Special to the Journal
Nine years ago, the Kraft family and the New England Patriots Foundation introduced a season-long theme called Celebrate Volunteerism. The main focus of the initiative was to recognize community volunteers and to promote the importance of volunteering.
Since its inception, New England Patriots players, coaches and alumni have donated tens of thousands of hours to giving back to their New England communities. During their weekly off day, Patriots players volunteer throughout New England to support children and families in need. Patriots season ticket members have also teamed with Patriots players to better their communities.
Throughout the 2019 season, the foundation will continue its Celebrate Volunteerism initiative by teaming with nonprofit organizations to educate fans about the need for volunteering, highlighting deserving volunteers from across the region and seeking to inspire Patriots fans to become lifelong volunteers. The foundation will present a weekly “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week” award, which recognizes deserving volunteers who go above and beyond to support their New England communities.
“Volunteerism is at the heart of giving back and bettering our communities,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “We will continue to honor and thank the many deserving volunteers in our region that are often not recognized for their valuable contributions. Through this Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, we hope to inspire Patriots fans to make a difference and become lifelong volunteers.”
Michael Sweeney from Lynn, Mass. was selected as a 2019 Patriots Difference Maker of the Week for his commitment to the Military Friends Foundation.
Established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Military Friends Foundation is a nonprofit organization that has provided millions of dollars in aid to military families. They offer grant programs and community empowerment events in support of families who have faced hardships related to military service.
Having served five years in active duty in the Army, including a deployment in Afghanistan, Michael understands the challenges that many returning military members encounter. For the last ten years, he has been an active and invaluable volunteer for the Military Friends Foundation. He has spent the last six years on the board of directors, working with service members and Gold Star families in their time of need.
Michael has been the leading force for the organization in advocating for the inclusion of Gold Star families of all eras for financial support benefits. In doing so, he has secured an average of $200,000 annually for Gold Star families through the Military Friends Foundation’s “Heroes Salute” program. This program provides immediate support for families who have lost a service member and helps to cover funeral expenses, transportation, lodging, and much more.
“The Kraft family and the Patriots put honoring veterans and our military front and center in everything they do,” said Michael. “It’s great to see and I can’t thank them enough. The work the Military Friends ‘Foundation does to help soldiers, veterans and military and Gold Star families is inspiring. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Most recently, Mike led the charge in creating the “Warrior MWR” program, bringing together veterans, military families, caregivers and families of the fallen for free activities before, during and following a deployment. Through this program, veterans from all conflicts have joined forces to lend support for their fellow veterans in a relaxed setting. It has allowed the nonprofit to grow their peer-to-peer support system and increased veterans’ access to supportive resources.
Michael is now a Staff Sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard and serves as the veterans services direct for the city of Lynn. He has been an advocate, mentor and shoulder to lean on for hundreds of military members and their families.
“Volunteerism is the backbone of any strong community,” said Michael. “That’s no more true than when it comes to veterans and their families. The bottom line is that we have to take of one another.”
Fifteen individuals will be named Patriots Difference Makers throughout the season. The outstanding volunteers will be recognized on the Patriots website and will be honored during a special ceremony at the Patriots final regular season home game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Dec. 29.
Fans are encouraged to nominate a local volunteer for the Patriots Difference Maker of the Week award by visiting www.patriots.com/community.