Bilodeau was one of six senior volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club Wednesday afternoon who helped more than 20 Fitchburg and Leominster students with basics, game play, and scoring.
“We all do it for the same reason,” the Leominster resident said. “We want to teach the next generation about the sport.”
At the beginning of the hour-long gym time, the students wielded paddles and hit green and orange Wiffle balls off the ceiling, out of bounds on the court, and into the net.
Marie Sullivan, another volunteer, gave them tips on how to serve and where to hit the ball to score a point.
For most of the children, it was their first time playing pickleball. By the end of the hour, some students were able to serve the ball over the net or return a serve.
Sullivan was part of the group that approached the club about using its gym for pickleball and teaching students how to play.
“It brings me back and it’s gratification when you’re doing something productive,” she said.
Since the program started in November, there have been about 800 players, or an average about 20 students each afternoon, said Ron Leger, a Leominster resident who is one of the pickleball coordinators for the Boys & Girls Club.
“Any time you can volunteer, especially with a group of kids, it makes life much more energizing,” Leger said.
When the students play matches against each other, they often play doubles and rotate teams in if to make sure all the children get an opportunity to play. To help, there are two bins labeled “Winner” and “WannaBees” that house the paddles of which team will be up next.
Leger explained that there are no losers at Boys & Girls Club pickleball, only those who “wanna be” better players.
Leger was excited about T-shirts made for the students and volunteers that feature the club’s logo on the front and a pickle holding a paddle near a net on the back.
They were designed by graphic communications students at Monty Tech and screen printed at the school, he said.
The kids in the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster’s robotics club, dubbed the”Terrorbots,” were working hard on their new robot Tuesday, trying to finish it for their upcoming competition. Member Vincent Soubbotin, a sophomore at the Center For Technical Education Innovation in Leominster, works on turning a pulley on the lathe they have. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE photos /JOHN LOVE
LEOMINSTER — It was crunch time on Tuesday for Team Terrorbots 3623, a group of local students and members of the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster who are preparing to take part in the First Robotics Competition next month.
Tuesday marked the end of the team’s six-week build period, and was the last chance members had to put any finishing touches on their robot before the competition.
“Teams are forced on a pretty tight deadline to get these robots built to do something that you don’t always necessarily know how to do immediately,” said program coordinator Jacob Janssens, who has been taking part in the robotics competition for 11 years.
“Picking up a ball seems pretty easy for us humans, but you’ve got to make it so the robot can do it without you doing anything other than pressing a button.”The theme for this year’s contest was “Deep Space,” and teams were tasked with designing a robot that could pick up a hatch, carry it several feet and place it over an open hole, thus “sealing” the hatch. Another option included programming the robot to pick up an orange kickball as “cargo” and placing it inside the hatch. Ambitious teams could opt to design a machine that could do both tasks, but Janssens said his team decided to just to the first one, in the hopes that other teams would spread themselves too thin by taking on too much.
Team of 12
“There have definitely been more difficult years, but there have also been significantly easier years,” Janssens said.
The team of 12 students will be competing against other New England teams next month in two separate competitions in Shrewsbury and Bedford, N.H. If successful, they will move on to District Championship in Worcester, and then the World Championship in Detroit, where they would compete against about 400 teams from across the globe.
Team Captain Eric Jenny said he is hopeful about his team’s chances, but remains aware they were facing some stiff competition.
“It feels kind of iffy this year,” Jenny said. “Two years ago, we felt pretty solid. Last year, we were kind of up in the air, but this year is a weird feeling because we don’t know if we’re bad or if we’re good.”
Still, Jenny said he’s confident his team did a good job at analyzing this year’s task and developing a workable strategy to conquer it, especially by focusing on a single challenge as opposed to both.
“I think what happens when there’s two (tasks), teams want to do everything and wind up trying to do too much,” Jenny said. “But since we’re just trying to do the hatch panel, I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”
The rules of the competition require that teams spend no more than $5,500 on their robots, with no single piece of equipment costing more than $500. Team Terrorbots 3623’s robot — which remained unnamed on Tuesday — came in way under budget with a price tag of around $1,000. Funds for the machine andother costs, including entry fees, came from a number of sponsors, including Boston Scientific and the Department of Defense’s STEM program.
