Local groups serve brunch to city homeless
LEOMINSTER — Collaboration was the theme Monday, as several city organizations gathered in the Spanish American Center’s dining hall to serve brunch to those in the area experiencing homelessness.
The brunch was the brainchild of Jennessa Mcquade, Leominster’s substance use outreach clinician, who works out of the police department.
“We wanted to do something for (city homeless) for Thanksgiving,” she said, standing outside the center’s kitchen Monday morning, shortly after the event began.
Even more so, she said, she wanted to demonstrate that those who are struggling are more than just numbers.
“I wanted to show that we see them as humans,” Mcquade said.
Aside from the police department and the Spanish American Center, guests were also served by volunteers from Ginny’s Helping Hand and the Catholic Charities Women’s Recovery Program, who lined up behind plates of hot food, ready to dish out brunch sides.
Brunch itself consisted of a dynamic spread, including soup, fruit, bagels, eggs, bacon, sausage and home fries, among other options. Volunteers insisted that everyone who stopped in during the morning partake, even if only just a bite.
“I hate leftovers,” remarked Mickey Guzman, a family advocate who works at the center.
For several hours, the space buzzed as guests filtered in and out on a cold, overcast start to the week. Upbeat Spanish music played in the background and fall decorations adorned the tables.
Center director Neddy Latimer, who flitted around the room chatting with staff and visitors, spoke warmly of the inaugural brunch while she took a brief respite toward the end of the morning. Like Mcquade, she praised the multiple city groups that came together to make it happen. In particular, she said, she was happy it revolved around a meal.
“When it comes to food, we get involved,” Latimer said.
Among those to stop in were Police Patrolmen Leonardo Colon and Carlos Cintron, who both walk the beat downtown, regularly interacting with the city homeless population.
Colon lauded the work that Mcquade did to put the brunch together and said that a lot of his job consists of making sure that people are safe and healthy. He and other patrolmen regularly send people to the organizations represented in the room when they find someone in need of assistance, he said, yet another voice weighing in on the importance of working together.
As the morning wound down on Monday, the mood at the Spanish American Center remained cheerful and warm. Someone shifted the playlist over to Christmas tunes, and state Rep. Natalie Higgins popped in to say hello.
Even as the last hour wore on, the same refrain was repeated over and over again to every new face making an appearance: please have something to eat.
Food, friends and fun
Summer Eats keeps children fed and active during program
LEOMINSTER — Destiny Crespo, an 8-year-old Leominster resident, has attended the Spanish American Center’s “Summer Eats” program for almost as long as she can remember.
And although she likes the crafts they offer — especially gimp weaving, which she worked on fastidiously throughout the morning this past Friday — her favorite part of the program, she said, is being with friends.
Charlenys Rodriguez, 9, agrees. Being with friends, she said, is definitely the best part of the program.
The pair are rising fourth-graders and have become good friends in recent months.
They spent much of Friday morning teaching each other how to follow the special stitching that gimp weaving requires. Focused, they appeared tuned out to the other two-dozen children in the room who were chatting, playing board games and listening to music.
The Summer Eats program, which is run by the Spanish American Center for about six weeks every summer, operates 15 sites in the Leominster area, one of which is hosted at Silver Leaf Terrace, where Charlenys and Destiny live.
The main focus of the program, according to Program Manager Mickey Guzman, is providing free breakfast and lunches for children from low-income families, many of whom receive reduced or free breakfasts and lunches from school when it is in session.
The program receives funding from several places, including the U.S. Department of Education and Project Bread.
And while the center, which has operated the program for 15 years, is not required to host the children for the entire morning, according to Guzman, it was the center’s choice to provide children a structured, safe place to socialize and participate in educational programs during the summer.
“It’s a meal program that became an activity center,” Guzman said while cleaning up breakfast in the apartment complex’s community room.
There is a major emphasis on teaching nutrition and safety, he said, but they also plan science- and literature-oriented events, as well.
Last week, the Silver Leaf site hosted visitors from the Worcester County 4-H Club, for example. Next week, children will learn basic safety tips from visiting firefighters and police officers, Guzman said. Food, however, remains at the heart of the program.
The Spanish American Center prepares and delivers meals to its sites over the course of each morning. Two days a week, meals are hot, and children eat things like french toast or chicken and rice, like they did on Friday.
Other days, Guzman said, they are served food like sandwiches and cereal.
The Summer Eats program accepts children between the ages of 5 and 18, although the bulk of their patrons are under 10 years old.
Teenagers, Guzman said, tend only to come if they have a younger sibling or another friend already attending. He understands that high school kids may not be thrilled about the kind of structure and oversight that they offer, and shrugs it off.
Guzman is a jovial and energetic presence in the community room. A self-described family guy and Bronx native, he has worked with youth for 40 years, wearing a multitude of hats in that timespan.
At first, he was a high school Spanish teacher; later, he was a caseworker for the Department of Children and Families. For more than 20 years, he said, he has worked with the Spanish American Center.
At Silver Leaf, he runs a tight ship that revolves around two things: sharing and manners. Children are not allowed to decline food unless they have dietary or religious restrictions, he explained. If they are not hungry or do not want something — like milk, for example — they may place their full cup on what Guzman calls “the sharing table.”
“I don’t like to throw anything away,” Guzman said. If other children want seconds, they’re free to take from that communal space, he said.
Friday was comprised mostly of structured free time, giving the kids a chance to unwind after a week chock full of programming.
Children were provided with craft activities — like the gimp weaving — and a slew of board and card games to choose from. In groups, they also cycled in and out of the apartment complex’s playground.
Guzman said that the one thing he wished his site had was a large, dedicated outdoor playspace, like some of the other sites have. But, he said, he makes the most of what’s on-hand. One of his favorite parts of managing the Silver Leaf location, he said, is when he has time to sit down and play a game with the kids, directly, because it makes him feel young.
“My favorite part is being a kid,” he said of his job there.
Indeed, the children seemed to respond to his energy. Even on a day when temperatures were slated to creep into the 90s, spirits were high and enthusiasm for the day abounded. As Charlenys and Destiny said themselves, Summer Eats truly appeared to be about the people.
To reach Monica Busch, email mbusch@sentineland enterprise.com.
Food for those hurt by govt. shutdown
LEOMINSTER — Any federal employee affected by the government shutdown who is experiencing financial hardship is welcome to utilize the Food Pantry Program at the Spanish American Center, 112 Spruce St.
“Any employee in need is welcome” said Neddy Latimer, executive director. “We are here five days per week, Monday through Friday. Also, we have Wednesday and Thursday soup kitchen supper meals, which are free of charge. All are welcome. It would be our pleasure to assist any federal employees who have been affected.”
For questions, call the center at 978-534-3145 or email email@example.com The enter is open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
State Rep. Natalie Higgins looks over the types of food the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program makes available to low-income individuals during a visit to the Leominster Spanish American Center on Thursday. The Leominster Democrat has spent this week living on SNAP’s daily $4.65 meal allowance. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE
Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
LEOMINSTER — As she reached the final stretch of a challenge to live off just $4.65 of food per day, state Rep. Natalie Higgins said she was experiencing fatigue, weight loss and a mounting craving for the iced coffee she’s been going without the last few days.
“I’ve had this awful headache and fuzziness for three days,” she said. “Alertness is not great. We went into session until 7:30 last night and I was not on my A-game for that.”
Higgins’ new diet routine has been part of a weeklong challenge from the Worcester County Food Bank and Greater Boston Food Bank for legislators to live within the same financial restrictions as people buying food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as SNAP, but more commonly known as food stamps.
“I want the larger community to know the struggles of people on SNAP benefits and to not stigmatize it,” said state Rep. Natalie Higgins, left, who is spending this week on $4.65 of food per day. She’s joined by Liz Sheehan Castro, center, Worcester County Food Bank director of advocacy, and Spanish American Center Director Neddy Latimer at the center Thursday. See video and slide show at sentinelandenterprise.com. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE
Since Monday, Higgins has eaten a breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter, and a piece of fruit; a lunch of lentil soup and a dinner consisting of black beans and rice with frozen vegetables.
“I want the larger community to know the struggles of people on SNAP benefits and to not stigmatize it,” she said. “But the whole point of the SNAP challenge is that you fail. You cannot eat nutritious, whole meals on just these benefits.”
In conversations she’s had with other participating state legislators, Higgins said she’s heard how they’ve also been struggling. One, a parent of three children, has had to start purchasing sugary breakfast cereal because that’s the only thing affordable.
Another, who relies almost exclusively on eating takeout, has been having a hard time preparing meals with such limited ingredients.
Higgins has been working to maintain her vegan diet and has been getting tips and suggestions from constituents who have had to subsist off the SNAP program, she said.
While the need to expand resources to people with food insecurity has been a priority for advocates in the past, Worcester County Food Bank Advocacy Director Liz Sheehan Castro said the current challenge was inspired by language in the attempted 2018 reauthorization of the U.S. Farm Bill, which covers SNAP policy.
The reauthorization would have cut over $20 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years and forced work requirements on its recipients. The bill, which was moving through the U.S. House of Representatives, died on the floor in a 198-213 vote in late May when 30 Republicans voted with Democrats.
“They were looking for cost savings and program efficiencies, but the way they went about it was looking at who would be eligible and how much in benefits they could receive,” said Sheehan Castro about the bill.
She joined Higgins and the staff of the Spanish American Center on Thursday to discuss SNAP but also the levels of food insecurity in this region. Because SNAP benefits don’t really provide enough money to feed families, many are given food from the center’s food pantry. And this number has increased following the recent influx of residents from Puerto Rico and immigrants from Latin American countries.
A total 180 households, representing a total 541 individuals, came to the Spanish American Center for food assistance last month, which according to center staff, represents an increase of 315 percent over last May.
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April 22, 2018
Issues impacting Latinos addressed by U.S. representatives
LEOMINSTER — It was as much a call to action as it was a promise of actions to come Saturday morning as Democratic U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern and Luis Gutierrez of Chicago held a roundtable discussion on issues impacting the Latino community. The sweeping conversation with local residents covered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and accusations of the Trump administration’s mishandling of these issues. “I want people to understand they have power to change things for the better and they need to be engaged locally, at the state level, and at the federal level,” McGovern said. “Now is the time to fight for these things.
McGovern, currently the ranking member of the House Rules Committee, said he plans to be appointed the committee’s chairman after this fall’s elections, allowing him ensure votes will be taken on some of the issues talked about Saturday. “The Dream Act will come to the floor (and) universal background checks will come to the floor,” he said. “These are only things I can guarantee if I’m in charge, but a livable wage (and) making sure women are guaranteed the same salary as men.” Gutierrez spoke at length about the cities and towns across the country having to find ways to support Puerto Ricans displaced by last year’s hurricane and criticized President Donald Trump and the federal government’s approach to helping the island recover from the storm. “All he’s done is transfer the responsibility,” he said. “This is the richest, most powerful country in the world and the most technologically evolved country in the world, but have we acted like one?” Among Gutierrez’s suggested actions the U.S. take in Puerto Rico were creating six separate electrical grids across the island to prevent power blackouts and a planting program to restore the massive loss of vegetation from the storm that has contributed to a drop in drinking water quality.
Gutierrez also called for increased investment in wind and solar energy on Puerto Rico, which he said would help attract new businesses to the island.
“We’re using old modalities instead of using new ones. We could show Puerto Rico as a place where we don’t leave a footprint,” he said. For attendees like, Jeanne Klimowicz, a long-time volunteer with the city’s Spanish American Center, hearing ideas members of Congress have for problems in Puerto Rico was the main reason for her coming to Saturday’s event. “I want to hear about Puerto Rico because people ask us about it all the time. I’m here mainly for information so I have something to tell people,” she said. “There are so many people walking around who just don’t know what’s going on.” Valentina Advilar, a fifth-grade student from Fall Brook Elementary School, said she attended so she could learn how she, as an American, can help Dreamers living in the U.S. She was the first audience member to speak during the event’s Q&A session and was urged by Gutierrez to encourage Dreamers to renew their DACA applications, as federal courts have ruled in favor of the program. She said afterward she was happy with Gutierrez’s answer, as well as the rest of what she heard from the congressmen.
Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.
