had taken ill.  Wanted to repay her friend, Anna helped organize a successful yoga fundraiser.  With the proceeds, Anna sent meaningful gifts to help her heal and also provided gift cards for educators to provide materials, awareness and opportunities for literacy enrichment for all.  Christina says;”  this story is for all of us.  May we see the power of kindness, the unique gifts and beauty of every person, and the ripple effects of a community that links arms to create more light in this world”

2017 Finalist - Scarlett Timm

Scarlett was nominated for her continuous work for the Wildlife Conservation Society.  Since the age of 5 Scarlett, who is now 11 and a student at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, has been raising money and awareness to protect elephants in Africa from poachers. After her mom, Sarah, read her an article that elephants were getting killed at the rate of 96 animals per day, Scarlett asked :”What can I do?” What she has done has evolved from raising $100 in her first year by selling bracelets at the Melrose Farmers Market to this past year where she raised over $1000 selling crocheted hats  made by her mom and grandmother.  All monies have been donated to WCS program titled ’96 Elephants”. State Representative Paul Brodeur of Melrose nominated Scarlett for the Zoo New England award as Young Conservationist. Scarlett attended the Zoo New England Gala where she was one of two people to receive an award.  Zoo New England President and CEO John Linehan says he hopes that Scarlett “will inspire other kids to take initiative and make a difference….we were truly honored to present her with the Young Conservationist Award”.  Scarlett was not able to attend our ceremony.  Accepting in her behalf was her dad Brian and brothers Bryce and Caleb. Scarlett continues to support the 96 Elephant campaign and will again be selling hats and bracelets at the Melrose Farmers Market.

2016 Finalist - Shiloh Ellis

A resident of Groveland, Shiloh is a 5th grade student at the Sacred Heart School in Bradford.  Don’t be fooled by his size—Shiloh is a CrossFit gym enthusiast, Olympic weight lifter, and a king-size fundraiser nominated by Amie Owens.  Amie is the founder of Kettlebells4Kids (K4K), a non-profit organization.  Shiloh became involved with K4K in spring 2015 after attending a CrossFit event where he learned that the average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9—his exact age at the time.  K4K raises awareness of this issue and provides much needed activities and support to children living in shelters. He raised $6500 in 2015 and has traveled throughout the northeast and south spreading awareness and support.  He established Team Dream Big with other youth at Cross Fit gyms across the country with a goal of $10,000 for 2016.  To quote Amie, “we are truly blessed to have met the Ellis family”.  The Mary Jo Brown Foundation is as well.  Shiloh has the determination, poise and demeanor to succeed in this endeavor and we are sure that would translate to anything else he looks to accomplish.  Thank you, Shiloh, for your dedication to making life better for other children.

2016 Finalist - Jack Jaggers

Jack is a student at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School and is a true example of paying it forward.  As an infant, Jack had multiple surgeries at The Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.  Although he had no memory of this, throughout his life Jack’s parents, Amanda and Jack, told him numerous stories of his hospitalizations, the great care he got from the physicians and staff at Floating and how grateful they were for his positive outcome.  Then in 2015, Jack had to be admitted to Floating for a brief time as a follow up to his earlier surgeries.  Now a teenager, he witnessed first-hand what his parents had been telling him.  Once discharged, he and his mom brainstormed what they could do to make a difference in the lives of other pediatric patients.   They started a community-wide blanket and quilt drive, engaging multiple groups throughout Melrose to make quilts and blankets to be given to children in need when admitted to Floating Hospital.  Although the children receiving these beautiful home-made gifts might never meet Jack, they will be comforted because of his kindness.  Thank you Jack for this— no one knows better the fears and anxiety of being a sick child than one who has experienced it.

2016 Finalist - Joshua Martinez

Joshua Martinez is a student at Georgetown High School.  While he has lived throughout the East Coast in his young life, the one thing that has been constant is his compassion for others.  As a young Boy Scout in New York, Joshua made it a point to help the elderly and was a fixture at Sunday mass helping others.  While living in Florida, Joshua received a Kindness award from St Jude’s Catholic School for collecting Christmas presents for poor and underprivileged children.  He has a history of volunteering, joining the Beyond Sunday mission to help people in need in Mexico, Maine.  He has also participated in the ROTC Junior Program and has expressed a desire to serve his country in the near future.  The young man we met is a well-spoken, mild-mannered, compassionate person who, we know, will succeed in his goals.  Thank you Joshua for all you have done so far and will continue to do to improve the lives of others.

