The Worcester Telegram
By Paula J. Owen, Correspondent
FITCHBURG — In between flying in zero gravity conditions 35,000 feet up and heading to NASA to help conduct experiments in zero gravity, Tara L. Sweeney took time out last week (Nov. 6-9) to visit with area kids.
Ms. Sweeney, 44, a Fitchburg High School graduate and retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant who now lives in Las Vegas, works as flight director for Zero Gravity Corp. based in Arlington, Virginia. Her roles with the company include flight attendant, weightless laboratory scientist and flight team coach. The company specializes in parabolic flight operations that produce a microgravity environment in a Boeing 727B for private citizens, commercial customers, advanced-learning teams and government entities including NASA.
“I work on a parabolic flight crew,” she said on the phone Saturday while preparing for her flight Sunday to Orlando. “We fly a Boeing 727, 20,000 to 35,000 feet in a parabolic flight pattern. It’s like a big roller coaster in the sky. We get to a point in the parabola where we go weightless just like astronauts do by descending really fast at a 45-degree angle. At 35,000 feet, we nose the plane over and we’re diving back to earth really fast at several hundred miles an hour and experience free-fall and microgravity conditions.”
Those on board experience microgravity for 25 to 30 seconds at a time. Zero Gravity Corp. is the only provider of the service in the country, she says, and the company publishes its flight schedule on its website. People from around the world fly with the crew on adventure flights every weekend throughout the U.S. and the crew also does Hollywood movies, commercials and YouTube videos, she said.
“It’s fun,” Ms. Sweeney said. “We accomplish amazing things. Our next stop is Orlando to do NASA research with our teammates. We have flown astronauts in the past for training and for a nice joy ride.”
NASA, she said, used to fly a similar aircraft and run experiments, but the agency doesn’t do it anymore. Instead, it provides funding and flies with the Zero Gravity crew who help facilitate research.
While visiting Fitchburg schools — where she excelled as a youth in academics and sports — and the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, Ms. Sweeney said she thanked them for the success in her life and hoped her visit inspired kids to continue on their quest and for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teachers to stay in the community.
“When I was 10 years old in fifth grade at Crocker School, I set a goal to become an astronaut,” she said. “The school district has a new hashtag it is promoting to dream what you can’t do, yet. When I walk around in a flight suit, I’m often asked, ‘Are you an astronaut?’ I told the kids, I’m not an astronaut, yet, but I’m still working really hard toward that goal. I think that resonated with the kids that I’m 44 and still working towards the goal I set at 10.
“They have a robust STEM system here in the community,” she added. “I offered to help create a STEM mentor program to bring together a cadre of scientists as a resource to continue to play an interactive role in STEM development.”
She said she was also impressed with the kids she met at the Boys & Girls Club.
“I am so thoroughly impressed with Boys & Girls Club in general and specifically the caliber of the STEM program they have created there,” she said. “I feel like I answered 100 questions from a gymnasium full of kids, and every one was thoughtful about STEM and flight and space exploration. It was such a gift. Clearly the kids spend time at the club taking STEM to heart and educating themselves and setting themselves up for success.”
She said she is planning to return in February for a STEM event there.
Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Donata J. Martin, said that after Ms. Sweeney’s presentation, several high school juniors talked to her about applying to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Topics she covered included how global warming can be seen from outer space and if there is time change in space, Ms. Martin said.
“She returns in February during vacation week to participate in our Space Camp,” Ms. Martin said. “We found out that we have many members interested in becoming astronauts or pursuing STEM careers in the myriad of fields affiliated with the space industry. … We have adopted Tara as one of our own.”
The Sentinel & Enterprise
Peter Jasinski, Reporter
LEOMINSTER — It’s Tara Sweeney’s job to help people experience micro-gravity by flying them to an altitude of 20,000 feet before dipping the plane downward, giving passengers a feeling similar to the weightlessness they’d feel in outer space.
