4 students wearing mask standing in from of table piled with rolled up blankets

A Challenge Fulfilled: Presidential Student Ambassadors donate ‘Blessing Bags’ to local homeless shelters

March 21, 2022
By: Deborah Alvarez O'Neil

On a Thursday night in February, a group of Worcester State’s best and brightest student leaders gathered to finish a community service project they’d dreamed up more than a year ago.

For the Presidential Student Ambassadors, it went something like this: Let’s find a way to support individuals and families in the Worcester community facing homelessness. We’ll need to raise money. Enter the 2021 Chandler’s Challenge. Over two days, compete to raise money from friends, family and alumni. Win Chandler’s Challenge! Dedicate all of the money – $2,421 in total – for the project.

From the start, this was not your typical project for Chandler’s Challenge – the annual bracket-style, student-led fundraising event that enables clubs, programs and athletic teams to raise dollars. All of the donations contributed go directly to the student organizations – typically for important expenses such as travel, uniforms and competitions. In the midst of a pandemic, however, the Student Ambassadors had a different idea – one that would take a little more time.

“We wanted to help the community,” said Student Ambassador Maggie Gurney, a senior nursing major. “We worked all last semester and this semester to have it come together.”

As the University has been gearing up for this year’s Chandler’s Challenge on April 4 and 5, the Presidential Student Ambassadors’ 2021 winning project came full circle. This winter, the students used all of the money to purchase supplies that could be helpful for individuals facing homelessness. They assembled mounds and boxes of soap, toothpaste, tissues, chapstick, menstrual products, shampoo, soap, socks, pens, notebooks and more than 200 blankets donated by Terry Town – all the ingredients for what this team had dubbed “Blessing Bags.”

One evening as the sun was setting, they assembled all the supplies in the President’s Conference Room. With help from President Barry Maloney, alumnus Dave Meyers ’76, alumna Beth Sannella ’69, M.Ed. ’72, her sister Barbara Sanella, parent Bob Heintz, graduate student and PSA coordinator Deanna Dalli, and Jenna Beahn from University Advancement, the students spent hours packing the Blessing Bags. They delivered the bags to Veteran’s Inc. and the Queen Street Shelter in late February.

The students hope that the project will continue after this year. “I hope it will inspire the next group of Presidential Student Ambassadors to keep it going to raise even more money,” said Student Ambassador Charles Bray, a senior biotechnology major. “It is a great way to show what this group can do and help the community.”

Presidential Student Ambassador Marc-Kendy Paul, a senior liberal studies major and president of the Haitian Student Union, said he hopes the project will inspire more campus-wide community and international engagement.

“This project means a lot to me,” said Paul. “I want to see Worcester State establish a culture on campus of helping out. I hope this becomes an annual thing. PSA can be a leader for a campus wide event and then freshmen will see that culture.”

As part of the project, Presidential Student Ambassador Chris Heintz reached out to his father, Bob Heintz, to see if the students could purchase blankets from the company where his father works as director of national sales, Terry Town – a leading supplier of blankets, towels and robes. Instead, Terry Town offered to donate them. “They said, ‘Keep your money and save it for another project and delivered over 200 blankets,’” Heintz said. “It was incredibly generous.”

“For me, out of everything I’ve done in college, this has to be the most fulfilling,” Heintz said. “It’s an opportunity to give back. I hope it touches someone’s life.”

His father, Bob, came to campus to help pack the bags and support the students. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Proud is not a big enough word,” he said. “What Chris and all of them are doing – it is great to be able to give back to the community. It is so important.”

This year, the Student Ambassadors will take part in Chandler’s Challenge for a project that will invite local middle school aged children to experience being a “Lancer for a Day.” The interactive day will give the middle schoolers an opportunity to learn about academic paths that will lead them to success and show them what it means to be a WSU Lancer. The aim is to also use dollars raised to provide each child with a backpack full of school supplies.

Photo: Presidential Student Ambassadors Marc-Kendy Paul, Maggie Gurney, Chris Heintz and Charles Bray gather to pack Blessing Bags that included blankets donated by Terry Town.

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