By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – As a teacher and track coach at Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA), Mark Vital learned an important lesson from his sixth-grade students Julia Silva, Isabel Steinberg and Megan Wagher, each age 11 and from Marlborough. They produced and presented a talent show Nov. 18 at the school cafeteria to benefit Sweats for Vets. The nonprofit organization gives New England sports team sweatshirts as holiday presents to homeless military veterans.
“I learned to never underestimate the power of a child,” he said. “They put together a very comprehensive plan that I would have expected from kids five or six years older than them. They did 90 percent of the work; maybe 10 percent was done by their parents and teachers. The most valuable lesson the girls learned was to believe in themselves.”
The students wrote production and marketing plans in October. Posters announcing the benefit talent show were displayed around school. They booked rooms, set a schedule and then conducted rehearsals beginning early November.
“They got some other teachers to oversee the rehearsals because I was coaching at the time,” Vital noted. “But the girls really did nearly everything themselves. It was student-driven and they were really committed to this.”
The talent show’s three producers also served as its emcees. They wrote their own script to provide humorous patter between introducing acts.
“They did a great job,” Vital raved. “They were all dressed up and told jokes. I enjoyed seeing how these three girls had an idea and turned it into such an amazing success.”
Eighteen acts performed, consisting of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. They included a cooking video, card tricks, cup flipping, dancers, instrumentalists and singers. Three teachers including Vital served as judges. Winning a $50 Amazon gift card was seventh-grader Isabella Boyle, a vocalist who Vital said “sounded angelic.”
Tickets were $5, or $3 with nonperishable goods for the Marlborough Community Food Pantry, and free if they donated a sweatshirt. The students raised $720 cash, and collected 200 canned goods and 18 sweatshirts valued at about $400.
Vital particularly appreciates his students’ efforts because he’s the founder and president of Sweats for Vets. Each year, AMSA students collect winter hats, gloves and socks to donate the cause.
“Originally, it was word of mouth in my classes, and now the whole school has become more actively involved,” Vital said. “For the third year, the National Honor Society is making blankets from scratch as a community service project for homeless veterans in Worcester.”
Sweats for Vets began in 2011 as a holiday gesture for about 60 homeless veterans sheltered in Worcester. Last year’s goal of 800 sweatshirts was surpassed to over 900, allowing the addition of several shelters and programs. This year’s goal is to deliver 1,000 sweatshirts to about 20 homeless shelters and transitional housing programs throughout New England. Vital makes the deliveries during his school winter break.
“You walk into these homeless shelters and the guys look so disheveled and sad,” he shared. “Give them a brand-new sweatshirt and their eyes light up like they’re kids. That’s what Christmas is all about.”
Contributions of sweatshirts or monetary donations for purchases are accepted. Large or extra-large sweatshirts are preferred and can be dropped off at seven locations: AMSA, 201 Forest St., Marlborough; Crossfit Rail Trail, 157 Washington St., Hudson; Exhibit A Brewery, 81 Morton St., Framingham; Finnegan’s Pub, 25 South St., Hudson; Hudson Family Dental, 414 Main St., Hudson; Italian American War Veterans Post 45, 111 Neil St., Marlborough; and Julio’s Liquors, 140 Turnpike Rd., and Westborough.
To arrange having donations picked up, contact Vital at [email protected] or 508-494-9410. Tax-deductible monetary donations can be made online at www.sweats4vets.com. Follow Sweats for Vets on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Sweats4Vets.