By Mina Corpuz
LEOMINSTER — Amelia Carboni wanted to learn about coding through her interest in computer games.
“When I’m older, I can make games I’m proud of or code to make them,” said the 9-year-old said as she played one as a bird that collected supplies to grow in size.
She is one of six girls who came to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster on Saturday to learn about the basics of computer science through Girls Who Code. The free program runs on weekends until the end of the school year and is meant for girls age 8 and older who are interested in a career in technology, web design, or coding. Some have been coming for a few weeks, while others started coming years ago.
The lesson of the day was using line code to draw snowmen.
Students made shapes like circles, set the dimensions for them, and colored in their figures. Instructor Josie Rivera has been teaching for the Girls Who Code program at the Boys & Girls Club for two years. On weekends and during the week, Rivera helps students learn how to work with different types of code and use programming languages like Python or Java. They also work on web design, graphic arts, and comic design. “I think it’s great that they’re learning something different,” she said. “Computer science is growing and it’s going to be important.” Rivera also helps the girls work on projects, like remakes of classic games such as “Pac-Man” and “Frogger,” or websites.
Before the day’s lesson, Tisiphone Hallet, 13, worked on a website that will accompany a YouTube channel she plans to launch to share her art. She has spent about three months designing it and deciding what kind of components go on it.
“I’ve always been interested in computers and wanted to learn more,” Hallet said. Hallet also likes that her work through Girls Who Code combines her interests of computers and art. Graphic art is one of the types of art she likes to make.
Jennifer Belfield, a senior at Fitchburg State University studying game design and computer science, is an instructor for the program through an internship. “I remember when I was young I didn’t get the experience of coding,” she said. “Had I earlier, I would have been excited. … I don’t want them to miss out on an exciting opportunity.”
The lessons offered through Girls Who Code are part of a nationwide effort to build a pipeline of female engineers and close the gender gap in computer science by 2027.
Girls Who Code has clubs at schools, summer courses, and programs around the country.
The Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — The gymnasium at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster had a fierce competition that didn’t involve basketballs or nets, but rather, robots built from Legos.
On Saturday, the club hosted the annual Lego Robotics Tournament, where teams battled one another for remote-control supremacy.
The battles take place on a 4-foot-by-8-foot playing table, which has various obstacles. The seventh annual showdown tasked the teams, which come from other clubs or schools from around North Central Massachusetts, with a number of missions to be completed over 2 1/2 minutes.
Last year’s winning team was the Thundergirls from Shirley.
This year, Acton’s Peregrine Falcons took the overall title against squads from as far away as Sudbury. The competition is open to children ages 14 and younger and includes a requirement of completing a research project before the contest and an oral presentation.
More than 500 people crowded the floor, vestibules and stage during the robotics showdown, which featured 23 teams, with winners across seven categories.
The winners advanced to the state championships in Worcester on Dec. 19, with hopes of advancing to the regional championships.
The FIRST Lego League is the international body that supports the program and sponsors the events and takes place in nearly every state and dozens of countries around the world. FIRST is an acronym for “For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology.
The teams are supported by volunteers and local corporate funding but all the design, control and construction are done by the children.
“I like the programming the best,” said Dominick Sousa of the Clinton Asteroids team. “I did most of the programming along with Taylor (Thomson).”
Another Acton team, Young Engineers, won the srategy and innovation category.
Other winners include: Project Presentation — Musical Penguins from Sudbury; Mechanical Design — Girlillas from Lexington; Programming — Hale Storm from Stow; Judges Award — Space Cats from Ayer; and Inspiration — Space Pugs from Shirley.
GARDNER – The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has received a $10,000 grant from Fidelity Bank. The grant is part of Fidelity Bank’s commitment to increasing its support of local nonprofits in the communities of Gardner and Winchendon in recognition of the completion of its merger with Colonial Co-Operative Bank, which had branches in those communities prior to the merger.
The funding was approved by the Colonial Advisory Board, which was created as part of the merger to approve the distribution of funds to local nonprofits. The grant will be used to support the Boys & Girls Club Gardner clubhouse. The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster started the clubhouse as a pilot afterschool program at Gardner High School in the fall of 2015. It serves 43 students during the school year with programming that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).
