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Saturday, 1/28/17  by Peter Jasinski

Spanish American Center defying definition for over 50 years

Board member Mary Yanneth Bermudez Camp talks about the Spanish American Center in Leominster as they begin to celebrate their 50th year in operation. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Board member Mary Yanneth Bermudez Camp talks about the Spanish American Center in Leominster as they begin to celebrate their 50th year in operation. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Board member Mary Yanneth Bermudez Camp talks about the Spanish American Center in Leominster as it prepares to celebrate its 50th year in operation. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
LEOMINSTER — Defining the Spanish American Center isn’t easy.

What started 50 years ago as a way of easing the transition process for Spanish-speaking immigrants has since grown into a beloved community center and resource for housing, food assistance and a medley of other social and economic issues for not just Hispanics and Latinos but the community at large.

The center actually turned 50 last year, but staff and volunteers hope to celebrate at their annual block party sometime this summer outside their Spruce Street building.

The center has been at its current location only since 2003, when it was able to purchase its own facility. Before that, it had moved through five different locations over the years. When the center first opened in 1966, it was based just outside downtown Leominster at 305 Whitney St.

“There was a great deal of Hispanic immigrants, especially coming from Puerto Rico, who were coming to Leominster and being employed in the plastic factories, which was what attracted them to this area,” said Lionel Reinford, who served as the center’s director from 1975 to 1980. “There was no way for them to acquire the skills they needed; that’s why this organization was started.”

Reinford said he first came to work in Leominster as a bilingual teacher in 1973 and he’s seen a lot change in the community, as well as the general perception of the Spanish-speaking population since then.

He recalled being in graduate school when he heard of one study from the time that claimed people who spoke English as a second language were less intelligent than the country’s native English speakers.
“That thinking has since gone out the window,” he said.

Another major change has been the demographics of the people the center is helping.

When Miggie Velez, who serves on the center’s board of directors, started working at the center in the late ’90s, a large portion of the people the center’s staff were coming into contact with were undocumented immigrants.

“Every day we used to have a line outside of people waiting to get in because the people who are undocumented have that many more needs to take care of,” she said. “We’ve seen a decrease in that community in this area, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t still exist.”

Velez referred to one particular incident when she had been working with roughly 20 students at one of the center’s after-school programs when she was told that half the children’s parents had just been taken away by immigration services that same afternoon.

“It was 9 o’ clock at night, and we had young children, babies, who were still waiting for their parents,” she said.

Velez and center Director Neddy Latimer spent the next few days not only finding places for the children to stay, but also scouring the community for any other children that might have been left alone after their parents were taken away.

Since then, Velez said the center has come full-circle, because the largest demographic currently being helped are once again Puerto Rican immigrants who, in many cases, are trying to escape their home’s current economic downturn in search of better employment opportunities in the Leominster area.

While it’s still called the Spanish American Center, board of directors member Cherly Boissy pointed out that the center has an open-door policy to any local resident in need of help.

“This center doesn’t just help people who are Puerto Rican or Colombian or Guatemalan or Mexican. They help anyone who comes through the door,” she said.

You may find many Hispanic or Latino residents who benefit from the center’s programs and resources, but the total population of people you might find on Spruce Street in a given day has become that much more diverse.

David Murphy of Leominster has become a regular guest at the soup kitchen the center sponsors alongside Ginny’s Helping Hand twice a week and has only missed six meals over the last year.

“I came here not knowing what to expect, but they treat you like a king,” Murphy said, adding that he also relies on the soup kitchen as a place for him to socialize. “Usually I’m all alone, and it’s me against the world. I come here and I feel like I’m at home.”

Charles Cristofono is another frequent guest at the center’s twice-weekly lunches who also praised the resources available to those in need.

“It’s a pretty good service they put on here for people,” he said. “You see a lot of the same people who come in here.”

Latimer said she sees the center’s work as primarily sharing information and referrals for the community. Their services include domestic-violence resources, English classes, and after-school programs. In addition to their soup kitchen, they also prepare meals for local students and operate a food pantry.

The center also offers bilingual services, including tax preparation, translations, mediation services and health seminars.

Looking ahead to the future, center staff and volunteers plan on being able to offer the same programs to the community, and new ones as well, but they also hope their work will lead to less poverty and less need for their services.

In the meantime, they’re happy to see how the community has changed for the better over the last half century.

“Having the community come together, work together, and embrace each other is something I’ve always wanted to see happen,” Latimer said. “And it’s finally taking place.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter and Tout @PeterJasinski53.

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 April 14, 2016 Sentinel & Enterprise

When classes end, dinners begin

By Peter Jasinski

pjasinski@sentinel andenterprise.com

LEOMINSTER — For years, the Spanish American Center has been a resource for empty stomachs in the city and beyond, but a new initiative has bolstered center’s ability to feed hungry students.

Volunteers Randy Duong and Paula Franco serve up soup during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Volunteers Randy Duong and Paula Franco serve up soup during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Partnering with the Department of Education’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, the center has been able to offer free after-school meals to local students Wednesdays and Thursdays each week.

“I sat down with Susan O’Brien, our grant writer, about 1 1/2 years ago to discuss the idea,” said Neddy Latimer, the center’s executive director. “We wanted to really be able to offer something that would be after school.”

Since it began March 21, the meal program has been offering dinners and snacks at four sites in Leominster and Fitchburg, and the center is expanding to three more.

As of Wednesday, O’Brien estimated that as many as 150 children are being fed through the center’s new program.

Latimer said the students’ ages vary.

