By Mike D’Abate
Inspirational author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. was once quoted as saying “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” For Smithfield High School alumnus Erik Deneault and his family, that ‘giving’ spirit makes them one of the happiest and most-beloved families in Rhode Island. It has also helped to bring joy and added comfort to so many families in need. Some might call them ‘heroes.’ However, this family would be the first to advise that the real heroes are those whom they gladly help.
The Deneaults are motivated neither by fame, nor prestige. Rather, they find a sense of accomplishment in assisting those in need. It is a practice to which Erik, and his wife Dawn, have dedicated their life’s work. In 2010, Erik and Dawn established The Little Heroes Fund; an RI Non-Profit, inspired by their daughter Danica. Under the Deneault’s direction, Little Heroes tirelessly offers support to the Special Needs Community. They offer assistance in securing walkers, wheelchairs and physical therapy tools for special needs children throughout the New England region. Recently, the Little Heroes Fund raised over $4000 to construct a wheelchair ramp for a family in need of providing mobility assistance to their special needs child. This is only one of the several instances where the Fund has provided assistance with constructing adaptive handicapped-accessible home modifications.
For the past several years, the Little Heroes Fund has worked closely with the Light Foundation, a philanthropic foundation founded by New England Patriots Hall of Fame lineman, Matt Light. Much like the Deneaults, Matt and his wife Susie have an unending passion for giving from the heart. Since its inception in 2001, the Light Foundation has raised more than $5 million for various programs and initiatives. While Little Heroes and the Light Foundation have often collaborated on many successful fund-raising efforts, the most well-known of these is the annual Light Foundation Bruins Alumni Charity Hockey Game. The Light Foundation (often in conjunction with Little Heroes) sponsor a team of avid and excited hockey players who have earned a spot on the team by fundraising for the event. With the proceeds going to charity, the team skates against Boston Bruins legends in a fun exhibition game at Providence College’s Schneider Arena.
As a member of the media, I had the privilege of covering last year’s game. In doing so, I was able to share an experience that still resonates vividly with me to this today. During the game’s intermission, Light and Deneault visited a young lady named Jenna Stoddard. Jenna was there enjoying the game with her mom, Kim. She currently lives with a condition called Chromosome 19 Deletion Disorder, which affects both physical and mental development. Accompanied by A Wish Come True Inc., Light presented this courageous young lady with the news that the organization would be providing her with a home customization, designed to help to ease some of the burdens of her condition. Jenna received a custom-made therapeutic jacuzzi, home safety modifications, and personalized toys (with which Jenna may play) ensuring both her fun and safety. Through the collaborative efforts of these three great organizations, Jenna will enjoy a better quality of life. The smiles on everyone’s faces told the story. Wishes were granted and dreams came true. That is the ultimate win-win.
Erik will be the first to admit that he has taken several queues from Matt Light, when it comes to philanthropy. The Little Heroes Fund has even worked alongside the Light Foundation to draft and introduce legislation designed to help the children of RI and MA. However, his philanthropic nature is still strongly rooted in his ties to his alma mater, Smithfield High School. A member of the Sentinels Class of 1997, Deneault recently teamed with the Light Foundation and the SHS Honor Society to sponsor a canned goods/peanut butter drive on Friday, February 1, 2019. On this Friday prior to Super Bowl LIII (which would result in the New England Patriots capturing their sixth title in a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams), students were able to wear their Patriots pride, in exchange for a charitable donation of a food item. In addition, The Light Foundation provided jerseys, and other team-related memorabilia available for raffle. When all was said and done, the event raised more than double the initially-estimated amount of funds and food items.
It is moments like these in which the Deneaults take their greatest pride. Although he is reticent to accept accolades, it should be noted that Erik provided the inspiration for the event’s success. Less than two weeks prior, Deneault addressed 49 Smithfield High seniors, who had been inducted into the National Honor Society. On January 23, Deneault delivered an inspirational speech, which centered around the importance of service. Members of the Sentinels senior class cited Deneault’s motivational advice as a key point of inspiration to help make the Peanut Butter Drive as successful as possible. Once again, Little Heroes and the Light Foundation had delivered on their promise. Most importantly, they continue to set an example for the next generation of philanthropic young people, eager to continue the practice of giving from the heart.
To learn more about The Little Heroes Fund, visit: www.littleheroesfund.com
The Light Foundation will once again partner with the Boston Bruins Alumni for their fifth-annual Charity Hockey Game in 2019. The game will be held on Saturday, March 23, from 6:00pm-9:00pm at Providence College’s Schneider Arena. For ticket information, as well as more information about The Light Foundation, visit: www.mattlight72.com