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March 5, 2013

Inspired by her dead cousin, she helps soldiers

Sends items to places like Afghanistan, where he was killed

HAVERHILL — It began two years ago when she spent money she received for her 16th birthday on items for troops overseas.

She did it in memory of her cousin, a soldier killled in Afghanistan.

Inspired by his heroism, Robyn Hills, now a senior at Sanborn Regional High School, created The Jay Project. She named it after Sgt. Jason Santora of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Army Ranger Regiment.

Santora, 25, of Massapequa Park, N.Y., was seriously wounded in April 2010 in an engagement with an enemy force in Logar Province, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He later died from his wounds.

“I wanted to do something special to honor Jason, our family’s fallen hero,” said Hills, who partnered with Any Soldier Inc., an organization that provides her with the addresses of men and women serving overseas and lists of what they would like. “When I discovered Any Soldier Inc., I knew I had found the perfect partner to help me do exactly that.’’

Hill is a member of a Haverhill-based figure skating organization. She uses that group to get out the word of her efforts to help soldiers, and also collect items at the group’s events.

In an essay she wrote last year, Hills said The Jay Project began on her 16th birthday when she purchased items from a military unit’s wish list with her birthday money. She packed up boxes and sent her first shipment to a war zone.

“The Jay Project has helped many and led to new friendships, opportunities and understandings,” she said in the essay. “I began receiving handwritten letters and emails, messages scrawled on dirty paper, thanking me for the things I sent. Slim Jims and beef jerky, baby wipes and foot powder, all incidental things that were like gold to others. Hearing their stories made me want to help even more.

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