Youth Specialist Christina Gonzalez works with a group of kids during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Youth Specialist Christina Gonzalez works with a group of kids during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

“It could be middle school students at age 11 to ones that could be as old as 18,” she said.

The two days a week that meals are served to students by the Spanish American Center also coincides with the same two days the center holds an after-school program intended to prepare high school students for their lives after graduation.

“The hope is that they come for the meal but stay for the other resources we offer,” said Christina Gonzalez, a center volunteer who coordinates the after-school programs.

Aside from being served meals, the students coming to the center are also able to take part in leadership workshops and career planning.

“It’s important because we need to know how to present ourselves in front of a future boss if we want a job,” said 13-year-old Sky View Middle School student Devee-Ana Douglas, who takes part in the program with her two sisters.

Devee-ana Douglas pulls out some homework during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Devee-ana Douglas pulls out some homework during the new afterschool program at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

The Spanish American Center also is continuing to offer other programs like its summer meals program and the food the center delivers to homeless families living at the Days Inn in Leominster.

Volunteers work to prepare lunch in the kitchen at the Leominster Spanish American Center soup kitchen on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Volunteers work to prepare lunch in the kitchen at the Leominster Spanish American Center soup kitchen on Wednesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

A soup kitchen offered by the center in partnership with Ginny’s Helping Hands from 4 -5 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays has also grown since it started in January. According to Latimer, the soup kitchen averages as many as 25 meals served on a given day.

 

 

 

 

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It’s checkout time for homeless at the Leominster Days Inn

The Wright family, which includes Shawn and Sarah, along with sons Austin, 11, and Noah, 10, have been living at the Days Inn in Leominster since September.SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

The Wright family, which includes Shawn and Sarah, along with sons Austin, 11, and Noah, 10, have been living at the Days Inn in Leominster since September. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

By Peter Jasinski, pjasinski@sentinelandenterprise.com Sunday, April 10, 2016 – 10:24 a.m.

LEOMINSTER — When Shawn Wright wakes up in the morning he’s greeted by a view of a parking lot and the on-ramp connecting North Main Street and Route 2. Until a few months ago, this was the same view for members of the roughly 100 homeless families living at the Days Inn. But the views have been changing lately, at least for the families lucky enough to find a new place to live. After the state switched over to funding rent vouchers for homeless families instead of paying for hotel rooms last year, the occupancy rate at the Days Inn has drastically fallen from its high-water mark of 96 rooms filled. Currently, hotel staff estimate only 10 rooms are occupied by homeless families. The hotel also expects to have all of its rooms vacated by next month, at which point an extensive reconstruction project will gut most of the rooms, preparing them for the return of hotel customers. The building’s second floor is occupied only by the teams of construction workers removing any trace of the floor having been used as a homeless shelter. The first and fourth floors remain empty but largely untouched.

On the third floor are the remaining homeless families, including Wright, his wife, Sarah, and their sons Austin, 11, and Noah, 10. “For the most part, I’d say it’s been traumatic in a lot of different ways,” said Wright, who moved into the Days Inn in September 2015. The Wrights had been moving from place to place throughout the South, staying with relatives of Sarah Wright before choosing to try to relocate in Massachusetts. For Shawn Wright, a Leominster native, returning home seemed like the best bet. After plans to stay with another relative fell through, the Wrights were able to stay at Worcester’s Friendly House shelter program from July to September before being placed at the Days Inn. “It’s been humbling for sure, very, very humbling and stressful,” Wright said of the seven months his family has lived in their hotel room. “It’s been a major life experience for all of us.” The room in which the Wrights live is a setting duplicated in many of the other rooms on the hotel’s third floor. It’s the same standard layout of any traditional hotel: two beds separated by night-stand and, positioned along the opposite wall, a desk, a chest of drawers and a TV. The space is further filled in by most of the Wrights’ worldly possessions. Crates of toys, boxes of food, suitcases and storage bins line the walls like a layer of insulation, filling in the limited space that much more. Because both Shawn and Sarah are on disability, income is limited. But despite the lack of space and savings, the Wrights were still able to celebrate Christmas this past year. The family purchased a small tree they were able to display in their room, as well as some presents.

“My kids aren’t going to suffer because of a situation their parents are in,” Shawn said of the family’s Christmas. “We tried to go all out.” Like the Wrights, Sarah Allen, who lives down the hall with her mother, Susan, and 5-year-old daughter, Sophia, is also on disability. “At one point, every floor here was families. I would say maybe 10 percent were working families, and the rest were all on welfare,” Allen said. The Allens have had a longer stay than the Wrights at the Days Inn, having arrived at the hotel in January 2015 after leaving their home in Chelsea. “Since day one, I’ve had nothing but problems. We’ve had almost no hot water for the last nine months, I’ve had to boil hot water in our microwave just to be able to bathe my daughter,” she said, adding that nearly all of the family’s meals from the past year have been prepared using the hotel room’s microwave. Though she recognizes that living in a hotel is better than having to live on the street, Allen is not without her complaints. She alleges that cockroaches have been a common sight throughout their stay and that the hotel has experienced what she referred to as an “epidemic” of bed bugs and head lice. “I’ve seen drugs, fights, threats. … There were verbal and physical threats made against me,” Allen said of the time she witnessed one resident punch a child in the forehead. However, Allen admits these kinds of incidents have become less frequent in recent months as families have steadily left the hotel. The movement of homeless families into new homes has also been seen elsewhere in the community.

The Community Café, a free meal program organized by members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in response to the growing number of homeless families, closed just last month after being open since May 2014. “The families were slowly being moved out, so our last night we had only six people attend. The first year or so we were serving anywhere between 70 and 120 people each Tuesday night,” said the Rev. Jim Craig.

