A Mother’s Journey [Part 43]: The road less traveled

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Entrepreneurs can be viewed as larger-than-life characters. Always fighting against the preconceived notions of society and breaking the confining molds of the status quo.

While entrepreneurs may seem to be a group of outliers with hard-to-duplicate qualities, the truth is, entrepreneurs embody the same traits as the rest of the world. We just put them to use.

Creativity. Imagination. Risk-taking. Vision. These are traits we are all born with.

As children, we thrive on imagination and creating worlds of our own, and we succeed as novice risk-takers because our vision and goals are clear.

Children tend to live simply. No over-complications. Our dreams are big, our passions are pure and our ideas are innovative. But something happens between childhood and adulthood that changes our view of what we consider possible.

That world of possibility is the underlying motivator for entrepreneurs.

It is the silent reminder that all things are possible. “All things are within reach, if you are willing to work for it,” can be the staple slogan for entrepreneurship, but these ideas don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Working hard, using creativity and taking risk for the sake of our own personal improvement must be a model implemented in all walks of life and not only on the path of entrepreneurship.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The accidental perspective, or scroll down to explore more of her story.

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 37: Grandmother’s New Business Opens Old Wounds

The first consignment of hard liquor was ready to drink — more importantly, to sell. People started coming to the house to buy in bulk or by tot. It cost 20 cents (Sierra Leone cents). Back then, money had value, no doubt.

Augustine Kanjia

Life did not seem to be getting any better.

And it was going to get worse: As money problems rose to the surface a school mate’s accusations of stealing led to a dozen lashes for a crime I did not commit.

Three of my uncles were now living with my grandmother and me. Our house was old and rustic; we needed a better one. I was going to Grade 4 then. My friends always laughed at me for the type of house we slept in. It was not so deplorable, but they wanted to keep me thinking I was lower than them. Glad I did not bother with their provocations.

My grandmother had to call an emergency family meeting to discuss the future of the house. We all knew it was time for action. My grandmother was a brave and innovative woman who had put a lot behind her after the difficulties of her marriage.

She depended on her children, but the children were quite poor. Her eldest son worked in the Native Police Administration. These were special village police who answered only to the paramount chiefs of their jurisdiction. My uncle had first become an army man, but was said to have left due to some very hard conditions. He was quite a strong man, but I think it was not for physical strength that men were selected and accepted into the army. He had run away at night to return to Pakidu, Sierra Leone, their father’s hometown, before deciding to join the NPA.

My grandmother was hopeful. My uncle’s full name was Sahr Motatay James. My grandmother called him Sahr Tay. As a boy, I never understood the meaning — but it was simply the short form of Motatay.

Sahr Tay did not adhere to Grannie’s call for a meeting for the house. Ngainda and Aiah were present, though, and good to go. Or so they said then.

The meeting was of importance to everyone because the rainy season was no plaything. We had already put down heavy rocks and tied wires to the edges of the house on all sides. The wires were buried deep to avoid being taken by the wind. We were still not secure.

Augustine’s last chapter: Signs of My Struggle Begin Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

Gardens and gargoyles: Dilapidated churches grow into urban farms

Wondering what the future could hold for one of the city’s most beloved church buildings? Find out with author BJ Hill in the Sun’s serial glimpse into the fantastic (and mostly fictional) possibilities of a not-so distant tomorrow.

WORCESTER, June 9, 2019 – Within the city of Worcester there are 12 former church buildings that are facing the wrecking ball. Three of these buildings date back to the 1880s. They are cherished, sacred spaces where generations of parishioners married, baptized children, and said their goodbyes to loved ones. But in the last few decades, congregations of every faith have thinned out. While a giant extravagant property was once a symbol of reverence and success for a parish, now it’s become maintenance headaches for cash-strapped finance committees.

Some congregations sought to let go of the buildings, but developers know it’s daunting to repurpose thick cement walls, redesign a cavernous interior, and maintain the cultural and historical legacy.

