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Teens learn value of volunteerism at 9/11 event

At 14, Benson Chang may not have been alive for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but that hasn’t dimmed his desire to recognize the tragedy’s anniversary through service to others — especially members of the US military.

Chang, a freshman at Norton High School, and a sea of like-minded young volunteers, also known as Project 351 ambassadors, gathered downtown Sunday on the Rose Kennedy Greenway to assemble 800 care packages to send overseas and distribute to veterans locally.

The teens also wrote letters of gratitude to tuck into each box, along with sunblock, chewing gum, playing cards, and assorted toiletries.

“Words are important,” said Chang, who penned such a letter. “They need to know that, you know, we appreciate them, that we love them.”


Chang said he’s been involved with Project 351 since January, when his school’s assistant principal selected him to participate in the organization, which engages teens from the 351 cities and towns across Massachusetts in volunteerism.

“It’s like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Chang said. “There’s no place I’d rather serve.”

Of the 800 packages assembled Sunday, 550 will go to veterans staying at local homeless shelters, and 250 will be sent overseas to active-duty service members with ties to Massachusetts, said Tom Crohan, president and cofounder of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund.

This is the 14th year the Heroes Fund has organized the 9/11 service project. It has distributed 11,000 care packages over the years, Crohan said, and partners with the New England Center for Homeless Veterans.

“Today is about both honoring and remembering 9/11 and those that we have lost, and coming together in an act of service,” Crohan said.

“We’re inspired by engaging these young people, because so many of them were not born or alive on 9/11,” Crohan said. “And so for them, it’s about the learning of that tragic day and all that came out of that, but it’s also a way to engage them and showcasing to all the families that we serve, that their sacrifice is not forgotten and will be remembered by our broader community.”


A cadre of local politicians, including Senator Edward J. Markey, showed up to express their appreciation for the young volunteers.

“We thank all of our military personnel who lost their lives standing up for principles of freedom and democracy and human rights,” Markey said. “And we thank all of you young people here today for continuing this commitment to service and to ensuring that we never do forget what today is all about.”

Governor Charlie Baker praised the Project 351 volunteers for turning out on a drizzly Sunday afternoon to give of themselves.

“I feel much better about the future of our Commonwealth knowing that there is class after class after class of Project 351 graduates out there,” Baker said. “You will build on all you’ve learned from your time and your opportunity to do this great work to become the service leaders that all of you will be, I know it, as you grow up and grow older and go on to do great things.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu told the teens this experience could be the beginning of a lifetime of public work.

“Hold on to that kernel of service inside you,” Wu said. “Nourish it, make sure it grows, because we need your leadership right now in this world.”


Tonya Alanez can be reached at Follow her @talanez.