Boys & Girls Club keeps learning alive in Gardner

Boys & Girls Club keeps learning alive in Gardner

By Stephen Landry / slandry@thegardnernews.com/ Read the article on Gardner News here


GARDNER — With classes across the school district in a bit of a disarray due to current events, at least a few students are stepping up to make sure such critical skills such as “Brain Surge,” “Reading Time” and “Survival Skills” are not being forgotten during these critical weeks of the coronavirus shutdown.

That is why officials at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Leominster and Fitchburg and the Gardner campus have provided students with a virtual programming learning system, one that is taught by local high school seniors and first-year college students, and covers a wide variety of STEAM-related topics (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).

“We started our virtual programming about a week after all of the schools closed because we realized that all of the kids would need something to do while at home,” explained Ladda Kosaketh, Gardner Clubhouse coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club.

The online project, called “Brain Surge,” is offered each weekday on the club’s Facebook page at noon. The program features a daily spotlight of STEAM-related online games and activities, with special highlights featuring special activities from sites with cool math games, Science Kids, and an Hour of Code and Scratch.

Among those putting online lesson plans together for the site is Charles Perrow, a dual enrollment student at Mount Wachusett Community College and Gardner High School.

“I had gotten involved with the B&G Club online through my coworker, Troy (Thomas),” Perrow said. “He told me that Ladda was looking for people to hire, and I volunteered for her for a few days to evaluate me, and I ended up getting hired.”

Troy Thomas, a senior at Gardner High School and a first-year student at Mount Wachusett Community College, said he first because involved in the local Boys & Girls Club by volunteering two years ago. He advanced to the paid position of youth development professional earlier this year.

“I wanted to take part in the virtual programming because working is an important part of my day-to-day life, and I would much rather do something productive that could be beneficial to the community than do nothing,” Thomas said.

Among the topics covered in a typical STEAM Hour include such science-related experiments such as building bridges, catapults, creative lettering, chemical reactions and making clay. Other courses offered include Survival Skills, in which kids are taught ways to keep safe while engaging in common activities such as camping, hiking and swimming. Virtual field trips, cooking hours and career spotlights are among the other courses offered during the online classes.

“I just usually think of different STEAM-related subjects or topics that kids would be leaning about in school, and find ways to incorporate those topics into a fun and interactive activity,” Thomas said.

“For my lessons, I try to look for something that kids will still be engaged in yet still find a bit relaxing,” Perrow said.

Kosaketh said she is proud of the teaching topics her two youth development professionals have managed to come up with so far for the project.

“They’re the ones going on the internet and determining what people like and enjoy, like math and puzzles and cooking,” Kosaketh said.

“What makes being part of the program so good is that I can still work during the shutdown,” Perrow said. “When the shutdown is over, it’s going to be even better because just interacting with the kids is just so much fun.”

“I enjoy working for the kids and getting a chance to make a difference, whether it’s just helping a kid with their homework, helping them find their potential, or making their day just a little bit brighter,” Thomas said. “It is a truly rewarding experience that you can’t get at any traditional teen job. I would pick empowering the people of our nation’s future over bagging groceries any day.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about the online programming being offered is invited to check out the Boys and Girls Club’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/bgcflGardner/, for more information.

Twin Cities Boys & Girls Club executive director honored at Statehouse

By MONICA BUSCH | Sentinel & Enterprise
March 4, 2020

LEOMINSTER — Donata Martin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Leominster, Fitchburg and Gardner, received a Black Excellence on the Hill award last month, when she was honored for her work with North Central Mass. youth.

“Each and every day, Ms. Martin works with her team to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens,” read a description of her from the event’s Feb. 11 program.

Martin was nominated for the award by state Reps. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, and Susannah Whipps, R-Athol.

“It was quite an honor to be recognized by the state folks,” Martin said on Wednesday. She said that while she works with state officials, “you never really know how much people notice.”

Martin was named executive director of her local Boys & Girls Club branch in 2009, and since then she has worked to promote intensive and extensive Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) program at their facility.

In part, she said, this is the product of her own love for science, which she said began when she was a child and would attend events at the Boston Museum of Science.

“I just felt that if I had that excitement as a child, other children would as well, and that’s what we’ve found here — that they do,” Martin said.

Sparking that interest in children at the Boys & Girls Club, she said, is also about promoting basic critical thinking and problem solving skills, even if club members don’t necessarily realize at first that that’s what they’re learning.

Many of them spend their time at the club participating in a slew of STEAM projects, whether that’s building robots, caring for trout, 3D printing or painting in the art room, Martin said.

