Summer has finally come to an end and the light at the end of the tunnel is welcoming a new season as the Worcester Railers will finally make their debut at the DCU Center on October 14.
Despite not having played a game yet, the Railers have already made a huge impact in the city with community appearances, significant charitable donations, and sponsorships of major events in Worcester.
Railers owner Cliff Rucker has said on several occasions that if he simply wanted to open a business he could have done so anywhere, but he looked for a place where he could join with other business leaders and with local government to help improve the larger community.
After looking at other locations he chose Worcester as the home for his then proposed ECHL franchise.
While the Railers sponsoring community events like POW! WOW! Worcester and the Canal District Music Series gain them lots of headlines, it’s their significant charitable donations to causes helping the residents in need in the city that shows Rucker’s commitment to Worcester.
Last winter the Railers donated $35,000 to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette Santa Fund — one of the largest donations to the fund during the 2016 holiday season. The Foundation also donated $5,000 each to five different charities: Rainbow Child Development Center of Worcester, The Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, Veterans Inc., The Friendly House, and StandUp For Kids.
In mid-August the Railers hosted a “Battle of the Badges” blood donation drive in cooperation with the Red Cross and Worcester Police and Fire which resulted in 216 units of blood being collected. It was the largest total ever collected in the city of Worcester.
Part of the event was each donor voted for either the Worcester Police or Fire Departments, with the “winners” having $1,500 donated to the Worcester Boys & Girls Club in their name by the Worcester Railers HC Foundation. The police were the victors 151-104. The Railers are hoping this becomes an annual event.
Paul Harris, the Railers Community Relations Coordinator, and mascot Trax, are out at events nearly every day either to help raise money for organizations or to show the team’s support at a variety of events. A couple of weeks ago, Harris shared the list of Trax’s appearances for the following Saturday that included six stops in just four hours.
“I love it,” Harris said with a beaming smile when the comment was made about how busy he was going to be. “I would do ten events a day if possible. I absolutely love my job. I like to think that the more I’m away from the office, the better. It means I’m out promoting the team, the mascot, our whole Railers brand.”
With every comment, Harris was always quick to return to the organization’s community efforts. Harris said, “We just started Skate to Success, our main community program where we bring in elementary school kids to the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center to learn to skate for free. This provides access to kids who probably never laced up a pair of skates before or been in an ice rink. Talk about a cool field trip!”
“I love seeing the kids’ faces light up when Trax surprises them,” Harris added. “The coolest thing is when I don’t even have to introduce Trax, and the kids remember him from previous events. ‘Trax you came to my school!’. It’s crazy to think about how many events we’ve done in such a short time”
Collectively, Harris said it was hard to say which community effort stands out the most because they’re all so different, but did remark on one recent event that hit close home for him.
Harris said, “It was Auburn’s Relay for Life. It was powerful. I got to talk and hear stories from cancer survivors. Cancer has impacted my family just like it has impacted many others. It was so cool to see survivors, caretakers, and extended family all together for a day of raising awareness and celebration.”
Harris continued. “I want to be involved with the Worcester community as much as possible. Every time someone picks up a prize pack I make sure to have a conversation with them, wish them luck, and give them a business card in case they ever need help in the future.” He then quickly added, “And, of course, give them ticket information. I want to sell out opening night just as much as our ticket reps”.
The prize packs Harris referred to are what the Railers donate to non-profits and other organizations that hold silent auctions and raffles. They typically include t-shirts, lunch bag, tickets, stickers, tattoos, pocket schedules, train whistle, pencils, and other small giveaways. Some of the larger events also get things like sweatshirts.
Those items have raised money for causes like The Friendly House, Autism Speaks, the 15-40 Connection, Marie’ Mission, and many other local charities.
Harris was also quick to thank the Railers for the opportunity to help in the community.
“I’m very fortunate to be working for Cliff Rucker and the Worcester Railers. They have given me the tools to make a huge difference in the community, something I’ve always wanted to do since I was young. (Railers President Mike) Myers and Eric (Lindquist) have helped me out so much and I can’t thank them enough,” Harris said.
He added, “I can’t wait for the season to start and see what types of events I can do with our players. The future’s looking bright here in Worcester. I keep telling everyone how exciting this all is. We have hockey coming back to Worcester, twin rinks at our state-of-the-art practice facility, a Railers Tavern, and so much more. I can’t wait.”
Railers HC Booster Club Vice-President Ernie Racine knows how important the Railers involvement in the community really is.
As the person in charge of the booster club’s “Booster Seats” program, Racine saw the direct impact community outreach had with the Sharks. He says while the Sharks were outstanding in the community, the Railers have already shown they plan to be even better.
“The Railers organization has already deeply impacted Worcester by building community spirit and making significant financial commitments to the city. By promoting local charities, making them and their works known to others, and encouraging outside volunteerism and contribution the Railers serve as a role model for other businesses to follow.”
“Worcester is much better from them being here.” he added. “I’m proud to be associated with them and their charitable work.”
While the hockey season runs from October to late spring the need for charitable endeavors is non-stop. Even though we don’t know how well the team will do on the ice we do know that in the community they’re already acting like champions.