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.

Sun Shine: Brattle Street, last stop on the way to freedom for Worcester LGBT asylum seekers

Jeffry knew he was gay as a young child. He also knew he had to hide his sexual identity due to the homophobic mentality in Jamaica. The St. Thomas native said everyone in his life suspected he was gay, but never had concrete proof until a police officer saw him at a gay club and told his father, a fellow officer.

His world changed overnight.

“I was dragged out of the closet,” said Jeffry, now 24, whose last name the Sun agreed not to publish due to safety concerns.

Asylum seeker Jeffry poses with a picture of the place that he now calls home.

Sloane M. Perron / For Worcester Sun

Asylum seeker Jeffry poses with a picture of the place that he now calls home.

The aftermath was quick. Jeffry was fired from his job as a teacher, he could not go shopping because people refused to frequent establishments where a gay man was, and he had to hide in his home because of the discrimination he faced on the streets. His family threw him out of the house at 17 years old, but Jeffry fought back and went to court since he was a minor. His family kept him in the home until his 18th birthday.

However, even at home Jeffry was not allowed to eat and have dinner unless he brought his own utensils and plate. At one point, Jeffry was a teenager living on the streets until a gay couple took him in and helped him through school.

Rainbow Readers offers new chapter for Worcester LGBT community

Starting a book club in Worcester is not an easy task, but Sarah Slocum was up for the challenge.

When she learned there was not a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) book club in the Worcester area, Slocum was determined to start her own. A lover of books and a member of the youth committee for the advocacy group Worcester Pride, Slocum thought it seemed like the perfect idea.

“Back in November, I was frustrated because I knew of book clubs nearby, but none that interested me. So I decided I might as well start my own,” Slocum said. “With the help of my local librarian, I found places I could have it.”

Sarah Slocum, creator of Rainbow Readers, a new LGBT book group with sessions for young and adult readers.

Danielle Cutillo / For Worcester Sun

Sarah Slocum, creator of Rainbow Readers, a new LGBT book group with sessions for young and adult readers.

Slocum, a part-time balloon decorator and reiki practitioner from Sutton, said after some research she discovered the closest LGBT book club is in an Arlington library some 50 miles away.

After looking for space at local cafes and stores, Annie’s Book Stop at 65 James St. was interested in being host to the club. Easy access to books and space for meetings made it a logical choice.

Come back Sunday to check out Worcester Sun’s next edition, when we profile another unique and impactful resource for the Worcester-area LGBT community.

Sun Shine: ACE makes the grade for Worcester refugee students

African Community Education (ACE) is a Worcester program founded a decade ago to help the many children in need who came from all over Africa, due to war or sickness, as refugees with their parents to resettle in the area.

Many of these kids come from non-English-speaking countries, and even many of those who’ve arrived from places where English was spoken could not manage to learn due to poverty and/or life in refugee camps.

Kaska Yawo understood, then, that something must be done.

ACE was founded by Yawo and Olga Valdman in 2006 when refugees from Somalia, Liberia and other African countries were on the rise in the area. Yawo, ACE’s executive director, had arrived from Liberia as a refugee in 1998 and knew the problems they all faced.

Kaska Yawo speaks at a Social Innovation Forum event.

Courtesy ACE

Kaska Yawo speaks at a Social Innovation Forum event.

“As a refugee myself I had challenges; due to culture it was hard for me. Even coming with a college degree it was difficult,” he said. “One has to recertify before it would work for you. I had to relocate from New York to Worcester to live in my cousin’s house, who had joined the military. I had various jobs until I got a job with the Catholic Charities in the resettlement area.”

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.

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.

Sun Shine: Windows into city’s past at Denholms

For many, the former splendor of the Denholms department store in downtown Worcester has faded into memories of the distant past.

For Christopher Sawyer, it’s his life’s work to bring a touch of the grandeur of Denholms back for a new generation of Worcester residents — all in the name of paying tribute to his grandmother.

Sawyer’s grandmother, Josephine “Jo” Carbone, worked at Denholms for 26 years as a buyer and merchandise manager. Carbone worked from 1947 until the once bustling store closed in 1973.

The window displays at the Denholm Building not only dress up the Main Street landmark's facade but also highlight the building's history.

Patrick Sargent / For Worcester Sun

The window displays at the Denholm Building not only dress up the Main Street landmark’s facade but also highlight the building’s history.

“I started working on the windows because I saw the condition of the building. I wanted to lend my hand any way I could,” Sawyer said. “At the same time, I wanted to honor my grandmother by doing this work.”

Sun Shine: Church’s intervention divine for dozens of area students

Contemporary American life is filled with stuff to do, which makes it very difficult for many folks to carve out precious time in order to voluntarily help a worthy cause. Sometimes, it takes a little “incentive.”

In Robert Pape’s case, it was a pizza.

Specifically, a garlic pizza … from the first incarnation of Wonder Bar on Shrewsbury Street.

“I’m originally from Albany (New York) and I’m of Italian descent, so I’ve had my share of pizza,” said Pape. “But that garlic pizza was something else.”

Pape didn’t say whether he enjoyed the spicy pie, but the three men who shared the meal with him on that day in 1989 on the city’s East Side convinced him to volunteer in a new program that would allow children from financially strapped families to attend schools run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of  Worcester.

Grace Clark, a freshman at Assumption, is among the many area students who benefit from the Worcester Diocese scholarship program.

Courtesy Assumption College / Be Like Brit

Grace Clark, a freshman at Assumption, is among the many area students who benefit from the Worcester Diocese scholarship program.

The students were to be given almost full scholarships or extremely discounted tuition rates.

That year, the fledgling endeavor allowed seven or eight kids to take classes in Catholic schools. Since its founding, the program has slowly grown.

Sun Shine: A daughter of Vernon Hill, St. Vincent

Jully Khattar is a confident, accomplished woman.

Jully, with her dog Trixie LuLu, a Havanese

Courtesy Jully Khattar

Jully, with her dog Trixie LuLu, a Havanese

She has her real estate broker’s license, a solid job, and is known as a prolific advocate and fundraiser for agencies who serve families dealing with chronically debilitating maladies. She has a long-time girlfriend and lives in a relatively peaceful and leafy corner of the city.

An award-winning volunteer and community leader with a dog named Trixie LuLu, indeed, she would seem the picture of serenity.

Except, creeping up on her 30th birthday, Jully still lives with her parents, is relegated to the first floor and needs help to walk. Oh, and she missed last summer.

Like most stories, you have to start at the beginning.