When one hears the phrase “Nick Amster,” one might be inclined to think of a person — a famous man, perhaps, or a historical figure. Here at The College of Wooster, however, it refers to a program filled with fun, Skee-Ball, air hockey and various arcade games. Tuesday evenings in The Alley, the basement of Lowry Center in The College of Wooster, are times of communal get-together, support and intense air hockey matches.
In 2015, sociology professor Thomas Tierney organized a volunteer program that brought students together with clients of Nick Amster, Inc., a non-profit that provides employment services to adults with developmental disabilities in Wayne County, Ohio. Tierney’s program began under the auspices of the Community Connections Program (CCP), which is a program sponsored by APEX which combines academic study and community service in First Year Seminars.
When CCP approached faculty about including a community service component, Tierney thought this was a great opportunity to contribute to the Special Olympics culture that was quite active when he first moved to Wooster in 1998, but had since waned. He approached Nick Amster, Inc. clients about training their bowling skills at the then-bowling alley, Scot Lanes, which is how the proverbial ball started rolling. The bowling program was successful — every year drew more and more participants, even from student athletic teams, and was provided its own dedicated program house — but unfortunately, in 2017, Scot Lanes was renovated and turned into the Alley, an arcade.
While Tierney and some of the student volunteers were initially disappointed, they’ve grown to see the renovation as a positive change. With more games suitable to a wider range of interests and skill levels, there are much higher levels of participation in the program — bowling, after all, can be a difficult sport to master. Furthermore, the range of games allows for greater social interaction, with teams in constant flux and new friends bonding over a hard arcade game. With bowling, regular teams would form based on skill level and established friendships, but with arcade games, people instead take turns or change teams every so often based on whatever they feel like playing. It’s become a less competitive environment, too, because when everyone is equally bad at Pacman, no one feels pressured to win.
Losing the more competitive edge of bowling has allowed Nick Amster to evolve into more of a social club, with new friends and social interaction being its main highlight. It’s a change Tierney is pleased about, seeing as his original mission was to “help establish a bridge between the community of developmentally disabled adults, their caregivers, and the college students.” He hopes that besides helping to provide positive social interaction and validation to the developmentally disabled, Nick Amster will also allow college students to give back to the greater Wooster community, imbuing them with a deeper sense of belonging instead of just seeing themselves as students of the college.
Community integration is an important facet of the Nick Amster Volunteer Program and Tierney’s vision – instead of leaving individuals to fend for their own interests, helping people to see themselves as a part of a greater communal whole helps to improve the social wellbeing of everyone involved. It’s a noble cause with a humanist streak and a cause that has certainly spoken to many of the growing numbers of participants prove anything. Last week’s program drew 19 Nick Amster clients — some of which who had not attended in years — and even more students.
Students who participated in previous years look back fondly on their time at Nick Amster; Ellie Kahn ’20 describes it as “a wonderful way to engage with the community and create relationships with the coolest individuals.” While the removal of Scot Lanes was disheartening, she’s “so happy to see that the program is still functioning in different ways,” and maintains that “working with Nick Amster was so much fun and one of the highlights of my time at Wooster.” Between the glowing reminisces of past participants and the regulars who return every year without obligation, it’s easy to see that Nick Amster is a program that effortlessly brings people from all walks of life together on a level playing field for a time of fun and social connection.
In the future, Tierney hopes to expand the Nick Amster program into the larger college campus — he muses thoughtfully about hosting festive fundraisers and possibly involving the art or dance departments. It’s idealistic, earnest and deeply hopeful, carrying all the right qualities that make one want to put their faith in his cause. Deep down, we all do want to help others. Luckily for him, he seems to be on the right track.
This year marks the first year in which a student CCP intern is involved. Rachel Semel ’22 and her support via organization and scheduling assistance makes it a lot easier for Tierney to handle the demands and logistics of running such a large program, leaving further opportunity for expansion.
The atmosphere at Nick Amster is relaxed and warm – the same atmosphere there would be at a gathering of friends who get a little too dedicated to a board game. It’s genuinely welcoming, with students and adults teaming up in poorly aimed games of corn hole, and intense UNO matches. If you ever need some time to wind down or simply an opportunity to make a few new friends, Nick Amster is the place for you. Nick Amster is a genuine delight to be a part of, and if that still hasn’t convinced you, who doesn’t like arcade games?