At 17, Anthony D’Ambrosio likes to take the initiative.
While watching baseball or hanging out with friends are among his preferred activities, they are not what unlocks an infectious, almost contagious, enthusiasm from the rising senior at Phillips Andover Academy.
But observe the Boxford resident running an American Sign Language (ASL) Sports baseball clinic — part of a program he founded in 2008 as a seventh-grader — and the dichotomy of D’Ambrosio’s boundless personality becomes obvious. He carries a composed CEO-like demeanor in which he constantly remains a step ahead of the day’s itinerary, contrasted with an energetic and compassionate manner engrossed in the activities alongside its participants.
“I always like to joke [that] there are two types of Anthonys,” D’Ambrosio said.
“There’s ‘organizational Anthony,’ who’s the most stressed out person in the world; who’s as overbearing and nosey into everybody’s jobs for the clinics. Then there’s me [at the clinics)] I really live for [those] days. You can organize and mobilize volunteers all winter and secure donations, but at the end of the day [clinics are] what it’s about.
‘I really believe that I am going to be in public service for the rest of my life. There’s no doubt about that.’
“When it all comes together — great weather and the kids are pumped to be out there — you just kind of feed off of that.”
Through sports, D’Ambrosio’s organization strives to positively impact the lives of the deaf, hard of hearing, and others with physical or cognitive disabilities. It further seeks to encourage positive attitudes, social opportunities, and personal growth.
But the concept of community involvement, social integration, and social justice are what specifically ignited D’Ambrosio in 2008.
During that summer he raised money to send a deaf teen he had met while playing baseball to a baseball camp in Missouri for the deaf and hard of hearing. The idea of social entrepreneurship — the process of finding cutting-edge responses to social issues — sparked from within.
“I feel like it’s my generation’s responsibility to come together collaboratively, and that’s ASL Sports,” said D’Ambrosio, who has no hearing loss himself. “And I really believe that I am going to be in public service for the rest of my life. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t care. Nothing else is on my mind.”
Since its founding, D’Ambrosio’s recruited his peers to its board and worked tirelessly to secure sponsorships. What was once a core of two or three individuals and a few handfuls of volunteers, now boasts a 10-person board with helpers in the hundreds and grass-roots donations totaling over $50,000.
“He’s so organized,” said Mathew Kochakian, a board member and rising senior from North Andover who attends the Middlesex School in Concord.
“He’s pretty much responsible for everything. He got the sponsors to sign on. He sends out regular e-mails. It’s been great to work with him. He’s really good at what he does.”
Marco DiBlasi has also been involved as a board member since ASL Sports’s inception. As DiBlasi prepares for his junior year at Governor’s Academy, the Boxford resident still vividly recalls when he was first approached by D’Ambrosio.
“We’ve always been town friends,” DiBlasi said, “we played baseball. [D’Ambrosio] just shot me a message on Facebook and said, ‘We need some volunteers.’
“Teaching kids who haven’t played baseball and didn’t have the opportunity to with their towns — and then giving them that opportunity — it sounded like a great idea.”
Besides baseball, ASL Sports now features clinics on other sports like basketball and soccer. With nearly three-dozen camps held over the past five years, nine are planned for this summer.
These include baseball clinics at the Beverly School for the Deaf and Route One Sportsplex in Danvers, and also a soccer camp in Guatemala, a venture being cosponsored with another nonprofit, Partners in Development.
Last week, ASL Sports made its inaugural visit to the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston, an event made possible by board member Lis Drake, who lives in Lynn with her husband, Ron Sanders.
Prior to working at Horace Mann, Drake was at the Beverly School for six years. There she saw firsthand the benefits of the ASL Sports clinics.
When she arrived at Horace Mann two years ago, she began advocating for the program.
“Many of these kids have not played baseball beyond their gym class,” she said during the first day of camp. “How often is it that they can enjoy the game for two hours around other hearing models? The volunteers really make an impact because of the one-on-one attention.
“The students have been looking forward to [this day] for a few weeks. A student actually asked me, ‘Tuesday and Wednesday, baseball every week?’ It’s that kind of thing — to make them feel like now [they’re] part of something — and that’s really what’s important and what matters . . . that the kids feel like they matter and it adds to their self-worth.”
The benefits, however, don’t stop with the participants.
Clinics often include volunteers from D’Ambrosio’s own family as well as relatives of board members and other past volunteers.
At Horace Mann, D’Ambrosio’s mom, Michelle, and younger siblings, Andrew, 13, and Gabby, 16, were volunteering. His dad, Jerry, and youngest sister, Ava, 10, have also helped at other outings.
“A nice thing is that it’s involved the other two children,” Michelle D’Ambrosio said, “the little one too. They’ve all really bonded over this.”
With college roughly 18 months away, D’Ambrosio’s infinite passion and energy around ASL Sports are as strong as ever. He knows it will be an important component of his life wherever he ends up — not only because of what it has given others, but because of the impact it’s had on his own life.
“Kids come in and they’ve really not had the opportunity to play a sport as complicated as baseball in public,” said a visibly emotional D’Ambrosio.
“The first time they hit that ball or the first time they catch that ball, it’s more about the feeling that they’re able to do that . . . that they’re able to catch that ball or hit that ball than it is about them gaining that skill.
“The reason why that’s important to me is it’s empowering for both the participant and the volunteer because that spirit — it’s hard for me to put it into words — that spirit sort of spreads if you see it happen. It leads to a ripple effect. ”
Paul Lazdowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.