“We need all these kids in here to come up with the big ideas that will propel space exploration in a different way,” she said, prior to her recent visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
Sweeney, a native of Fitchburg and proud product of its school system, shared her experiences in the Air Force and current work as a civilian with a group of eagerly listening local students on Monday. As she explained, the goal is not just to get them interested in science and math curriculum but to show them that a career like hers is possible.
“We’re very excited to have her,” said club Director Donata Martin. “She went to Fitchburg High and we have so many kids from Fitchburg, but she’s also a woman. We’re trying to encourage the girls to go on and study the sciences more so this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”
Sweeney entered the U.S. Air Force Academy not long after graduating from Fitchburg High School in 1991. She’s since retired and now works for the space entertainment company Zero G, which offers weightlessness flights to paying passengers.
Apart from working with tourists, Sweeney explained that her company has also had to take on more scientific responsibilities in recent years.
“NASA no longer has its reduced-gravity office and it provides funding to companies, universities, and private individuals who continue to do all the amazing science for space exploration. They come on our plane and we then fly all the NASA research experiments,” she said.
Questions from students ranged from how much money Sweeney makes to whether evidence of global warning can be seen from space.
The visit was especially important to Hazel Metinewa, a 10-year-old from Leominster with dreams of one day becoming an astronaut.
“I like how she’s explaining everything and what it’s like when there isn’t any gravity,” she said. “And I got to learn how many miles per hour the space station goes around the planet.”
Though Sweeney explained that very few children who dream of being astronauts grow up to be adults working at the International Space Station, she also said that the future is filled with exciting possibilities for kids like Hazel Metinewa.
“With the advent of space tourism and the commercial space industry, it’s my hope that the industry blossoms and matures,” she said. “The space program has changes so much from when I was a child to where I am now and it’s about to enter a whole other phase.”
The Gardner News
Andrew Mansfield, Reporter
GARDNER- The Gardner Boys & Girls Club and the company New England Peptide have formed a strong bond together through a common passion for science.
New England Peptide lab technician Kyle Sargent, who worked as a science program instructor at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster for three years, has helped to spearhead New England Peptide’s fairly new relationship with the Gardner club.
He recently visited Gardner High School, where the club operates out of, to present the company’s donation from its fundraiser last month.
“This one, we were challenged as employees to raise funds. We decided to have a corn hole tournament,” he said. “It was a pretty successful day.”
Corn hole is a lawn game that involves two teams squaring off to toss small bean bags at a platform that is raised off the ground and has a hole in the center of it. The goal is to toss the bag into the air and have it land through the platform hole.
Sargent said many area businesses and Boys & Girls Club partners participated in the fundraising event along with the New England Peptide employees. They are led by company President and CEO Sam Massoni who has shown his support for the charitable cause.
New England Peptide is located at 65 Zub Lane in the Summit Industrial Park, which is off Route 101 near the Ashburnham border.
The company manufactures peptides, which are short amino acid chains that are similar to proteins. Peptides can be used by researchers to create medicines to treat or cure diseases.
A large portion of New England Peptide’s business is manufacturing peptides that are used for cancer research.
The biotechnology focus of the company pairs well with the club’s emphasis on STEM curriculum, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Gardner club is now in its third year and operates at the high school every day after school, with a variety of educational and recreational activities for children to participate in.
The club is open for Gardner students in grades five through eight and this year, there are almost 40 members, about double the amount of members the club had in its first year pilot program.
The hope among the club’s leadership and supporters is for the Gardner club to ultimately have its own site. The parent club to the Gardner program is the Fitchburg and Leominster club, which is led by Executive Director Donata Martin.
In addition to the money being given by New England Peptide, she said there are plans to have the Gardner club’s students take field trips to the company.
“They’ll really be able to understand what goes on at the company,” she said.
Another possibility going forward is to have a student who has graduated from the club intern at the company when they are a senior in high school or in college.
Considering the mutual interest in science between the company and club, Martin described their relationship as a “good partnership” and a “win-win situation.”
Sargent indicated that New England Peptide is happy to be involved with the club, as it provides the local students a chance to learn about biotechnology, an industry that is more common out in the Boston area.