“The grant will help with purchasing STEAM program supplies, financial literacy, healthy nutrition and cooking program supplies, as well as books for our reading club. It will also provide transportation for field trips to STEM and STEAM-focused companies, labs, schools and exhibits,” said Donata J. Martin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
The organization is hoping to move the Gardner program to a permanent home at Waterford Street School in the next two to three years. The school building will be available once a new elementary school is built with the help of state funding. Organizers raised more than $53,000 toward that effort at its annual fundraiser held at the Colonial Hotel in Gardner on Nov. 15.
LEOMINSTER — Jon Blodgett traveled all the way to Baltimore unaware that he was about to be named staff member of the year.
A recent conference of Boys & Girls Club employees singled out Blodgett for the Outstanding Program Staff Member Award, which considered staff members from all 189 clubs scattered throughout the northeastern United States.
“I didn’t know I was nominated until I got there,” he said. “We went to the dinner and that’s when they announced the award. The whole club knew but me.”
“The whole club,” as Blodgett puts it, has grown a lot since he first started working at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster in 2010.
Blodgett, who is in charge of the club’s teen center, came on at a time when only five children ranging from ages 13 to 19 were actively participating in programming. Since his arrival, the teen center has grown to 281 members.
“There was no program schedule originally so we had to start from scratch,” said Blodgett, who started building out offerings that would be both enticing and rewarding to teenagers.
Since then, he has been put in charge of new additions like the club’s championship-winning robotics team, beekeeping program, and hiking group, but he said much of his job has also been about getting kids involved with workforce development training.
Club Executive Director Donata Martin said Blodgett’s impact on the club as a whole has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“Teens are involved in so many things outside of school yet he manages to encourage kids and get them here on a regular basis,” she said. “That’s really a skill and a talent.”
Blodgett said he was surprised that he was honored by the Boys & Girls Club, adding that he thinks he’s not the only one worthy of recognition.
“There are so many people out there that are doing the same thing,” he said. “Half the people in this building should be recognized.”
GARDNER — The Boys & Girls Club of Gardner built upon its local support at a fundraiser held at the Colonial Hotel on Thursday evening, which included the announcement of plans for a permanent home.
Many different individuals and organizations in the community sponsored the dinner event, which also included an auction of donated items and prizes.
The club in Gardner launched in 2015 and serves grades five through eight. It operates every day after school at Gardner High School with a focus on STEAM curriculum, standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
“We’re trying to prepare our children for the future,” Executive Director Donata Martin said, noting that there are many jobs in those fields left unfilled in the United States due to a lack of qualified candidates.
The club is also looking ahead to its own future. Affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, which has its own building in Leominster, the Gardner club from day one has wanted its own site as well.
The Gardner club primarily runs out of the Gardner High School library, with Martin saying right now 40 students are enrolled which is close to the capacity of that space.
In order to expand its programming and the number of children that can participate, the club has worked with community leaders to find a home for the future, which Mayor Mark Hawke spoke about.
“Right now, our plan is the permanent home is going to be Waterford Street School,” he said.
He explained his plan is to give the club the Waterford Street School, which the city won’t need once a new elementary school is built with the help of state funding.
The city is still working through the planning process with the state on the new school project, with the authorization of state and local funds for construction yet to come.
Should the new school project work out as planned, Hawke said, the City Council would need to give its approval for giving the site of Waterford Street School to the Boys & Girls Club, and there would also need to be a capital campaign for the club to raise money for improvements to the building.
Hawke expressed his support for the idea, saying the site has the space the club would desire, including outdoor fields, and that it will spare the city from having to deal with another vacant former school building.
Also in attendance at the fundraiser were local donors to the club, club staff as well as children who are members of the club and their parents.
Seventh-grader Christ Nader spoke about his experience in the club.
“The club is a good program because it helps me to keep my grades up,” he said.
As a working parent, Jen Collins said she cannot pick her daughter up every day after school, and would rather not send her home alone.
“Having this opportunity at the high school (where the club takes place) has been awesome,” she said.