The Spanish American Center also became involved, transporting meals to families at the hotel twice a week, but has seen its numbers go down in recent months. “In January, we were doing 250 to 260 meals because of all the children, but now we’re down to just 50 meals,” said Neddy Latimer, the Spanish American Center’s executive director.

According to acting Police Chief Michael Goldman, the influx of homeless families did have an effect on crime in Leominster. Although unable to provide an exact number, he said, “I believe once they started being housed there, our calls did jump significantly,” specifying that many of the calls were for domestic-related issues. Now that families are moving out, Goldman said he thinks the number of calls for the Days Inn would return to normal. At the beginning of 2015, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development held contracts with hotels and motels in 33 communities as overflow family shelters, which dropped to 25 communities by the end of the year. During that same time, the state saw the total number of homeless families living in hotels drop from 1,500 to 999 by Dec. 21. The state is implementing an approach that will incorporate early intervention and diversion for at-risk families to help them get back on their feet faster, said a representative from the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Because of the state’s tactic of investing rent vouchers over hotel rooms, both the Allens and the Wrights are in the process of moving on to new homes. After receiving their voucher, the Wrights were able to look for a new home that same day. “It was amazing,” said Sarah Wright. “We went from having no home, to having one, then having two to choose from all in the same day.”

The Wrights are now planning to move out of the Days Inn by the Friday to a new rented property in Fitchburg. The Allens have their sights set on a new home in Salem and expect to have left the hotel within a week’s time. When asked if her family would ever have to return to a shelter, Allen said, “Voucher or no voucher, my desire to go back to work will remain regardless. This will never happen again.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter and Tout @PeterJasinski53.

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February 29, 2016 Sentinel & Enterprise

Asthma program Wednesday for Latinos in Leominster

By Peter Jasinski

pjasinski@sentinel andenterprise.com

Asthma Awareness Program

Asthma Awareness Program

LEOMINSTER — In an effort to combat childhood asthma, the Spanish American Center has partnered with Medical Associates Pediatrics and HealthAlliance Hospital to create a new asthma awareness and education program that will help members of the Latino community seek treatment.

The program’s first event will be held at HealthAlliance Hospital on Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at HealthAlliance Hospital’s Simonds building, and will consist of a free Spanish-language informational session on childhood asthma with one of the hospital’s pediatricians.

“We’re trying to reach out to people who have been affected by this disease so they can be tended to,” said Lionel Reinford, one of the Spanish American Center’s community health workers. “We want to be able to provide the services and connections to them.”

Much of the motivation behind getting involved with helping local families gain access to asthma treatment stems from a survey the Spanish American Center helped coordinate in 2013. Working with the United Hmong of Massachusetts and Three Pyramids, the study gathered information from 200 Fitchburg and Leominster families representing the area’s Hmong, African-American and Latino communities.

“We wanted to look at what people viewed as being the primary health issue in their communities,” said Susan O’Brien, the center’s planner and grant writer.

“For the Latino community, the most prominent one was asthma, and now we’re trying to address that.”
Wednesday’s asthma presentation will consist of a presentation explaining what the disease is and possible treatment options, as well as an opportunity for local residents to ask questions they have about asthma.

“A lot of times, parents don’t completely understand the treatment,” O’Brien said. “Often the information isn’t given to them in their primary language.”

Dr. Fernando Catalina of HealthAlliance’s Medical Associates Pediatrics will host Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think this is a tremendously important subject, as it can greatly impact children’s health, and perhaps even save lives, so I’m happy to help,” Catalina said.

This is the first time the center has sponsored this program. In the past, senior members of the local Latino community have been invited to the center for a Spanish-language presentation on asthma but without a doctor present to answer questions.

According to O’Brien, asthma is a common problem in Latino populations across the country, not just Leominster. Referring to a 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, O’Brien said Hispanics are 60 percent more likely to visit the hospital for asthma, compared with non-Hispanic whites.

That same study showed that Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic whites.

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter and Tout @PeterJasinski53.

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Partnership opens soup kitchen at Leominster’s Spanish American Center
Sentinel & Enterprise January 15, 2016/PETER JASINSKI
LEOMINSTER — Members of the local homeless and low-income population have a new guaranteed place to eat, thanks to a soup kitchen that’s been established by the Spanish American Center and Ginny’s Helping Hands.

“Hunger has become such an important issue and, by doing this, we’re hoping to provide a big service,” said Neddy Latimer, the Spanish American Center’s executive director.

The soup kitchen opened Wednesday at the Spanish American Center, 112 Spruce St.

“A few months ago, Neddy had mentioned to me that she wanted to open a soup kitchen, because there isn’t currently one in Leominster that’s open to the public,” said Sue Chalifoux Zephir, director of Ginny’s Helping Hands.

 

“The point right now is to feed people warm meals while it’s cold out,” said Sue Chalifoux Zephir, right, director of Ginny’s Helping Hands. She’s joined by Spanish American Center Executive Director Neddy Latimer, second from right, and volunteers Danielle Pierce, left, and Pat Freiss.

ÒThe point right now is to feed people warm meals while itÕs cold out,Ó said Sue Chalifoux Zephir, right, director of GinnyÕs Helping Hands. SheÕs joined by Spanish American Center Executive Director Neddy Latimer, second from right, and volunteers Danielle Pierce, left, and Pat Freiss.SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / PETER JASINSKI

ÒThe point right now is to feed people warm meals while itÕs cold out,Ó said Sue Chalifoux Zephir, right, director of GinnyÕs Helping Hands. SheÕs joined by Spanish American Center Executive Director Neddy Latimer, second from right, and volunteers Danielle Pierce, left, and Pat Freiss. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / PETER JASINSKI

SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / PETER JASINSKI

Aside from a breakfast offered by Pilgrim Congregational Church, Chalfoux Zephir said she could not think of any other locations in Leominster where the homeless could regularly go to receive a free hot meal.