“They really do need to problem solve, so they learn the engineering method and the scientific method without even knowing that they are learning engineering or scientific methods,” Martin said.

Martin is visibly enthusiastic when describing the multitude of STEAM programming available to club members, and grows excited when sharing her hopes for expanding their offerings. One area she really wants to get into is artificial intelligence (AI), building on already extensive and accomplished robotics and coding programming.

In the art realm, she said, she’d like to start incorporating more music, and possibly drama.

She likened children’s brains to chalkboards that she and other staff members have the opportunity to write on.

“You expose them to as much as you can educationally and see where it goes,” Martin said. “And you really do spark a lot of interest in different fields.”

The Boys & Girls Club provides programming for children and teens, many of whom attend the center five days a week, and sometimes on Saturday.

Martin said she plans to continue diversifying their project areas for as long as she heads the Twin Cities branch, always working “to open their minds to different fields of science.”

Team Terrorbots 3623 gears up for robot comp

Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster’s robotics club member and a junior at Leominster High School Vincent Soubbotin works on cutting material in the club’s shop room as the team gears up for the First Robotics Competition this month.

By  | Sentinel & Enterprise

LEOMINSTER — The clock is ticking for Team Terrorbots 3623, a group of local students and members of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster who are gearing up to take part in the FIRST Robotics Competition on Feb. 28.

On Monday, the team was in the midst of its six-week build period, and members were working hard to ensure their robot was prepared for competition.

Still, under construction, the robot doesn’t have an official name yet.

“The frame of our robot is done and now we’re just working on the final mechanisms,” said program coordinator Jacob Janssens, who has been taking part in the robotics competition for 12 years.

“This particular competition is a capstone for what the club does with its S.T.E.A.M. programs,” Janssens said. “It brings all of the science education, the technology, engineering, math, and art all together. They get real experience with the machines, the safety that comes with that, high-level programming, engineering, and design.”

If successful, they will move on to the District Championship in West Springfield, and then the World Championship in Detroit, where they would compete against about 400 teams from across the globe.

“This year, the robot has a ball shooting mechanism, which is very impressive,” said Janssens. “These kids have been working hard, and I know they’ll be ready in two weeks.”

Team member Jancarlos Oquendo, a junior at Fitchburg High School, said the robot this year will need to accurately shoot a ball at a target and climb obstacles during the competition.

“This is probably the most powerful machine we’ve made since I’ve been here,” said Oquendo, who joined the team about five years ago.

Jalen Leider, 16, a junior at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg works on a part for the robot in the shop room at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.

Jalen Leider, a junior at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, is tasked with driving the robot during competitions.

“It can get pretty tense while you’re driving with the other two teams,” said Leider. “It’s pretty stressful, but it’s also pretty fun.”

Oquendo said getting involved in the robotics team has allowed him to learn new skills while also gaining a hobby and several friends in the process.

“I came into this with zero knowledge of how to do anything, but I ended up falling in love with it,” Oquendo said. “We just work well together. During the regular season, everybody feels like a family away from home.”

Leominster High School junior Vincent Soubbotin, who designed this year’s robot, said he enjoyed the engineering challenges and design process of putting together a robot.

Logan Vifquain, a junior at Leominster High School, drills a piece for the construction of the robot in the shop room at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.

“The challenge of making this and then actually building it is very intriguing to me,” said Soubbotin. “I’ve always been interested in technology and then I came here a few years ago … and I’ve been in it ever since.”

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 remained unnamed as of Monday.

Teams from Boys & Girls of Fitchburg and Leominster compete in ‘Future City’ competition


February 11, 2020

One team is recognized for excellence


 Students at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster built two futuristic cities so they could compete in the New England competition “Future City.” Future City is a project-based learning program where students imagine, research, design, and build the cities of the future. They had two team from the club compete in the competition. This group called their city “Future Town.” From left is Amya Burgos, 9, Amelia Carboni, 10, Anabelle Bien-Aime, 12, and Nicholas Carboni, 13. They are holding the three awards that their city won at the competition. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

LEOMINSTER — Two teams at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster have spent the past several months building futuristic cities to compete in the New England competition “Future City” and one team was recognized for its efforts.

Future City is a project-based learning program where students imagine, research, design and build the cities of the future. Keeping the engineering design process and project management front and center, students work in teams to ask and answer an authentic, real-world question: How can we make the world a better place?
The Future City competition focuses on creating cities that could exist at least 100 years. Each of the cities built must incorporate a solution to a design challenge that changes each year. This year’s challenge for the kids was clean water.

