Progress That Matters

Local leaders share lessons for Black History Month

Andrew Mansfield



GARDNER  African-Americans with prominent roles in the local community took the stage at Mount Wachusett Com­munity College on Monday to speak about their successes, challenges and belief that everyone, regardless of their differences, should be given the same opportunities.News staff photos by Andrew MansfieldIn celebration of Black History Month, Mount Wachusett Community College held a panel discussion featuring African-Americans who are in leadership roles in the local community. Gardner native Dana Heath is president of Central Mass Flag Football and Gardner Biddy Basketball.

The event was part of the college’s Tea Time Speaker series which is organized by Sharmese Gunn, a resource specialist for Gateway to College, a dual-enrollment program for students who have struggled in traditional high school settings.

“Today, we are celebrating Black History Month by celebrating the leadership of African Americans in North Central Massachusetts,” Gunn said. “African-Americans are trailblazers. … We bring such an important perspective to society. African-American history is American history.”

The event featured seven African-American panelists from the area and was moderated by Irene Hernandez, who is president of Three Pyramids Inc. and The Minority Coalition.

The college’s multipurpose room was packed for the event with students, staff and members of the public.

Hernandez began by going over the history of Africans being enslaved beginning in the 1500s, saying that created “institutional and instructional racism.”

She said even before there were Africans brought over as slaves to America, there were people of African descent who were living in the Americas, a fact that is largely unnoticed historically.

When the discussion turned to the panel, one of the focuses was discussing their road to success and the positive difference they seek to make in others’ lives.

Panelist Dana Heath said he was born in 1979 and is from Gardner. Growing up, he was surrounded by alcoholism and drug addiction in his family.

“I never had a mentor,” he said. “I didn’t even know where my food was coming from the next day.”

He now is raising his own children and has become involved in youth sports over the last several years.

He founded the Central Mass Flag Football League which he said has grown to having almost 700 local children play in last year. He also runs the Gardner Biddy Basketball program.

By coaching local youth, Heath has been able to provide to children the guidance he didn’t have as a child.

“I love watching the kids smile and have fun, be active, rather than running the streets like I was,” he said. “Playing sports, staying out of the courts; that’s what it’s all about.”

Panelist Leona Early spoke about her 30-year career at the nonprofit Montachusett Op­­portunity Council, an anti-poverty agency that serves 30 cities and towns in the region.

She said in current her role as vice president of community programs she is responsible for 75 percent of the programs the agency runs. By staying with the agency over the years and working hard, she was able to show the value she brings and rise to a leadership position where she provides help and advocacy for vulnerable populations.

“I want to be a voice and my job allows me to do that,” she said. “I’m here on this earth to make a difference, make a change.”

The panelists also spoke about some examples of racism and negative stereotyping they have faced over the course of their lives, with multiple panelists saying their intelligence has been doubted by others before simply because of their skin color.

Panelist Donata Martin, who is the executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, recalled that she went to a high school where she was one of the few minorities and she did quite well academically.

But when she applied for colleges, her guidance counselor submitted a very poor recommendation letter that was filled with falsities and led to colleges turning her down.

Martin said there was one school that took her side though, saying an admissions director at Boston University realized the letter couldn’t be true and made sure she was accepted there.

Now that she leads the Boys & Girls Club, Martin said, “I want to make sure the children who come to our club have the same advantages many children with money have.”

The Boys & Girls Club Martin leads also runs a program in Gardner. In addition to her role there, she serves on the board of directors for the Mount.

In general, the panelists spoke about the importance of ensuring all people, regardless of race, income level or other factors, be given an equal opportunity to succeed.

Panelists were asked about race relations and the overall issues they currently see with the country.

“We need to be able to have difficult conversations. We need to challenge the status quo,” Candace Shivers said, who is an associate professor for sociology and human services at the college.

Panelist Angele Goss is director of the Upward Bound Math Science & North Central Mass Talent Search program for the college.


Shivers spoke about the importance of advocacy and social activism. She said she served as the student body president while attending American International College in Springfield.

Currently, she is a leader for the union representing Mount staff and is also on the board of directors for the National Education Association which represents education professionals in Washington, D.C.

Panelist Kathy Lewis, who is president of the Tiana Angelique Notice Foundation that focuses on domestic violence and is named after her daughter who was killed by an ex-boyfriend, spoke about how discouraged she is with the political strife and inability to work together that is seen in Washington, D.C.

“I am really concerned about the climate in our nation nowadays to the point where I spend sleepless nights,” she said. “We’re in a state now in this country that we’re the disgrace of the world now.”

Lewis concluded by paraphrasing a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.
“We better learn how to get along together as brothers and sisters or we’re all going to perish together as fools,” she said.

