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Catching Joy founder Joy Olaes Surprenant ’93 with (L-R) Madelyn Cobb, Viviane Santos and Nicholas Aret-Adib at a recent volunteer event. “Children, by their nature, want to help,” she says. “We need to foster that earlier in life.” (Photo by Justin Knight)

Never Too Young to Lend a Hand

The idea came to Joy Olaes Surprenant when her son was in the BC Children’s Center: Get kids started volunteering early. Now her nonprofit does just that
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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Published:
"You’ve got it, give it!”

It’s a simple slogan that has become the mission statement of Catching Joy, a local nonprofit founded by 1993 Boston College alumna Joy Olaes Surprenant that enables children to experience volunteering, even before they enter elementary school.

“The goal was to start a program that harnessed pre-school age children’s creativity, energy, compassion and idealism and use it toward volunteer activities in the community,” said Surprenant, who lives in Brighton with her husband Michael, a fellow ’93 BC alum.

“Volunteering has always been a very big part of my life and once I became a mother, it was hard to continue my commitments. I wanted my whole family to be able to participate in these volunteer activities and didn’t find any kind of opportunities like that,” said Surprenant.

Surprenant was an early childhood educator before her son, Maxwell, was born. It was when Max was a student at the Boston College Children’s Center that the idea of Catching Joy came to her. Max’s friends – now BCCC alumni – became some of the first “Catching Joy kids.”

During the organization’s first year of operation, the number of children participating at various events has grown to more that 1,000. Among other activities, Catching Joy kids — ranging in age from two to 10 — cheer on participants in the Avon Breast Cancer walk with posters and pompoms, sing for residents of local nursing homes or make valentines cards for veterans and collect coats for homeless children throughout the Greater Boston area.

Surprenant said the activities can help parents discuss hard topics with their children – homelessness, the environment, sickness – but also empower young people to make a difference. Surprenant said that in an age of materialism and technology, it’s never too early to get children involved in community service projects.

“Children, by their nature, want to help. We need to foster that earlier in life,” said Surprenant. “At Boston College, we’re taught the Jesuit philosophy of ‘men and women for others.’ I can’t think of a better time to start that message of volunteerism when children really want to be part of the solution.”

The group also has partnered with big names, including the Boston Red Sox, Sunkist and the Taj Boston (formerly the Ritz Carlton), for events and fundraisers.

“A Boston tradition for many families is the Sugar Plum tea at the Taj,” Surprenant said. “Families go to the tea and then go see the Nutcracker. We thought it would be a great opportunity to incorporate a charitable component. Last year, we set up a table in the lobby and had the children make ornaments and decorate trees that were then donated to the Pine Street Inn. It was a wonderful event because even the youngest children could help.”

For more information, see the Catching Joy Web site at www.catchingjoy.org to see a video about Cathing Joy produced by Chronicle, visit http://micurl.com/gmhva.

Melissa Beecher can be reached at melissa.beecher.1@bc.edu