My Commitment to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America: 2010 - 2013
During the summer of 2010, I began my volunteer work at the North Shore Boys and Girls Club in Glen Head, New York. This is the same Club that opened its doors to me and my sisters when my family moved to Long Island from New York City in May 2003. I always knew one day I would come back and dedicate my time here because the Boys and Girls Club has always been a positive place for kids. That said, as a middle school running back and center fielder back then, I never would have imagined my commitment to these kids would involve track and field.
In June 2010, I completed my freshman year at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. It's a great school with very high standards -- academically and athletically -- but most of all, they helped me understand early and often what it means to be a Chaminade Man (one who does the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do regardless who is watching).
I achieved some success as a student-athlete making the Freshman Annual Honor Roll and lettering as a running back on the football squad and as a sprinter on the track team, where I won numerous gold and silver medals en route to setting all-time Chaminade freshman records in the 100 meter dash and 4 x 100 relay.
Winners Run, Champions Sprint
That summer, I decided to utilize my talent in sprinting to teach kids the proper mechanics of running, acceleration and how to stay fit. I purchased some basic training equipment then I contacted the executive director of the North Shore Boys and Girls Club. Mike Capobianco and Susan Wisnewski gave me an opportunity to conduct my first track clinic for 35 kids in August 2010 and the rest, I guess, is history. The following summer, while studying abroad at Oxford University, I began to refine the clinic to focus more broadly on speed and agility drills useful for most sports and for kids of all ages. When I returned from England in August 2011 I purchased more innovative equipment, such as running parachutes and adjustable hurdles, and specially designed shirts for all clinic participants. That's when I came up with the slogan, "Winners Run, Champions Sprint." I conducted several more clinics at the North Shore Club and local soccer organizations during the summer of 2011 and into the fall and winter seasons, but I believed there was more I could do to make a greater impact.
Fast forward to April 2012, just before the end of my junior year at Chaminade, I approached my parents with the idea of taking my "Winners Run, Champions Sprint" campagin across the country to positively impact inner city kids at Boys and Girls Clubs nationwide. I wanted to teach kids the meaning of becoming student-athletes and knew that my success on the track gave me the credibility to connect with at-risk kids. Not only were my parents very supportive, but a number of merchants who heard about the national campaign expressed interest in contributing. For example, First in Service Travel in Manhattan pledged their support with discounted airline tickets and hotel rooms; A+ Graphics in Glen Head provided designs, banners, trophies and 500 medals and ribbons below cost; and Acu Plus Screen Printing in Levittown did the same with more than 500 shirts featuring a front and back design.
By the end of May, I had everything I needed to conduct the clinics so it was time to test the waters and write to the Executive Directors of Boys and Girls Clubs in major markets across the country. I sent my academic and athletic resume along with video of my championships races and track clinics so they would see the value I could provide to their kids. The response was overwhelming and believe it or not, I could not accept all the invitations this past summer. For my first national tour, I selected Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Washington, DC and Dallas. Next summer, I'll be sure to visit another five or six markets, in addition to Clubs in the city where I will attend college.
Rocco Signore National Boys and Girls Club Tour
For a one month period during the summer of 2012, I had the privilege and honor to teach, learn and interact with some of the most special kids I have ever been around in my entire life. It was an amazing experience for me, and hopefully each and every child who attended my clinics knew how much I cared about them and their future. It's important to note that I didn't plan to travel nearly 10,000 miles to simply teach kids how to run faster. As a three-year honor roll student, a member of the National Honor Society and a top-ranked New York State sprinter, I wanted to speak with them about the pursuit of dreams; the importance of setting goals; and the sacrifices they must make to achieve them. I needed them to understand they are indeed the future of our great country, but I knew I had to rely on my track accomplishments to establish "street creds" before uttering one word about the importance of school. So, just before I greeted the kids in each city, they watched a highlight reel of my championships races and saw a display of more than 40 gold, silver and bronze medals I won during my high school track career. Guess what? It worked, and when they came out of the screening room some requested my autograph while others thought my father was my sports agent. Most importantly, I had their respect and attention and I took full advantage by delivering some powerful messages and building their self-esteem.
Following an informal meet and greet with the kids, each session started with a formal introduction of myself and the national tour; a rundown of the day's activities; my speech and a Q&A period to ensure they understood where I was coming from. All of the clinics started with stretching and warm-up drills, which were clearly not their favorite activities but certainly one of the most important. We conducted multiple ladder drills, hurdlles, high-knee and arm action drills, parachute runs, timed sprints and races. They were all very attentive and appreciative of the lessons learned, and they flat out just loved to compete, especially when they were on the clock. I could tell that bragging rights were on the line.
But it was during the medal ceremony at the conclusion of each clinic that I felt a strong bond was formed. I came away convinced that at-risk kids in our inner-cities need role models they can relate to and believe in. At the same time, I understood the responsibility we all have to help guide at-risk kids to a brighter future. This was made very clear to me the moment I walked through the doors of the East Los Angeles Club -- my first stop on the tour – when the Executive Director, Anna Araujo, presented me with statistics on the kids in the community. It was hard for me to understand or even imagine that 90% of the population in East Los Angeles live below the poverty level and more than 30% of the kids are in the Foster Care system.
I wanted to do everything in my power to ensure our time together was very special and I needed them to know that I believed in them. During the medal ceremonies, I took the opportunity to connect with the kids one-on-one and personally draped a medal around the neck of every single participant. I made time for them afterwards in small group and one-on-one sessions and we spoke about everything under the sun, both positive and negative experiences…..their own dreams, sports, school, friendship, peer pressure and bullying. Some of their stories and experiences were heartbreaking and I’m certain, if more folks took the time to get closer to kids like this in their respective communities they would want to lend a hand. Weeks later, when I watched video highlights of the five clinics and saw so many smiling and proud faces, I knew my time was well spent this past summer. The greatest takeaway for me is the simple thought that this is just the beginning of my commitment. These kids can count on me being in their corner for many years to come.