GRAFTON, Mass. - Grafton Middle School eighth grader Leah Allen isn't the type of leader who's in it for the recognition.
According to her teachers and principals, she's the type of student that that does what's right when no one is paying attention.
Because of those qualities, Allen was selected to represent Grafton in the second annual Project 351 conference in Boston.
On Saturday, Jan. 14, Allen joined approximately 250 other students in Boston for a day of community service in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Project 351 was launched during Governor Deval Patrick launched Project 351 in 2011 when more than 400 youth ambassadors came together to serve the community, develop leadership skills and discuss issues critical to young people and their towns.
The 2012 day of service will began with a Youth Town Meeting led by Governor Patrick at the State House. In the afternoon, students broke off into groups and traveled to service sites across Boston including, Cradles to Crayons, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Towers. The day will concluded at the State House with a reflection and service celebration.
GMS Assistant Principal Jen Sauter was proud to have Allen as this year's Grafton representative. Allen was chosen after Sauter and GMS Principal Kristen Gasper polled teachers at the school for their recommendations.
"Leah's name kept coming up with teachers she has now and teachers from previous years," said Sauter. "Not only were they impressed with her quiet sense of leadership, but for doing the right thing when she's doesn't think anybody's watching, being a person who stands up for others and being involved. She's a leader by example."
For Allen, the experience was one she will look fondly on well after grade school has become a collection of memories.
"It was one of the best things I ever did," she said. "I felt so happy to know that I was helping out kids and people that couldn't get food for themselves."
It was not an easy day, however, as some of the state's bright young minds (and hands) were put to work. And that's after they all made the trek across the state to our not-so-central capital.
For Allen, that meant leaving the house at 7 a.m. and returning around 8 p.m., when Allen says she went straight to bed!
It didn't take long, however, for Allen to make some real connections with her fellow representatives.
"I sat on the bus for like 10 minutes not knowing anybody, then I have six new friends because we all just started talking," said Allen.
After the Youth Town Meeting, everyone broke off into groups, and Allen headed to the Greater Boston Food Bank with her team, which had three tasks that day.
The first was to put together 400 food baskets for children whose families struggling to provide lunches during the week. The baskets were to help get those children and their families through the weekends, when subsidized school lunches are not an option. Allen's team exceed their goal, making over 450 baskets.
Next they put together 600 grocery bags for the eldery, which was not without some heavy lifting.
"Somehow I got volunteered to move these big boxes from one side of the room to the other for about an hour and a half!" said Allen, whose team once again beat its goal, putting together 620 bags.
Finally, they worked in one of the food bank's Mobile Pantries, stocking shelves and handing out goods. Allen found herself with some icy hands as she helped stock frozen meat packages. Governor Patrick even stopped by to see how the kids were doing.
"We were all holding frozen meat and then, 'Oh, there's the governor!'" laughed Allen.
Allen's group helped over 2,000 people by day's end, not bad for one Saturday in Boston. She said her advice for next year's representative is to be prepared to work hard.
"I would tell them to get ready to do some hands-on stuff!" laughed Allen. "And you should think of things to say ahead of time, because the governor will definitely call on you."