The center relocated to a few rooms in the Alexander B. Bruce School (formerly the St. Mary of the Assumption Parish elementary school) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in January, across the street from its original offices, in the parish rectory.
The move will enable the center to greatly expand its popular afterschool program, which currently has a waiting list of several dozen students.
“Hands to Help has been a blessing in so many ways,” said Father John F. Dello Russo, OSA, associate pastor at St. Mary’s. “This extends the ministry of the parish, and we look forward to its continued growth and blessings for our people.”
The resource center was born of conversations between Augustinian friars at Merrimack and St. Mary’s leadership, with the goal of serving the largely immigrant and bilingual community surrounding the parish. The center now provides such services as tutoring for students, financial literacy classes for adults, college application tutorials and recreational opportunities. It opened in St. Mary’s rectory in August 2015, but almost immediately outgrew its capacity.
“It was an instant success,” said Father Raymond Dlugos, OSA, vice president for mission and student affairs at Merrimack. “As soon as it opened, the demand, particularly for the afterschool tutoring, was overwhelming. So, we’ve been trying to keep up with demand.”
Neal Fogg, Merrimack’s senior vice president for planning and strategy, said at the open house that Hands for Help represents the “real spirit of Merrimack.
“The Augustinian values and community that is evident when students and parents come to the college is very real here,” Fogg said.
The center currently serves over 100 people, and provides daily academic tutoring to about 20 children.
The center started modestly, staffed only by Merrimack’s director of community outreach and special projects, Alisha Reppucci, and two graduate students. Today, it relies on the help of nearly 120 Merrimack student volunteers.
“Hands to Help bridges the gap for people, and serves as a partner for the city of Lawrence,” said Rosana Urbaez. “Our goal is upward mobility for the individuals of Lawrence, from children to adults.”