The kitchen will be serving meals from 4 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays to people living in the Leominster area.

In the months since Latimer decided she wanted to open a soup kitchen, she and Chalifoux Zephir had been working to gather a combined $4,500 in grant funding to pay for the meals.

Food is provided by Ginny’s Helping Hands and prepared at the commercial kitchen at the Spanish American Center.

Ana Rodriguez prepares a big pot of soup Thursday at the newly opened kitchen at the Spanish American Center in Leominster. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

Ana Rodriguez prepares a big pot of soup Thursday at the newly opened kitchen at the Spanish American Center in Leominster. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

“We hope this goes through April because the point right now is to feed people warm meals while it’s cold out,” said Chalifoux Zephir.

“But we would love to continue on with it.”
Many volunteers from Ginny’s Helping Hands will also be on staff at the new soup kitchen to lend a hand, including Pat Freiss, who said she’s had people coming into Ginny’s looking for hot meals in the past.

“Sometimes I have pre-made sandwiches I can give them, but that’s the extent of it. It’s not the same,” said Freiss.

The Spanish American Center already prepares meals for low-income students and for the homeless residents living at the Days Inn two days a week.

While Chalifoux Zephir praised the efforts to feed people living in shelters, she said the new soup kitchen is intended to primarily serve a different group of people in need.

“There’s this whole population living out on the street who are alone and in need,” she said. “They’re cold and they’re hungry.”

Latimer said the center is also waiting on the approval of other grants so they can further diversify services to the community. “We have five or six programs just waiting for the approval of different applications we have submitted,” she said.

Until then, the soup kitchen will continue to serve hot meals to whoever wants one. Chalifoux Zephir said there is no maximum number of meals they can serve each night and no shortage of seats available.

 

The Spanish American Center/ Ginny’s Helping Hands is able to offer this Soup Kitchen at the David Higgins, Jr. Cocina due to funding received from a generous grant from the

FALLON COMMUNITY BENEFITS PROGRAM END HUNGER INITIATIVE.

Fallon.jpg

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Sentinel And Enterprise 10/22/2015

Local agencies to host breast cancer awareness program

LEOMINSTER — UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital Fitchburg Family Practice, the Leominster Spanish American Center Inc., and the Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center invite you to a free community education program on Breast Cancer Awareness.

The event will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at noon at The Leominster Spanish American Center, 112 Spruce St., and includes light refreshments and raffle prizes.

There will be experts from both UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital Fitchburg Family Practice and the Simonds-Sinon Regional Cancer Center to answer questions about breast examinations, symptoms and treatment of breast cancer and resources available in the community.

The program will be conducted in both Spanish and English and is appropriate for all adults interested in breast health education.

For information and to register, call Neddy Latimer 978-534-3145, Ext. 118.

From the Sentinel & Enterprise, September 23, 2015:

Leominster’s Spanish American Center opens new kitchen

LEOMINSTER — After two years of planning and months of construction, the Spanish American Center formally opened its new “cocina” and activity center in honor of the late David Higgins Jr., a former board member and longtime supporter of the nonprofit agency.

“It’s quite fitting and proper to have the kitchen chosen to wear David’s name,” said Higgins’ wife, Janice, who was on hand Tuesday during the dedication of the 720-square-foot annex to the center on Spruce Street that services the area’s Latino and Hispanic community. Equipped with a large, walk-in refrigerator, commercial-sized stoves and a fire-suppression system, the kitchen allows the staff and volunteers to prepare about 1,500 meals each day during the summer for disadvantaged youths at 18 sites in the Twin Cities, Gardner and Clinton.

Dedication Plaque

Dedication Plaque

Richard LeTarte presents Janet Higgins with a plaque during the dedication ceremony of the new kitchen and activity center at the Leominster Spanish American Center on Tuesday morning. The center was dedicated in honor of her husband David Higgins Jr. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green

Neddy Latimer and Richard Letarte

Neddy Latimer and Richard Letarte

Mrs. Higgins cuts the ribbon, officially opening the new facility - The David Higgins Cocina and Activity Center!

Mrs. Higgins cuts the ribbon, officially opening the new facility – The David Higgins Cocina and Activity Center!

In addition, the Center also provides meals twice a week, year round, to families in transition who are living in local motels, and for several elderly programs. Higgins thanked Neddy Latimer, the center’s executive director, in her remarks.

“Thank you, Neddy, your staff, your board of directors and all who made this gathering place a place where David’s legacy will live on,” she said.

Latimer, calling David Higgins a “mentor and friend,” said his concerns were for the poor and the most vulnerable.

“He cared about their well-being, and the most important thing he wanted was to end hunger and poverty,” said Latimer, who also thanked an anonymous donor for making the kitchen a reality.

Richard Letarte, president of the center’s board, described David Higgins as a “wonderful friend to the Spanish Center.”

“He understood the problems and trials of families moving to a strange area with different languages and diverse customs,” Letarte said. “He urged the leadership here to be open to the perpetual challenges of assimilation and to always put people first.”

Higgins, who said David loved gardening and cooking, said “la cocina” is the perfect place to honor her husband.

“This is a place where meals will be prepared with love, a place where, because of the new la cocina, hunger and poverty will become a thing of the past,” she said.

