Holyoke volunteer’s award from Patriots Foundation brings $10K windfall to Cancer Connection

Nina Skolsky Metz of Holyoke was one of several volunteers honored early this month by the New England Patriots Foundation.

Nina Skolsky Metz of Holyoke was one of several volunteers honored early this month by the New England Patriots Foundation. CONTRIBUTED


Staff Writer

Published: 06-24-2024 4:20 PM

Modified: 06-25-2024 2:49 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Holyoke resident and former Longmeadow teacher who’s been volunteering at The Cancer Connection in Northampton since 2015 was recognized early this month by the New England Patriots Foundation as a “Community MVP Award Winner,” bringing a $10,000 windfall to the nonprofit support agency.

Nina Skolsky Metz began volunteering for Cancer Connection nine years ago following her retirement as a first grade teacher in Longmeadow in 2015. For Metz, who lost both of her parents to cancer and who has been treated herself for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer treatment means something personal. The nonprofit, which offers guidance, education, peer support and integrative therapies for people diagnosed with cancer and their loved ones, provides all of its services free of charge.

Metz volunteers by helping out at Cancer Connection’s thrift store on Northampton’s South Street. She works in the store’s book section, helping sort through donated books and using her experience as a teacher to help recommend children’s literature to those who peruse the store. Funds from the thrift shop go toward Cancer Connection, the only cancer support center in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

“I’m sort of a walking encyclopedia for children’s books,” Metz said. “There’s a few grandmas who routinely ask me for recommendations for a grandchild of this age or a baby of that age. So that continues my skills.”

But sometimes conversations in the thrift store can lead to more than just recommending a book. Many of those who come into the store either have or know someone who has undergone cancer treatment, and can often feel overwhelmed or confused by the ordeal. Metz again relies on her personal background as a survivor to help them.

“I do know a thing or two about things that are good to read when you can’t read anything, or things that you can read when all you can think about is the horrible things in your life,” Metz said. “We have a very nice poetry section and also science, nature and religious-oriented books that either have meditations in them or teachings of one philosopher or another.”

Though she initially started by volunteering between six and 10 hours a week, Metz now dedicates 10 to 20 hours a week at the thrift shop. Her dedication to volunteer work led to the organization nominating her for the New England Patriots Foundation’s Community Myra Kraft MVP Award, named after the late wife of Patriots team owner Robert Kraft.

“I guess you could call me an exemplary volunteer,” Metz said. “The thing that was, and continues to be the most important to me is the fact that the thrift shop folks thought so highly of me that they would nominate me for an award like this.”

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After filling out the application paperwork, Metz forgot about the nomination for awhile. Then one day while doing her regular volunteer work, she was handed the phone by the store’s manager Christine Quinn. On the phone was a woman from the Patriots Foundation saying she had been selected as one of 26 winners, and that Cancer Connection would be receiving a $10,000 donation as a result. “That was just like a blast of emotion,” Metz recalled.

Metz then found herself attending a luncheon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on June 6 along with the other award winners. Also present was former Patriots player Andre Tippett, serving as the team’s executive director of community affairs, and Kraft himself. After going on stage to receive her award, Metz found herself passing by Kraft on her way back to her table.

“I went over [to him], because that’s what I do,” Metz said. “I said to him softly, ‘Your wife sounds amazing, and I am so proud to receive this award,’ and he shook my hand and just made wonderful eye contact. It was just a very nice moment.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.