WESTERLY — They may have graduated from Westerly High School in different centuries, but the digital age has brought them together — along with a mutual allegiance to their alma mater, an appreciation for the education they received there, and an eagerness to lend a hand to those in need.
Philanthropists Cynthia and Tom Sculco, who graduated from Westerly High School in 1961, and Connor McGill, a 2016 grad, have joined forces so that underprivileged Westerly High School students can have access to new laptop computers.
In January, the Sculcos, well-known benefactors who support organizations locally and in New York City, made a $35,000 donation to Westerly High School for the purchase of more than 100 Dell laptop computers after hearing of the need from McGill.
"They hired me to set up a computer for them and we got to talking about technology needs at the high school," said McGill, 20, the owner of a Stonington-based tech company. McGill served as a go-between, and offered to donate his company's services to help get the Chromebooks up and running. "One day Dr. Sculco said he'd like to make a donation and I said I'd help."
"Connor has been great at advising us and fixing and installing new computer systems for us," said Tom Sculco, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and surgeon-in-chief emeritus at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "In a conversation, he told us there were kids at the high school who couldn't afford computers."
"So much of education today is based on technology," he added, "We wanted to do something for students at Westerly High School who are unable to afford computers."
"Cynthia and I have always been very proud of the education we received at Westerly High School and how important it was for our future academic and professional careers," said Sculco. "So we were happy to do this once we learned of the need and hope we encourage others to do the same."
Cynthia, a University of Rhode Island graduate, earned her master's degree and doctorate in education from Columbia University Teachers College, became a registered nurse and an adjunct associate professor of nursing. She is a past president of the Nurses Educational Funds, and helped establish scholarships to benefit nursing students at the university. She has often spoken of her gratitude for the education she received in the Westerly schools.
Westerly High School Assistant Principal Mary Nancy Toscano said she "never in a million years imagined we'd receive such a gift."
The gift will "really level the playing field for all students," said Toscano. "I can't tell you how grateful we are."
The computers, which arrived at the high school in enormous boxes last month, are being prepared for student use.
Director of Technology Michael Sujka called the Sculcos' donation "phenomenal."
"It will help us out dramatically," he said. "I don't believe we've ever had a donation of this size. It's beautiful ... and generous. It was such a surprise."
Although the technology department has received gifts and grants from donors such as Electric Boat, Opening Doors for Westerly's Children, and the Westerly Education Endowment Fund, Sujka said, this was the first gift of its size earmarked for the purchase of new computers for students.
McGill, who started Next Tech with his friend Isaac Kaufman when the two were high school seniors, has been vocal about the support and encouragement he received while a student at Westerly High school.
"I'm super thrilled for the kids," said McGill. "Now they'll be able to take them home for their assignments."
"This is such a great thing that they're doing," McGill said of the Sculcos and their donation. "Maybe other people will be inspired to do the same thing."
The Sculcos have been longtime contributors to the Memorial and Library Association of Westerly, the Chorus of Westerly, the Ocean Community YMCA, Brown University, The University of Rhode Island, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Frick Collection in New York. They have been generous with their support of scholarships for Westerly High School graduates, and established a scholarship at Brown University, Tom's alma mater, designated for a Westerly High School graduate who attends Brown and has financial need.
"We feel very strongly about helping Westerly through the library, chorus and the education of the next generation," Sculco said. "Hopefully these gifts will encourage others to help out with these endeavors as well."