PROVIDENCE — The New England Patriots Foundation brought a big check, a big mascot, and a big man — Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett — to Roger Williams Park in Providence on Tuesday to support local school kids.
The donation, for $30,000, will help the Providence After School Alliance bring laptops and other technology into its programs. It was unveiled in novelty size format at a camp that the alliance is putting on this summer in Roger Williams Park. Dozens of kids buzzed around the park, fist-bumped a silent but excitable Pat Patriot, and paid varying degrees of attention to Patriots trivia at the check-presentation ceremony on a warm afternoon.
“It’s amazing, what we’re going to be able to do with $30,000,” said a sweat-spackled Rob Randall, director of middle school initiatives for the alliance.
The group, a nonprofit that works to offer out-of-school experiences for Providence middle and high school youth, will use the money — through the Patriots and the NFL foundations — in three main areas. The first is for 40 laptops across four different local middle schools for kids to use during after-school programming. The alliance will give out another 20 laptops to high school kids with high attendance rates. It will also help fund a mobile-friendly registration portal.
The money, the Pats’ foundation said, will help Providence bridge the “digital divide,” in which some communities lack modern digital technologies.
The backdrop, though, was distinctly analog, partly because it’s summer and partly because of COVID. The alliance’s summer programming usually takes place in school buildings. Not this year. This year, at Roger Williams Park, about 90 kids a day, mostly from Providence but also surrounding communities, are coming to play tennis and baseball or to practice drama and gardening. Being outside was the safest place to make sure they could do things in person.
Tippett, who played for the Patriots from 1982 to 1993 and is in the NFL and Patriots Halls of Fame, remembered these sorts of after-school camps, and education in general, as a big part of his upbringing in Newark, N.J. He still remembers his high school coach, Frank Verducci, reminding him over and over about the importance of education: School is the meal. Sports are the dessert.
Tippett has instilled that same pride in education in his own kids, including a son who’s attending the University of Rhode Island.
“Education is the key,” Tippett said.
Among the kids in attendance Friday, a rising ninth-grader named Antonio — the camp asked for reporters not to use the kids’ last names for privacy reasons — may have been the biggest Pats fan. He was wearing a Patriots T-shirt. He had a Patriots football. And there was more.
“I have my Patriots mask, too,” Antonio said, taking it out of his pocket to show it off.
The kids don’t need to wear them outdoors, though, if they can maintain their distance as COVID restrictions ease. The past year has been difficult, with much programming going remote. The camp at Roger Williams Park has been a welcome respite.
“It’s amazing,” said site coordinator Tamera Garlington, who lives in Providence and whom the kids call Ms. T. “The kids were excited. The parents were excited. Everyone was excited.”
Geonna, 9, was excited too: She had a hard time last year with everything on Zoom. Now, she said, wielding autographs of a few Patriots cheerleaders, it’s much better.
“I like being here because I get to see Ms. T,” she explained, “and I get to see my friends.”