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Through service, high schoolers mark 9/11

Molly Castle, 14, (right) and her mom, April (center), bowed their heads as a prayer was said before the start of a 5k race in honor of Jeff Coombs, who died on 9/11.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Kevin McShane, 16, is too young to remember 9/11. But the Stoneham High School junior will be on the Rose Kennedy Greenway on Monday, helping assemble care packages for the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund.

Like many children his age, McShane came to understand the impact of the attacks on his life through stories from his family and his classwork in school.

“Before 9/11, there’s things that wouldn’t happen, like going to a Patriots game and going through security,” McShane said. “9/11 and terrorist attacks in general just changed the way we live in general.”

McShane will join current ambassadors of Project 351, a statewide program that brings together one eighth-grader from each city in the Commonwealth. He is an alumnus of the program, but he spent much of his summer organizing one of about 160 projects to support the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund.


The care packages set to be assembled Monday are the culmination of weeks of work by students in Project 351. Those students, most of them now freshmen in high school, have been collecting donations since early August: powdered drink mixes, instant coffee, creamer packets, and gum.

“Our office was full with corrugated boxes packed with bubble gum,” said Carolyn Casey, founder and executive director of Project 351. “If you got off in the hall, in our building, from the elevator — you could smell the gum.”

Casey was at Florian Hall on Sunday afternoon, helping load supplies into trucks. Volunteers on Monday will assemble 500 military care packages for service members deployed overseas, and 500 care packages for the New England Center for Homes and Veterans.

For Steve Kerrigan, president of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, the high school volunteers are emblematic of the spirit of 9/11, which has been designated a “National Day of Service and Remembrance.”


“This is our ninth year in doing this care package drive, and what it means to us is that we have a new generation, with our partnership with Project 351, of young people who weren’t alive when September 11 happened but who still understand what it means to remember, honor, and serve,” Kerrigan said.

Molly Castle, 14, is the student ambassador for Norwell. A freshman field hockey player at Norwell High School, she managed to get all of her high school’s sports teams and athletic director Ryan Quigley to help collect donations.

Dubbed “Help Some Heroes,” Castle’s plan had all Norwell High School Clippers teams collecting powdered drink mixes, gum, and money during tryout week, then writing notes to deployed troops and playing memorial games during “Heroes Week.”

“Kids our age, a lot of times, it’s easy to think that you can’t make a big impact,” Castle said. “Even though you might be younger, you can still make a big impact.”

By working with the athletics department, Castle collected 3,631 items — a mix of powdered lemonade and Gatorade, instant coffee, creamer packets, and gum — 256 cards, and $1,140 to sponsor whole care packages.

Students hung a banner in honor of Jeff Coombs. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

On Sunday morning, Castle and her mother also raced in the 16th annual Jeff Coombs Memorial 5K, Walk, and Family Day to commemorate Jeff Coombs, an Abington man who died on American Airlines Flight 11.

Celia Sarmanian, 14, organized collection drives in Revere. Working with family members and neighbors in the Revere Veterans Office, the Revere Police Department, the Revere Farmers Market, and the Greater Boston Concierge Association, she collected 2,900 powdered drink packets, 420 instant coffee packets, and 106 cards written to soldiers overseas.


“Our service heroes, you know, they put their lives at risk and they give their lives so we can be safe,” Sarmanian said. “I think it’s important to honor them and give them the respect that they deserve, especially now, with what’s going on in the world. They give so much, and their families too.”

After her year with Project 351 finishes in December, Sarmanian plans to keep working with the local veterans office to help train dogs to work as service animals for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kerrigan is grateful for the young volunteers. Sixteen years later, he said, it’s still crucial to “take a beat” on 9/11.

“That beautiful Tuesday morning when the sky was blue and the sky was clear and our entire worlds changed, those kids don’t remember that,” Kerrigan said. “But giving them an opportunity to remember and serve and honor those who were lost during that day, and in the years since, is really important.”

Molly Castle finished the race in honor of Jeff Coombs. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Rowan Walrath can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rowanwalrath.