Despite struggles, hurricane victims see hope in relocating to Fitchburg, Leominster
LEOMINSTER — It’s been more than six months since Hurricane Maria displaced many of Puerto Rico’s residents, scattering them across the country to unfamiliar new homes. Of the estimated 234 families who sought shelter in the communities of Leominster and Fitchburg, 14 refugees gathered at the Spanish American Center on Friday to reflect on what their new lives as New Englanders have been like. The emotional, often-times tearful, gathering was a roundtable discussion in which people shared the stories of their journeys. All of the guests spoke only in Spanish, but their experiences were relayed with the help of a translator.
Though they lost their homes and jobs in last year’s storm, Spanish American Center staff say Mariela Huertas, Alex Cora and their two children are among the luckiest families to come from Puerto Rico. “It was a very difficult decision as a family, coming here,” Huertas said through her translator. “The idea was for (Cora) to move here with relatives first and try to get things expedited for the whole family, but the children were upset and missed their dad. It was a choice to move everyone at the same time, even though we weren’t prepared to do so.” This meant the entire family would have to move in with the relatives who initially prepared to house only Cora.
The four of them all had to sleep on the floor of their relatives’ living room for two months before they were able to find a place to stay.
However, things have slowly improved. Cora was able to apply for a full-time job in a local factory two days after arriving and has been earning enough money to support his family. They’ve since moved into an apartment and are so happy with the education their children are receiving that the couple are making Leominster their permanent home.
Jennifer Narvaez moved to the area about the same time as Huertaz and Cora, but didn’t enjoy the same luck their family had. Navaraez, a mother of three, initially planned to stay with a relative living in Leominster, but was kicked out of the apartment in the middle of a snowstorm when she refused to pay an additional $600 her relative’s landlord required. She was placed in Leominster’s Motel 6 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in December and was given a housing certificate. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that she was actually told there was an apartment she and her children could move into. “Between the last two weeks and now, life has been a 180-degree turnaround,” she said through a translator. The family now has medical insurance and is no longer cooking all of their food in a motel microwave. Narvaez was also able to save enough money to buy a car, but is still struggling to find permanent employment because of her limited English skills, a common problem among those unexpectedly forced to uproot their lives after the hurricane. Such is the case for Hector Ramos, a former painting and roofing contractor who holds the unique distinction of being one of the few local Puerto Ricans to relocate to the area alone. Ramos initially arrived in Boston, but was moved by FEMA to Leominster, then Worcester, and eventually back to Leominster, where he hopes to stay. He met the owner of a local pizza shop since coming back to the area and has been doing odd jobs at the business in exchange for being allowed to sleep in one of the restaurant’s spare rooms. Ramos spends his spare time volunteering at the Spanish American Center. “He’s willing to use whatever time he has to support this agency,” said Ramos’ translator. “He feels that even though he hasn’t come full circle, at least he has survived and has friends.” Even though he acknowledges he is technically homeless in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, Ramos explained through his translator that he wants to stay and move beyond a life of just surviving. “He had his opportunities in Puerto Rico, his successes and his issues. Now he doesn’t feel that things aren’t so bad that he could do better,” he said through his translator. “He plans to stay here and go through all the struggles in Massachusetts and make this his home.” Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.
Leominster Spanish American Center forum on Hurricane Maria Friday 4/6/18
LEOMINSTER — The Spanish American Center will hold a roundtable forum Friday to discuss the after-effects of Hurricane Maria to recognize the six-month anniversary of the storm making landfall in Puerto Rico. The event will feature conversations with individuals lived through Maria and the relocation process to the mainland, including new local residents who moved to Massachusetts following the storm. The event will be held on Friday at 11:30 at the Spanish American Center.
Spanish American Center in Leominster helping brighten season for children
LEOMINSTER — What would normally serve as the Spanish American Center’s main conference room has been temporarily transformed into a local version of the North Pole. This is where the presents that will go to roughly 200 local children are currently being kept until they’re ready to be placed under the tree on Christmas morning. “We’ll have people come in and say they don’t have money, they don’t know what they’re going to do for Christmas, so when they find out about this, they’re so happy,” said staff member Wanda Ruiz, who serves as one of the organizers of the annual toy drive. “Some shed tears because they don’t have the income to do this.
