Needham boy shows others how to ‘catch joy’

Even though he was only 4 years old at the time, Maxwell Surprenant of Needham recalls the time, while shopping with his parents in Boston, that he first noticed a homeless man.

“I wondered why he didn’t have a home to go to, and food and warm clothes,” said Maxwell, now 11 years old. “I felt we should be doing something to help.”

Maxwell’s mother, Joy Olaes Surprenant, said that incident was an impetus for a nonprofit organization that she, her husband, Michael, and Maxwell founded in 2008. Catching Joy Inc. (www.catchingjoy.org) promotes the joy of giving that children and families can experience through hands-on activities.


Despite his young age, Maxwell has earned the title of Catching Joy’s creative director through his active involvement in brainstorming and organizing volunteer activities. He was recently recognized by Hasbro Inc. and generationOn for his commitment to creating change. As one of 10 youths selected from hundreds of nominations as a Hasbro Community Action Hero, Maxwell traveled with his parents to Los Angeles to receive the award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship and a $500 grant for Catching Joy.

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Since 2008, the organization has set up craft stations as part of holiday events at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, where families make cards and ornaments for Christmas trees that are donated to homeless shelters.

In addition, Maxwell leads volunteer activities year-round for schools, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and community events. He said he encourages kids to choose activities that reflect their interests and talents, such as singing at retirement communities, holding bake and craft sales, collecting food and books, participating in charity walks, and making cards for hospitalized children, people in military service and veterans, and homeless shelters.

While Maxwell has received accolades for his good deeds, he said he most values the spotlight shined on the ability of children to make a difference through small acts of kindness.

“Everyone has something good and unique to share with the world, so if you can give, you should,” he said. “It’s a good place now, but if we keep on doing what we’re doing, it can be even better.”

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.