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.

One day just to give back to community

By Amanda Burke,

LEOMINSTER — The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster has one mission: Serve the children.

Sometimes, that means day-to-day building upkeep falls through the cracks.

But not on Thursday, when about 40 employees from international real-estate firm Keller Williams dug out their gardening gloves or grabbed a drill to help the youth development organization tidy up for spring.
Read more…

All those papers. All those tests. They earned it.

Cheers all around as area seniors receive chamber scholarships

By Elizabeth Dobbins,
UPDATED:   05/13/2017 06:32:29 AM EDT

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Leominster Superintendent of Schools James R Jolicoeur, left, and Leominster High Principal David Fiandaca celebrate with LHS

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Leominster Superintendent of Schools James R Jolicoeur, left, and Leominster High Principal David Fiandaca celebrate with LHS scholarship recipients at the North Central Mass. Chamber of Commerce Good Morning Scholarship Breakfast on Friday.

With them, from left, are seniors Laura Jenny, Mark Pothier, Alivia Burns, John Gove, Kristen Maguy and Kyleigh Olivier. See slide show at SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE PHOTOS / JOHN LOVE

LEOMINSTER — The achievements of the 24 students presented scholarships at the “Good Morning” breakfast had many local leaders lightheartedly taking another look at their own credentials Friday morning.
Read more…

North End Subaru does its Share for Boys & Girls Clubs

LUNENBURG – Subaru of America Inc. and North End Subaru on Friday presented a check for $22,071 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fitchburg/Leominster and Lunenburg as part of the 2016 Subaru Share the Love event.

From Nov. 17 to Jan. 3, customers who purchased or leased a new Subaru vehicle could select from a list of charities to receive a donation of $250 from Subaru of America.

This year, for the first time throughout the life of the program, there was no cap on the total donation from Subaru of America to its Share the

Love charitable partners. By the end of this year’s event, Subaru hopes to reach a grand total of nearly $90 million donated since the creation of Share the Love.

For 2016, Subaru of America selected the four national charities ASPCA, Make- A- Wish, Meals on Wheels America and the National Park Foundation. Subaru retailers could also elect to add a local charity, and North End Subaru selected the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fitchburg/ Leominster and Lunenburg as its ” hometown charity.”

The check was presented to the local Boys & Girls Clubs by Martin Babineau, dealer principal of North End Subaru.

Central MA Science Festival picks up steam

LEOMINSTER – It was full STEAM ahead on a sunny Saturday at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster for the fourth annual Central MA Science Festival.

The popular, free event highlights the importance of STEAM-related learning (STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and there were plenty of hands-on exhibits for the more than 500 visitors who had come through by 1 p.m., with another two hours to go, volunteer Kelly A. Hartnett said. Read more…

YUMMM! Visions of Food at AVAM

Bret McCabe
February 21, 2017

Ruby C. WilRuby C. Williams, "Farm Boy with a Duck." Part of Yummm! at AVAM.liams sells produce at a stand along Florida’s State Road 60, which runs east-west through the Sunshine State from Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, through Tampa, and on to Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast. She hand-paints signs to entice passing motorists to stop, and her advertisements are rendered in bright acrylic paint on board. Sometimes they’re simple—an orange circle on a matte grey background cheerily offering “sweet orange Florida’s best” or a bold red circle with a short green stem and leaves announcing “farm tomatoes.” Other signs deliver an almost aphoristic uplift, such as a green and gold flower surrounded by text that reads, “It’s getting better,” or a portrait of a woman in blue on gold board that suggests, “It’s a great thing to love someone.”
Read more…

A look at 20 local people who helped make 2016 memorable

For the seventh year, the Sentinel & Enterprise is looking back at the people who won our hearts, stimulated our minds and piqued our curiosity over the past 12 months.

These local people — among them politicians, public servants, professors, performers and community advocates — helped make 2016 memorable.

1. Kevin Roy

Roy’s quick response to a fire in the early hours of Feb. 10 earned the Fitchburg Fire Chief and 41-year department veteran a Medal of Valor during the Firefighter of the Year awards this November.

When a fire started in a house at 174 Walton St., Roy could see the blaze from his home.

He entered the duplex and pulled an unconscious 60-year-old man to safety.

Read more…

Organizers put final touches on 23rd annual Appleseed Festival

Sentinel & Enterprise Staff
Sentinel & Enterprise
September 14, 2016

Organizers are planning for another successful Johnny Appleseed Festival on the weekend of Sept. 24-25. 		Courtesy PHOTO / Richard MarchandSentinel and

Organizers are planning for another successful Johnny Appleseed Festival on the weekend of Sept. 24-25. Courtesy PHOTO / Richard Marchand

LEOMINSTER — On the weekend of Sept. 24-25, the city will celebrate its 23rd annual Johnny Appleseed Arts and Cultural Festival. And while plenty of activities are planned, organizers are still seeking sponsors.

“After last year’s event, it is hard to imagine this year’s event could be even bigger and better,” said Richard Marchand, who has been organizing the festival for 18 years.

Last year, the festival was followed by the 100th anniversary parade, which was the culmination of a long year of planning and city-wide activities to celebrate the city’s centennial.

“This year, we get back to the basics being a day to celebrate community with events and activities that are cross generational to be enjoyed by all,” he said.

The main stage located at the opening of Church Street onto West Street will have live entertainment all day long.

From 9 a.m. to noon, school-based instrumental and chorus groups will perform. Read more…

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