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


Q&A: Mike Angelini, Worcester’s power broker, gets down to business

The title was innocuous: “A proposal for the reorganization of Worcester’s Economic Development Efforts.” The content was anything but.

In addition to referring to Worcester’s developmental efforts as compartmentalized, inefficient and absent of collaboration, the proposal listed a litany of deficiencies; the phrase “We do not have” appeared in six consecutive sentences.

The paper recommended a new entity, the Worcester Economic Development Corporation, assume the responsibilities of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Business Development Corporation, Worcester Redevelopment Authority, Destination Worcester, and others.

Criticism is common, but this broadside to the status quo, written five years ago, remains notable for two reasons.

angelini_4-sm

David Niles / For Worcester Sun

Michael P. Angelini

First, its author was none other than Michael P. Angelini, Chairman of the law firm Bowditch & Dewey and one of the most influential business leaders in the city. Second, it led to a fundamental change in the city’s approach to economic development — and the effects of those changes are still evident in 2016.

QUOTE OF NOTE:

“There is a difference between being a politician and being a political leader. Politicians are mindful of the pressures they face. Political leaders are mindful of the future that we face. I think it was terrible leadership by the City Council.” Find out what council decision got Mike Angelini fired up later in this story.

Maximum capacity: Hard-working Becker student crashes Bravehearts all-star party

Rejon Taylor-Foster had nowhere to go.

It was May 2014 and Taylor-Foster, a developer, game designer and teenage founder of the digital production studio Maximum Crash, had a problem.

His freshman year at Becker College was over, his home in Mount Vernon, New York, lost to neighborhood gentrification.

His options were limited, his drive was not. His requirements?

“All I needed was a corner and an outlet,” he said. “If I am able to get the tech, I can do the job because my skills are intact. I still have my computer. If I can get power, and I can connect to people, I can do more.”

Rejon Taylor-Foster

Mark Henderson / Worcester Sun

Rejon Taylor-Foster

Credit the family of Taylor-Foster’s friend Jeff Reiner for providing the corner, the outlet and an air mattress at their home in Burlington. Taylor-Foster took care of the rest.

Coding, or programming, was not just a way to make money. It is a way for Taylor-Foster to improve his skills, which are considerable, to create a better life.

Those skills are on display most notably in Bravehearts Derby, an app developed for the Worcester Bravehearts. Taylor-Foster created the original game upon which it is based and led a team of enterprising students in creating a slick, enhanced version for the city’s hometown team.

Q&A with Malika Carter, Worcester’s chief diversity officer

Malika Carter, Ph.D., was named the city’s first chief diversity officer on Jan. 15.

In announcing her hiring City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. wrote: “The main duties of the position will include developing and monitoring, recruiting, hiring, training, promoting and retaining strategies to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups who work and volunteer for the city.

“Dr. Carter will also oversee the development and implementation of the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity and Inclusion Plan and making sure that the city is in compliance with all federal, state and local Equal Employment Opportunity laws.”

The trail that led her to Worcester was steep.

Malika Carter, Worcester chief diversity officer

Mark Henderson / Worcester Sun

Malika Carter, Worcester chief diversity officer

Carter, who says she grew up “low socio-economic-statused” person, at first eschewed four-year colleges for Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, where her parents went back to school at ages 45 and 46.

She got her associate’s degree in stenography so she could become a court reporter and earn money to continue her education at Cleveland State University.

The punitive nature of the law, she said, made her realize she wanted to make education her career. She taught science, reading and language arts in grades 4-9 in Cleveland but was drawn to higher education.

She earned a master’s in higher education and student affairs administration at the University of Vermont, working full time in the process.

In 2005, Carter moved on to North Dakota State University, where she was assistant director of multicultural programs while continuing her education. In 2011 she became director of multicultural student services at the University of North Dakota. In 2014 she earned her Ph.D. from North Dakota State.

