By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Peter Trovato has only been with the Johnstown Chiefs for two weeks.
But the former University of Massachusetts forward brought the national spotlight with him.
The NBA Boston Celtics honored Trovato (pictured with Paul Pierce and Michael Finley) as a “Hero Among Us” on Wednesday at the FleetCenter during a game against the Dallas Mavericks.
The ECHL rookie was recognized for establishing the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund that defrays college costs for children of U.S. soldiers that died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Since Dec. 1, the fund has raised $50,000 and should help more than 20 children left behind by more than 30 Massachusetts soldiers killed in action since the beginning of the war on terror.
“My hockey team has always been involved in community service,” Trovato, a former UMass captain, said. “I wanted to do something with community service that addressed the issue at hand. That was the service men and women who were making a sacrifice to go overseas. One thing led to another. I wanted to give the children of soldiers who died a chance to go to school.”
Three parts of Trovato’s life on and off the ice intersected to put the project into motion.
“This past summer I worked as an intern in the Massachusetts Statehouse,” Trovato said. “I worked for a State Rep., Michael Rush. My job was to key him in on what was going on in Massachusetts, newsworthy items. A lot of stuff this summer, you’d read about a Massachusetts soldier who died in Iraq. I also had worked as an intern at a telecommunications company. The war was always a big topic there, too.”
When it was time to put together the UMass hockey team’s community service project, Trovato wanted to honor those soldiers who paid the ultimate price.
The hockey team did its part. But legal issues required lawyers and accountants to set up a charitable trust.
“We have some board members now. We got started December 1 and got our tax-payer ID number,” Trovato said. “We’re a registered non-profit organization. We’re a tax exempt organization.
“It’s gotten out to a good start. It’s something I’m not going to be finishing up any time soon. It’s something that’s going to be with me for a while and I’m going to continue to work with it.”
There have been big contributors as well as a grass roots effort.
“The UMass team got involved. They all took Gatorade bottles, cut the tops off and had them in their dorm rooms to collect change,” said Trovato, who will graduate in May with a double major in journalism and political science.
“When I first was looking to do this, I realized I was going to have to sign up some trustees. The first trustee was Rob Hale, the CEO of Granite Telecommunications, where I interned. He donated $22,000 to the fund. He was very important.”
Trovato has four assists in eight games with the Chiefs. The 23-year-old is among five finalists for the college Humanitarian Award presented at the Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio.
“I haven’t really brought it up to the Chiefs because I’m kind of new here,” Trovato said of the fund. “My first priority is to help on the ice and let that sort itself out.”
Trovato hopes the Legacy Fund is viewed simply as a way to assist students who have lost a parent to war.
“It’s not a political thing, or a political statement. It looks beyond that,” he said. “It looks at the soldiers and what they do for our country. A lot of times these soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice. A lot of times they don’t come back. Anything I can do and our fund can do to help is our goal.”