The other panelists at the event were Angele Goss, director of the Upward Bound Math Science & North Central Mass Talent Search program at the college, and Lamont Hicks, a senior officer specialist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the president and founder of the Future Hoops AAU basketball program headquartered in Gardner.


Black leadership panelists say strong identity is central to achieving dreams

GARDNER – Moderator Irene Hernandez started a Black History Month panel discussion Monday by telling the diverse audience in the packed lecture room that they are all indigenous people originating from Alkebulan – the real name of Africa – here in the Americas long before Native Americans.

African-American history in the U.S. started well before slavery, going back centuries, said Ms. Hernandez, who is project coordinator at Fitchburg Community Connections Coalition. People of color living here are not displaced, she said.

“Go see ‘Black Panther,’ ” she said. “It is not stereotypical or superficial. It talks about colonization, fatherless children, oppression, subjugation and loss of identity as displaced people.”

To fight against institutional and structural racism, “you have to know who you are and where you come from,” Ms. Hernandez said, and work toward changing social constructs so there is equity, freedom and prosperity for all to allow everyone to live side by side.

“In ‘Black Panther,’ the different tribes of the world show how great we are – intelligent and fierce, with wisdom, loyalty and honor … Our people were here in the Americas long before the Natives were. We are not black and we are not white. We are indigenous people. We are the tribes of Alkebulan – ‘mother of mankind,’ ‘garden of Eden’. Do your history and research. They were called ‘copper tones’ or ‘cinnamon’ people. Colonizers said they looked like Ethiopians because they were the darkest and thought of as ugly.”

The event was part of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time Speaker Series, held to celebrate Black History Month with a panel discussion titled “African American Leadership in North Central Massachusetts.”

Panelists included: Leona Early, vice president of community programs at Montachusett Opportunity Council; Angele B. Goss, director of Upward Bound Math Science & North Central Mass Talent Search; Dana Heath, president of Central Mass Flag Football and Gardner Biddy Basketball and assistant coach of Gardner High School football; Lamont Hicks, senior officer specialist of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and president and founder of the Future Hoops and AAU Basketball Program; Kathy Lewis, president of the Tiana Angelique Notice Memorial Foundation; Donata Martin, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner; and Candace Shivers, associate professor of sociology and human services at MWCC.

Each panelist shared their journeys to success and stories of challenges and obstacles they overcame, including poverty, racism and feeling marginalized.

Leadership from people of color can add a level of depth and diversity that can address marginalized populations who don’t always have a voice at the table, the panelists said. Disadvantaged children need mentors, they said, and those who feel marginalized need to find people who they comfortable with to ask questions and not feel intimidated to take a chance and step outside their comfort zone to do something different. Everyone has a responsibility to stand up and speak for those whose voices may not be heard.

Ms. Shivers said when she was hired years ago at MWCC it was “very light,” with only a handful of black faculty and staff. She said she is fortunate that at her place of employment she is able to engage in difficult conversations that may make people uncomfortable about race and may challenge the status quo.

Often, when a person of color enters a room, they have to overcome negative stereotypes just to get to “zero” and then have to work to show who they are, she said.

“People already made up their minds what and who you are,” Ms. Shivers said. “You have to overcome ‘what you’re not’ to get to zero and start from there. That is a heavy carry, especially for someone in school, overcoming things they had nothing to do with to change minds, show who they are, and, by the way, they also have to study.”

Ms. Lewis told the audience she was concerned about the climate in the nation and has spent sleepless nights over it. She called on the youth in the room to live with purpose and become leaders for a better future, citing the student activists in Parkland, Florida, who survived a school shooting Feb. 14 and are fighting for change.

“Learn who you are, fortify and enrich yourself in your history and past sacrifices and losses made for you to be here,” Ms. Lewis said. “Learn to be strong people of culture and innovations and strength and endurance and role models to children. The state of this country, we are actually the disgrace of the world now. I can’t believe what is going on in Washington, school shootings, in the news with (homicides) … It is totally out of control. The younger generations have the power to grab ahold of this mess and change it.”

She quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We better learn how to get along as brothers and sisters or we’re all going to perish together as fools.”

Ms. Martin said “so many children don’t dream anymore” and they need to be encouraged to pursue their passions and become scientists and engineers, for example.

“We have to start talking to them about that at an early age,” Ms. Martin said. “Their minds are open. Talk and be with them and the world is theirs.”

Laryssa M. Truesdale, 18, a senior in the Gateway program at MWCC from Gardner, is a student leader in the school’s center for civic engagement that helped organize the event.

“There were a few panelists from my hometown, so it was interesting to see their views and struggles,” Ms. Truesdale said. “All the speakers had very powerful stories of how they bounced back and kept dreaming. It really opened my eyes.”

