Kayla Cruz, A Great Ambassador For Lowell

Gov_Kayla_351There are some very impressive young people in Lowell. Too often we only hear about kids getting into trouble or being disrespectful or lazy.

In my experience in getting to meet some of the students attending the Lowell Public Schools, it is clear the “good apples” far outnumber the  “bad apples.” The future of Lowell is in good hands.

Kayla Cruz is one of those good apples. Having just completed 8th grade at the Pyne Arts School, Kayla was an ambassador in Gov. Deval Patrick’s Project 351, an initiative designed to promote and support the next generation of service leaders. Membership is made up of eighth-graders from each of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns.

Earlier this month, Kayla addressed the Project 351 reunion at Gillette Stadium, presenting the project the Pyne Arts Jr. National Honors Society completed earlier this month, a walk-a-thon that raised $4700.93 to benefit Boston Marathon bombing survivors Celeste and Sydney Corcoran of Lowell. For more on the walk-a-thon see this post:  https://room50.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/pyne-arts-strong/

Below is the speech Kayla delivered before Gov. Patrick and other members of Project 351 at Gillette Stadium:

Good morning!  My name is Kayla Cruz, and I’m a Project 351 Ambassador from the Pyne Arts School in Lowell.

On behalf of all Project 351 Ambassadors and Alumni, I would like to extend a sincere thanks to everyone who helped make this day possible. In particular I would like to thank you, Governor Patrick, and the Patriot’s organization, for believing in us. I am so honored to be here and part of Project 351.

I will never forget being called in to a meeting at school last November and learning I’d been nominated as my city’s Ambassador.  We have over 1,000 8th graders in Lowell, so I felt like I had won the lottery.  Being the 2nd youngest of 6 children, I didn’t exactly have a lot of leadership opportunities at home… but I have always found joy in helping others, and my teachers recognized my leadership potential.

Governor, in January you talked about the example of Dr. King and asked us to “Unite, Act, Lead”.   I want you to know that I — and all of the Ambassadors — listened.

And, we served through Spring Greening and countless acts of kindness.  Every person here has their story of making a difference as an Ambassador and every one of them is amazing.  I’m honored to share mine as an example of what Project 351 inspires.

Just this past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to “unite, act, lead” through a school walkathon to raise money to support victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings.

My friends and I came up with idea in April, but we had no idea how much work it would take.  But, I have learned, that when you have people who believe in you like my Project 351 coach and teacher Mr. Neagle and you — Governor Patrick — anything is possible.

As you know many people were severely injured in the attack. Two particular victims were Sydney and Celeste Corcoran of Lowell. I didn’t know them, but Sydney was a high school student who graduated from Lowell High last week, and Celeste is her mother. Sadly, Celeste lost both of her legs, and Sydney almost died, but amazing bystanders saved her life.

Our ‘Walkathon’ really had two goals:  to show Sydney and her mom that we were thinking about them, and to try to raise some money for their medical bills.

I had the opportunity to go to Lowell City Hall to present our idea to the Lowell Parks board meeting, and they approved my park permit and waived the fee.  My friends and I then visited classrooms to talk about our walk and we gave pledge forms to 500 students. We also made t-shirts, posters, and PA announcements to get everyone excited.

At the recommendation of Carolyn from Project 351, we invited first responders to be our honorary guests. They were incredibly supportive and it really made the event special. We had 2 fire engines, a rescue truck, 2 police cars, and a K-9 unit!  Nothing like this has been done in our school before.

Our initial goal was $2,000 but everyone went above and beyond what we expected. All together we raised $4,700.93 in just 10 days!

The best part was presenting the check to policeman Paul Corcoran, Sydney’s uncle. He had tears in his eyes, amazed by the total. My friends and I were so proud that we put the whole day together and raised almost $5,000. We didn’t think we would even raise $2000, but we all worked very hard and accomplished our goal.

No surprise, Project 351 and the walk-a-thon has really had an impact on me. To know that I—an 8th grader, can present to city hall, lead students and encourage them to show compassion for others, and play some small part in the healing process for such a senseless tragedy, is really inspiring.  And, to know that hundreds of other 8th grade Ambassadors and Alumni are serving their communities like me makes me proud.

There are so many other stories like mine here today, and I am honored to stand up and represent my fellow Ambassadors and Alumni.  To us Project 351 is not just a name, it’s become part of who we are.

Serving with my fellow Ambassadors, learning from you and the Project 351 team, and having the support of my family, teachers, and classmates has given me the courage and confidence to lead.  I’m so excited for today and grateful to you Governor Patrick and to the Kraft family for inspiring us to develop our leadership skills and make the world a better place.  We won’t let you down.

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