He said that he thinks last month’s corn hole fundraising tournament is “going to be an annual thing.”
“We’re looking to partner with the Boys & Girls Club in a lot of ways,” he said.
By Lucy Norton
Boy & Girls Club intern
Just as in weeks past, we had some amazing activities for our juniors including the GOALS program as part of Massachusetts Youth Soccer at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
GOALS Soccer is a program in which local soccer coaches play with the kids and teach them the rules of the game.
This past week, I sat in on one of our more academic activities — Boys & Girls Club of America Summer Brain Gain, which helps to stem summer learning loss.
The leader of the program, Cathy Burgess, said, “It’s a fun way to keep the kids’ brains engaged even though it is the summer. We do activities that use math and science skills, but the kids don’t even realize they are using them when they do it.”
From sitting in on this program, I saw a close-knit group of kids who were genuinely excited about learning despite the fact that they were out of school. Did you know numerous studies show that most of us can lose about two months of grade level in math skills and more than two months reading level if we just sit around all summer?
Another activity I was lucky enough to see was STEAM Week. STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM Week is facilitated by Sehba Hasan from STEAM Engine where different activities happen each day.
When I interviewed Sehba last week, she told me the activity of the day was called “push and pull,” in which children work with a magnet kit and are able to bring the kit home.
n What is magnetism?
n Attraction and repulsion of north and south poles of a magnet.
n Magnetic field.
n Uses and applications of magnets.
n Materials used for magnets.
The other activities are an ecotarium kit and a digital microscope lab, where children collect their own specimens and examine them under a microscope.
Sehba also designs an activity in which children build a light-up greeting card using circuits.
This week, I organized my own activity with a group of 15 children making hair scrunchies. The idea sprung from a quick conversation I had with the club’s executive director, Donata Martin. I asked her opinion on scrunchies, and she suggested I design an activity for children to create their own.
The activity was a huge hit, and I am planning to offer the activity for the last two weeks of Summer Blast. Another special arts activity we had this week was a volunteer-led knitting program.
The Sprouts, our youngest campers, were busy the past two weeks, too. The theme for Week 3 was “Plants and Trees,” and Week 4’s theme was “Gardens and Bugs.” Throughout Week 3, Sprouts learned the importance of plants to our world, the life cycle of a tree, and how to care for different plants. During Week 4, the Sprouts explored why bugs are important to plants, such as bees in a garden. Some of the other programs included Little Scientist, Gardening Science, and Social Skills.
As always, the Sprouts enjoyed lots of water play on Thursday, and the children got their energy out during Movement Dance with Ms. Kim. The Junior staff’s Veronica led the Sprouts in a bubble-painting activity as well.
We still are accepting registrations for Weeks 5 and 6 of Summer Blast. Visit our website or stop by the club at 365 Lindell Ave., in Leominster, between 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
This week, the Sprouts at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster are learning about the different “biomes,” or forests or tundras on our planet, starting with the forest and the different animals that live there.
Their day begins in the computer lab where they play different games based on their grade to help them learn how to spell, read and write, and also how to identify shapes.
Following that program, the Sprouts go outside to practice their soccer skills with the Mass Youth Soccer staff.
At the end of the day, the kids learn about this week’s theme, with the focus on the forest. Grace, 5, told me about how she learned that “some owls are bigger than others.” The kids then made little owls out of cardboard and construction paper that they were able to bring home.
The following day, the Sprouts arrived for another fun-filled day. They go to their soccer clinic in the morning, followed by a nature walk around the building and then lunch. When the kids returned from lunch, they had their lesson of the day with the focus on rainforests and the different animals that live there
On the last day, the Sprouts had their nutrition class and learned about the different types of fruits and vegetables grown across the state, and then they were able to try a mango and a kiwi, which left some of the kids with a smiling face and others with a sour face.
The Sprouts’ day came to a close after learning about the desert and its animals, followed by a quick art session with them coloring some of the different animals that call the desert home.
The Juniors had a week a little different than the Sprouts. With so many programs to choose from, I was only able to sit in on a few of them. However, many were very interesting.