Some church buildings were sold to the highest bidder, anyway, to await uncertain futures. With uninterested new owners and a minimum of maintenance, the once-mighty cornerstones of communities now decay and molder until they’re no longer safe to keep standing.

But a local company called Altar2Table is on a preservation campaign to purchase the properties and fix them up for what once would have been considered a most unlikely use: urban farms.

Can’t get enough? Find more What if … Worcester here

Altar2Table’s first purchase was Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Mulberry Street, which was officially closed by the Diocese of Worcester in 2016. After a year of renovations, the farm commenced operations in January 2019 and yielded its first harvest in April.

A Mother’s Journey [Part 42]: The accidental perspective

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Entrepreneurs need motivation.

Motivation to continue with our mission. Motivation to wake up in the morning and face our challenges. Motivation to move past an obstacle even when everyone says we can’t.

Entrepreneur, best-selling author and speaker Gary Vaynerchuk has been tabbed by some with saying the “most motivational statement ever.” In a direct effort to wake people up from a monotonous life filled with complaints about unhappiness and regret, Vaynerchuk strikes a chord by hitting a note most people don’t want to hear: “You’re gonna die.”

Life is precious – no doubt about it – but there is nothing that validates your existence more than a near-death experience. To see the fragility of life firsthand is more than an eye-opener. At times, it is a life-awakener.

Growing up, I was always the adventurous girl in my group of friends. Always riding on the back pegs of bikes without a helmet, rollerblading through traffic down the middle of the New York City streets during a rainstorm. I even consistently found myself a part of car racing groups.

I was fearless then, and nothing seemed dangerous. My mom would plead with me to wear helmets and kneepads. I would sigh and roll my eyes. All I wanted was the feeling of freedom as I raced down the streets and watched the city come to life around me.

I always just thought that she didn’t get me.

Recently on the rainiest of days, my little sister was on her way to New York to enjoy time with friends. As she was driving down I-95 South, she flipped her Ford Explorer and was rushed to the hospital.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The place to start, or scroll down to explore more of her story

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 36: Signs of My Struggle Begin

I sometimes wondered as a child how my grandmother made her family survive.

Augustine Kanjia

My uncle hadn’t yet found his first job. Mom had left with my step-dad to live in Bo, the largest town in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. My heart was with my mother. I knew she was striving hard to make us happy, but there were no gifts — or food or money — coming, only messages to Grannie and me.

My grandmother had only one of her three sons living with her, Ngainda. He was young and people expected him to get a good job. He would become a farmer. The road to the farm was quite a distance. It was manual farming and required real man power. He was a perfect fit for the job. His muscles were turgid and feasible.

My grandmother depended on him for a good yield. But the farm was patrolled by many birds that devoured the nursery seed or the ripened rice for harvest. This frustrated him, and he reverted to planting okra.

There was no one at home to take care of me when everyone had gone to the farm. There was no babysitting then. Your parents could leave you in the town and go about their business; they will meet you home in the evening. We feared nothing, like kidnapping or abuse. Everyone was the other’s keeper. But my grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, was never happy leaving me behind. So, I had to miss school several times a year.

Augustine’s last chapter: Family disintegrates, Pa dies Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

A Mother’s Journey [Part 41]: The place to start?

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

There is something magical in the air and many people in the know are starting to feel it.

With its strong local collaborations and emerging businesses, Worcester is beginning to be recognized outside the city limits as much as inside them as a new leader in the startup world — and rightfully so.

Per recent data released by TechNet and the Progressive Policy Institute and reported by Axios.com, Worcester is lumped in with larger cities — from Philadelphia; to Nashville, Tennessee; to Portland, Oregon — as being among the nation’s emerging startup hubs.

While statistics are starting to add up to recognition that Worcester is a hub of innovative entrepreneurs, we have known this for quite some time.

Known as a center of manufacturing as far back as 150 years ago, Worcester has always served as an incubator for industries, so it is no surprise to me that we are collectively regaining our title.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The stress test, or scroll down to explore more of her story

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 35: My Family Disintegrates After Pa Dies

My grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, had arrived in Motema to seek refuge not long before my dad died. It was a very difficult time.