The toys, which were donated by the Telegram & Gazette, are distributed to children from families-in-need from Leominster, Fitchburg, Gardner and other surrounding towns. It’s been a tradition at the center for over a decade now. As Ruiz explained, many of the families being assisted this year have been affected by domestic violence in some way. Many have recently had to flea their homes to escape abuse, leaving most of their possessions and money behind. “This helps us with a lot of our clients, they could be fleeing from home and don’t have anything so we want to give them piece of mind at Christmas,” said staff member Monica Rodriguez. “We do have a few more kids this year with all the families that have come from Puerto Rico.
The effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria this fall led to countless Puerto Rican refugees relocating north in recent months. The School Department recently reported that roughly 50 refugee students had enrolled in Leominster schools since the storm. “We are trying to welcome everyone, but when it comes to programs and services, we just don’t have the resources,” said center Director Neddy Latimer. Which is why being able to had out presents this year, Latimer said, has taken on an even greater significance in Leominster this year.
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At Leominster Spanish American fest, thoughts
with Puerto Rico, Mexico victims
LEOMINSTER — Sandra Frederick was invited to the Spanish American Center’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Tuesday, the day she met with the organization’s director for help navigating services available to her mother. Frederick’s mother flew out of Puerto Rico hours before Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20. She flew alone, because the rush of evacuations meant the rest of her family couldn’t find plane tickets out. Her mother has dementia, explained Frederick, adding another stress to the list of her worries when she learned her mother went missing while at a layover in Philadelphia. Airport security located her mother six hours later, placing her on flight to Massachusetts, her final destination after leaving the storm-battered island.
Frederick placed a hand on her mother’s shoulder. Most of her family, including a sister she managed to contact Tuesday morning, remains in Puerto Rico. “This morning they were finding out that the ports where the ships come in with all the supplies are not able to come in because of all the boats that sank in the marina,” she said. She spoke as live music flooded the center’s soup kitchen, where dozens of people, hailing from countries like Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, who gathered for the annual celebration of music, poetry and food honoring Latino culture. The event was a forum for community many of amid the destruction of Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, two deadly earthquakes in Mexico, and political conflict elsewhere, said Mickey Guzman, the center’s family advocate. “We wanted to have fun in memory of Hispanic Heritage month, to enjoy when all these tragedies are occurring, in Puerto Rico, in Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and in Florida, we felt that this was a way to at least have fun for a little while,” he said. Maria Alicea had trouble celebrating with her “mind and her heart” in Puerto Rico. Her mind, she said, is filled with memories of her childhood on the island. “It’s kind of pain, and a celebration at the same time,” she said “My family there, I wish they could be here with me, or I wish I could be there with them. Everything came at once, with Hurricane Maria.” Alicea, a domestic violence counselor at the Spanish American Center, said she’s been able to talk to family through online messages. Phones are charged only when driving, which must be limited because of the island-wide gas shortage. Residents are waiting overnight in lines at gas stations, said Director Neddy Latimer, who has not made contact with her family in Guanica, Puerto Rico since early September. She said phone rings all day as Twin Cities residents call for help connecting with their families in Puerto Rico. There’s nothing she can do, Latimer explains. Other tell her they want to go to Puerto Rico to help, she said, a trip Latimer urges them not to take. “When there’s no lights, no food no fuel, what are they doing but wasting their time, and adding to the problem, taking food and supplies away from people who are already there and need it,” she said. Spanish American Center coordinator Christina Gonzales helped kitchen manager Iris Rodriguez serve meals of beans and rice, zucchini lasagna, and pork shoulder, she said Hispanic Heritage Month is about sharing Latino culture, and making everyone feel welcome. “With the little bit we have we stretch out for everybody,” she said. “That’s what we want people to recognize, with a little, you can do a lot for another person.” Frederick joined the crowd singing to congratulate Geraldo Arizia on his 65th birthday. Only a few of her own family members live in Massachusetts, she said. The Spanish American Center, she said, “is the biggest, warmest family I’ve known.”