“From the Higgins family, I thank you today. You are my people,” she added, to the warm smiles of more than 30 people on hand for the dedication.

Also on hand were Mayor Dean Mazzarella, Ward 3 Councilor Wayne Nickel, and state Rep. Dennis Rosa.

Higgins was also presented a plaque from LaTarte, and staff member Mickey Guzman gave her a bouquet of flowers.

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Angelita is the Vice President of the SAC Board of Directors

Angelita Santiago, Educator uses language skills to help children succeed.

Educator Angelita Santiago spent much of her career helping children with special needs. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/ JOHN LOVE

Educator Angelita Santiago spent much of her career helping children with special needs.
SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/ JOHN LOVE

Sentinel & Enterprise
By Anna Burgess, aburgess@sentinelandenterprise.com
UPDATED: 07/30/2015 06:54:57 AM

FITCHBURG — Angelita Santiago has spent the past 30 years using her bilingual skills and her experience with children to help thousands of Fitchburg students succeed in school.

Santiago, a resident of North Central Massachusetts since 1975, came to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico when she was 17 years old. She studied nursing in New York before moving to Fitchburg and taking human services courses at Fitchburg State University. She began working in Fitchburg public schools in 1976, the year the Bilingual Education Act was passed, and used her fluency in multiple Spanish dialects to help local children learn better. She left Fitchburg for several years, returning in the 1980s to work with the high school’s bilingual program, and then with the special education program.

“I enjoy helping the kids and the community,” said Santiago, who still works for the school district part-time. “Most parents don’t understand their kids’ disabilities, so I guide them through that, and help connect them to different agencies and services in the city.”

She explained that she had an interest in helping others from a very young age. Not only did her own passion for education inspire Santiago to help others succeed, she said the desire to serve the community runs in her family.

“I think my mother invented the foster home,” she said. “She used to feed the neighborhood and take care of children that were orphaned and things like that. So I come from a family that has always helped others.

Beyond her work in the schools, Santiago said she has “worked in the community in many areas of civic duty.”

She registers people to vote and takes them to the polls on election days, serves as the vice president of the Spanish American Center Board of Directors, and is active in her church, the New Life Church in Leominster.

She also has a large family of her own, with four daughters, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren with one on the way.

Santiago considers herself experienced in dealing with children, and said she cares deeply about the students she works with in the special needs program.

“When I have a special needs student that graduates from Fitchburg High School and goes on to something else that can be of service not just to the community, but to themselves,” she said, “that is my proudest moment.” – Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise 7/30/15

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Community Foundation of North Central Mass. awards $500G in grants
Sentinel & Enterprise
UPDATED: 06/15/2015 11:16:49 AM

20150615_091613_IMG_2444_500-2John Gendron, Leominster’s deputy fire chief, receives a $11,550 grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts as Phil Grzewinski, president, looks on. (COURTESY PHOTO)

LEOMINSTER — The Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts on Thursday announced 30 grants totaling nearly $500,000 to local organizations.

“What continues to impress me is the quality of the programs that we had the opportunity to support,” said Phil Grzewinski, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, as the grants were announced at Apple Hill Farm.

Ten of the grants were made from the foundation’s general endowment fund, which includes support from seven named funds: ABM General Endowment Fund; Allen & Barbara Rome General Endowment Fund; Brown/Peterson Family General Endowment Fund; Gerald E. Bieler Memorial Endowment Fund; IC Founders Society Endowment Fund; KRC Family Endowment Fund, and the W.

Kylee McCumber of Leominster receives a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts for her Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz
Kylee McCumber of Leominster receives a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts for her Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz program, which provides food assistance to students attending Leominster Public Schools.
The Leominster Fire Department received an $11,550 grant for a fire prevention program that will allow for the purchase of 150 stovetop fire suppression units. This program will benefit Leominster residents who are the most at risk for cooking fires.

A $5,000 grant was made to Community Legal Aid of Worcester for its North Worcester County Emergency Shelter Advocacy Project.

Field trips for Leominster Public School students to Fitchburg Art Museum were made possible through a $6,000 grant.

A $5,000 grant to the Gardner Public Schools will be used for GLEAM-Gardner Learning & Enrichment Absolutely Matters-which will offer afterschool activities to students in grades 5-7 from Gardner Middle School.

Literacy Volunteers of the Montachusett Area, Fitchburg, received $4,178 for its literacy program.

A $12,000 grant to LUK Inc. in Fitchburg will be used for its North County Runaway & Homeless Youth Training/Technical Assistance program, which provides training, technical assistance and a public awareness campaign, so that young people who are vulnerable to homelessness or are homeless in Northern Worcester County experience fewer barriers and more efficient referrals for services.

The Montachusett Interfaith Hospitality Network in Leominster, will use a $15,000 grant for its Community Connection Project, which builds community partnerships to support its homeless clients by identifying and fostering the skills needed to become self-sufficient.

Siblings Connections in Somerville received a $5,000 grant for camper recruitment in North Central Massachusetts. This will allow for siblings within the foster system to spend quality time together, in an entertaining, educational venue.

A $15,000 grant will be used for child court advocacy by The CASA Project, which is based in Worcester.

Veteran Homestead Inc. in Fitchburg will use a $5,000 grant for its elder-care program.

A fund established for environmental causes and animal welfare made seven grants:

* ACE Central Massachusetts, Fitchburg, received a $9,884 grant to neuter and microchip pets for low-income families.

* A $3,954 grant to Ashburnham Conservation Trust will be used for improving Broadhurst Point, a public space located on Lake Watatic. This parcel allows the only public access to the lake.