One of the Boys & Girls Club teams, called Moon City, with teammates, Desmond Batch, Ava Bettencourt and Aaron Traingue, chose a threat to a city’s water supply, located on an island in the Indian Ocean, and designed a resilient system to maintain a reliable supply of clean water that included desalinization of ocean water.

The other local team, Future Town, with teammates Amya Burgos, Amelia Carboni, Anabelle Bien-Aime and Nicholas Carboni, situated their city in Michigan on the coast of Lake Erie. The biggest threat to their city was a significant pollution problem in the drinking water.
Helping them learn about clean water during the building process was Jeffrey Murawski, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Works’ wastewater division. The students also got help from two directors at the center, Christopher Mora, the education director, and Allison Digirolamo, the science education director.

 Students at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster built two futuristic cities so they could compete in the New England competition “Future City.” Future City is a project-based learning program where students imagine, research, design, and build the cities of the future. They had two team from the club compete in the competition. This group called their city “Moon City.” From left is Desmond Batch, 11, Ava Bettencourt and Aaron Traingue. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

The teams from the Boys & Girls Club of Leominster and Fitchburg were the only Boys & Girls Club group that competed. All the other teams where from middle schools around New England.
The Boys & Girls Club’s Future Town team won three different awards including best model, one of the toughest competitions considering there were more than 20 teams from the New England region. They also won the award for citizen engagement and the most brilliant use of natural resources.

The teams participated on Jan. 26 at the regional competition held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

AIS celebrated Manufacturing Month with events, educational sessions

The Leominster manufacturing company is also celebrating its 30th anniversary!

LEOMINSTER — AIS, the largest manufacturer of commercial office furniture and seating in New England, celebrated Manufacturing Month with a number of events and educational sessions throughout October.

Events included visits by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, tours and discussions for local students, and an employee appreciation day.

The official national Manufacturing Day was Oct. 4 (held annually the first Friday of October) and AIS held events that day as well as throughout the month.

Manufacturing Month activities focused on the importance of manufacturing to the local economy. The events also helped AIS to mark its 30th anniversary. The company was founded in October 1989 by Bruce Platzman and Arthur Maxwell.

“When a local economy rests on a solid manufacturing foundation, local businesses of all sizes and industries benefit. We’re proud to be the largest employer and manufacturer in Leominster and proud to be celebrating 30 years,” AIS President and CEO Bruce Platzman said.

Manufacturing is 10.1% of Massachusetts’ total economic output and comprises 7.8% of the Commonwealth’s workforce (about 250,000 people in the state work in manufacturing), according to MassDevelopment.

With over 600 employees who work in manufacturing jobs at its headquarters location, AIS is one of the largest employers in traditional manufacturing in the state of Massachusetts. More than 250 women work at AIS’s Leominster location, and more than 30 countries are represented in the employee population. With 800 employees nationwide and annual sales of more than $220 million, AIS’s dealer-centric focus and network extends across North America. AIS has been awarded “Manufacturer of the Year” from the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance eight times since 2008.

Some of the Manufacturing Month Activities

Baker visited AIS on Oct. 9, touring the manufacturing floor, meeting employees and presenting a proclamation declaring October to be Manufacturing Month in Massachusetts.

AIS honored its employees with an appreciation day on Oct. 11 that included a picnic under a huge tent at headquarters catered by local food-truck companies. At the event, Platzman awarded the Barney Platzman Award to Francesca Jimenez Vega.

AIS hosted members of the Girls & Boys Club of Fitchburg and Leominster for a tour of the factory and the showroom. Submitted Photo

The award, given annually, is named for the CEO’s father and given to an AIS factory team member selected for his or her hard work and dedication. This is the first year that a woman has won the Barney Platzman Award.

“AIS thanks Francesca for her dedication, and we are so thankful for all the hardworking employees we have. We would not be where we are without them,” Platzman said.

AIS also hosted the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster for factory and showroom tours. The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation partnered with AIS to provide the experience for the club members.

On Oct. 25, State Sen. Dean Tran visited AIS and presented the company with a special citation honoring AIS’s 30 years in the state of Massachusetts. In 2018, Tran had nominated AIS “Manufacturer of the Year” for Central Massachusetts.

“AIS is a true partner in the region,” said Tran (Fitchburg).  “Not only are the company’s quality products unmatched in the industry, their involvement and volunteer work in the region are second to none. AIS’s commitment to the community is greatly appreciated.”

“AIS is committed to being a MassMade company that prides itself on its role in the local community, in the state and in our country,” Platzman said. “It’s been an incredible 30 years and there is so much more ahead of us!”