Spanish American Center celebrates 50th anniversary
LEOMINSTER — Event organizers had hoped for sunshine for the Spanish American Center’s 50th anniversary party, but Saturday’s rainstorms may have done a better job of highlighting the significant impact the local nonprofit has had on community members. Despite the downpour, dozens of local residents crowded under tents set up in the center’s parking lot to eat, dance and celebrate more than half a century of community service. “They really serve a purpose here,” said Jim Jancietis, a French Hill resident who lives a block away from the Spanish American Center. Jancietis said recognizing the important services provided by the center had been reason enough for him to brave the wet weather Saturday.
“We’ve been having plenty of fun here today,” he said. Initially opening as a resource for Puerto Rican citizens moving to Massachusetts in the 1960s, the Spanish American Center has since blossomed into a multifaceted support network, helping local residents of all ethnic backgrounds with issues ranging from hunger, unemployment and coping with the aftermath of domestic violence. “The mission of our agency has always been to better the quality of life for all, so that every person lives in a safe and prosperous society,” center Director Neddy Latimer said in her Saturday morning speech. “Today, we celebrate the joys and accomplishments we have had during the years. “As Mickey Guzman, the center’s family advocate, explained, the area’s immigrant population has only grown over the years, further increasing the number of people center staff are regularly working with. “There has been a population growth of Hispanics over the past 50 years,” he said. “The Spanish American Center has provided services to individuals from all the 20 Spanish-speaking countries.” Representatives from many of the other social service agencies center staff work with on a frequent basis were also present to celebrate the center’s anniversary.
Community Health Connections outreach administrator Zuly Fernandez-Preville was among those enjoying the party. “It’s been great. We’ve been talking to a lot of people, meeting people we might work with later, and listening to this great music,” she said. Fernandez-Preville was accompanied by Yarisbeth Guzman, a marketing consultant with ICK Assurance Home Health Care. “We want to support the people here and this 50th anniversary,” she said. “They are great and genuinely help the community. Any thing we can do to support them, we want to do it.” Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.
Healey delivers $6G to youth program at Leominster Spanish American Center
LEOMINSTER — As she navigated a gaggle of gleefully screaming children playing tag outside the Spanish American Center, Attorney General Maura Healey joked that she didn’t think she’d be joining in. “I’m pretty daunted by the likes of this crew,” she said of the children. “They look pretty fierce.” Healey and dozens of local kids braved the sweltering 90-degree heat Wednesday morning for the Spanish American Center’s Summer Youth Program, to which the attorney general donated nearly $6,000 as a part of her office’s Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program. Center Director Neddy Latimer said the money will allow her to pay five of the teenage volunteers who work in the annual five-week program.
“It’s so important to keep the kids busy. Now, before school starts, they could maybe buy some clothes because they’ll have the money,” she said. As much as the money will help ensure the quality of services offered to the younger kids who take part in the youth program, Healey said the money is also creating important job opportunities for the center’s youngest employees. “If we don’t make these investments now, we pay later. We see what’s happening with addiction, with mental health issues, with poverty. People need opportunity and they need opportunities for jobs,” she said. Program Coordinator Christina Gonzalez said she hopes to be able to continue to pay volunteers in the future..
“All of them have volunteered here for years, but any time we can give a little incentive, a little more than just a field trip, that’s a good opportunity for them. And they’re also gaining job skills,” she said. The Spanish American Center’s youth program typically enrolls about 100 kids during the summer. Gonzalez said this year’s program focused on healthy living and teaching kids about nutrition, obesity and the importance of exercise. “It’s also an important transition into the school year,” she said.
“I think sometimes, when you’re out of school, everything goes in separate ways and they’re not eating healthy breakfasts and lunches. This gives them and opportunity to have that with some learning activities.”
The attorney general’s Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program has helped to create nearly 200 different jobs this summer through $300,000 in grants paid for through settlement funds collected by the state from companies engaged in unlawful activities. Healey said the money donated to the Spanish American Center was paid for through health care settlements and that her office was also able to donate nearly $4,000 to pay for positions at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster. This was the first time the Spanish American Center was awarded the grant. “We certainly had been aware of the program and were delighted to see it come in as one of the applicants,” Healey said. “They do a lot with a little and you see that in the commitment of the staff.” Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53.
