BERLIN — What began as one local boy’s ambitious plan to collect police patches for a school project has blossomed into something much greater, including a timely appreciation for police officers after several national incidents and a helping hand to another child fighting cancer.
Each year, kindergarten students around the area are required to come up with a project marking the 100th day of the school year. In some cases, a student might collect a seashell for each of the 100 days, or a colorful leaf or glue a piece of candy to a calendar or something similar. However, when Mason Hetherington, 5, a Berlin kindergartner, was presented with the challenge, he had a much more ambitious project in mind and what began in October has now taken on a life of its own.
Hetherington has a passion for all things related to police work and law enforcement. When informed about the 100-day project, Hetherington decided he was going to attempt to collect one police patch for each of the first 100 days of the school year, and while that milestone has not yet passed, the local kindergartner has now collected over 800 patches from all over the country and the world and the number is still growing.
“It’s really amazing,” said Hetherington’s mother, Eliza Mason, a local school teacher, this week. “The number currently stands at 805 and they are still coming in. He’s definitely not finished yet and we’re not even at the 100th day. We took the time to frame the ones he has collected so far and its hanging in our den, which looks more like a museum now.”
Mason started the effort in October by creating a Facebook page picturing Hetherington with a sign explaining what he was attempting with his 100-day project and reaching out to those who might be able to help him achieve it. In the interest of safety in uncertain times, a P.O. Box was opened to which police patches could be sent. Mason said she didn’t want to have them sent to her home address because she didn’t want their residence on the Internet.
The Facebook page got 100 shares on the first day and when Mason went to check the P.O. Box, there were already 40 patches sent. By the second day, the number had swelled to 100, which would have met Hetherington’s 100-day goal, but the avalanche was just getting started.
On a Saturday afternoon in October just days after the effort began, just before shift change for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, a convoy of police vehicles led by Sheriff Reggie Mason showed up at Hetherington’s residence and hand-delivered dozens more patches from the department’s various units. The overwhelmed Hetherington was also allowed to tour the police vehicles, testing their various lights and sirens. After meeting the officers and presenting them with homemade cookies, Hetherington’s desire to keep the project moving forward only increased.
The number just surpassed the 800 mark and the patches are still coming in, and although the flow has been reduced to a trickle somewhat, the local kindergartner received a few more just this week, including a unique police patch from Hong Kong. His mother said he now has at least one patch from every state and several foreign countries are represented including Ireland, Germany, Italy, five or six from Australia and as many as 25 from Canada.
Most of the patches are now framed, but not all of them will be making it to school when the 100th day milestone arrives.
“He’ll probably just take those from Maryland,” said Mason. “He has over 100 from his home state and they are the most important to him.”
What’s really most important for Hetherington is his passion for police work and law enforcement, an adoration that has only intensified over the last few months by disturbing current events.
“This has only strengthened his ideas about how police officers are like a family and all of the good they do,” said Mason. “Right now is not the best climate for law enforcement with the protests and things we’ve seen in the news, but he has an understanding of the good police officers do and how they pull together as a family.”
No less remarkable is Hetherington’s willingness to share. Local police officer Michael Hickman recently shared a link with Hetherington and his mother to a story of a 10-year-old boy in New York currently battling cancer.
“The little boy is going through cancer and wanted to decorate his treatment room with police patches,” said Mason. “When Mason learned of this, he began sending his duplicates to the boy in New York. I think he has now sent him about 50 patches in three shipments. It’s really come full circle for him and he has learned more life lessons than he thought when we started this.”