Maine teen volunteers get major league treatment at Fenway Park

Posted April 14, 2013, at 6:23 a.m.
Last modified April 14, 2013, at 6:03 p.m.

BOSTON — On Saturday afternoon, a select group of nearly 30 southern Maine teenagers found themselves at Boston’s Fenway Park concerned with RBIs and ERA.

The privilege came, in part, because those same high schoolers were willing to translate some other acronyms they know so well, like LOL and OMG.

The members of the community service-oriented Action Teams from three Maine schools were rewarded for a year’s worth of volunteer projects, mostly centered on area elder care facilities, with a VIP trip to see the Boston Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Action Teams are organized by the Brunswick-based Volunteers of America Northern New England and endorsed by the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a charity arm of the sport’s players union. Through the trust, the players paid for the teens’ tickets and food Saturday, and took part in regular conference calls with student volunteers around the country.

Moody’s Collision Centers helped cover the remaining expenses for the adventure by paying for the bus to Boston.

Two months ago, New York Mets relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins joined in a call highlighting for a nationwide audience of high schoolers the work of the Action Team from Thornton Academy of Saco.

Glenn Michaels, director of marketing for the Volunteers of America Northern New England, said although the opportunity for interaction with celebrity athletes may convince some Maine teens to launch or join Action Teams, the fulfillment that comes from volunteering in their communities soon becomes motivation enough to continue.

“Baseball players are kind of a hook to get kids involved, and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” Michaels said Saturday. “Kids look up to them, but once they get volunteering, a lot of them forget about that and find that helping others is rewarding in its own right.”

The term “rewarding” came up repeatedly when students on the trip were asked to describe their year of volunteerism.

The Thornton Academy team included a group of teens who made regular visits to the local Paul Hazelton House for low-income seniors, developing relationships that began with bingo games and small talk and grew into holiday dances and translation.

Michaels said once the Hazelton House residents became comfortable with the high schoolers, they asked the young visitors to explain the abbreviated terms they had seen popping up in emails from nieces, nephews and grandchildren. So to get to the RBIs and ERA of mid-April, the Thornton Academy teens first worked their way through LOL and OMG.

That’s “laughing out loud” and “oh my God,” for those with teenspeak scorecards at home.

In a winning streak Michaels called “unheard of” for the Maine Action Teams, three from the Thornton Academy crew were awarded $2,000 scholarships from the players trust for their volunteer work: Meaghan Hamel, Katelyn Pierson and Karen Jacques.

“It’s been proven that if students volunteer in high school, they’ll likely volunteer the rest of their lives,” Michaels said. “The odds are very, very good that if they start volunteering young, they’ll continue that on.

“[Major League Baseball players’] goal is to build the best program in the country to develop volunteers and community leaders,” he continued.

Joining Thornton’s 10 on the bus Saturday were seven from Poland Regional High School and 11 from York High School, as well as chaperones from each school and VOANNE staff and supporters.

“[The trip] was kind of a surprise for us,” said Rose Lacouture of York. “We didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago.”

Schoolmate Adley Palreiro was one of a number of students on the bus visiting Fenway Park for the first time.

“I’m just excited to see the history of it,” she said. “It’s my first [professional] baseball game.”

Like their Thornton counterparts, the York contingent did much of its volunteer work at a local retirement community, Sentry Hill. Other projects during the year included raising money for hunger prevention charities and volunteering at the public library.

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling [volunteering], especially at the retirement home,” said Brandon LeBlanc of York. “Some of them don’t get visitors often. For us to go once a week and hang out and make that connection, it’s very rewarding for us both.”

Poland students launched cleanup efforts in their school courtyard and at the nearby Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, among other projects.

“It’s pure enjoyment,” said Matt Principe of Poland. “After school, [if] you go home and watch TV or play video games, you don’t really get anything out of it. But going out and giving back in the community really helps you grow as a person.”