Carter sat down with the Sun for her first extended one-on-one interview since coming to Worcester in February.


Quotable Carter: Select thoughts from the city’s diversity czar

  • “Institutions were not built for under-represented people. They were built for power, to keep the power in and keep the powerless out.”
  • “Imagine if the tables were turned and those people who are doing a lot with a little were at the top of the economic food chain. Imagine how [much] better our institutions would be because they would be able to, as my grandmother says, ‘Make a dollar hollar.’ “
  • “The hardest job I had to learn in doing this work is to be tolerant of the intolerant.”
  • “The city’s workforce is not as diverse as it could be.”

She talked about what prepared her for a city the size of Worcester, the city’s hiring practices, last summer’s dialogues on race, a recent incident involving a member of the city manager’s cabinet, the role of media, and difference between threats and free speech.


What was it that best prepared you for a city the size of Worcester?

Ray Mariano, a Worcester conversation

Ray Mariano is sure about many things. Except what’s next.

He understands you can’t plan for everything. Something will change, get in the way, go terribly wrong. It could be uninspiring leadership, or cross words from a skeptical father to a teenage boy from the wrong part of town. A sudden job opening. Or the spark of a candle in an abandoned warehouse on a cool December evening.

It could be a funny story from one of your two grandchildren. Or the look of a troublemaker standing back to revel in the mayhem he helped cause. Each ensuing moment has the potential to be a turning point, an opportunity.

Ray Mariano will leave the Worcester Housing Authority after 13 years June 30.

Fred Hurlbrink Jr. / Worcester Sun

Ray Mariano will leave the Worcester Housing Authority after 13 years June 30.

Raymond V. Mariano, 64, the longtime mayor who will step down as executive director of Worcester Housing Authority Thursday, June 30, after 13 years at the helm, may not know what his tomorrow holds but he is certain to have an answer for whatever the next sunrise brings.

One thing’s for sure: He’ll be neither wallflower nor gadfly.

“When I left City Hall, I didn’t go back into the building for one year. And the only reason I went back at the end of a year, was to get a dog license,” Mariano said recently from behind his desk in the housing authority’s Belmont Street headquarters. “Other than that I wasn’t going back into the building. When the mayor leaves, he should leave. You won’t see my portrait, ever, at City Hall. Not gonna get it. Not interested, don’t care. I mean it’s nice — my kids don’t like the idea that I won’t get it.

“When you leave, you should just leave.”

University Park

Sun Shine: Walking Together, on a mission in Worcester’s Main South

“Some of these projects may crash and burn and that’s OK. But it’s important that we get out into these communities to do some work. I guess you could say that this is at the heart of evangelization. We have an opportunity to do some amazing things.”
— Rev. Meredyth Wessman Ward


There are a lot of Episcopal churches in the Worcester area, including All Saints, St. Michael’s-on-the-Heights, St. Luke’s and St. Matthew’s, among others.

Some of the church buildings are majestic, with their distinctive old-style bell towers and steeples. Others are more low-key, snugly blending into the comfy landscape of suburban Central Massachusetts.

And then, there’s the “church” that’s run by the Rev. Meredyth Wessman Ward.

It has no nave, no kneelers, no spires, no altar.

In fact, an individual could pass by it without knowing that it is a house of God.

University Park

Sun Staff / Worcester Sun

Rev. Meredyth Wessman Ward at a recent Wednesday morning outreach session at University Park.

You see, Rev. Ward is an Episcopal “urban missioner” and her church sits smack in the middle of gritty Main South, just a stone’s throw from the YMCA’s Central Community Branch on Main Street.

It’s located near a lot where a homeless man, a few years back, was found frozen to death in a car he sought refuge in.

Worcester Lacrosse breaks the mold

Editor’s note: Today we’re proud to introduce to our members the latest addition to our growing family of contributors, Joe Parello. Joe’s name may be familiar to astute followers who recall his byline from his year as a sports editor and reporter for GoLocal Worcester in 2012-13. He’s also deputy editor and cofounder of SuiteSports.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.

