Serendipity and the Silver Ball — how a chance encounter fostered an enduring connection

You can call it what you want — fate, kismet, destiny — but something allowed John Dotson to intervene in the life of an adolescent foster child at the Silver Ball arcade in downtown Worcester some 33 years ago.

Just don’t call it a coincidence.

“I don’t believe in coincidences. You can’t call it a coincidence when two people meet in life and, at least from my perspective, alters your path in life in such a positive way,” said Claudia Grenga, who was 13 years old when she ducked into the popular teen hangout to stay hidden from a Worcester Police cruiser.

“I call those God-incidences. God intervened and introduced me to John when I needed him most,” Grenga said in an interview earlier this month.

Two days earlier, Grenga had published an essay on Facebook — titled “Meet John Dotson: Father, professional, angel” — that told her story of life as a foster child in Worcester, nights spent on Oread Street in Main South, how she met Dotson, and how he treated her with such respect.

To understand how a chance encounter 33 years ago could leave such an indelible mark on Grenga and Dotson, one must understand their lives prior to when they met.

For Dotson, it was a matter of knowing exactly where Grenga was coming from.

‘Legendary Lucas’ spurs great strides toward CF cure

Lucas Carroll was born with a double Delta F508 mutation of cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that requires him to take nearly 300 pancreatic enzymes weekly and adhere to a daunting daily care routine of additional supplements and treatments.

Lucas is 4 years old.

He is one of more than 30,000 people in the United States living with cystic fibrosis, or CF, which causes perpetually clogged airways, leading to infections, lung damage and eventually respiratory failure.

There are many treatments for the symptoms, but while prognoses — particularly for those diagnosed early — continue to improve, there is no cure.

“I think a lot of people have heard of CF. And a lot of people might know someone with it. I don’t think everyone understands what CF is and how devastating it can be,” said Lucas’ mother, Victoria Carroll. “Just getting people to understand it and raising money helps research, and the research is going to save his life.”

Lucas’ family and friends rallied yesterday [Saturday, May 20] around Team “Legendary Lucas” at the 2017 Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Great Strides walk at Quinsigamond State Park.

On the road to big things, with singer Dezi Garcia

There’s no disagreement about Dezi Garcia’s talent. And the young singer-songwriter from Worcester has put in the time, working local gigs and making two albums. But getting real notice in his competitive industry takes more than talent and time, although it’s hard to say exactly what. For starters, he aims to put together a summer tour.

Survival training: One woman’s story of perseverance

It’s been more than six years since Jennifer Burtt started doing the one thing that gives her purpose and keeps her healthy — providing support to others looking to change their way of life.

If it had not been for a devastating car wreck that left her friend dead and Burtt clinging to life, the former hairdresser likely wouldn’t have discovered that personal training — and helping people find their own new paths — was her life’s passion.

“It’s still amazing to me that the accident even happened. When I hear people tell me their accounts of what happened, or when I read the police reports, it’s crazy to think that that happened to me because I don’t remember any of it,” Burtt said in an interview on April 20, the same day she read through — for the very first time — a folder full of police and hospital reports her family saved to document the car crash that nearly took her life.

On July 12, 2010, at about 7:30 p.m., Burtt was a passenger in a Honda CR-V going more than 80 mph heading north on Interstate 395 in Killingly, Connecticut, when the vehicle swerved violently from the left shoulder, crossed two travel lanes and crashed into a raised divider at the Exit 93 [now exit 41] on-ramp.

According to reports from the Connecticut State Police, the SUV rolled over several times before finally coming to a halt.

When first responders arrived, they found Burtt had been thrown from the vehicle and was pinned beneath it. The driver was killed; Burtt and the other two passengers survived.

Contractor license suspended, Jay Pelletz still leaving customers in lurch

Melissa and Brian Barrows moved in 2015 into a secluded subdivision among the evergreens near the Quinebaug River in Southbridge called Hunter’s Ridge.

The home was built in 2006 on a short cul-de-sac called Quail Run, just off of Red Fox Blvd. and before Whitetail Circle.

Sounds good, so far. Idyllic even.

Except the home was built by Jamaheja, Inc., a contracting company owned by troubled Worcester real estate agent and developer Jay Pelletz, who has left accusations of unfinished work, broken promises and tens of thousands of dollars in money owed in his wake, according to several unsatisfied customers over the years.

However, unlike many of Pelletz’s former clients, the Barrows haven’t had any problems with their home.

“Knock on wood, right now we have not had any issues with our house that stem back to the building process of it,” Melissa told the Sun recently.

Instead, like the other residents of Quail Run, town leaders in Southbridge and one local bank, the Barrows’ problems on the homefront stem from Pelletz’s refusal to meet his obligations to maintain the private roads of the subdivision.

Long-sought schooling change delivers results for Gino

After years of frustrating delays and grappling with Worcester Public Schools, a deaf Worcester teen is at last in a special-education setting that has him thriving. The Sun checks in with Gino Berthiaume, his mother, educators and others who have seen the transformation that can come from an Individualized Education Program in action.

When it’s parents vs. coaches, kids can’t win

“Where I think it crosses the line is when we have a call for volunteers and no one volunteers to be a coach. Then when the season starts, everyone wants to have their say and their kids taken care of.” — Nick D’Andrea, East Side Babe Ruth official

The relationship between a sports coach and parent can be a balancing act.

Like the courts and fields where the young athletes play, there are boundaries — literal and figurative — and sometimes they get crossed.

Many of those involved in local high school and youth sports know there is a segment of parents who overstep the bounds. Beyond supporting their child and the team, more and more, it seems, they leap into a search for some kind of control in order to ensure what’s best for their child — more playing time, more accolades, more notice — whether earned on the playing field or not.

A recent prominent example of parents crossing the unmarked boundaries of involvement with interscholastic sports is a case in point. Former Braintree High School girls varsity basketball coach Kristen McDonnell stepped down after eight winning seasons — and two Division 1 state championships — because of what one parent described as “parent revolt.”

Of course, many parents, some coaches say, still manage to keep things in perspective. But the evolution of these important relationships continues.

“I’ve had it pretty good. I haven’t had lunacy like that,” Leicester High varsity football coach Tim Griffiths said.

“As far as parent interaction, we have our issues here and there, as every coach does,” Griffiths said. “When kids are growing up and playing sports, their parents expect that the kids get plenty of playing time. When they get older, however, it’s just not realistic. At the varsity level, the best players are going to play, and that’s just how it is.”

Griffiths, who’s been coaching at Leicester since 1994 — except for a stint at Quabbin Regional High School in the mid-2000s — said: “The parents that I’ve been around have been great with me, but I’ve also been there for a long time. It helps that they know me and know what to expect.

Boys & Girls Club has Worcester Police on the run

From the Heart of the Commonwealth to the nation’s capital, 13 Worcester Police officers (sometimes 14) and one sheriff’s deputy will be lacing up their running shoes to jog 460 miles together over the course of four days, with a single, unified goal: to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester’s track and field program.

Beginning May 9, city law enforcement officers — led by WPD gang unit Officer Brian Piskator and vice squad Officer Nathan Reando — will run about 10 to 12 miles a day starting at City Hall and arriving at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., on May 13. Sunday, May 14, kicks off National Police Week.

The route from Worcester to Washington, D.C., is being scouted by map right now, but a “driving recon” will be done by car before May 9, according to Piskator.

“The way it looks like right now it will be 10 to 15 miles per day for each runner. However, that’s going to be dependent on injury and condition. If one person goes down the first day and rolls their ankle, that’s going to bump everyone else up to 16 or 17 miles a day,” he said.