Westborough's Brendon Black honored with Volunteer Service Award
By Joyce DeWallace
Region – Brendon Black, son of Joe and Sue Black and a Westborough High School senior, was recently honored for his outstanding commitment to community service, winning the President's Volunteer Service Award. Black was nominated by High School Principal John Smith.
“Brendon is clearly a natural leader and is well respected by his peers as well as by the faculty,” Smith said.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a nationwide program honoring people with impressive community service activities. The program is based on President George W. Bush's “Thousand Points of Light” concept mentioned in his 2002 State of the Union address, which called upon Americans to help by volunteering their time.
In his freshman year, Black decided to follow in his sister Toni Marie's footsteps and signed up for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), which is sponsored by the First United Methodist Church of Westborough. ASP's vision is to eradicate substandard housing in Central Appalachia, bringing thousands of volunteers from around the country to repair homes for low-income families. Its motto states, “when you change the lives of others, they have a way of changing you.”
Black has now gone on three trips to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The Westborough group has 50 to 60 students and 20 adults who spend a week and a half in July participating in the project. The teams drive in 15-person vans with their luggage and tools and then groups of two adults and seven young people are assigned to a family. They sleep in sleeping bags on air mattresses at a local church.
In his first year, Black worked for a family of two grandparents, who were remodeling a room for the younger of the two grandchildren they were raising.
The next year, he worked with two handicapped adults, insulating the underside of their trailer. Black had to overcome his biggest fear of just being under the trailer to do his job. The woman needed a walker to get around; her husband was paralyzed from the waist down. Their mission was to take care of stray animals.
“They never complained and took advantage of what they had to help others,” Black said. “It was a life-changing experience. You make such a deep connection with the people you help. I still keep in touch with this family.”
Last year, Black installed a ceramic tile floor in the kitchen and put in a new subfloor in the living room for a family of three.
To prepare for the trips, the ASP group attends a retreat in Rhode Island, where the volunteers are taught necessary skills and given helpful manuals.
“My trips have opened my eyes to see people who are just like me but don's have as many opportunities and very, very few options,” Black said. “I don's take things for granted any more. I really appreciate what my parents can give me.”
Besides working with Appalachian families, Black works on many fund-raisers to earn money for supplies, gas, food and van rentals. The ASP students make and sell desserts for Thanksgiving and hold a silent auction. A chili cook-off challenge adds more funds to the project's coffers. The annual Rockathon, where about 50 members rock for 24 hours in rocking chairs at the church, also raises money through pledges.
Jonathan Owens of Northborough has run the ASP for over 25 years.
“He's incredible,” Black said. “He knows everything about construction, and teaches us what to do,” Black said. “The program keeps on getting bigger – the wait list has grown to over 30 kids.”
Black also volunteers at the Mustard Seed in Worcester every other month and takes on other service projects when they come up. He's captain of the baseball team, has played both football and hockey, and this year was the school's unofficial spirit coordinator, leading cheers, acting as the master of ceremonies at the Thanksgiving Rally, and working with the athletic director.
“Brendon has a ton of school spirit and does a very, very good job of maintaining our standards,” Smith said.
Black has advice for other young people.
“Get involved. Help out. Discover the world around you. You'sl be amazed at what you'sl find. Your work with others could improve your life as it has for mine.”
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