* Clinton Greenway Conservation Trust received a $10,000 grant to acquire a rail trail in Clinton, which will be used to access nearby open space. This acquisition is hoped to act as a catalyst for other neighboring organizations embarking on similar rail trail projects.

* A $15,000 grant to Growing Place Garden Project will be used to create teaching gardens, which will help people of all ages to learn how to grow, harvest and use their own fresh, healthy produce.

* Massachusetts Audubon Society Inc. in Princeton received a $4,000 grant for a science-education program designed for third- and fourth-grade students and teachers.

* A $15,000 grant to Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Athol, will be used for community conservation.

* The Nashua River Watershed Association in Groton, received a $10,000 grant to help middle-school teachers meet the new state science and technology engineering standards.

A fund established for organizational development made five grants:

* Beacon of Hope in Leominster received a $10,000 grant for a capacity building initiative, which will fund a thorough organizational assessment leading to the creation of a strategic plan that will set priorities of the organization.

* A $10,000 grant to Devens’ Loaves & Fishes will be used for a training program to help the organization’s staff and volunteers enhance effectiveness and efficiency.

* North County Land Trust in Leominster received a $12,500 grant for a capacity-building project.

* A $7,500 grant to North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy, Orange, will be used for succession and transition of the organization’s founding director.

* United Neighbors of Fitchburg will use a $15,000 grant toward strategic capacity building for sustainability.

* A fund established for critical needs made $137,141 in grants:

* Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz, Inc. of Leominster received a $10,000 grant to provide food assistance to students attending Leominster Public Schools.

An additional $127,141 in grants were made for food cards to local food pantries, fuel assistance and assisting the Spanish American Center with a temporary office location, due to a flood.

The Community Foundation’s Educational Access Fund awarded three grants for student scholarships:

Fitchburg State University received $50,000, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, $25,000 and Mount Wachusett Community College, $67,700.

Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than $40 million in grants and distributions from 160 funds that have been established by individuals, families and organizations

Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/breakingnews/ci_28315395/community-foundation-north-central-mass-awards-500g-grants#ixzz3dG4sBint

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Spanish American Center: ‘Wonderful to be back home’ in Leominster
By Cliff Clark, cclark@sentinelandenterprise.com
UPDATED: 06/16/2015

LEOMINSTER — Workers at the Spanish American Center have settled back into their Spruce Street facility that was damaged in February after a pipe burst in its second-floor kitchen and water severely damaged several offices on its first floor.

“It’s so wonderful to be back home,” said the center’s executive director, Neddy Latimer, while standing in the second-floor kitchen that was the source of the leak that damaged the center.

The staff moved back into the facility in late May from temporary office space on Manning Avenue that was provided to the center with the help of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and local commercial developer Peter Bovenzi.

“We can’t thank them enough for all they did for us,” said Latimer, who also thanked everyone for their assistance during the last few challenging months, including dozens of volunteers and the center’s board.

In addition to settling into their repaired facility, staffers are also excited about the completion of a new, commercial-sized kitchen, located immediately behind the center in a separate building.

“Our dream has come true,” Latimer said while walking through the new kitchen and attached activity center that was completed last week by students from Leominster High School’s Center for Technical Excellence innovation.

She said the new kitchen facility will be named at a later date in honor of the late David Higgins Jr., a stalwart supporter of the center until his death in 2012.

Equipped with a large walk-in refrigerator, commercial-sized stoves and a fire-suppression system, the kitchen will allow staff and volunteers to prepare the approximately 1,500 free meals that are distributed each day for disadvantaged youth at 18 sites in the Leominster, Fitchburg, Gardner and two new locations in Clinton.
The summer meals program will begin June 29, said Latimer, adding that the reason the center runs the summer program is simple.

“Hunger is a serious issue,” she said.

The program is designed to provide children who qualify for free lunches during the school year a source of nutrition throughout the summer.

In the past, many of the meals provided to children were cold, but the new kitchen will provide the equipment to offer hot breakfasts and lunches.

While the staff is still working out the details, Latimer said she is hoping to provide at least three hots meals each week.

Last week, the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts announced the recipients of 30 grants totaling nearly $500,000. Nearly a quarter of the total amount of grants awarded by the foundation was for food cards to local food pantries, fuel assistance and helping the center after the building damage.

“God bless them,” said Latimer of the help by the foundation for the center and the area’s hungry.

She urged anyone who needs food assistance this summer, and have children in the home, to call the center at 978-534-3145 or 978-828-1546 to learn more about the program.

Follow Cliff Clark on Tout and Twitter @cliffcclark.

***********************************Back in high gear for those in need,

Spanish American Center busy at temporary Leominster home

By Cliff Clark, cclark@sentinelandenterprise.com
UPDATED: 03/26/2015 06:32:25 AM EDT0 COMMENTS

LEOMINSTER — The staff of the Spanish American Center, working in temporary downtown office space, is back to offering its clients services from after a burst water pipe forced the center to move last month.

“We’ve been very busy, but it has been a challenge,” said Executive Director Neddy Latimore from her temporary office at 14 Manning Ave.

Those challenges began when a water line on the second floor of the center on Spruce Street burst, causing extensive damage on its first floor.

The temporary space was paid for by an emergency grant from the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts.

Peter Bovenzi, owner of the office building on Manning Avenue, offered the space “at extremely reasonable rates,” Phil Grzewinski, president of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, said at the time of the move.

“They just rescued us,” center board member Jean-Pierre Boissy said about the help offered by the United Way and Bovenzi.

