GRAFTON, Mass. — The newest local chapter of the largest fraternal youth organization in the world, Benjamin Franklin DeMolay hopes to continue a 90 year tradition of helping young men find an outlet for learning, fun and leadership.
The Grafton chapter is one of the many organizations participating in Main Street Connect and Gaudette Insurance's Winter Wish List, and boys have been working hard to garner enough votes for the grand prize of $5,000, which could help them "continue the growth of the chapter and defer some of the costs that are incorporated with having a successful chapter," said Mike Leonard, the chairman of Benjamin Franklin Chapter of DeMolay.
The Order of the DeMolay is over 90 years old, and is named after Jacques DeMolay, a knight and crusader from the 13th and 14th centuries and the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. DeMolay members learn to model their conduct and behavior after his example of loyalty and fidelity.
Already, the boys have been involved in the community through the Grafton Recreation Center, a helping with "Grafton Celebrates the Holidays," and going out on Thanksgiving morning to help serve breakfast to those attending Siloam Lodge's Thanksgiving day breakfast.
"We're a new chapter, and we're trying to get the word out to all organizations that need something done or have projects, that we're there and we want to play a pivotal role in the community and surrounding communities," said Leonard.
"Right now, there is a small group of us advisors, and we started out with zero dollars back in the summertime," said Leonard. "We've done a couple of car washes, we've done a couple candy sales, so our resources are limited."
Aside from the money from fundraisers put together thus far, or items procured from other chapters, the organization's advisers typically donate the necessary funds to support the events and activities.
"A lot of these boys don't have a lot of money to bring, so that's a lot of the expense that we'd like to pick up for the boys," said Leonard.
Leonard says there are also some things that the chapter hopes to be able to get that are a little more costly.
"We'd like to have a Bible, and an altar cloth — some of the things that are a little bit more expensive."
Leonard himself was in the Worcester Chapter of Demolay when he was younger, receiving a past Master Councilor's Meritorious service award for going above and beyond the normal call of duty, as well as other awards for bringing in members.
As boys, Leonard was in DeMolay along with Don Cargill, the Dad of the Benjamin Franklin Chapter, and now he says he is "giving back to an organization that really helped me be successful in my working world."
In fact, it wasn't until he was older that it sunk in just how much he took away from the organization.
"You don't really realize a lot of the lessons you learn when you're younger, and DeMolay is one of those organizations where you quickly learn things that you don't realize you're learning, but a lot of my skills all come back from it," he said.
According to Leonard, what sets them apart from other organizations like the Boy Scouts is that with DeMolay, "the boys run the organization — they learn the successes and the failures of planning things, and learn life skills while having fun doing it."
When embarking on a new project, the boys themselves come up with a plan of action, and the advisors have more of a hands-off role in helping them figure out which course to take.
"As far as the advisors, we're basically there to manage the dollars, make sure there are funds available, and make sure there are adults available for supervision, so that come hook or crook it's not going to hurt the chapter and the boys are going to be in a positive role," said Leonard.
Yet, in some cases, the boys are also allowed to fail, as Leonard explains "a lot of successes in life are learning from your mistakes."
Furthermore, Leonard says DeMolay is a place where the boys can all be on their own level, and not compete amongst one another or independently pursue merit badges.
"When the boys compete, they compete as a team. So you have a bonding, and team-building system within the boys," he added.
"Once the boy is in the Chapter, they blossom almost immediately, it's amazing to see the friendship that develops almost instantly."
Moreover, when the boys come into the chapter, they are all on a level plane.
"They're not judged on character, religion, or anything like that. When they come into a chapter, they're a boy between the ages of 12-21, and that's all they are. So when they come in they bring their background in to help make the chapter successful."
Currently, there are DeMolay Chapters throughout Massachusetts — including Worcester, Leominster, Gardner, and Concord — as well as all over the world.
The Grafton chapter primarily serves Westborough, Grafton, Shrewsbury, and Upton areas, though there are boys from Charlton and Oxford.
While DeMolay is Masonically sponsored and has a belief in a Supreme Being, they are not a Masonic organization, nor are they a Christian organization.
"We are an organization of all faiths," said Leonard. "And we are there for the community, and we want the community to know that if there are projects and things that are needed to be done around the community, whether its for a nursing home, or a fire department or a police department, that we're available.
He continued: "This is a great organization for the boys that will give them the resources, and background and fun that they need at this age while at the same time learning great skills for later on in life."
To find out more about the Benjamin Franklin Chapter of DeMolay, residents can click on their Facebook page.
Until Jan. 15, readers can still cast their votes for the many participating non-profits daily -- and make sure you share the link with other fans of your favorite group! Voters must be registered and logged onto the site to vote.
Here’s a refresher on how the promotion works:
All 501(c)(3) organizations based in – and serving – our territory covered by a Main Street Connect news site will be able to register and rally their supporters to vote for their organization until January 15, 2012. The organization that has received the most votes by January 15 will receive $5,000. Five runner-up organizations will each earn $500.
You can come back and vote once every day for your favorite organization in Winter Wish List. You can even vote for a different organization every day.
If you are an official representative of a 501(c)(3) organization and would like to participate in Winter's Wish List, you still have time to register here.
We hope you will take part in this great opportunity to benefit the wonderful organizations that serve our community. If you have any questions, please email WWL@MainStreetConnect.us