Club Alumni Changing the World: Laura Jenny

Laura Jenny

This former Club kid credits the Club for the support and care she needed, and now she wants to pay it forward. (Picture L to R: Donata Martin, Executive Director BGC Fitchburg and Leominster, Laura Jenny, and Jon Blodgett, Teen Center Director)


Posted 11/08/2019 by Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Alumni

This post is part of a “Where Are They Now” series highlighting Youth of the Year who have gone on to become leaders, innovators and problem-solvers who now shape our world.

Club alumni like Laura Jenny are using foundational skills they learned at Boys & Girls Clubs to make a difference in their communities and globally. As a Club kid, Laura’s love of academics, the arts and passion for social justice were nurtured through the diverse programming and caring staff at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster in Massachusetts.

Now a junior at Harvard University, the versatile 20-year-old is often found staring down the lens of a microscope in the university’s Naomi Pierce Lab, where she studies the role of pests in crop failure and food shortages. Or you may find her performing theatre- and film-inspired compositions as a violinist with the Harvard Pops Orchestra. Laura also recently visited Australia to study tropical biodiversity.

“My Club gave me opportunities to [practice] science and math and fostered curiosity and a love of learning,” says Laura, an Integrative Biology major with a secondary focus in Global Health and Health Policy. “It [also] gave me a safe space to practice violin and express myself artistically.”

Club mentors inspired Laura to stand up for what she believed in. In high school, she co-founded a program that taught kids how to interact safely with police and reduce tensions between the two groups. In 2016, she was named Massachusetts State Youth of the Year for her leadership and volunteerism in the Boys & Girls Club and service to the community.

Laura Jenny

“The Club instilled in me the desire to give all I can to others and take initiative,” she says. “A village of people gave me and so many other Club kids their time and care. Because of this, I would like to spend my life giving to others what was given to me.”

Laura continues her social justice work as a Cheng Fellow in Harvard Kennedy School’s New World Social Innovation Fellowship. Through her work, she hopes to provide youth with tools to overcome aftereffects of trauma and affect public policy dealing with juvenile justice and child welfare. She is currently developing a survey to document sources of youth trauma. She plans to use data collected by the survey in collaboration with the nonprofit Strategies for Youth to develop a curriculum to teach youth about trauma and how to respond to triggering situations.

She also serves as Chair of the Community Service Board for Eleganza, Harvard’s largest student-run event with over 50 board members, 60 models and dancers and a sold-out crowd of over 1,500 attendees each year who gather to celebrate fashion, dance, music and expression through the innovative show.

Youth of the Year is Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premier youth leadership program, honoring extraordinary young people and their achievements in leadership, service, academic excellence and leading a healthy lifestyle. Learn more at BGCA.org/YOY.


Boys & Girls Club Summer Blast Program gets underway

Gardner News

This week at the Boys & Girls Club Summer Blast Program, we are having a great time. We are doing many activities including science projects such as the volcano experiment, strategy board games, hands-on activities, and funny games like German Baseball.

During this time you can have fun, but it is also good to educate yourself sometimes. That’s why we did volcano experiments. In this project you and your team build a volcano with paper and plastic bottles. After that a staff member pours red vinegar and baking soda into the volcano to make a slight explosion. The students here had an amazing and educational time during this experiment.

Playing board games is fun, but have you ever made your own? Here, as part of our Summer Brain

activities, each team made and created a board game. There was a team of kids who won first place. It was a bit tough, including the fact that we could only use some materials and everyone has to agree with a plan. During this project lots of students learned teamwork skills. This activity was fun and educational.

Another activity that is still going on is the Mars Project, part of our Space Exploration Program. A group of two makes a poster of what you think the environment on Mars looks like. During this activity I learned that Mars was cold instead of hot. Other students here were cooperating and participating, which made the activity even more enjoyable.

Playing the same sport over and over again isn’t as fun, so we learn new ones such as German Baseball. In this game your team has to hit a ball off a cone, then run to the other side of the gym. The other team is lined up, and if they hit you, you are out. We all liked learning and playing this game.

The after-school program starts on Sept. 3 and located beginning this fall at Gardner Middle School. The fee is $30 per month, dismissal to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. For registration information, call Mio at 978-534-8358, ext. 10 or visit www.bgcflg.org.

99 Restaurant & Pub Opening

The ribbon is cut to formally open 99 Restaurant & Pub in Gardner Thursday. (Donata Martin, Executive Director, pictured center left)



Carl and Pat Wilbur of East Templeton were some of the first patrons to enjoy the grand opening of the Ninety-Nine Restaurant in Gardner on Thursday, Aug. 22.