Even with all the publicity and outreach to alert its clients that the Spruce Street location is no longer operational, Latimore said every day those seeking help will arrive at their temporary offices after first visiting Spruce Street.

“Our clients will bring the fliers (about the move) we have on the front door on Spruce after having gone there,” said Latimore.

Since moving in late February, the services its clients have come to expect — tax preparation, legal aid and meals for disadvantaged children and homeless families — have continued as before.

With summer just a few months away, the center is already planning to continue the meal program that it offers to children at 16 sites in the Twin Cities and Gardner.

The program serves about 2,300 meals each day, and a new commercial kitchen annex is now under construction at the center’s Spruce Street location, to make meal preparation more efficient.

It is expected to be operational in the next five weeks.

The kitchen at the Spruce Street location was on its second floor, and Latimore said going up and down the stairs created challenges for the volunteers who help with meal preparation.

“It’s looking good, and we’re making progress,” said Boissy about the kitchen, which is being built by students at the high school’s Center for Technical Excellence innovation.

The pantry at the center is also up and running again, and Latimore made of point of recognizing Sue Chalifoux Zephir, director of Ginny’s Helping Hands, for her help at keeping the pantry stocked.

“They are here every morning with deliveries. She’s really taken care of us,” said Latimore.

The center also has spruced up its website, spanishamericancenter.org, and is making an effort each day at uploading announcements and alerts.

The center is also now mailing a quarterly newsletter, which is made possible by Workers’ Credit Union and IC Federal Credit Union, said Latimore.

Repairs at the Spruce Street location have yet to start, said Boissy.

Since the water damage, the lower floor was stripped of all the wet plaster and sheetrock and allowed to dry.

Boissy said an insurance adjuster will visit the center next week to make a final estimate of the costs to make the repairs.

Work on the Spruce Street facility will need to move quickly because the staff is “tentatively” planning to move back in by May 1.

“We’re very appreciative of all the people who have helped and continue to support us. We can’t thank them enough,” said Boissy.

Follow Cliff Clark on Tout and Twitter @cliffcclark.

Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_27789873/back-high-gear-those-need#ixzz3VUnBWJpM

******************************************************

Flooded Spanish American Center gets interim home

Leominster agency moves to Manning Ave. site

By Cliff Clark, cclark@sentinelandenterprise.com
UPDATED: 02/26/2015 06:54:17 AM EST

Spanish American Center Executive Director Neddy Latimer looks over water damage to the agency’s Spruce Street building:

Neddy Latimer

Spanish American Center Executive Director Neddy Latimer looks over water damage to the agency’s Spruce Street building. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / John Love

LEOMINSTER — Significant damage caused by a burst water pipe last week at the Spanish American Center has forced it to move to temporary office space at 14 Manning Ave.

“It was important to help them find a temporary location so the center can continue to provide its valuable services to the community,” said Phil Grzewinski, president of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts.

Water from the burst pipe under the center’s second-floor kitchen sink caused enough damage to make the building inhabitable for now, said Grzewinski.

Partnering with Peter Bovenzi, who owns the five-story commercial office building on Manning Avenue, the United Way was able to work out an arrangement for the center to move to open space on the building’s first floor.

“Through the generosity of Peter, we were able to partner together to find a solution,” said Grzewinski, adding that Bovenzi provided the space at “extremely reasonable rates for the quality of the space.”

“He’s a good friend of the community,” said Grzewinski.

He said his organizations will be providing the financial support needed for the staff to use the office space on Manning Avenue “until such time as the repairs (at the center) are completely done.”

The center’s executive director, Neddy Latimer, was grateful for the help.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Latimer said as she walked through the building’s reception area, which was hardest hit by the leak.

The center will be moving its offices from the location on Spruce Street to Manning Avenue on Thursday.

Latimer estimated the center’s staff could be working out of the temporary location for two to three months while the water damage is repaired.

Since the leak was discovered on Feb. 18, volunteers have been removing the sheet rock that covered the reception area’s walls and ceiling tiles to expose the frame to begin the drying process before repairs can begin.

Water also covered most of the center’s downstairs floors and leaked into the basement.

The floor tiles in the upstairs kitchen will also have to be removed, said Latimer.

Because of the damage, the center’s kitchen can’t be used to prepare meals, which the center staff has been doing each Wednesday and Thursday for homeless families that are living in local motels.

Latimer said when the Rev. Dr. Susan Suchocki Brown, minister of the First Church Leominster Unitarian Universalist, learned of the challenge the center was facing providing the twice-weekly meals, she reached out and offered the church’s kitchen.

The center has a new addition under construction, which will include a commercial-grade kitchen and office space, but it won’t be ready for use until at least mid-April, said Latimer.

One of the organizations stepping in to help with providing food to those in need has been the congregation of St. Leo’s Parish, which also operates a food pantry through its St. Vincent de Paul Society ministry.

Debit cards preloaded with $25 that can be used only at area grocery stores have also been provided to those who need food assistance, said Latimer.

She also said Ginny’s Helping Hands Food Pantry has also been helping serve the center’s clients.

Since news of the center’s challenge, Latimer said the community, and particularly its leaders, have reached out to offer assistance and encouragement.

She said Mayor Dean Mazzarella’s office, Rep. Dennis Rosa and City Councilor Wayne Nickel have inspected the damage.

“They’ve struggled to keep up,” said Nickel during Monday’s City Council meeting, explaining how the damage has affected services the center provides, including its work with the homeless families.

“The community is going to support them and help them get through this,” said Nickel.

Latimer said her clients, especially the homeless, have been hard hit by the situation.

It was echoed by Ann Bissonnette, who helps in the food pantry at St. Leo’s.

