The holiday season often reveals a generous nature among people that might be less apparent at other times of year, and charities often benefit from the seasonal upswing in donations.
Hugh Rooney has – and continues to – experience that local generosity first-hand, all in the name of community, fellowship, physical activity, and, of all things, pickleball.
Rooney is on a personal mission to refurbish a basketball/pickleball court at 1091 E. Maple St., across the street from the Annville-Cleona Community Pool. His mission is well engaged and nearly complete, after it sort of took on a life of its own.
“It’s been a positive experience for me,” said Rooney, 57. “Because I know people are generous, I know organizations are generous. But they want to see their money go to good results. They don’t want it to be wasted and they want to feel it’s being used the right way.
“I was sure they’d get behind this cause. I’ve been in sales most of my life and I don’t have a problem projecting something or selling something,” he continued. “Another reason I felt I could do this is because I have a pretty good background in managing nonprofits. I have nonprofit experience. It’s not my job, but I wasn’t afraid to take something on. I also have some connections, so it was friendly turf to me.”
To date, Rooney has raised about $35,000 to resurface and repurpose what was once a Kiwanis Club-funded court. Over the past nine months, those dollars have paid for new basketball backboards and rims, a new surface and paint job that allows for the addition of two pickleball playing areas, and a good section of fencing.
Rooney is attempting to raise another $8,000 to $10,000 to complete the project, finish the fencing, install a modest courtside storage area, and add benches and trash receptacles.
“As an individual, I was helped by people giving back to the community,” said Rooney. “From the age of 7, across the street from where I grew up, there was a recreation center where I played tennis and baseball. It was there because adults were willing to give up their time.
“It’s just being a good citizen,” he added. “That was my drive. The most effective way to be part of a community is as an individual.”
With the assistance of Matt Wentling, an Annville-Cleona Recreation Association board member, Rooney almost singlehandedly raised the initial $35,000 through a hands-on, grassroots campaign, one that included simply knocking on doors. A handful of community-minded organizations and individuals responded and stepped up.
Rooney secured a $10,000 grant through UPMC Pinnacle’s charitable foundation, $6,700 in funding from Annville Township, $5,000 from the Annville-based business Candoris, and $4,000 from the Annville Youth Basketball League, which apparently had entertained intentions of renovating the court years ago. The rest of the funds Rooney acquired through smaller private and individual donations.
“I’ve been playing pickleball in Lititz for 10 years, and recently I was invited to play it outside,” said Rooney. “That experience set the light bulb off in my head. Like ‘This is something I could be doing in my neighborhood.’ At that time, I didn’t know who owned the court, so I had to do a little research. I approached them and told them I’d like to revitalize the court and add pickleball to the mix. Their response was, ‘Sounds like a great idea, but we don’t have any money.’
“I formulated a plan and chased down my leads,” he said. “I approached the township and I reached out to local businesses. I wanted to start with the biggest fishes first. But my first step was to figure out how much it was going to cost.”
While the details surrounding the origin of the basketball court are a bit sketchy, it is believed to have been built through the cooperation of the Annville American Legion and the local Kiwanis Club in the 1950s. Rooney said he believes the court was updated in the 1970s, but that for many years it was neglected.
“It was open to the public and open for public use,” said Rooney. “But it went unmaintained. It was in really poor shape. It was almost hazardous to play on. It held up a long time, but at some point it started to deteriorate. The issue was that the pool had no interest or money to do anything about it. That’s where it was until I had a brainstorm last year at this time.
“I think there have been some kids playing on it,” he added. “But it wasn’t being used that much. There were no organized events being held there.”
If it was inactivity that led to the deterioration of the court, then only activity can truly revitalize it. In addition to his fundraising efforts, Rooney plans to do his part through the increasingly popular sport of pickleball.
“I know the court is going to be used,” he said. “My hope is that people will use it and discover the game of pickleball. My goal is to be part of it through my love of the game. It has been highly rewarding throughout the entire process. It’ll be even more rewarding when I see it used by other people and I get to enjoy it with other people. I derive joy from the human interaction with like-minded individuals.
“Physical activity has been very important to me, but especially over the last 15 years,” he continued. “If you don’t move it, you’re going to lose it. That is no joke. I consider myself fairly active and I feel good after I get my blood flowing. I don’t go to the gym and do things that are considered ‘exercising.’ Playing doesn’t feel like work to me.”
When his efforts finally do come to fruition, the court at 1091 E. Maple St. should be in fairly good shape for years to come. Or at least until the next Hugh Rooney comes along.
“I think it’ll be good without maintenance for about 10 years,” said Rooney. “That’s a fair estimate of how long things are going to hold up. I just want to get the word out that this court exists and give people an opportunity to be a part of it. If this would inspire someone to be community-minded that would be awesome. It may inspire people to do something similar in their neighborhood.
“Part of the crux of this is to get more funding,” he concluded. “I want my story to be told, but that’s not the focus. The more people who know about it, the better chance of getting the funding.”
Interested individuals can donate to the project by going to https://gofund.me/1656669f. As of Dec. 15, the $20,000 campaign had raised $1,475.
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