Tom Gruczka, a trail maintenance worker with the Smithfield Land Trust, has big plans for the town’s Latham Brook Preserve. He envisions new trails and benches that will help his fellow community members, and others from beyond Smithfield’s borders, appreciate the beauty around them, get in some exercise, find a place for solitude and reflection, and create bonds and lasting memories.
“This is a space that I really enjoy and, because of that, I want to make sure that other people can too,” he says. The only impediment to that vision, Gruckza notes, is time and hard work. It's a big lift to mark paths, prune overgrowth, and ensure hikers have a safe environment — even for someone dedicated to the cause.
This past Thursday, though, he had some extra help from the Bryant Service Squad, a university-wide effort that saw 55 members of the Bryant University faculty and staff partner with a range of dedicated nonprofit organizations at a variety of venues across Smithfield including Latham Brook Preserve, which is three miles from campus.
“This was a chance for us to be part of something that is a little bit larger than us,” says Raymond Lombardi, an IT support analyst at Bryant.
In addition to helping out at Latham Brook Preserve, Bryant faculty and staff:
- Welcomed patrons at Greenville Public Library and aided its Friends of the Library program, which supports children’s programs, the library book fund, and the discount museum pass program.
- Helped to unload food from a delivery truck, stock the food resource pantry, and break down cardboard boxes at the Jericho Road Food Resource Center
- Weeded gardens and cleared trails using hand pruners and rakes for the nonprofit Revive the Roots, which supports sustainable practices, community building, and education
- Assisted with the Smithfield YMCA Field Day and Color Run by helping to set up and manage a running course for 150 campers
- Used hand pruners and rakes to trim and clear overgrown trail sections in several areas in cooperation with the Smithfield Land Trust at Wolf Hill Forest Preserve
Matthew Haley, a sergeant with Bryant University’s Department of Public Safety, sums up the spirit of the day best: “When people have a need, hopefully other people can get together, and we can remedy that. We’re only out here for today, but it helps the people around, and after, us.”
Out in the wider world
At Latham Brook Preserve, the Squad follows the lead of Gruckza and land trust treasurer Russell Potter, helping to blaze the preserve’s newest trails, clear overgrowth, and move fallen trees. The volunteers hail from a range of campus areas, including IT, the campus post office, communications, and public safety. Some live in Smithfield, some do not. Some are avid hikers; others haven’t been out in the woods in a while. But they are all united by their enthusiasm.
Throughout their time at the preserve, the group attacks their task with gusto, clipping and painting as Gruczka and Potter guide them in their work, share information about the area, and discuss why working with the land trust meant so much to them.
“Helping out like this is a great way to contribute and give back to others by creating a resource that's going to be around for years to come that other people can enjoy,” notes Potter, to a host of nods.
The Service Squad was born from the university community’s desire to do just that, says Tim Paige, Bryant’s vice president of human resources, who assisted with the Color Run. A recent engagement survey found that Bryant employees were looking for opportunities to give back to their host town, as well as get to know each other better, Paige notes. The service event, which the Office of Human Resources organized, serves both goals. “It gives us the chance to work with some really important organizations in some very valuable ways,” he says.
“I think the Service Squad is reflective of a community that really cares about others,” states Paige, who says he was thrilled by the volunteers’ enthusiasm and is grateful to all of the members of the community who made the day possible, including Meaghan Trayner, Bryant’s associate director of human resources and Title IX coordinator, who was instrumental in organizing the day.
Bryant University President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., who joined his fellow Bryant community members at the YMCA event, notes that the Service Squad provided an opportunity to enrich the already strong bonds between the town and the university. “We are proud that Bryant University is a good neighbor to the town of Smithfield, and it was great to see so many willing and eager to chip in at the library, preserve, and share the town’s natural beauty by weeding gardens and clearing trails, and bring smiles to children’s faces at the Color Run,” he says.
Smithfield Town Manager Randy Rossi ’01, who graduated from the university with a degree in business administration, agrees.
“The town of Smithfield is thankful for the ongoing campus-community partnership that we have with the Bryant community,” he says. “The town is extremely grateful to Bryant University’s Service Squad and the more than 50 members of the university’s faculty and staff who recently worked to clear trails at the Latham Brook Preserve and Wolf Hill Preserve, organize donations at the Jericho Road Food Resource Center, and assist with the Smithfield YMCA's Children's Color Run.”
In return, the Bryant volunteers were grateful to help out. When the time came to head home, the Bryant crew at Latham Brook was exhausted, a little bit dirty, and had a few more scratches and blisters than they came in with. But they also left energized.
“I feel tired but good,” says Lisa Miracle-Wulf, a postal assistant at Bryant’s campus post office. “As we walked back through the trails, we could see the difference we had made from when we came in. I’m glad that other people, and their families, are going to be able to enjoy that and I’m definitely coming back here,” she says.