Collins also spoke highly of the club’s curriculum and mix of indoor and outdoor activities, and added her daughter has made friends at the club.
At the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, one of the staff members is Jon Blodgett, who is the program director for the teen center.
He oversees several of the activities offered there, such as the robotics team, in addition to managing day-to-day operations.
Blodgett was honored this year by the Boys & Girls Club organization, receiving the award for the outstanding program staff member in the northeast region, which includes 381 clubs spanning across 11 states and Puerto Rico.
Blodgett also has local roots, having graduated from Gardner High School in 2002 and subsequently from Mount Wachusett Community College.
In his job, he sees the value the Boys & Girls Club can provide youth, and thinks it would be a benefit to grow the club further in Gardner.
“There’s such a need for a program like this; a safe and structured environment where kids come to grow academically and socially,” he said.
Blodgett added the club also teaches drug prevention programs, which he said “there’s a need for in Gardner immensely.”
A few of the donors to the Gardner club have been inspired to do so at least in part due to losing their own child to drug addiction, including Patti Bergstrom, owner of The Velvet Goose in downtown Gardner, who emceed the fundraiser on Thursday.
“We cannot save our child but we are going to work hard to save others,” she said.
Heading into the event, Martin said the fundraiser had already generated over $30,000, with the proceeds from the auction and donations given at the event yet to be counted.
Since its founding, she said the support for the Gardner club has continued to increase.
“We’ve been really well-received by the children, the school system and the parents,” she said. “As we’ve grown in the community, we’ve picked up more partners and companies that are interested in being involved.”
Martin added that companies not only give money, but also have their staff volunteer at the club to share their expertise with the children.
GARDNER — New England Peptide recently held the 2nd annual Cornhole Tournament to benefit the Boys & Girls Club’s Gardner clubhouse, leading to a donation of $9,578.
“A great time was had by all. The weather was perfect,” said Donata Martin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner. “The donation will be used for supporting financial assistance for after-school membership and summer program fees, as well as program supplies and field trip transportation.”
The number of teams taking part in this year’s event was 36, up from 24 in 2017.
“The increase in teams demonstrates growth for the event and interest in supporting the Boys & Girls Club. Next year we hope to see even more,” said Kyle Sargent, of New England Peptide and volunteer at the Gardner clubhouse.
Sponsors for the event include: Ameriprise – Diana Smith; Enterprise Bank; Gardner Police Relief Association; Rollstone Bank; Hannaford Supermarkets; Ron Leger Jr., CPA, PC; JMAC Recovery – Marcus and Jennifer Moran; Santucci Wealth Management – Steve Santucci; Dunkin’ Donuts; state Rep. Jon Zlotnik; Fidelity Bank; Fitts Insurance; Moon Hill Brewing Co.; NUECO; Fitness Concepts – Matt Cali; Big D’s Detailing.
GARDNER — Curiosity shined at the Boys & Girls Club of Gardner during a visit this week from the Aldrich Astronomical Society and the Mount Wachusett Community College Astronomy Club.
A variety of topics were discussed as students from the Boys & Girls Club, who are in grades five through eight, got to ask questions on everything from black holes, why Saturn has rings and why Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet. They also got to check out a few telescopes.
“It was interesting, fun and cool,” sixth-grader Sophia Finn said.
Seventh-grader Emily Collins said she is “big time” into astronomy and one of the things she has learned about is the science behind why stars shine as a light in the night sky.
The Boys & Girls Club is held every day after school at Gardner High School.
The astronomy presentation was part of the club’s participation in the inaugural statewide STEM week that was declared by the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito for Oct. 22-26 to promote education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and highlights its impact on the economy.
The Aldrich Astronomical Society is based in Paxton. President
One of the things he spoke of is the work of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who in the 1600s invented his own telescope.Zebrowski talked to the students about telescopes, saying that is a basic introduction to astronomy.
“He was widely recognized for taking that next step with telescopes,” Zebrowski said.
Zebrowski said with his telescope, Galilei was able to discover the craters and mountains on the moon, and confirmed the theory of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun, which challenged the commonly held view at the time that the earth was at the center of the universe.
Also taking part in the event from the Aldrich Astronomical Society was member Jim Erickson, who said he also founded the Mount Wachusett Community College Astronomy Club while a student there.
