By Mike LaBella
---- — Nettle Middle School students Veyli Ortiz-Solis and Josh Wojtas like how it feels to do something good for their school and their community.
They get satisfaction knowing they helped others, made their school a better place to learn, and made Haverhill a better place to live.
Because of their work to make the Nettle and their city better places to learn and live, Gov. Deval Patrick recruited them to take part in the biggest community service initiative they’ve experienced yet.
Veyli and Josh traveled to Boston on Saturday as part of Project 351, a community service initiative begun by Patrick three years ago. Veyli and Josh, both 14 and eighth-graders, were among more than 300 eighth-graders from the state’s 351 communities who united to serve and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Patrick began the day by hosting a Youth Town Meeting, before joining the young ambassadors for an afternoon of service at five nonprofit and educational organizations across Boston.
“It’s definitely the biggest service project we’ve ever worked on,” Josh said.
Veyli said she never heard of Project 351 until her history teacher, Christopher Cook, mentioned it to her and to Josh. Cook told them he was recommending them to represent their school and Haverhill.
“I was very excited to be chosen to take part in this,” Josh said.
“I feel it’s our responsibility to help others and to give back to our school and our community,” Veyli said.
Both students are on the high honor roll, they are both members of the National Junior Honor Society and Student Council, and they are on Nettle’s Academic Bowl team.
”Getting to compete against other schools is exciting,” Josh said. “It’s fun to be able to test our knowledge.”
Their participation in school activities doesn’t end there. Josh was named captain of his basketball team and Veyli is on the yearbook committee and is helping to plan her class yearbook. Both are interested in recycling. Each term, the school names a new Green Team of students whose job it is to promote recycling at Nettle, collect recyclable items each week and then place them in a recycling Dumpster. Josh was on the Green Team during the school’s last term, while Veyli is eager to be on the team the next term.
“As a member of the Honor Society, we do service projects every month,” Veyli said. “During the holidays we collected a lot of food for local food pantries. It feels good to be able to help others, especially at my age.”
Nettle Principal Rossi said the school programs and projects Josh and Veyli are involved in are successful because of their efforts and those of their classmates.
Students are selected to participate in Project 351 based on their service and spirit and how they interact with others and contribute to the betterment of the school, Rossi said.
“We had one student last year who went (to Project 351) and he said it was a great experience,” Rossi said.
He said both students are exceptional in their academics, and their efforts during the school day contribute to a better school climate.
“They always go above and beyond and they present themselves as great role models to other students,” Rossi said. “If they see something that’s wrong, they aren’t afraid to come up to me or a teacher and ask to make things better for our school.”
Launched during Patrick’s inaugural in 2010, Project 351 is dedicated to celebrating youth leadership and inspiring young people to do community service.
“Project 351 is designed to inspire, challenge and motivate our next generation of leaders to give back and make a significant impact in our community,” Patrick said in a press release announcing this year’s program of service.