What does WAFT do, anyway? An inside look at Worcester’s anti-foreclosure warriors: Part 2 — The team rallies around an Oak Street family

Neither Donna Berrios nor her husband have been inside their home since the eviction notice was issued five days before. Their son, A.J., not similarly barred by the sometimes ambiguous foreclosure laws, carries out a large textbook. Meanwhile WAFT protesters have assembled for support as group leader Grace Ross angles to keep Berrios in her Oak Street house.

What does WAFT do, anyway? An inside look at Worcester’s anti-foreclosure warriors: Part 1 — Gaining traction and attention

Together a dedicated group of volunteers is tackling the still-daunting number of foreclosure petitions issued in the state by helping residents stay in their homes while exhausting all the archaic, complicated and red-taped remedies in the foreclosure process. “Basically it’s about enforcing the laws that are on the books,” said Grace Ross, the organization’s founder, who was recently honored by New England’s NAACP chapter with a lifetime achievement award for her advocacy work. This is the first in a two-part report chronicling several days in the lives of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team and the people they try to help.

What does WAFT do, anyway? An inside look at Worcester’s anti-foreclosure warriors: Part 2 — The team rallies around an Oak Street family

This is the second in a two-part report chronicling several days in the lives of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team, a nonprofit grassroots organization that advocates and provides support for residents facing eviction and tries to help those people stay in their homes while untangling the often complicated legality of their situations.


The team in action

It is not the “oppressive” day the morning weather report called for, but by 10:45 a.m. the mercury has risen far beyond what could be considered comfortable, as WAFT petitioners assemble in a neighboring carpark to challenge a recent eviction notice.

Parked on the curb of a short one-way street not far from downtown is a Subaru Outback, a tarp of hastily bundled goods straddling the roof, and its hatchback filled with what was once cluttering the home in question.

WAFT assembles to support Donna Berrios outside her Oak Street home.

Alex L. Khan / For Worcester Sun

WAFT assembles to support Donna Berrios outside her Oak Street home.

Neither Donna Berrios nor her husband, Rafael Mejias, have been inside the home since the eviction notice was issued five days before. Their son, A.J., not similarly barred by the sometimes ambiguous foreclosure laws, carries out a large textbook, and places it on the hood of the car.

“I’m just glad that he got my bible out,” said Berrios, a cross hanging from her neck. She is smoking — something to ease the stress, she says — while watching her son bring a fire extinguisher from the house.


Part 1 — Gaining traction and attention


What does WAFT do, anyway? An inside look at Worcester’s anti-foreclosure warriors: Part 1 — Gaining traction and attention

First in a two-part report chronicling several days in the lives of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team, a nonprofit grassroots organization that advocates and provides support for residents facing eviction and tries to help those people stay in their homes while untangling the often complicated legality of their situations.

It is hot at the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center this particular Wednesday evening amid the arid dog days of summer. An odd fan here and there decorates the room, with an open door onto the street serving as further means to fend off the heavy, humid air late September has left so abruptly behind.

Across the board are names of people who know well that feeling of being left behind. With them are corresponding dates, and a list of items to be covered during this regular meeting of the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team, with the agenda quickly moving along, almost as if anticipating something big. Then it comes:

“We’ve been offered to meet with Senator Warren.”

waft_matthew_griffin_2016-auction-protest-photo

The announcement is made by Grace Ross, chairperson of WAFT’s steering committee, and coordinator and cofounder of Mass Alliance Against Predatory Lending [MAAPL], to which WAFT belongs with more than 70 organizations from unions, to individual lawyers, to the New England Area Council of the NAACP.

Together they are tackling the still-daunting number of foreclosure petitions issued in the state by helping residents find ways to stay in their homes while exhausting all remedies — many archaic, complicated, wrapped in red-tape or difficult to understand for non-English speakers — in the foreclosure process.


Part 2 — The team rallies around an Oak Street family


Sun Shine: At Broad Meadow Brook volunteers are a natural fit

“We want to be engaged with the community,” says Martha Gach, the conservation coordinator. “We recognize that there is no way the paid staff can do everything that we need to do here, and we also recognize that people want to be involved.” Alex Khan straightens his tie and digs in for an in-depth look at where Worcester and nature and good people collide.

Sun Shine: At Broad Meadow Brook volunteers are a natural fit

She looked upon her visitor oddly. Most likely this was because she — being 8, enjoying pill bugs, and wearing appropriate clothing — had not anticipated running into someone in the same setting, slightly older, and — having chosen to wear a full suit — schvitzing like a penguin stuck in New Delhi.

The critical look was probably very much warranted, particularly given our shared location.

Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary is tucked away just beyond Route 20 on Massasoit Road. Containing five miles of trails across 430 acres of land, Broad Meadow Brook is not only the sole Massachusetts Audubon site in Worcester, but the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England.

Broad Meadow Brook Visitor and Conservation Center

Alex L. Khan / For Worcester Sun

Broad Meadow Brook Visitor and Conservation Center

With a small staff — running above one dozen, but below 20 employees, many of those part-time — utilizing volunteers has become not only an asset, but something of a necessity at the sanctuary. Currently, Broad Meadow Brook holds two formal sessions, a weekly volunteer program from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays, and one from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of every month.

