Athlete Volunteers Refurbish Sites Throughout Worcester
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Last September, when College of the Holy Cross junior Jeffrey Reppucci approached the United Way of Central Massachusetts board of directors with an idea for an army of volunteers building recreation sites across the city, he said, “We were wide-eyed dreamers trying to get this thing to catch on.”
On Saturday, that dream came to fruition.
Some 500 volunteers in the first Working For Worcester day, spearheaded by Mr. Reppucci, of Newburyport, and the nonprofit organization he founded, Students Helping Children Across Borders, fanned out to 12 sites to construct playgrounds, clear walking trails and parks and prepare gardens so children and families would have inviting places to be active.
By 5 p.m., progress toward $60,000 worth of improvements was expected at: Worcester Youth Center; The Village Shelter; AIDS Project Worcester; Cookson Park; Middle River Park; Maloney Field; South High Community School; Grafton Street School; Elm Park Community School; Rice Square School; Goddard Street School; and Belmont Community School.
A Russian major and defenseman on the Crusaders hockey team, Mr. Reppucci said providing opportunities for sports and recreation was a way to help youth make smart choices about their health. The idea for Working for Worcester sparked after he went to Suzdal, Russia, last year and developed a comprehensive sports and wellness program at a school and orphanage.
Many of the volunteers Saturday were athletes from different colleges, working side-by-side with other students and corporate and community volunteers.
“How do we help kids? How do we empower them?” he asked. “One way I’ve been empowered is through sports.”
Bringing students together to plan the Working for Worcester effort with local organizations also broke down barriers between Worcester’s college students and the host community.
“For college students, their campus, Shrewsbury Street and Kelley Square are the only things out there,” Mr. Reppucci said. Once he started exploring projects, he said he saw much more of the city’s diversity, culture and history.
He said: “We need to literally build something. Build a community space and put that (concept) on steroids.”
At Worcester Youth Center on Chandler Street, students worked with Holy Cross alumni and parents to install a new high-impact dance floor, new sound system, replace dance studio mirrors and paint the studio walls with stenciling in multiple languages.
Teri LeBlanc, whose daughter Lisa is a junior at Holy Cross, came down from New Hampshire with her boyfriend, Daniel Cunningham, to help with the project.
“When my daughter told me about it I was very impressed and said, ‘What can we do?’ ” Ms. LeBlanc said.
The couple was carefully taping a cracked mirror pane so it wouldn’t shatter when it was removed from the studio wall.
“What it means for the center is the young people will have a state-of-the-art dance room. It allows them to practice in a space that’s a little more meaningful to what they’re doing,” said Samuel Martin, Worcester Youth Center executive director. “It’s (building renovations are) a capital expense and grant funds don’t usually pay for this type of work.”
Youth Center staff member and dance coordinator Crystal Then, a 2009 graduate of Holy Cross, said the dance studio, where participants practice hip-hop and break dancing and take fitness classes based on ballet and modern dance, gets a lot of use.
She said, “They saw the connection (with volunteers). Someone else also cares about what they do.”
Belmont Street Community School had lost its portable basketball hoops to theft and games on its playground surface to vandalism. Principal Susan Proulx worked with her school’s teachers, as well as Holy Cross football players and the women’s basketball team, to refurbish the playground.
“We’re thrilled, especially for the kids. The playground will be more kid-friendly,” Ms. Proulx said.
Kate Gillespie, a 19-year-old freshman and basketball guard from Washington, D.C., was spray-painting four square, hop scotch and tic-tac-toe games with her teammates on the Belmont blacktop.
“Our team is really involved in the community. We like to give back because they definitely support us so much,” Ms. Gillespie said.
Andrew Zitnik, 21, a Holy Cross junior from Hubbard, Ohio, and a member of the football team, was digging into rocky soil to plant evergreens as a border for the playground.
He said planting trees had something in common with playing football: “It’s hard work, that’s for sure.”
Environmental studies major Lucas Netchert, 21, a Holy Cross junior from Jersey City, N.J., coordinated the site crew of volunteers at Middle River Park, across McKeon Road from Holy Cross.
Mr. Netchert and John G. Giangregorio, from the Canal District Alliance and Canal District Business Association, said the brush cutting and trash clearing by volunteers brought the park closer to its envisioned site as a picnic and canoe-launch area with walking paths and a bike trail connecting the waterway to the new Blackstone River visitors center, which is expected to be finished within a year.
Tim Garvin, United Way of Central Massachusetts president and CEO, said Working for Worcester was a perfect “bookend” to the volunteer day in the fall, United Way’s Day of Caring.
“We want every student here to understand service is not a one-day event. We want it to be part of their lives,” Mr. Garvin said. “We want to be sure every student here takes this to the next level to create an even greater city on a hill.”
Unum Senior Vice President Steven Joseph, who was volunteering with about 20 employees and had donated to the project, said, “When Jeff (Reppucci) came to us, we had to be a part of it. It just fits in with our mission of working with the community.”
Jennifer Luisa from The Hanover Group’s community relations, which also contributed money and volunteers, said, “We love taking part in events where the community comes together to make a difference.
“And selfishly, we want to recruit all the great talent that’s here today.”
By Susan Spencer