Five Years Strong
By Jackie Hart
Special to GoHolyCross.com
On April 20th, 2013, 540 volunteers gathered throughout 12 recreation sites in the city of Worcester, to make $62,000 worth of infrastructural improvements. On April 16th, 2016, 1,100 volunteers gathered at 21 community recreation sites to put to work $200,000 worth of resources and investments towards helping the children and families of Worcester. In four years, Working For Worcester went from an idea in the minds of a couple Holy Cross hockey student-athletes, to a major institution in the city. Approaching its fifth build day on April 29th, this amazing project has only continued to grow and impact the lives of Worcester residents.
LET'S GIVE THIS A TRY
Upon beginning their junior year at Holy Cross, co-founders Jeffrey Reppucci ‘14 and his roommate and teammate Derek Kump '14, were talking about Reppucci's recent experience building a playground in Russia, and what an incredible feeling it was to give back. “We wanted to do something similar here in Worcester,” said Reppucci. “But we quickly realized that after two years of living in Worcester, we didn't really know anything about the city.
So, the first step was to explore the second largest city in New England and get acquainted with their home for nine months of the year. “It really started with just taking a drive off campus,” said Reppucci. “We went by local schools and visited some parks and just got a better sense of the community, and from there it took off.” They determined that they wanted to emulate Reppucci's project in Russia, and so they set off to build playgrounds and recreational areas for Worcester's youth.
Uniquely apart from other cities, Worcester is very accessible, and not just by means of transportation. Two months into this project, these college juniors, with a crazy idea and no money, were sitting down with top city leaders, including the mayor, heads of local businesses and school principals to get down to business. “We grabbed all the go-getter Holy Cross studets we could think of, met on Sunday nights in a cramped dorm room and thought let's give this a try,” said Reppucci.
`After about four hectic months of planning, fundraising and recruiting, they reached that first build day on April 20th, 2013. It was a little bumpy and rough around the edges, but by the end of the day, they'd made a whole lot of kids a lot happier. “We all sort of woke up the next day and thought wow that was incredible,” said Reppucci. “We immediately started thinking what's next, we have to make it better we have to make it bigger.” And from there, it's only grown bigger and bigger, including national press on the NBC Nightly News in 2014 and Reppucci as the recipient 2014 Hockey Humanitarian Award and class valedictorian.
FOR THE KIDS
After Reppucci and Kump's 2014 graduation from Holy Cross, it was time for the next generation to take over, including Molly Hourigan '16, a member of the women's basketball team. Hourigan got an early start with Working for Worcester, painting basketball courts and installing a playground at the Belmont Street School with her team. “It was kind of a mandatory team activity that we all had to participate in, but we had so much fun helping the school that it didn't feel mandatory,” said Hourigan. “That first project day in Year 1 was really a turning point for my entire college career.”
Sophomore and junior years she took on more leadership roles and by senior year Hourigan was co-executive director of the event, becoming a true product of the system. “Transitioning throughout the organization during my four years at Holy Cross also helped me learn about myself, what I want to do, what I am good at, but most importantly, it helped me learn about the City of Worcester,” said Hourigan.
Playing sports is a huge part of Hourigan's life, but because of Working For Worcester, she was able to see that not every kid has the same opportunity to just go outside and play. “Our motto is ‘For the Kids' and just by building playgrounds and basketball courts across the city, we are really providing opportunities for kids to just go outside and be kids,” said Hourigan.
Unlike some other service opportunities, the impact these volunteers make is felt immediately. “The end of the day is fantastic,” said Reppucci. “All of a sudden it is 4:00 p.m., you're about to leave and you see 25 kids popping up, running and jumping on the new equipment you just built, which is pretty cool.
In the four years of the project, the Working For Worcester team has invested more than $1 million to renovate more than 100 sites across the city through over 5,000 volunteers. And they're just getting started.
BUILDING FOR WORCESTER AND FOR THE FUTURE
Now that both Reppucci and Hourigan, and the other Working For Worcester originals have graduated from the Hill, the next generation of leaders and volunteers have stepped up to the plate. For Reppucci it is special to see members of the Holy Cross hockey team, who he didn't overlap with in his time here, getting involved. “The athletic teams and the hockey team in particular have always been our biggest supporters,” said Reppucci. “It is great to see guys I never even played with stepping up and taking leadership roles.”
Among these next generation leaders are men's hockey sophomores Michael Laffin and Tommy Nixon, who will serve as site leaders at the 2017 build day. Nixon and Laffin both participated last year with the team and knew they wanted to be involved the next year. “Last year's experience was so positive and uplifting, I didn't want it to end,” said Nixon. “After finishing at my site, I tagged along with a teammate to help another site finish and knew immediately I wanted to be a site leader.”
All three of these leaders have said that in the process of helping the kids of Worcester, they've also helped find themselves and what they want to do for the future. “I caught the entrepreneurial bug,” said Reppucci. “Through the ups and downs of the journey, and finally seeing your idea exist in the world, it's made me comfortable not always knowing my next step.”
For Nixon, with still three years of Working for Worcester ahead of him, he's been inspired by his hockey alumni who have greatly benefited from their time with the organization. “It excites me to see the relationships these people have formed during their time on the Hill and their time with Working for Worcester,” said Nixon. “I love knowing that we're building for the people of Worcester, and we're building for the future.”
The fifth Build Day of Working for Worcester 2017 will take place on Saturday, April 29th. Go here for details and registration.