On the more academic side of things, the kids participated in a program called “Maker Camp,” where they spent the last four days building a “dome den,” which is a small-domed diorama that can fit up to four kids inside. The dome den can be made to look like an igloo or the starry night sky or a number of other possibilities.
At the same time, in another wing of the building, the “Book Club” was taking place. This week, the kids were reading “Walk on Earth a Stranger” by Rae Carson. The Book Club focuses on teaching the kids how to read and analyze the book they are reading to better understand it and also to encourage the love of reading for leisure.
The following day, the Juniors in the “Circuitry and Card Making” program learned about electrical wiring and how it works. They were able to put their newfound knowledge to the test by making their own greeting cards with light-up robots on the inside of the card.
“I like making the crafts, and I also enjoy the teacher,” said Talia, 8.
Lastly, a team-building program called “Toppings” was held exclusively for the 13-year-olds. The program teaches them how to work together by doing different team-building activities, such as keeping balloons from hitting the ground as they walk in a straight line down the hallway while only being able to talk to each other. If they are able to talk and not complain or argue with each other then they earn the chance to pick a topping on their ice cream on Friday.
The camp offers just as many sports programs as it does academic ones, including bike riding, soccer, hiking and nature walks, basketball, and capture-the-flag, along with some lesser-known games, like “Spud,” which makes the kids use both their mind and body. Six teams start in the middle, a staff member throws a ball in the air and calls out a number indicating which team must catch the ball, and freeze wherever he or she is standing while all other teams scatter across the gym. The one who catches the ball can throw it at someone to get them out, but if they miss, they’re out. They can pass to a teammate to move the ball around, but if they drop it, they’re out. They can also shoot it in the hoop when they have two or fewer players in, and if they get it in the basket, their entire team can come back in the game.
We are also bringing back old games like “Pick-up-sticks” and “Jacks.”
The club is still accepting registrations for this week, July 31 through Aug. 4, of Summer Blast. Visit our website or stop by the club at 365 Lindell Ave., Leominster, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., to learn more.
First of several reports by Boys & Girls Club teen intern Lucy Norton on the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster’s summer programs.
By Lucy Norton
LEOMINSTER — Our first week has started up again here at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster’s Summer Blast program.
We’re very happy to be back after a long school year, with lots of fun activities with a great group of kids. The Sprouts and Juniors are beyond ecstatic for another great summer here at the club with their favorite staff and friends.
We have some extra-special activities that we are especially excited about this summer. One of our main activities is called “Recycled Rodeo,” a volunteer-based program by our own Jerry Beck, who helped us with our toasted-bread art last summer. Jerry had our kids’ artwork featured in the American Visionary Art Museum’s exhibit called “Yum!”
This summer, we are working on a project in which the kids use natural products, such as recycled items and items from nature, and make them into something new. Our featured items are three huge sculptures that the kids are now decorating and are on display in front of the club for the community to admire.
The first week, they covered the products in tape but the following week Jerry will be bringing in donated fabric from Jo-Ann’s Fabric for the kids to tell their own stories by cutting out pictures and pasting them onto the sculptures.
Our three main sculptures are a dragon, a bird and a giant head.
The dragon has mythology-themed stories on it because of the creature’s significance to fantasy. The bird has stories on it that relate to flying and of the kids’ dreams and aspirations. And the giant head has portraits of the kids made of fabric on it. The community will be able to see these beautiful creations as they evolve.
Jerry tells us that when the kids were working on the sculpture Tuesday, they saw an eagle flying over their heads and believed it was a sign that they were doing good work with their project!
When I asked Jerry’s daughter, Georgie, where her father got his inspiration for this project, she said he comes up with them in his sleep. Sometimes he will wake up and just tell Georgie what he dreamt of, and then they will get to work on how to make it happen.
Jerry has some volunteers from the Sizer School in Fitchburg helping him with this project. One of them, Hannah, tells us her favorite thing about the project is that “we are making beautiful things out of things that some people would not consider beautiful.”