AG Maura Healey will visit Leominster’s Spanish American Center Wednesday
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Kicks off third annual ‘Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program’
BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey, who announced that her office is awarding $300,000 in grant funding to 70 organizations across the state to fund nearly 200 summer jobs for local youth focused on health and well-being, will visit Leominster’s Spanish American Center Wednesday morning. “Summer jobs empower young people to gain new skills and contribute to their communities,” said Healy in a press release about the grants. “Through our healthy summer youth jobs program, nearly 200 young people from across Massachusetts will work in jobs in government and nonprofit organizations focused on health and well-being,” she said. AG Healey will kickoff the third year of her Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program with a site visit in Leominster to the Spanish American Center at 9:30 a.m. Joining Healey will be State Rep. Natalie Higgins, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, and Leominster Interim Police Chief Michael Goldman. This year’s Healthy Summer Youth Jobs Grant Program is funded with $300,000 in settlement money from the AG’s Office. Beyond increasing employment for young people in the grant funding will allow teens to hold jobs that include working in a community health center, counseling at a summer camp about nutrition, leading cooking classes, and working at a farmer’s market. Examples of jobs that have received funding from the AG’s Office include working as a coach teaching young people about healthy eating, a bilingual health educator, a camp counselor teaching physical fitness and healthy living habits, serving meals to younger kids, designing a community health research project and running a farmers’ market.
More fuel to fight domestic violence
Spanish American Center welcomes $220G state grant to help victims
LEOMINSTER — Staff of the Spanish American Center are hoping to increase their ability to help victims of domestic violence with a grant for more than $220,000 they recently received from the state Department of Public Health. “We are so pleased because we have been running this program the longest, at least 40 years and we have seen it all. This money is very critical to us because what we see is so really bad,” said center Director Neddy Latimer. Although the center has been awarded this grant in the past, Latimer said the amount of money they were given is among the largest they have ever received from the state. This year’s amount represents and increase of more than $30,000 over last year’s grant, which Latimer and domestic violence support staff hope will allow them increase their outreach capabilities and develop more services for children. “This is crucial for us because this is a crisis right now. It’s constant and it’s grown like a plague,” said center staff member Wanda Ruiz, who counsels domestic violence victims. “We have so many people coming through our doors and being referred to us every day. This amount to me is a blessing because the work is a lot.” As staff member Maria Alicea explained, the funding is so crucial to the domestic violence program because there are so few other resources for victims in Leominster and Fitchburg. “This will ensure the futures of the victims and the survivors that we are helping,” she said. “In the area of Leominster and Fitchburg there are no other agencies that are able to help in the way that we do.” The Spanish American Center offers a variety of resources to domestic violence victims from basic counseling to more specialized services. Center staff work to find shelter locations for individuals trying to flea from abusive homes, but also help victims with finding the permanent residences and employment they need in order to live more independent lives. Staff members are also bilingual, which makes the process that much easier for residents who don’t speak English as their first language. As Alicea explained, many of the individuals she and Ruiz work with are immigrants who might be less inclined to seek out help from people who aren’t able to easily communicate with them. The center was also recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the George Wallace Foundation in order to further support their programs for feeding hungry and isolated people in the Leominster area. Money from this grant will be used to underwrite the costs of the center’s Breakfast Cafe and evening soup kitchen as well as other existing partnerships with the New Life Spanish Christian Church. Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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. ****************************************************************
It’s checkout time for homeless at the Leominster Days Inn
By Peter Jasinski, firstname.lastname@example.org 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. *************************************************************
February 29, 2016 Sentinel & Enterprise
Asthma program Wednesday for Latinos in Leominster
By Peter Jasinski pjasinski@sentinel andenterprise.com
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. ******************************************************
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.
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.
“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.
———————————————————————————————————- 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.
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
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. ____________________________________________________________ Angelita is the Vice President of the SAC Board of Directors
Angelita Santiago, Educator uses language skills to help children succeed.
Sentinel & Enterprise By Anna Burgess, email@example.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 *************************************************************
Community Foundation of North Central Mass. awards $500G in grants Sentinel & Enterprise UPDATED: 06/15/2015 11:16:49 AM
John 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
Spanish American Center: ‘Wonderful to be back home’ in Leominster By Cliff Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org 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, email@example.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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
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, email@example.com UPDATED: 02/12/2015 06:52:56 AM EST 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
This food fight is for good cause By Jack Minch, firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Green 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.