The college club was represented by President Ashley Auger, Ali Guthrie and Ethan Williams.
The college students helped with answering questions from the Boys & Girls Club members and also talked about their interest in astronomy.
“I love the stars. I love the universe. It’s a really magnificent thing,” Williams said.
Volunteer Coordinator Kelly Hartnett said as part of STEM Week, the Gardner students will also go to the Boys & Girls Club facility in Leominster to take part in a career expo.
She said the entire week is designed to make the STEM subjects relatable to the students.
“Hopefully it sparks interest,” she said.
Isaiah Jasmin, team leader for the club, said the club wants to “erase the stigma” associated with STEM subjects, commenting that students often think they are difficult to understand and as a result can be discouraged from pursuing them.
“We can make it fun and light beyond the school walls,” he said. “It’s more exciting that way.”
A main reason behind the Baker-Polito administration initiating the statewide STEM Week is to hopefully bridge the gap between the available jobs in STEM fields and the number of people interested in pursuing those careers.
According to a press release from the administration, only one in six American high school seniors say they are interested in studying STEM subjects in college, and U.S. industries are projected to demand more workers with STEM backgrounds than the nation’s educational system will generate.
LANCASTER – Monica Padilla, 10, who loves science and aspires to become an astronaut one day and also sing and dance on Broadway, underscores the importance of including art in STEM studies.
On Sunday afternoon, Monica, her sister Ariely, 11, and other children from the North Central Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner attended a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lesson with roller skating afterward at Roll On America. During “The Science of Roller Skating,” students reverse engineered a roller skate and learned how each part functions to make the skate.
Peter J. Simmons, filmmaker and Ashby elementary special education school teacher, taught the kids about friction using surfaces in the rink to demonstrate how various materials affect the skate in motion. The kids performed an experiment to test the friction of the skating floor versus the carpet and designed a new feature for a skate.
“I thought it was cool,” Monica said, who lives in Fitchburg and attends McKay Arts Academy. She and her family skate at Roll On often, she said. “I wanted to learn more about skating. There are lots of parts in the roller skate I didn’t know about. I took off the wheel. I think it will make me a better skater.”
“They made it fun for the kids to understand that roller skates are not just wheels and a boot,” said her mother, Dorcas Padilla, a medical assistant and office manager.
“To use STEM in life, you have to be courageous,” said Mr. Simmons, who works for the national program United Skates of America. He also told the kids that historically, there have been a lot of girls and women in STEM fields. “We need more,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of including art as part of STEM discussions, with the acronym often changed to STEAM for that purpose.
“Art is part of the whole future of the world and we need to make sure we value art,” he said.
During the interactive lesson, kids who answered Mr. Simmons’ questions correctly received small prizes, including models of spaceships and rockets.
“The beauty of what we’re doing is inserting STEAM into everyday fun activities so the kids can learn how they can participate in the future,” Mr. Simmons said. “They might be doctors, artists, running a home … whatever they do, they are going to need STEAM to do a better job and create a better world. That’s my motivation.”
Jamie L. Cortes, general manager at Roll On, said the workshops, held there the last two years, combine education and physical fitness into one fun field trip.
She said her favorite part is when kids who never thought they could skate realize they can.
“They are so scared that they can’t skate, and they start and after a few minutes, they have a smile on their face,” she said. “We had a fourth-grade boy who is blind and has autism at one of the workshops and he absolutely loved to skate. It’s the best part of the program.”
Donata Martin, executive director of the area Boys & Girls Club, said the event was the region’s kickoff for STEM week, which includes family nights that also involve the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, the Central MA STEM Network, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Fitchburg State University, Mount Wachusett Community College and other institutions.
Jennifer R. Denmead of Fitchburg, who works at South Bay Early Intervention in Worcester, attended with her son, Braden T. Dow, 10, and stepson, Connor G. Jones, 8, along with her infant son and husband.
“I like the part where we took apart the skates,” Connor said. “I got to learn how skates are made with reverse engineering and how there are more than 100 parts on the skate.”
“I think it was good,” Braden said. “I liked that they taught about STEAM, but my favorite part is the skating.”