Augustine Kanjia

My father, Pa Kanjia, had married a lot of women because he was a rich man. He had five wives. My mom was the youngest and most beautiful. My dad was aware of it, Grannie would tell me, and so were the other children.

His first wife could not speak Kono, but Mende. The family was large, with each wife having an extended family. People came from far and wide seeking help from my dad. He was happy with that because he stood for people even before his riches.

I remember my grandmother telling me that he had a heart problem, which did not bother him. But she said he was bitten by a dog. Medicine in those days was underdeveloped, so there was no proper diagnosis of the complicated illness. It was in 1963, a couple months before I was born. My dad died in the hospital, shocking the whole community. He had left quite a lot of riches.

Augustine’s last chapter: Back to How It All Started Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

A Mother’s Journey [Part 40]: The stress test

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

I recently shared on Facebook an article by Inc. magazine titled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” and it led to a serious discussion about the demons within the entrepreneurial spirit.

Throughout this series for Worcester Sun, I have written often in broad terms about the struggles of entrepreneurship while being sure to highlight the many positives. I have boasted about the ability to take back my time. Above all things, I consistently try to impress upon my readers that entrepreneurship has been a savior for me.

It is a lifeline that can change everything — but after reading this article, I realized that entrepreneurship is not the hero in everyone’s story.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The parent trap, or scroll down to explore more of her story

Immigrants thrive as Worcester bucks nationwide labor crisis

Author BJ Hill takes us on a fantastic, fictional voyage into the possibilities of a not-too-distant tomorrow in the latest installment of What if … Worcester, the Sun’s serial glimpse into the future.

Worcester’s Long View Pays Off

Thanks to progressive immigration policies, Worcester is dodging a national labor shortage that is crippling similar cities.
WORCESTER, Feb. 19, 2034 — Friday, Feb. 24, will be Ron Gopinski’s 70th birthday. It will also be his last day of work at the Abbott-UMass Memorial Medical Center. After 32 years as an accounts representative in the purchasing department, Gopinski is enjoying the transition to retired life. For Abbott-UMass, his retirement marks a transition of a historical sort, as Gopinski is the hospital’s last full-time employee from the Baby Boomer generation.

Baby Boomers are defined as those born in the post-World War II years between 1946 and 1964. The generation comprised the largest percentage of the population, and the workforce, between approximately 1970 to 2025. But beginning in 2011, when the first of the Boomers turned 65 and began to retire, human resource departments around the country noticed a worrying trend: There were fewer qualified applicants applying for their jobs.

It wasn’t a matter of wages or education, they found, but rather the simple fact that there were less people from the succeeding generations, the Gen Xers and the Millennials, in the labor pool.

The effect has throttled companies of all sizes as they compete to find candidates to take their openings. But Worcester employers — notably the AbbVie-LakePharma companies and Coghlin GreenPower — enjoy a competitive advantage created by the city’s progressive views toward immigration earlier this century.

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 34: Back to How It All Started

My grandmother was married to a hunter named Kai James.

Augustine Kanjia

He was very popular and had married three women altogether. My grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, was a local musician and quite popular, too. There were no recordings of her songs, but my grandmother would have gained a much wider audience in a different time.

She got lots of money, and her mates in marriage grew quite jealous of her. She had already had her four children. My mother, Hannah James, was the second among the four — after Sahr James, and before Tamba Ngainda James and Aiah James. My grandmother was a resilient woman, and quite tenacious and determined. But the jealousy in the house was evident.

Nothing seemed to work in those days, my grandmother would tell me years later. They were far from the police and there were no cars close by, either. Bangayima, one of my grandmother’s fellow wives, was at her throat. She would not go for Kumba’s singing, often creating a scene behind her back. The hatred was apparent. Bangayima would physically confront my grandmother to fight, which was quite a challenge for my grandmother because she preferred dialogue and peace with all whom she met.

Augustine’s last chapter: When things fall apart Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale