CHS senior recognized by Metta Students Foundation

CHS senior recognized by Metta Students Foundation

Jessica Delaney, science teacher at Cumberland High school, left, stands with senior Kayleigh LaPre, who she nominated to receive the Metta Students Foundation award. The $1,000 award is given to selected students in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who display kindness and goodwill. Delaney said that when she heard about the organization and its mission, the first person who came to mind was LaPre. (Valley Breeze photo by Brittany Ballantyne)

CUMBERLAND – Kayleigh LaPre hadn’t filled out her community service hours sheet requirement until last week, but the Cumberland High School senior had more than enough time to log, and for her 1,000-plus hours of helping strangers by starting her own giving campaigns, the teen was awarded $1,000 from the Metta Students Foundation.

The foundation looks for teens in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who are a “driving force in the community,” founder Norm Kelly said. When he heard about LaPre’s volunteering commitment, he said she had the kindness and initiative Metta Students looks for.

LaPre began organizing Teens for Jeans during her sophomore year, an intiative to collect donated jeans from all the Cumberland public schools, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy middle school and high school, Sylvan Learning, various businesses and private donors to give to homeless shelters in the area.

As of last week, she’s collected almost 2,700 pairs. Denim, she said, doesn’t need to be washed as frequently, and for teenagers who are homeless, jeans can be a nice change from donated sweatpants – the usual handout, LaPre said.

Every Friday, LaPre picks up these pants from her donation boxes and bags the clothing to give to sponsors like Aeropostale, who then distribute “the monstrosity of jeans” she collects to local shelters in Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts.

Any damaged jeans LaPre finds in her collections she transforms into dog toys, which are donated to the animal shelter in Cumberland, the Woonsocket Animal Shelter, and Save a Lab, an organization that her family fosters dogs through.

This past summer, LaPre also made bracelets and bookmarks, to donate to The Holiday retirement home in Manville, with a young girl she babysits, in an effort to encourage the girl to give through community service.

Jessica Delaney, CHS science teacher, heard about the Metta Students Foundation award and instantly thought of LaPre. “I’ve had so many great students, but I’ve never had a student that goes above and beyond to showcase this whole community service idea,” she said.

In early September, Delaney submitted a write-up about LaPre to the organization, nominating her for the $1,000 award.

Delaney said the word “metta,” which stands for love and kindness, is “everything that Kayleigh embodies and displays on a daily basis.” She also noted that most scholarships go to star athletes or students with high grade point averages. Those scholarships go “to the same kid every single time, but then you have those kids who work really hard … doing things on their own to better the community,” the science teacher said.

LaPre is the 27th young adult to be awarded by Metta Students Foundation since its start in 2012, and Kelly said “none of them want recognition, or ask for it,” but rather, “do it out of the compassion of their heart.”

Prior to creating her community service projects, the CHS senior had spent time during 8th-grade in Hasbro Children’s Hospital. LaPre said doctors never did find out what her exact illness was, but that’s when she decided, “I’m going to make something of my life because I had to sit around for six months.”

Her freshman year of high school, LaPre was still recovering. She began Teens for Jeans the following year. Since then, LaPre has set up a number of giving campaigns, including an ongoing “birthday mail” drive for people in shelters, and a similar initiative for veterans on Valentine’s Day. The senior has also started up CHS Helping Hands, a club that dedicates its time to community service.

She’s created 1,686 handmade cards in two years, which are either handed out in shelters or directly delivered from LaPre to patients in hospitals.

“I call myself a love ninja because I hide at the end of the (hospital) hallway so I get to hear all the happy reactions,” LaPre said.

CHS Helping Hands, LaPre said, has only just begun, but is already growing. Last week, seven more CHS students joined the club. While students can use this extracurricular for logging their required 15 service hours, LaPre said most involved simply want to help out.

“I hate writing down hours. It almost takes away from how fun it is,” LaPre said.

Both LaPre and Delaney hope the giving initiative spreads, and hope the Metta Students Foundation award shows other CHS students they, too, can help out strangers in the area.

By volunteering at shelters, for example, LaPre said, “you’re losing some of that ignorance and the stigmas that surround homeless people.”

“Not only are you helping everyone else, but you’re growing as a person, just losing those terrible images you have of other people.”

LaPre received her award in a ceremony at the high school on Oct. 22. Fellow seniors filled the auditorium to hear speeches about Metta Students Foundation and how to get involved in assisting others.

The CHS senior thanked everyone who helped her in her mission, adding that “without donors, I would have some empty bins and posters.”

LaPre, who’s interested in psychology and neurology, is still looking into her options post graduation. “All I know is I want to help people,” she said.

To get involved, email teensforjeanscumberland@gmail.com, or follow
@CHShelpinghand on Twitter.