Lacing up and hitting the ice – that’s what Worcester Public Schools’ fourth graders are doing every Tuesday from September through late March thanks to the Worcester Railers’ Skate to Success program.
Now in its third year and fully funded by the Worcester Railers Foundation; as well as multiple, locally-based sponsors, not to mention Chamber members, The Hanover Insurance Group, Fallon Health, the Worcester Business Development Corporation; the program aims to provide opportunity and access to WPS students who otherwise may never have the chance to try ice skating. At its core, Skate to Success is a learn-to-skate initiative.
As part of their flagship community engagement campaign, each Tuesday, approximately 75 WPS students arrive by bus to the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center where they’re greeted by Railers team members, staff, and coaches; program volunteers; sponsors; and other special guests including NHL alumni.
After a brief chat in the stands, the students get suited up with skates and helmets provided specifically for the program.
Following almost an hour of skate time, the students are treated to a free lunch and take-home Railers goodies such as jerseys, school supplies, and an autograph from team mascot Trax.
The program – which serves roughly 2,000 WPS students each year – is part of the team’s educational outreach efforts, Railers President Mike Myers said, and plays into their overall mission of being more than just a hockey club or an ice rink.
The team, which strives to be known as a “community first” organization in greater Worcester, hopes to both educate students about ice skating, the game of hockey, and the Railers presence in the city.
When envisioning the team’s home prior to its creation, Mr. Myers and team owner Cliff Rucker knew they wanted the Canal District ice center to be “more than just a box with rinks and a concession stand. We wanted it to be a neighborhood friendly space with programming that backed that up,” Mr. Myers explained.
And this “community-minded mission,” as Mr. Myers puts it, is why Railers’ community service efforts don’t end with the Skate to Success program. The team and staff also partake in a number of other community-related events – so much so, they’ve earned multiple national recognitions.
For their more than 2,100 community service hours throughout the 2018-19 season, the ECHL chose the Railers, out of 27 teams, as the recipient of the Community Service Team of the Year award. The NHL recognized Skate to Success for aligning with their Declaration of Principles, an initiative which aims to advance programs and policies across all leagues to create the best possible experience for the entire hockey community.
And, most recently, USA Hockey Magazine produced a feature on the program. The article can be found in their January 2020 magazine.
In fact, inspired by the program here in Worcester, other teams have reached out to the Railers, expressing their interest in starting something similar in their jurisdictions. Likewise, the ECHL and NHL are currently looking to create larger-scale learn-to-skate programs, encouraging kids to try hockey and working to grow the game.
Calling these acknowledgements “extremely humbling,” Paul Harris, Railers community relations manager, said it demonstrates how they’ve “really lived up” to their initial vision of being “more than just a team.”
Of their other efforts, including participation in Thanksgiving food drives, partnership with the Bravehearts on the “Ticket to Read” program in local schools, and donations of academic supplies, to name a few; Mr. Harris simply said: “Worcester is our home. We want everyone to think of the Railers as a support and we want to be there to provide for the community.”
He added, “We firmly believe we’re a community-first team, and that if you invest in the community, they’ll invest in you.” By March, the hockey club expects to celebrate the milestone of serving 6,000 students since launching the Skate to Success program in September of 2017 – an accomplishment which Mr. Myers says they take pride in and are “really looking to expand on in the next couple of years.”
Dominique Goyette-Connerty is a correspondent for The Chamber Exchange. If you have any questions, please contact Emily Gowdey-Backus via email.