Youth disability service group pitches in to make McConnell Park a clean place

Jenel Avola swept up the sidewalk at McConnell Park in Savin Hill last Saturday during a clean-up led by Empowering People for Inclusive Communities (EPIC).

Empowering People for Inclusive Communities (EPIC), a community service group for youth with disabilities, cleaned up McConnell Park in Savin Hill for its service day on Saturday, May 27. The group worked from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. raking leaves off the grass, picking up trash, and spreading new mulch onto the playground area.

Made up of young adults with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 23, EPIC has completed service projects around Greater Boston for nearly six years. It recruits young men and women for a full year of service as part of its Service Warriors program.

Jeff Lafata, the founder and executive director of EPIC, first began working with youth with learning disabilities at the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury from 1999 to 2000, while also doing outside volunteer work in leadership programs for youth in general.

“I wanted to make sure the young people I was working with at my job had the same opportunities as the young people I was volunteering with,” Lafata said. “So that’s really where the idea of EPIC came from: creating a program for young people with disabilities to tap into their leadership skills.”

EPIC has grown since Lafata founded it in 2011 and began the Service Warriors program the following year. Currently, there are 20 Service Warriors (twice as many as in 2012), three more program staff members, and a couple of volunteers that assist in the service activities. The staff is trying to create an additional Service Warrior team in Worcester starting next April.

EPIC also has its annual Boston Serve event, a one day “serve-a-thon” for EPIC Service Warriors, their friends and families, EPIC’s sponsors, and other volunteers. In the past, Boston Serve projects have included: painting walls and murals, assembling school supply kits, building bookshelves, and gardening.

The 2017 Boston Serve will take place at one of the Boston Public Schools (to be determined) on Saturday, Nov. 4. It is open to anyone interested in a volunteer opportunity to improve Boston’s schools and work with youth with disabilities.