It was during one of the Wednesday sessions last month that Cass, the 8-year-old, and I found ourselves meeting from afar, and why I had visited Broad Meadow Brook once before, similarly dressed, and finding that a necktie does not suit well for a lot of genuflecting in nature.

Sun Shine: YouthWorks building skills, pride in young people

It was typical fare for the summer. The room was air-conditioned and filled with teens lounging casually in chairs, talking, occasionally laughing, and finding that the best placement for snacks was squarely in the middle of the room for easy access.

The mix of the traditional metrics — race, age, gender — seemed to be expected from a metropolitan hangout once the school year had terminated.

Clockwise from top left, Caitlyn Depres, Louisa Odonkor, Quinten Petrallo and Ayeisa Tejada Pena, city of Worcester YouthWorks employees at Out to Lunch.

Courtesy WCAC

Clockwise from top left, Caitlyn Depres, Louisa Odonkor, Quinten Petrallo and Ayeisa Tejada Pena, city of Worcester YouthWorks employees at Out to Lunch.

However, considering the presence of a teacher, notebooks and assigned seats, not to mention a rational, coordinated discussion, it was clear this gathering of youths — as they like to be called — was not merely attempting to enjoy their summer vacation, but maximize it.

Being located on the fourth floor of the Worcester Public Library may have also been a giveaway.

With the goal of providing young people with more opportunity in places such as Worcester, Commonwealth Corporation’s YouthWorks is a state-run employment program for 14- to 21-year-olds. Participants come from low-income households; and in Worcester, those households are numerous. Worcester’s annual median household income significantly lags the state average.

Local Business Spotlight: ETAwiz, Worcester-developed app is right on time

Very rarely would one pinpoint a vintage car show as the site for modern innovation.

It was in this setting of lax fuel emissions standards and pastel-painted tailfins, however, that ETAwiz — a free, location based-service app recently launched in the Apple App Store — would find its beginning between CEO and Founder Kevin Anderson and Chief Operating Officer Michael Aguirre.

Founder Kevin Anderson presents his app (screenshot design by Matthew Reynolds).

Courtesy ETAwiz

Founder Kevin Anderson presents his app (screenshot design by Matthew Reynolds).

As its name implies, ETAwiz orients itself around the abilities to share, receive and coordinate travelers’ expected times of arrival. From its most casual to most corporate of uses, ETAwiz is marketed as being able to service groups between “two and two-thousand members,” though the upper boundary is actually open-ended.

Designed to be used irrespective of audience — friends meeting for a post-work drink; a pizza delivery service informing a family when it should set out the paper plates; or a stranded motorist waiting for roadside assistance — Aguirre’s and Anderson’s app was constructed around the adage that “knowledge is power.”

“If I don’t know if someone is coming to my home or office, my mind starts to wander,” said Aguirre. “Just using this app, just knowing their ETA, that could definitely make you feel better” — particularly in an emergency or other high-stress situation.

Art is life for multitalented Burncoat teacher and Lifetime movie star Kevin Cox

“I’m just a guy who can do my job and [have] some fun on the side,” says Kevin G. Cox, a physics teacher at his alma mater Burncoat High School by day, and a nationally televised thespian by night — or whenever he can fit it in.

Khan: On diversity, inclusiveness city should aim higher than bonus points

Personally, I give the Human Rights Campaign as much salt as I do my morning oatmeal.

Which is to say little. In fact, I do not actually eat oatmeal in the morning, preferring Grape-Nuts to reinforce my coarse exterior right from the get-go.

The Human Rights Campaign is a fragile institution and not — to quote Lesley Gore — “sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.” In fact, according reporting first done by Buzzfeed and subsequently released documents, Lesley Gore, as a lesbian, may not have fared particularly well in the lily-white, male organization.

As a gay white male, I surely do not speak for the masses on the spectrum of the LGBTQIA community. In fact, being a homosexual white male in contemporary society, particularly one as in-your-face inclusive as Massachusetts, is probably only below heterosexual white male (and in some cases, higher in social standing through some odd fictional reparations for the 1950s).

Outside of losing the preeminent spot to “L”, the “G” is riding high these days, and continues to do so head-and-shoulders above those with whom we trickle in the spectrum. The gay white male still on net will make more than the gay white female.

And despite the crises that seem to be plaguing the Human Rights Campaign, of course, even hypocrites internally are not inherently externally wrong in their assessment. Thus, I cannot ultimately fault Worcester for its improvement in one year from a 55 (2013) to a 100 (2014), nor the city’s receipt of such a grade in 2015 through the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Equality Index.

Worcester's downtown skyline, slightly askew

Wikimedia Commons

Worcester’s downtown skyline, slightly askew — like, perhaps, the inclusiveness scores the city’s received the past two years from the Human Rights Campaign.

Rather it is certainly nice that action has been put in place, both legislatively and independently, to provide greater protections for LGBTQIA individuals. This is something to be applauded if used effectively.