My Fitness

The Impact We Have on Others

October 4, 2016

I was very surprised when I was told I was to receive this year’s Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award.

My coach at Michigan had pranked me, telling me I would be getting a call from USA Rugby officials about my eligibility to play in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, so I was expecting a call, even though I was confused about how I could have issues with eligibility. When the call turned out to be from Eileen MacDonnell, the Chairman and CEO of Penn Mutual, I was just shocked. I knew I had been nominated, but I never thought I might win. After the call was over, I immediately called my mom, and she began crying. It was crazy. I would never have thought anything like this would come from just collecting books.

Collecting Books for Literacy

I had started my book collection project during my sophomore year in high school. I was preparing for Confirmation at my church, which required a certain number of hours of community service. Instead of doing something tried and true, like working at a soup kitchen, my mom and I discussed doing something a little more personal. We came across a crazy statistic about how so many kids in underprivileged homes don’t have books. We had a ton of kids’ books in our home that no one ever looked at anymore, so we knew we had something that might work.

We started collecting books from close friends and people at our church. My mom works at an elementary school, so it made sense to collect books there, too. We started really small, but it quickly grew. We built it up enough to involve my high school, an all-boys Catholic private high school with students from 60 different communities.

We ended up getting so many books that we didn’t know who to donate them to. We ended up giving a majority of the books to Girls Inc. in Lynn, Massachusetts, and they were very grateful for them. Girls Inc. runs a summer literacy program, giving away books to girls to take home for the summer because many of them don’t have anything.

I kept going at it even after my service hours for Confirmation were fulfilled. We realized that we were on to something big, and Girls Inc. kept calling us to see if we had any more books, so we just kept collecting books. My sister took over the project after I left for college, and my little brother, who’s 12 now, will take it over when she leaves for college in the fall. We’ve collected around 6,500 books by now, and we’re hoping to be close to 10,000 by the end of next year.

Rugby for Community

My freshman year of high school, I was cut from the baseball team. I also played hockey and football and always enjoyed contact sports, so one of my friends suggested I play rugby. I had never heard of rugby, but I went to one practice. The first time I touched the ball, I was absolutely destroyed in a tough tackle. I dusted myself off and I thought, “Wow, I love this!” And I’ve never looked back — I’ve been playing ever since.

I’ve come to love rugby for its sense of community. You don’t often hear about star rugby players; you hear about teams being great. Rugby is all about coming together and contributing to make the team better. It’s about doing the stuff that needs to make the community stronger, even if you don’t always get recognition for it.

Rugby’s all about situational awareness and managing the moment, rather than who’s the best athlete or who can yell the loudest. It comes down to how many times have you seen this situation? What are we doing here? Who wants to step in and take control? The more rugby you play, the better you are. Because I started playing rugby as a freshman in high school, I had a lot more experience than the other people walking on in college. I had already played for four years, including every single summer for the Mystic River Rugby Club, which just won the D1 Men’s National Championship. I was happy to share my experience among my own classmates, and this year, as a sophomore, I was able to step up and take more of a leadership role in the whole team. Next year, I hope to continue as a leader.

What the Life of Significance Award Means to Me

I never set out to win an award for anything I do, either collecting books or contributing to my rugby team, but the Life of Significance Award has brought home to me how my actions affect so many others. Until now, it was just something fun that I did on the side. I knew that collecting books was a worthwhile effort and that it was a big help to Girls Inc., but I never really thought about the direct impact it has on the lives of the kids who receive the books. It wasn’t until my coach talked to me about why he was nominating me that I realized how serious it is and the impact my efforts have. It’s the same thing with rugby, where you go into a scrum, you hit somebody, make a good tackle. At that moment, you don’t really have any idea that what you did helped contribute to something greater. The Life of Significance Award really solidified for me what we’re doing here, how important it is, and who we’re trying to help.

As part of the award, Penn Mutual is donating $5,000 to a charity of my choice. I selected the local branch of Girls Inc. as my charity, and they’re going to use it to fund their entire summer literacy program. It is also great that our rugby team is getting $1,000 in rugby equipment. My teammates joked about it when they heard I won the award, but learning about the equipment got them really excited

We are still collecting books. If anyone wants to donate books or make any other contribution, please send me an email and I will make arrangements. I also want to thank my mom, my sister, and my brother for all of their hard work. They do a ton of work. This is their project too, and their award.

Get the Latest News

What Does Life Insurance Have to Do With Rugby?