When Worcester students arrive at the McGrath Elementary School and the Columbus Park School on Monday morning following school break, they’ll see brand new playgrounds instead of empty blacktop.
The playgrounds have been stood up Saturday as a part of Working for Worcester build day. Created by Jeff Reppucci and Derek Kump in their College of the Holy Cross dorm room nine years ago, Working for Worcester is a nonprofit that brings volunteers together annually for a build day to complete projects that create or revitalize play and educational spaces for kids in Worcester.
Ian Williamson and Liam Busconi, the co-executive directors of Working for Worcester, said one of the best parts of this year’s build day is being able to surprise students with something new. Williamson said McGrath and Columbus Park were the last two Worcester elementary schools without a safe and functioning playground.
“A lot of these kids haven’t been able to be at school, be with their friends, so not only are they coming back to school, but Columbus Park and McGrath have two new playgrounds in their backyards which were just blacktop,” Busconi said. “Monday we’ll find out their reaction and I’m sure they’re going to be surprised and just excited to be able to use it.”
Thousands of Worcester students returned to school buildings last month for hybrid learning after more than a year of remote instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now after a weeklong school break, they’ll go back to schools that are a touch more beautiful from the work of volunteers.
More than 200 volunteers are participating this year and got started at 9 a.m. Saturday. In a typical year Working for Worcester build day attracts around 1,500 volunteers, Busconi said.
As the sun beamed down on the build site at McGrath on Saturday, Busconi said it’s nice to see volunteers outside of Zoom. The day is particularly welcome for Holy Cross student volunteers, he said, as the college year has been unordinary because of the pandemic.
“We’ve been working for the past nine months to make it safe and successful,” Williamson said. “There’s just nothing better than, after such a crazy year, being able to come together as a community and just make a difference. It’s really powerful.”
Working for Worcester has strictly outdoor projects this year at a selection of Worcester schools. In addition to the playground projects at McGarth and Columbus Park, there are beautification projects at sites including North High, Heard Street, Burncoat Prep, Lake View, Goddard and Clark Street.
With Working for Worcester volunteers able to roll their sleeves up and get to work as vaccines roll out, Williamson said he hopes the day will help signify a light at the end of the tunnel, more than a year into the pandemic.
“Hopefully more things like this can happen in Worcester,” Williamson said.
Corporate sponsors of Working for Worcester include Hanover Insurance, Consigli, Fallon Health, UNUM, the United Way of Central Massachusetts, Bay State Savings Bank, Fuller Foundation, Saint Gobain, Polar, Worcester Red Sox, UMass Memorial Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Mirick and College of the Holy Cross.
- On Working for Worcester build day, sun emerges from cloudy sky as playgrounds take shape