Learning to succeed in the digital age with the Geek Squad at the B&G Club

 The Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster hosted the Geek Squad Academy at the club on Wednesday and Thursday, August 14 and 15, 2019. Geek Squad Academy is a no cost two day, hands-on technology program designed for youth ages 10-18. When attending, youth become “Junior Agents” and get hands-on experience with some of the newest and coolest technology, with instructors from Best Buy and Geek Squad. This two day camp experience allowed students to explore technology like: coding. programming, film production/photography, 3D-design, digital music and digital citizenship. Some student created some 30 second stop action movies with Lego’s during the academy. Helping the student work the camera is Anthony Rodriguez. From left listening to him is Semy Kim, 16, Alexiss Edmonds, 13, and Nicole Robinson, 15. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

By Daniel Monahan  | Sentinel & Enterprise

LEOMINSTER — In the digital age, becoming familiar with and understanding new technologies is important for people of all ages and students at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster rolled up their sleeves Wednesday to start on their own technology journey.

The Geek Squad Academy, in a partnership with Best Buy, was hosted at the club with the goal of exposing students to different technologies and arts.

“Because most of the jobs for the future are not in existence now, it’s a great way for kids to start learning about all the different types of technology,” said club Executive Director Donata Martin.

Justen Bristlin, signature programs specialist with Best Buy, said this is the 13th year the academy has been hosted.

Bristlin said the program gives students the tools necessary to succeed in the 21st Century.

Instructor Steve O’Day helps Amelia Carboni , 10, make some digital music at the academy. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

“One of our goals is to bridge the digital divide,” said Bristlin. “The idea is to get kids involved with technology and to be content creators instead of consumers.”

To get students started off on the right foot, the event offered coding projects, stop-motion tutorials, and activities that combined music and technology.

Students who participated in a Star Wars themed coding activity said they were excited to be learning the skill because they might use it in the future.

“We’re doing small coding puzzles right now and it’s really fun,” said Fitchburg resident Conor Elliot.

Jalen Leider, who was coding a project involving famous robot R2D2, said he was potentially interested in coding and computers, but added that he’d have to learn eventually.

“Coding gives kids a basic idea of how logic works,” said instructor Kieth Porazzo. “Coding is the foundation of everything we use from our cellphones to browsing the web.”

Another instructor, Elena Valdez, added that “children are going to be our future and that our future is going to be technology.”

Students also participated in an activity where they made their own stop-motion videos.

Working the camera is Alexiss Edmonds, 13. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

Stop-motion is a type of film making that requires painstakingly moving puppets, or in this case Lego pieces, and snapping hundreds of photos until it makes a cohesive, short movie.

Alexis Edmonds, 13, said they had to plan out a scene using Legos and repeatedly move them centimeters at a time while taking photos of every move.

The skit was about two characters that were fighting over their girlfriend, she said.

“It’s fun because you can be creative with our story and we tried different things with the Legos,” said Edmonds.

Bristlin also said it’s important for parents to get children learning about technology whenever possible, adding that he thinks students learn more with hands on activities.

Martin said Geek Squad staff members will be volunteering at the club over the next year to hopefully add to students’ learning.

Subaru shifts funds to Boys & Girls Clubs of Lunenburg and Fitchburg-Leominster

Sentinel & Enterprise


LUNENBURG — Subaru of America, Inc. and North End Subaru presented a check for $26,233 to the Boys & Girls Club of Lunenburg and Fitchburg-Leominster as its hometown charity choice for the 2018 Subaru Share the Love Event.

The check was presented by Martin Babineau, dealer principal.

 Posing with the check being presented to the two local Boys & Girls Clubs are, back row, from left: Rocco Spagnuolo, Jesse Manning, Martin Babineau, Michelle Belleza, and Joe Aotavilla; second row from left: Brett Houck, Charlotte Ludy, MacKenzie Belleza, and Molly Belleza; front row, from left: Rochelle Jules, Jennie-Lynn Abdurraheem, Jayde Caraballo, and Suhaly Rosado. SUBMITTED PHOTO

From Nov. 15 to Jan. 2, customers who purchased or leased a new Subaru vehicle selected from a list of charities to receive a donation of $250 from SOA.

For the third year in a row, there was no cap on the total donation from Subaru of America to its Share the Love charitable partners.

At the culmination of this year, SOA and its retailers hope to exceed a grand total of $140 million donated nationally since the creation of the Share the Love Event to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the event.

Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_32593412/subaru-shifts-funds-boys-amp-girls-clubs-lunenburg#ixzz5mE8XQt6Q

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