No child’s play: Simon Says Give Worcester chapter packs a serious charitable punch

Simon Eber, 14, is the kid president of the Worcester chapter of Simon Says Give, which provides students in need with birthday celebrations and school supplies.

“Simon Says Give in Minnesota started the High Five for Supplies campaign, and when I learned more about it, I realized that it would be a great way to help other children in Worcester Public Schools,” Eber said.

“The program was intended for the younger elementary school students, but I thought it would be great to give this opportunity to sixth graders to help with their transition to middle school.”

After starting the Worcester chapter of the Minnesota-based nonprofit earlier this year, Eber has donated more than 168 backpacks filled with school supplies and celebrated two birthdays since April.

More from Worcester Sun

Children’s Smile Coalition turning poverty upside down, one kid at a time

Over the last few years, the Children’s Smile Coalition has been helping children in Worcester County and beyond at a breakneck pace, expanding their work, and winning community awards all while remaining entirely nonprofit.

And there’s more to come. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s met Mary Ellen Wessell, the group’s executive director.

“The most important thing about this charity is that nobody gets paid,” Wessell, a 15-year resident of the Rochdale section of Leicester, said in a recent interview. Wessell and her staff receive no compensation for the volunteer work they do.

“One-hundred percent of all donations go to the programs. The executive director and all volunteers receive no compensation,” the CSC website states on the front page.

Wessell manages three initiatives that make up the coalition’s core: Santa’s Big League, Project KIN and Young Heroes Night. That’s in addition to an already jam-packed schedule. She is raising a 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, who will follow her footsteps to St. Peter-Marian next year, runs her own consulting firm, Baystate Business Solutions, has a part-time job at Tufts University, and is working to grow CSC.

More from the June 11-17 Worcester Sun:

Billy Breault

Mariano: The man nobody wants but every neighborhood needs

“He is loud and brash. His hair is long and unruly, and he wears a giant mustache that looks like a battering ram. … When he gets angry, and that is often, he looks like someone you want to avoid. Detractors call him a loudmouth, a bully and much worse.” In the first of a new series, Ray Mariano profiles Billy Breault, the Marshal of Main South.

No more pencils, no more books? Pen in a Box supplies needy schools

“It is so hard to do something nice when you are a teenager. You do not have money you can send to nonprofits, you do not have power to support the underprivileged. But Pen in a Box is an opportunity for us to stand up for those who need our support.”

For many, it can be seen as the end of a fulfilling journey. For others, it’s simply a necessary chore to put the past year in the rearview and move on.

No matter how high school students feel about the annual task of cleaning out their lockers, the undertaking is usually the first sign of a fresh start to come.

What’s left behind — notebooks, pens and pencils, binders, rulers, etc. — is usually thrown away and forgotten about.

But where most of his fellow students saw trash, David Byun saw a chance to help students in countries where kids are less lucky. His simple idea turned into a nonprofit that has branched out to more than two dozen schools around the world.

Byun, a senior at Holy Name Central Catholic High School, began thinking about all the school supplies being discarded.

“When I came [to America], I really noticed there was an apparent waste of school supplies in high schools in the United States. Just walking through the hallways you can see pens and pencils laying here and there on the ground,” Byun said.

Byun, an international student on a visa from Kazakhstan where his parents work as missionaries, was surprised by the volume of school supplies being tossed away when he witnessed his first locker cleanout at the end of his freshman year.

“During locker cleanout, especially, people throw nearly everything out of their lockers including pens, pencils, notebooks, loose-leaf paper and everything that can be used again next year,” Byun said. “I asked people, ‘Why would you throw this out?’ and most people said they want to have a fresh start to the next year with a fresh feeling.

Courtesy Pen in a Box / David Byun


“Well, a fresh start isn’t guaranteed in Third World countries.”

Editorial: Scout’s honor: ‘I know in my heart who I am’

Anyone who has ever taken an extra moment to understand someone and give them a chance — happy Valentine’s Day.

A Worcester Boy Scouts troop has served that role for Trevor Huntley.

As reported by Worcester Magazine last week, Mohegan Council Troop 37 in the Quinsigamond District accepted this young man as a member and helped him achieve what would seem an unreachable dream. Using Scouting rules that allow carefully personalized adaptations for Scouts with disabilities, Trevor over the last dozen years has aimed for — and earned — a Boy Scout’s most coveted rank.

Trevor, who was born with cerebral palsy, will be inducted as an Eagle Scout this spring. He’s cleared all the hurdles except for one expected soon — approval by the Boy Scouts’ National Advancement Committee — and has won respect, friends, and a sash full of badges along the way.

Trevor’s path toward the Eagle Scout medal has differences, but none having to do with how incredibly hard he worked. He is 25, while the approximately 4 percent of Boy Scouts who achieve the Eagle distinction must generally complete the requirements before their 18th birthday. And Trevor’s physical condition is severely limiting: He is non-vocal, has limited use of his legs, and has an arm that doesn’t function at all.