Bouchards donate passenger van to Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster

Sentinel & Enterprise

LEOMINSTER — Paula and Chad Bouchard of Ron Bouchard Auto Stores visited the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster recently to present the club with a new van they donated to the club.

Paula and Chad Bouchard of Bouchard Auto Stores stand beside the van they donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster through the RB

The donation was made through the Bouchard family’s RB Racing Charity.

The van, a 2017 Nissan NV worth $35,000, can seat up to 12 children and will be used to transport club members to and from events.

Club Executive Director Donata Martin said the van has already been used for a field trip and will be especially helpful in bringing kids home from the Boys & Girls Club.

She’s working to help empower young women

Sentinel & Enterprise
By Peter Jasinski


LEOMINSTER — Charisse Murphy’s human services career has always seen her going to where the demand to help young women is high.

By working with organizations like YOU, Inc. or LUK, she’s been able to help girls in and around Worcester and Fitchburg, but it wasn’t until she started to consider what resources were available in her own community that she decided to do something completely new.

“I had all this training, all this education, and I live in Ayer, where, in that particular part of the state, there really aren’t that many human services,” she said. “I felt like I was helping all these young people, but not the young people I was living near.”

The solution she came up with was EmPOWER ME, a free two month curriculum for building self-confidence in girls in middle and high school. It’s been two years since Murphy came up with the idea and it’s grown to the point that she’s now partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster to offer her program to kids in the Twin Cities area.

“It’s actually cool to see that this has now become a thing,” Murphy said. “I’ll drive down a street in Ayer or Shirley now and I’ll see girls wearing EmPOWER ME shirts and I’ll be saying ‘Oh, look! Those girls are wearing our shirts. It’s a thing!'”

When she started out two years ago, Murphy was just working with a handful of fifth grade girls at Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer. Since then, the program has seen roughly 65 girls complete the curriculum and expanded into multiple schools.

The course tends to last eight to 10 weeks, featuring activities and conversations that are built around overarching themes like team building, self-acceptance, or healthy life style choices, depending on the age group being worked with.

Above all, Murphy explained that she hopes to create a safe space where girls can feel comfortable sharing details about their lives.

The success of EmPOWER ME in Ayer has since attracted the attention of the Boys & Girls Club in Leominster, where Murphy held her first official meeting last week.

“The difficult thing with it is there are just so many girls,” she said. “There must have been 75 or 80 the other night and they were from 5th grade to senior in high school.”

Which is why Murphy hopes her volunteer work will inspire other area residents to want to get involved. Though they’d need to be trained in how the program’s curriculum works, Murphy said she would hope that other volunteers would be able to facilitate at the Boys & Girls Club or in local schools in the future.

Given the current prevalence of sexual assault in the media and the dialogues it has prompted, Murphy admits that the work has taken on more importance.

“At the Boys & Girls Club the other night, we might not have gotten into what we’re seeing on the news, but the girls did start talking about their experiences and feeling shunned for being a girl and I think that does filter into what we’re seeing now,” she said. “If you’re faced with this, how do you handle it? I think having this safe space is where we have that conversation.”

Defying gravity: Fitchburg native Tara Sweeney shares experiences of flight with area youths

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.”

Fitchburg native shows kids how science and math builds careers in the skies.

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.

It’s a fun job, and one Sweeney hopes that area students will one day have a shot at as well.

“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.”

An Evolving Relationship

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.

After the company gave the club a $5,000 donation earlier this June, employees followed-up that effort with a fundraiser in September that provided the club with another donation of $5,200.

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.

Boys & Girls Club program continues to meet GOALS

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.

 The program is based on the concepts of magnetism. Students learn various concepts while playing 10 games. Since almost everything — from doorbells to refrigerators to TVs — involves magnets, it is very helpful that the students learn, understand and play with magnets, and understand the fundamentals behind magnets. The different concepts include:

n What is magnetism?

n Attraction and repulsion of north and south poles of a magnet.

n Magnetic field.

n Electromagnets.

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.

Fitchburg, Leominster kids still having a ‘Summer Blast’

By Zachary Martin, Boys & Girls Club intern

UPDATED:   07/30/2017 10:40:15 AM EDT

The Juniors at the Summer Blast at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster participated in a team-building exercise called Toppings. The

The Juniors at the Summer Blast at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster participated in a team-building exercise called Toppings. The exercise teaches them how to work together by doing different team-building activities, like keeping balloons from hitting the ground while they walk in a straight line down the hallway.

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.

No summertime blues here

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.

Juniors have fun working on Recycled Rodeo Project with Jerry Beck, center. Pictured are Brett H., Angel T., Logan W., Jerry Beck, Danitiza T., Tora E., Aiyana W.,and Jazilyn C. Juniors soak up the sun at Camp Collier.

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 or come see us in person at 365 Lindell Ave.

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