So often we hear the words “pay it forward” or “random acts of kindness,” and we may wonder what it is all about.
In 2012, one teen’s act of kindness put it into perspective and gave birth to the Metta Students Foundation.
Each month, the non-profit honors a student’s good deed and awards them a $1,000 grant. Since its October 2012 inception, the foundation has handed out $25,000.
On May 7, the organization held a meet-and-greet fundraiser to spread the word about what Metta students have done to make the world a better place. The gathering was held at the Raffa Yoga Urban Sweat Studio, located at 19 Sharpe Drive in Cranston. It was a fitting location, as it is where Metta Students founder Norm Kelly learned of the first two Metta Students, Taylor Boardman and Stephen Caroll.
Stephen Carroll of Johnston, a Metta Student, has lived his life in a wheelchair, born with cerebral palsy. His family raised him to be independent, and through the years Stephen has overcome many obstacles. Come senior year, he wanted to go to his prom, but did not have a date.
When 16-year-old Tayler Boardman-Kelly, a junior from North Providence, heard that Stephen had no one to go with, she wanted to be his prom date. They went together, and both enjoyed the prom.
“The stories are all unique and amazing,” Kelly said, “but the common denominator with all of our Metta winners is care and compassion. It has truly been a humbling experience to witness these acts of kindness, and we want to acknowledge even more high school students. My business partners, CEO Rob Lanza of Wrentham and CFO Mark McPhillips of Cranston, have been instrumental in funding the foundation, and this school year we have expanded into Massachusetts.”
The foundation held this fun-filled night as a fundraiser to help provide more grants to teens who are paying it forward. In addition to a DJ and food, comedian Ray Harrington of Warwick donated his time to the event.
“Raffa Yoga and Urban Sweat is proud to support this local from-the-heart charity,” said owner Christine Raffa. “The principles of metta, love and kindness [are] what our yoga and active relaxation center is all about – mindfulness in our modern-day lives, trusting the basic goodness of young adults and gathering the community of Rhode Island to support what’s right in the world. We were honored to host their charity event with Norm Kelly, who created the concept for the Metta Foundation through a story told of Stephen Carroll and Tayler Boardman-Kelly in our yoga class.”
Previous Metta Students from Johnston include Kendra Cimaglia, who received a Metta Award for her continuous support of the Tomorrow Fund.
In 2010, doctors diagnosed Cimaglia, a student from Johnston High School, with a malignant brain tumor. Over the course of her two-year treatment protocol, she overcame many challenges, and despite being sick from her treatments stayed on track educationally with home tutoring.
Even more amazing, she still works to give back to the people who helped her at the Tomorrow Fund. Team Kendra has had a large fundraising presence in the annual Tomorrow Fund Stroll in Garden City for the past several years.
From Warwick, Andrew Lanni is also a Metta Student. Despite losing both his parents at a young age, the Bishop Hendricken junior he has always persevered.
His homeroom teacher, Kathy Bellavance, nominated him, stating in her nomination paper that “Leadership for Andrew is natural thing. The place I see this the most is in school, working with the Options Program. This is a program that allows special needs students to be part of the Hendricken community. Andrew works with them in the statewide unified sport leagues, both basketball and volleyball. He was later asked to be part of the Special Olympic Youth Forum.”
Also from Warwick, 17-year-old Lindsay Russell is a Metta student who was nominated by her teacher, Erin P. Woulfe. Ruseell became the co-founder of the Gender Equality Club, which works to promote awareness about gender inequality in the community and the world.
Every child in this country has the legal right and responsibility to attend public school for 12 years, and has access to local public libraries. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are not so lucky. Although it seems unimaginable, 53 million children in that region are not enrolled in any sort of schooling. Russell’s club has helped to make a difference through the donation of books.
Nick Lowinger of Cranston, and the Cranston West Basketball Team, were honored as a Metta Student and a Metta Team, respectively.
Making a difference is what Lowinger is all about. At age 12, he created the non0profit foundation Gotta Have Sole Inc. Since 2010, Gotta Have Sole has donated new footwear to over 10,000 children in homeless shelters in 21 states.
A once-in-a-lifetime chance is the way Coventry High School freshman Cole Campbell describes the evening of Feb. 21, when he got to play in a high school basketball game alongside his big brother, then senior Tom Campbell, for the very first time in a contest against Cranston West.
Campbell suffers from tubular sclerosis, a rare brain disease that causes serious seizures. By the age of eight, he had undergone three brain surgeries, and he requires some special needs at school.
As team manager, he normally cheers the players on, but with the blessing of both teams he was in the game that night. The magical Metta moment came quickly, when Campbell took the first handoff from his big brother and landed a three-pointer, followed by three others to win the game.
The reaction from his teammates, and the cheers from the opposing Cranston West squad, made the night even more magical. It is for these reasons the Metta Students Foundation awarded both teams $1,000.
“Metta means love and kindness,” Kelly said, “and we are proud to be able to give recognition to all of those bright lights who give back, not because they have to, but because they are truly good-hearted and want to make a positive difference.”
For more information about the Metta Students Foundation or how to nominate a student, visit mettastudents.org.