The Worcester Warriors don’t look like your average lax bros, in more ways than one. The team doesn’t have all matching helmets, for starters, and the ethnic makeup of the group is far different from many of the programs Worcester goes up against.

“We play teams from these little towns, and they look at me like they’ve never seen a black guy before,” sophomore Phil Adarkwah said with a smile. “They just stare at me, Malik (Jenkins), Livingston (Jenkins) and Paul (Yiadom). Then we just go out and scrape them.”

Harry Jones has coached the combined Worcester high school boys lacrosse team to its third straight postseason appearance.

Joe Parello / For Worcester Sun

Harry Jones has coached the combined Worcester high school boys lacrosse team to its third straight postseason appearance.

“We do feel a little bit out of place, but we embrace that,” senior Kyle Farrell said. “As raw athletes, we are a little out of place. Yeah, not all of our helmets match, and we don’t have a booster club. We don’t even have a JV program. It is what it is, and we do our best to make it work. Our uniforms might not all match, but that’s OK.

“We don’t want to fit in, we want to stand out.”

The Warriors, under the highly motivated guidance of coach Harry Jones, have indeed been standing out the last few seasons. The program’s ascension to the ranks of contender, though maybe not in your stereotypical lacrosse town or well-heeled fashion, should probably come as little surprise.

St. John’s, St. Peter-Marian baseball ready for showdown — and future

It would be no surprise to sports fans around the area to find that St. John’s Shrewsbury and St. Peter-Marian are running out onto some field or track or court somewhere a bunch of talented young men (or women) about to win a conference title or vie for a state championship in something.

That it’s baseball season and the Pioneers and Guardians are regarded among the top teams in not only Central Mass. but the state surely serves as even less of a revelation.

With such well-stocked rosters, though, featuring college- and prep-bound stars like Jared Wetherbee, Pat Gallagher, Jake Rosen and Jonathan Gonzalez, it may sneak up on some folks when they realize the best is likely yet to come.

Ian Seymour is one of several underclassmen on each side of the St. John's, St. Peter-Marian baseball rivalry who will be back to ratchet it up next year.

Sun Staff

Ian Seymour is one of several underclassmen on each side of the St. John’s, St. Peter-Marian baseball rivalry who will be back to ratchet it up next year.

“We’re a very young team,” said seventh-year SPM coach Ed Riley, who knows a thing or two about young, rising stars in the Seven Hills. “We’re up and coming, and we only have four seniors on the roster this season. We’re looking at big expectations for the younger kids over the next couple of years.”

Sun Shine: Arrays of light — Clark student’s solar project to aid ‘our heroes’

Folks who have visions for special projects to benefit society often spend years, decades, and even lifetimes in order to turn their ideas into useful, practical and workable accomplishments.

Not Krissy Truesdale.

Krissy Truesdale, Clark's latest aspiring social entrepreneur

Mark A. Henderson / Worcester Sun

Krissy Truesdale, Clark’s latest aspiring social entrepreneur

It took the Clark University student only three years to transform her innovative plan to benefit the environment, while financially helping deserving everyday “heroes,” into a reality.

But the short turnaround time isn’t the only thing that makes Truesdale’s project remarkable.

You see, Truesdale started bouncing around the idea for “Solar for Our Superheroes,” a project aimed at providing solar power to the homes of people who benefit their communities through their efforts in the workplace, when she was a sophomore in high school.

Work to install solar panels on the project’s first home may start as early as this August.

Sun Sampler: A healthy portion of our freshest good stuff

With in-depth reporting, intricate storytelling and thoughtful perspectives we have striven to create a menu that accentuates the best of Worcester and its surrounding communities. Something you didn’t know yesterday that makes you think about tomorrow. The places you’ll want to go. Real folks with incredible stories, who we think you’d want to meet.