WPI Students "Adopt" the Youth of a Worcester Neighborhood

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5706

Worcester, Mass. - March 26, 2003 - Getting children in urban neighborhoods interested in college can be a challenge. But this is not a problem in the Grafton Hill neighborhood of Worcester. On Tuesdays during the academic year around 30 elementary school-aged youngsters from Grafton Hill visit the campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for a mentoring program called Hoop Dreams.

In its seventh year, Hoop Dreams provides 8 to 13 years olds from Friendly House, a multi-service community center in Grafton Hill, with weekly exposure to college life as well as mentoring, tutoring and, of course, fun. About 20 WPI student volunteers run the program to share their exceptional math and science skills with a child, as well as bond through recreational activities.

On Tuesday afternoons from September through April, the Friendly House children travel to the WPI campus to interact with the WPI mentors in a two-hour program. The first half of the afternoon is spent on physical activities like basketball, swimming and wrestling. The second half of the afternoon is dedicated to academics. The youngsters bring their homework, and WPI students, with strong science and math skills, reinforce what is being taught in the youngsters' classrooms - most of the kids are attending the Grafton Street School.

Special projects and events are also a part of Hoop Dreams. Already this academic year, the Grafton Hill kids participated in a Spanish language lab with WPI associate professor Angel A. Rivera, and a UNICEF fundraiser in conjunction with of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester and WPI professor Stanley M. Selkow. For the fundraiser, called "Pieces of Peace," the youngsters created and later sold holiday crafts, which were personalized using images of doves and words such as "peace."

Over the next few months, Hoop Dreams will keep the kids busy swimming, building robots out of Legos, and completing an aerospace project with WPI's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. The year will wrap up with a goodbye pizza party and an event at the Ecotarium to acknowledge the sponsors and supporters of Hoop Dreams.

"Our youngsters really look forward to Tuesdays when they go over to WPI," says Friendly House's executive director Gordon Hargrove. "They have formed bonds with positive role models in the WPI volunteers. And the influence of the college students gets them more excited about their studies and gives them the opportunity to approach someone closer to their own age for help with schoolwork."

Hargrove adds, "We have received very positive feedback from the parents as well. They really appreciate the opportunity for their children to participate in this program."

WPI support for Friendly House and its children is not restricted to the student mentors. While the WPI mentors drive the program, it is a campus-wide effort involving the entire WPI community. WPI faculty, staff and more than 50 student organizations participate. For example, this past December, the WPI community made the holidays happier for 110 Friendly House children and teens with a Giving Tree gift drive that raised more than $3,000 in gifts. Additionally, WPI fraternities and sororities hosted a basketball tournament which raised over $1,000 for Friendly House programs, and the brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha coordinated a food drive that helped feed 2,000 people during the holiday season. This spring, four WPI students and three faculty advisors are contributing their expertise to Friendly House through several academic projects with the center.

"The Hoop Dreams activities just get better and better each year, but the program remains true to its mission of providing support and positive role models for the youth of Grafton Hill," adds William A. Baller, adjunct assistant professor of history at WPI. "In addition, area companies and organizations have noticed the success of the program, and are providing significant and much appreciated support."

Indeed, Hoop Dreams has attracted two large sponsorships this year. WPI students and Hoop Dream mentors, Frances Saccoccio and Cristina Toledo were awarded a $1,000 grant from the Greater Worcester Foundation for a student project with the Ecotarium. For the second consecutive year, Banknorth Massachusetts is the only corporate sponsor with a $2,000 contribution.

For more information about Hoop Dreams, please contact Clarissa S. Lonn, graduate assistant of Community Service and Leadership Programs. Lonn also extends an invitation to the WPI community to stop by on Tuesday afternoons to visit Hoop Dreams.

About Friendly House

Friendly House is a multi-service community center/settlement house founded in 1920 to fill the educational, recreational and social service needs of Worcester's Grafton Hill neighborhood. Today, the agency offers a variety of programs for the low to moderate income residents throughout Worcester County. These include recreational drop-in programs for children and teens, residential shelters, a supportive housing program, social and emergency services, full-summer recreation and day-camp programs, child feeding, an information referral center, as well as Albanian and elder outreach programs.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865, WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education. WPI was the first university to understand that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to the solution of important problems. Today its students, working in teams at more than 20 project centers around the globe, put their knowledge and skills to work as they complete professional-level work that can have an immediate positive impact on society.

WPI's innovative, globally focused curriculum has been recognized by leaders in industry, government and academia as the model for the technological education of tomorrow. Students emerge from this program as true technological humanists, well rounded, with the confidence, the interpersonal skills and the commitment to innovation they need to make a real difference in their professional and personal lives.

The university awarded its first advanced degree in 1898. Today, its first-rate research laboratories support master's and Ph.D. programs in more than 30 disciplines in engineering, science and the management of technology. Located in the heart of the region's biotechnology and high-technology sectors, WPI has built research programs - including the largest industry/university alliance in North America - that have won it worldwide recognition.