“This is a big hit to the homeless in the community,” said Bissonnette.

Despite the challenges, Latimer’s focus on the center’s mission is clear.

“We don’t push people out. We’ll do everything in our power to keep our mission alive,” she said.

Follow Cliff Clark on Tout and Twitter @cliffcclark

*********************************************

Burst pipes flood Spanish American Center

By Cliff Clark, cclark@sentinelandenterprise.com

UPDATED:   02/12/2015 06:52:56 AM EST

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LEOMINSTER — When Neddy Latimer, the executive director of the Spanish American Center, opened the facility’s front door Wednesday morning she immediately knew the next few weeks for the charitable organization were going to be a challenge.

“It was pouring in from all angles,” said Latimer describing the water raining down into the reception area from a burst water line in the upstairs kitchen.

“It’s kind of shocking and we’re asking ourselves, ‘How do we keep things going?'” said Nicolas Formaggia, who serves as a domestic-violence advocate for the center, while surveying the damage Wednesday.

The most heavily damaged area of the two-story center was its reception area, but water covered the floor in every office on the building’s first floor and seeped into the basement.

Ceiling tiles heavy with water had fallen to the floor and informational posters and notices that adorned the walls in the reception area were streaked and curling from the moisture.

Water had also leaked into the center’s computer room that houses its server and the center’s phones weren’t working.

A center volunteer swept the walls of the reception area with a moisture meter. Throughout the entire room, the readings were 100 percent saturated.

In the area just below the dish sanitizer, which is where the water line burst on the second floor, the volunteer said a much of the ceiling and all of the walls would have to be stripped down to the studs and allowed to dry before repairs could begin.

Still reeling from the shock, Latimer and Formaggia said they are searching for short-term solutions for what might be a long-term challenge.

“We’ve already had to turn a few people away and we can’t turn people away” said Latimer about a few of the nearly 60 individuals the center serves each day.

“We still have to figure out how this is going to work. We don’t have time to waste,” said Formaggia.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the center provides meals to homeless families that been placed in a local motel by the state.

Not being able to provide those meals was already worrying Latimer.

She said she has been reaching out to other social service agencies hoping one might be able to help out.

Over the last several months, a new addition at the center has been under construction by outside contractors and students with the Leominster Center for Technical Excellence innovation. It will have additional client service space and a commercial-sized kitchen.

However, it’s only about 80 percent complete and not ready for occupancy, as it also lacks functioning bathroom.

Latimer said she is also attempting to find temporary space for the center’s nine employees and countless volunteers.

She also said that much of the center’s perishable food was ruined by the water and asked for food donations.

Despite the immediate challenge, Latimer urged those who know or come in contact with the center’s clients to let them know, they’re going to continue to do what they can to provide assistance.

“We’ll do what we can to help. That’s our mission. We have an obligation to serve our clients,” said Latimer.

Follow Cliff Clark on Tout and Twitter @cliffcclark

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This food fight is for good cause
By Jack Minch, jminch@sentinelandenterprise.com
UPDATED: 07/08/2014 06:58:43 AM EDT

Several local and state officials served lunch at the Spanish American Center in Leominster as part of an awareness effort for the Summer Food Services
Several local and state officials served lunch at the Spanish American Center in Leominster as part of an awareness effort for the Summer Food Services Program offering free breakfasts and lunches to children. From left are U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern; Rich LeTarte, chairman of the board of directors of the Spanish American Center; Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella; state Rep. Dennis Rosa; and Miranda E. Miranda, branch chief for the Community Nutrition Programs of Special Nutrition Program. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley GreenIF

Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
LEOMINSTER — State and federal officials went on a barnstorming trip through the state Monday raising awareness of the Summer Food Services Program, offering free breakfasts and lunches to children who are eligible for free and reduced meals during the school year.

They stopped at the Spanish American Center on Spruce Street where Executive Director Neddy Latimer and her volunteers were serving meals for more than 800 children spread over 16 sites from Fitchburg to Gardner.

“We’re here for one reason and that is no child should go hungry in the summer,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester.

It’s noteworthy the center has added one of the city’s motels where the state is housing homeless children as a serving site this summer, said Katie Millett, executive director of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Nutrition, Health and Safety Programs.

The program is vital because many children go hungry during the summer, said Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz. Greater participation and support for the program will lead to more federal funding, he said.

“We want them to be outside and active but we don’t want them to be hungry,” Polanowicz said.

That means even though 293,345 children are eligible for the Summer Food Service Program statewide, only about 53,634 take part, McGovern said.

Nationally, there are about 21 million children eligible for free and reduced lunches during the school year but only about 3.5 million take part in the summer program, said Miranda E. Miranda, the community nutrition programs branch chief for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Poor nutrition during summer carries over to the school year when academic performances suffers, she said.

DESE is hoping to find more sponsors and more sites to serve the meals, Millett said.

The Spanish American Center gives a good return for the investment, said state Rep. Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster.

“When you make an investment in the Spanish American Center you get a 110 percent return,” he said.

McGovern is a strong advocate for the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which helps fund the program at the Spanish American Center, said Mayor Dean Mazzarella.

Feeding the hungry needs strong political support, McGovern said.

“There are 50 million people in this country who don’t have enough to eat; 17 million of them are children,” he said. “I’m ashamed of that.”

Tour of sites includes stops in Greenfield, Athol, Winchendon and Worcester.

For information on sites serving free breakfasts and lunches for children under 18 years old, visit www.meals4kids.org.

Follow Jack Minch on Facebook, Tout and Twitter @JackMinch.