hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 1, 2013

Teen brothers, their friends set example of community service

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — It seems that all too often we hear or read negative things about teenagers.

Most recently, there were the two boys who police said went on a graffiti spree in Haverhill, spray-painting more than 70 buildings, vehicles and other items.

They caused thousands of dollars in damage and hurt the reputations of themselves and their families. If they are convicted, they could end up in jail. At the very least, they would likely have to pay heavy restitution and be haunted by criminal records when they look for jobs or try to get into college.

There have been plenty of other recent tales of young people getting into criminal trouble, hurting themselves and others.

So it’s refreshing to hear about a group of teens who used their energy for something positive. These kids, mostly Haverhill High students, were led by two brothers into a noble pursuit to help others — and had fun doing it. (See story, Page 1.)

It began with the Bonner brothers — George and Matthew, now 18 and 15 years old respectively — watching the Olympics on TV a couple of years ago. The European version of handball caught their eye, and they wondered why they did not know about it before then.

“My brother and I watched some matches and it seemed like something we wanted to try,” George told reporter Mike LaBella. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘Why haven’t we played this already and why hadn’t we heard about it?’”

They decided it would be fun to play, and the next thing their parents knew, the family’s back yard was transformed into a playing field and a tournament tradition was born. A few of the brothers’ friends showed up the first year and a few more the next year. This year, 70 played in the tournament.

To see them doing something worthwhile, getting some exercise and developing friendships rather than hanging out on the streets or partying in the woods, is positive in itself. But toss in the real motivation behind the tournament, providing food for people who are struggling, and the event becomes extra special.

Each kid who enters the tournament must bring items for the food pantry at All Saints Church. At this month’s tournament, the Bonner brothers collected 170 items for the pantry, which sometimes has a line of people out the door as they look for ways to feed their families.

In the last three years, the tournament has provided hundreds of items for the pantry. Families who might not have had a decent meal were able to fill their bellies.

The Bonner brothers and their friends have provided an example for other young people to follow.

They deserve the community’s congratulations — and thanks.