2016 Finalist - Kylie Plowman

Kylie Plowman is a 4th grade student at the West Intermediate School in Wilmington. Last December she wrote to Santa asking for $600 to purchase toys for children who were ill or who for some reason might not get toys for Christmas.  A crowdfunding page started by Kylie and mom, Melissa, quickly grew to almost $5000.  Kylie’s Gift of Giving donated $2300 to Boston Children’s Hospital and $2300 to the Wilmington Fire Department Toy Drive.  Tara Tonello at Children’s Hospital recalled the day she spent with the Plowman Family as one of her favorite days last year.  Jay Kennedy of Wilmington Fire told us how much her donation helped to update the older toys that they had for distribution.  This was not Kylie’s first fundraising effort.  In 2014 she had a Kool-Aid stand to raise money for the Wilmington Food Bank.  Her younger sister, Natalie, has a great role model. We hear that Kylie is already planning something for the upcoming holiday season. Thank you Kylie for all you do to make the world a better place.

2016 Finalist - Liliana Ravins

In 2015, as a 5th grader at the Hoover Elementary School, Lili spearheaded a drive throughout the city of Melrose to collect socks.  She became an ambassador for the Sock-it-to-Em campaign:  the first in Massachusetts and 2nd youngest in the country.  Flyers went in the backpacks of every student at the Hoover seeking donations, a collection box was set up on the porch of the Ravins’ home and at Ernie’s Lunch, a popular local diner.  Lili and her mom, Alison, expected to collect a couple of hundred pairs of socks—within a month they had surpassed the 600 mark.  400 plus pair were donated to Hallmark Health who will distribute them in toiletry bags in their emergency departments, Community Outreach and Social work departments.  The remaining pairs were donated to the Lifebridge Shelter in Salem.  Both Hallmark and Lifebridge made sure they reached the feet of people in need.  This year, Lili has plans of expanding her horizons, hoping to involve all of the elementary schools in Melrose in the collection process to gather 1,500 pairs.  We have no doubt that she will succeed in this and anything else she chooses to do.  Thank you Lili for your determination to help others.

2015 Finalist - Rebecca (Becca) Bertera

Becca was recognized for coming to the aid of a friend.  When Becca learned that her friend Mya and her family had lost everything in a fire at their home, Becca approached her school principal about having a fundraiser.  She made posters to promote a “mis-match” day where students paid a small fee and dressed in stripes, plaids, crazy colors etc. –basically anything their moms wouldn’t put together. Through her efforts several hundred dollars were raised and it provided Mya’s mom the funds needed to take time from work to start the arduous task of putting their lives back together.  

Part of Becca’s prize was funded through donations received in memory of Sal Bonasoro (Mary Jo’s dad) who passed away earlier this year.   Becca received a foundation trophy, personalized book and a Visa gift card.  Congratulations Becca—everyone should have a friend like you!!

2014 Finalist - Desmond Cora

Desmond Cora is 15 years old from Lawrence.  He regularly volunteers down at the baseball field, at Cor Unum soup kitchen in Lawrence, as well as Bread and Roses soup kitchen, and Pena Cook Place Nursing Home in Haverhill.  DJ saved his money to buy one of the residents a gift for his birthday, because the man did not have any family and DJ didn’t think it was right for him to not have a present to open on his special day.

DJ’s goal is to receive a college scholarship for baseball in order to study to be a veterinarian.

You also might recognize DJ because he volunteered at the luau the past two years, helping, along with his Mom, Sharon, Aunt Michelle and Uncle Bob to serve dinner.  Last year, he even passed up an opportunity to go to the Patriot’s game with his friends because he loved his cousin Mary Jo so much and wanted to be here to support our luau.

2014 Finalist - Teagan Keon Sparhawk

6 year old Teagan Keon Sparhawk of Wakefield was recognized for standing up for a kindergarten classmate who was being bullied.  She was also honored for her work in fostering dogs with her dad, Brian, getting them ready for adoption.  "T” was presented with passes for Sky Zone in Boston and a basket of treats and toys for the dogs in her care.  WAY TO GO, T!

2014 Finalist - Riley Walsh

Riley Walsh is a 7 year old from Carver who collected over 2000 books to donate to children with life-threatening illnesses who attend Camp Sunshine in Maine. Riley saw a commercial for St. Jude's on T.V. She was very upset that little kids were sick and had to suffer. She wanted to do something to help. Riley and her mother brainstormed what they could do. Riley wanted to give money, but didn't have much. She is an avid reader and loves books. Riley decided to collect books from friends, family, and friends of friends and family. She worked very hard collecting them and organizing them, and brought them up to Camp Sunshine in Maine, so that the children could enjoy the stories like she does. Riley earned a badge from her Brownie Troop for her hard work.
This summer Riley has also organized lemonade stands. She has donated the money raised to the Homeless and the Animal Shelter.