But Trevor has much more than he lacks. He has people who believe in him, beginning with himself.

A hearty helping of dignity with every visit to St. John’s Food for the Poor

There’s a lot of good happening at St. Francis Xavier Center in Worcester, and some of it is invisible.

The center’s St. John’s Food for the Poor program “prevents homelessness as much as it feeds the homeless,” said the Rev. John Madden, pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church.

Father Madden’s parish started the program about 12 years ago. From 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. every Monday through Friday, volunteers at the St. Francis Xavier Center feed about 500 to 700 hungry people.

For most people, having a warm meal and food to last through the day is a given. However, for an ever increasing number of Worcester residents, hunger would be an everyday reality if it were not for St. John’s Food for the Poor.

Father John Madden

Sun Staff / Worcester Sun

Father John Madden of St. John’s Church

The program provides meals for the homeless, the unemployed, those on fixed incomes, and the working poor. Without the food, clothes, toiletries, services and sense of community St. John’s provides, many of the individuals who eat at the center would not be able to afford their housing or obtain nourishment. By saving the little money they have on not buying food, individuals and families are able to afford their housing or rent. This, Father Madden says, is how more homelessness is prevented.

His church, at 44 Temple St., realized there was a need for providing meals in the mornings, since most soup kitchens and shelters only provide lunch and dinner. Started in St. John’s basement, the Food for the Poor program gradually grew in terms of services, clientele and staff, which led to the construction and recent expansion of the Xavier Center at 20 Temple St.

Sun Shine: Main Idea paints a new picture of opportunity in Worcester’s Main South

Art and creativity allow children to express themselves, foster a sense of self-confidence and broaden their horizons. At Main Idea, a weeklong summer day program in Main South, a team of volunteers and teachers is invested in the positive impact art can have on individuals, especially at-risk youth.

Main Idea is a weeklong summer arts education program now run out of Clark's Atwood Hall.

Courtesy MainIDEA

Main Idea is a weeklong summer arts education program now run out of Clark’s Atwood Hall.

Parent-turned-volunteer Eve James is a Main Idea believer.

She first heard about the program six years ago when her children, Isiah and Kara, came home from Jacob Hiatt Magnet School with fliers trumpeting a new summer program. Kara was a year too young at the time, but James registered Isiah. “Free is hard to come by and camps are very expensive,” she said.

Isiah, now 15, came to Main Idea with ADHD and other behavioral issues, and on the second day of his first summer his behavior prompted a call to his mother. By the time James arrived at the class, though, teachers had already handled the issue and helped her son.

Isiah, Kara and Eve James are all believers in Main Idea.

Courtesy Eve James

Isiah, Kara and Eve James are all believers in Main Idea.

Isiah went on to receive an award for art that first week. James even recalls the art and dance teachers having a good-natured fight over who could give him an award. Seeing her son’s boost in self-confidence, she began to cry at the award ceremony.

“Every year he went back, he got better and better,” James said. After graduating from the program, Isiah became a counselor-in-training while Kara, now 11, still participates in the program.

Sun Shine Rewind:

Finding support can be a transformational experience [Aug. 30, 2015]

LGBT immigrants find safe haven in Hadwen Park [Aug. 9, 2015]

Chef Louis Torres, left, and waiter Rey Ortiz are in recovery and proof of the impact Cafe Reyes can make.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Chef Louis Torres, left, and waiter Rey Ortiz are in recovery and proof of the impact Cafe Reyes can make.

Cafe Reyes serves up an evolution in recovery [Oct. 11, 2015]

Main South youth take matters into own hands [Aug. 16, 2015]

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: Worcester’s Genesis Club goes the distance for mental health

Any important long-term goal requires perseverance and hope. Whether it’s finding the right job, attending college, or finishing a seven-mile road race, the Worcester Genesis Club is there to provide the starting point for its members to dream big and finish strong.

Genesis Club, an agency offering a wide range of services for those suffering from mental illness, has had a home in Worcester on Lincoln Street since 1988.

“To help people with these disorders, it takes establishing a stable foundation,” said Kevin Bradley, the clubhouse’s executive director. “We want to help members [get] back to work, get back to housing, and get back to being a part of the community.”

Peter Dixon, a longtime volunteer, left, and director Kevin Bradley stand outside Genesis Club on Lincoln Street.

Sean M. Haley / For Worcester Sun

Peter Dixon, a longtime volunteer, left, and director Kevin Bradley stand outside Genesis Club on Lincoln Street.

Therefore, the club focuses on establishing a baseline of healthy routines, time and stress management skills, finding gainful employment, and having a sense of belonging; things that anyone can take for granted until they are forced to go without them.

Like a couple decades fewer to look forward to, for instance.

“People with mental illness have a 25-year earlier mortality,” Bradley said in reference to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s not something people like to talk about, but it’s an important issue.

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.