This ties into Jerry’s philosophy for the whole project, which is “turning garbage into gold.”
We take lots of pride in our special activities like Jerry Beck’s, but that’s not all we have going on for the Juniors. Throughout the week, we have great activities to help the kids’ minds continue to work over the summer, including Summer Brain Gain, Economics, Coding and even the Science of Sports. They learn the importance of social skills by participating in programs like Boys Circle and Girls Circle, which are activities in which our Juniors can get together to talk about issues in their lives and address questions they have.
They get in touch with their artistic side in Drawing, Painting, Zentangle and Art. And there are also activities to get the kids outside and having fun, such as Nature Walk, Baseball, Archery, Wiffle Ball, Soccer and Kickball.
This past Thursday, our kids headed out to Camp Collier in Gardner for their weekly field trip. They swam, canoed, made sand castles on the beach, and got to play some soccer and basketball. While the kids were playing basketball, they discovered a bird’s nest in one of the hoops, got some of our staff and successfully rescued the nest and the baby birds inside it.
There were lots of arts and crafts at camp, too. Our Juniors got to make some bracelets and necklaces that they wore home. They have had a lot on their plate this week and are looking forward to another four more fun-filled weeks here at the club.
While the Juniors are exploring this amazing art project and other great activities, our Sprouts are having just as many opportunities for fun and learning. The theme this week for the Sprouts is “Weather Around Us.”
Our 5- to 7-year-olds are exploring and examining important questions, like why the sky id blue and why some clouds look different than others, while learning about different types of weather, the water cycle, the days of the week and even natural disasters. They are doing all of this through observation, play and direct instruction.
The daily soccer clinic offered by Goals Youth Soccer in Lancaster is teaching the kids how to play while having lots of laughs and smiles. The nutrition cooking class was a great experience to taste some new and yummy foods while learning about nutrition and how to eat healthy!
The Sprouts learned important things in activities like social skills, gardening science, exercise and little scientist. They had lots of fun in activities like computer fun, dance, sports and Lego design.
We are always looking for new campers to come in and enjoy the fun with us. If you or your child would be interested in a fun-filled summer of learning and excitement, visit www.bgcfl.org/summer or come see us in person at 365 Lindell Ave.
JAZZ AT SUNSET 2017
Friday, July 21, 2017 @ 6:30 PM
WICN Public Radio, in collaboration with The Theatre District Alliance, presents Jazz at Sunset, featuring rising superstar Grace Kelly. The area behind the theatre will be transformed into an outdoor, picnic-style concert venue to include food trucks, cash bars and Theatre District Alliance exhibits promoting the various businesses and cultural organizations in the neighborhood.
Jazz at Sunset re-ignites the popular, long-running series previously held at Worcester’s Ecotarium. Organizers hope to present a six-date series in summer 2018. This first event in July will gauge community interest and support for bringing this highly successful series to downtown Worcester.
Admission for Jazz at Sunset is $20 per person with a limited number of $120 VIP stage-front tables (for four people). Tickets can be purchased through The Hanover Theatre website, at the box office on Southbridge Street or at the event. Free parking will be available in the lot immediately behind the theatre, accessed from Federal Street.
If you are not in the VIP area, please bring your own chair. In addition, you may also bring your own picnic. Beer and wine bars and food trucks will be available. Please note that alcohol MAY NOT be brought in, and must be purchased at the event.
Event will go on rain or shine!
About Grace Kelly:
The Wellesley, Massachusetts born artist, 24, is a seven-time winner of the Downbeat critics poll (as a rising star in the alto sax category). She recorded her first album when she was 12 and received the first of her ASCAP Foundation awards at age 14. Kelly’s appearances include the Boston Pops, Jazz at Lincoln Centre’s Barack Obama inauguration celebration and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Among Kelly’s critically acclaimed releases are collaborations with jazz legends Lee Konitz (GRACEfulLEE, 2008) and Phil Woods (The Man With the Hat, 2011). The disc with Konitz ended up in Downbeat’s Best Albums of the 2000s issue.
A graduate from the Berklee College of Music in 2011, with a degree in professional music, Kelly has taught residency workshops there since 2012. That year also brought another important opportunity to pass on her musical knowledge: the U.S. State Department sent her on an international speakers tour to be an ambassador of jazz and educate the people of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands about music.
Maintaining a busy tour schedule, Kelly has drawn critical praise and new fans every year, headlining over 700 shows in 30 countries at all major jazz festivals. Learn more at gracekellymusic.com.
Jazz at Sunset is proud to put a spotlight on the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster:
May 9, 2017
STEM Next aims to make STEM come alive for young people, so they can discover their interests and passions and gain valuable skills for the future.
One key strategy for STEM Next is to leverage existing systems, for example, we invest in the capacity of national youth organizations to offer high-quality, hands-on STEM experiences after school. STEM Next supports Imagine Science, a collaboration among the National 4-H Council, Girls, Inc., YMCA of the USA and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to bring STEM to the 18 million youth they collectively serve each year.
In addition, STEM Next and the Noyce Foundation have supported Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s STEM initiative and other efforts to develop quality STEM programming at their 4,000 Clubs nationwide.
Recently we looked in on one Club to get a sense for how engaging in STEM activities there impacts young people. The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster (Massachusetts) has been building its portfolio of STEM programs since 2009. Currently, young people participate in:
- Computer science – app and game development
- Environmental education projects, including raising trout, beekeeping, and producing maple syrup
- Robotics through FIRST and other robotic competitions
- Chemistry through cooking
- Engineering, physics and machines
We asked the young people what participating in STEM means to them. Their answers validate our belief that high-quality STEM learning equips young people with key skills and capacities to succeed in life – no matter their chosen path. Listen to what they told us:
Hazel, age 10: “Robotics is really fun because we get to think of an idea, test it out. At first our ideas don’t work and we keep playing around with them until they do. We learn to work together and not just to have one person do everything. And we also learn to take our time and be patient because it’s not always going to work on the first try.”
Dean, age 12: “First we have to work together. We need to be good communicators. We learn how to trust people. We work together to code and each of us also built a part of the robot. I was a bit nervous but we have done pretty well!
Jonathan, age 15: “I have learned basic programming and how to design an app. The more I use the program, the more I teach myself. It’s a long process if you want your app to be really good and you want people to enjoy it and recommend it to others. You can’t rush it – you have to think, go over it many times. You also need an outside view. You might think one thing but when you have people test it they see it differently and can give you good suggestions. There are so many steps to making a good app or game. We sit down and come up with a topic. We brainstorm, make a prototype, add more details and plan it out. Our game cheers people up and teaches them math, science and history at the same time. We all got together to present our apps in front of judges who are professionals from our community. The judges gave us advice about improving our apps and we have done it.”
Eric, age 15: “This is not just about building a robot, it’s about life lessons – working on a team, being able to problem solve. We brainstorm in the first week…we learn how to argue with each other – it’s good for the end result. It’s hectic and tense, but if you are challenged to defend your idea, it gets better.
Olivia, age 18: “Being a member of the robotics team helped me realize that I am interested in how different mechanisms go together and how things function. So it’s shaped my career goals. Now I am going to be a biomedical engineer and create better prosthetics.”
Boys & Girls Club director, Donata Martin, noted that since she assumed leadership of the Club, her vision has centered around STEM. “Kids love science, and they don’t have enough time during the school day to explore it. But they have all those hours in the afternoon. We start out with homework and snack, and then it’s off to programs.” Martin offers five key lessons for other after-school programs exploring STEM:
- Ask the young people what they are interested in. Start out simple. There is so much you can do right around you. For example, we tapped our maple trees and made syrup – and in doing that, we talked about local folklore and history.”
- Partner with the business community. They are interested in what we do because we are developing the workforce for the future. Let them know what you are doing, bring in volunteers to teach, and have your staff work with the volunteers and learn alongside the youth.
- Ask the staff and invest in their professional development. We are always asking our staff what they are interested in and sending them to trainings that they want to go to – they come back eager to roll out programs. For example, now we are beekeeping! We’ve extracted 75 pounds of honey. Like the kids, we make mistakes, and then we learn and try again.
- Take the kids into the community on field trips so they can see what kinds of careers are there. Find them internships in their fields of interest, expose them to new experiences that broaden their horizons.”
We are looking forward to keeping up with this Club as they continue to develop the next generation of our STEM innovators. For more about the Boys & Girls Club of America STEM program, click here.
Author: Kathleen Traphagen
By Amanda Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
LEOMINSTER — The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has one mission: Serve the children.
But not on Thursday, when about 40 employees from international real-estate firm Keller Williams dug out their gardening gloves or grabbed a drill to help the youth development organization tidy up for spring.
By Paula J. Owen
WORCESTER — Juan R. Martinez Jr., 19, started working when he was 14 with a landscaping company to make money to buy himself new shoes and go to the movies with his friends.
His parents struggled financially and couldn’t afford to buy him some of the things his friends had, like an iPhone or new clothes, he said, but finding a job in the city as a teen is nearly impossible, Mr. Martinez said of his experience, unless you’re lucky enough that your family owns a business.
“It’s difficult for kids to find jobs in the city,” Mr. Martinez said. “If you don’t have a mom or dad who owns a company, it is almost impossible to find a job. I wasn’t able to get new things other kids had because my family couldn’t really afford that, so I had to work.”
So, at 14, he turned to Worcester’s Community Action Council, which helped him find a job through the organization’s “YouthWorks Summer Jobs Program,” established to create summer jobs for low-income, at-risk, inner city youth between the ages of 14 and 21. Each summer, youths are given 18 hours of pre-employment training, along with six to seven weeks of meaningful paid work experience, and daily supervision and support through the program, funded through the state and administered by the Commonwealth Corp.
“I have friends who haven’t had a job in a few years,” Mr. Martinez said. “I feel like people don’t like hiring youth because they feel it is a liability because of their age and experience. I don’t understand why because youth are the most ambitious out there.”
A few years ago, the Quinsigammond College student started working for DeJongh “Dee” K. Wells, co-founder of Future Focus Media, a photography and filmmaking company on King Street, through the program at WCAC. Mr. Martinez says he loves the work and calls Mr. Wells his “sansei,” a Japanese term meaning “teacher.”
“He teaches more than photography,” Mr. Martinez said. “I’m learning a whole bunch of different skills I can take anywhere that will help me get other jobs.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in July 2016, 11.5 percent of people 16 to 24 years old were counted as unemployed. Additionally, research has shown that health and wellness factors are strongly tied to income levels and that children from lower-income homes are more likely to be overweight and in poorer health than those from higher-income homes.
As the summer job season gets underway, Attorney General Maura Healey is promoting work opportunities for young people, while raising awareness about their right to a safe and healthy workplace, with a youth summer jobs grant program. The program uses $300,000 in settlement funds to focus on promoting physical wellness and disease prevention among the state’s young people.
“We are pleased to be providing this funding that will advance healthy living and tackle obesity in at-risk communities for a third year in a row,” Ms. Healey said.
Mr. Wells said he started hiring youth in 2011 through WCAC summer program and also independently year-round.
“We know that youth need summer jobs, and we’re also teaching life skills and a trade they can always do,” he said. “Yes, we’re teaching photography and filmmaking, but we’re also teaching preproduction planning, creating timelines and sticking to it, and how to organize themselves. Those are soft skills that a lot of friends and family taught me that I am teaching them in a different setting while teaching photography that they will always have as a job or side hustle.”
Carrick J. O’Brien, director of the job and education center at WCAC, said the youth summer job market in the city looks a “little bit bleak.”
“Last summer we were able to put 370 youth to work, primarily from the Worcester area,” Ms. O’Brien said. “It is a win-win situation. The youth have an opportunity to gain some meaningful work experience, and it is also free labor for the employers that provide a good, safe, work experience, help with mentoring and help show them the way it is in the real world.”