By Tine Roycroft, Rachel Bryson-Brockmann, and Jennifer Russo
It’s that time of year again ~ resolutions, fresh starts, and Pulse’s “People to Watch” issue. This year, we’re featuring 11 exemplary local individuals who are making a name for themselves and for Worcester County itself ~ they are students, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, visionaries and more, all working towards making our community a stronger, more united, more vibrant one. Choosing these individuals was not an easy task, as we received so many nominations for outstanding people doing outstanding things. But please join us now in congratulating “The Eleven” we did choose for their contributions thus far and in looking forward to what this exceptional group is sure to accomplish in the future. What better way to start off the new year?
25, Executive Director of the Worcester Animal Rescue League, West Boylston
Recently, 25 year-old Executive Director of the Worcester Animal Rescue League Allie Simone took a rare break from her job to help a friend move from Virginia. But despite being hundreds of miles away, Simone was still on the clock.
“We found a stray cat at a gas station, just hanging out,” she recalls. “So we gave it some cat food, gave it some water. The job never stops.”
Simone, a resident of West Boylston with a degree in business from Worcester State College, began working at WARL as an undergrad. She loved the animals and her work ethic helped her move up quickly through the ranks.
“Every day was and is a story,” Simone says. “Every time we say, ‘Nothing surprises us,’ something does. It’s incredible to see the situations people put their pets in ~ for both good and bad.”
Running WARL is no easy task. It’s a no-kill shelter, which means that the animals are kept alive as long as they are happy and healthy so they can be adopted. Simone was quick to note that “happy and healthy” does not mean perfection; if a dog has only three legs, for example, but has a clean bill of health otherwise, he is kept until he is adopted. WARL is a limited- intake shelter and only accepts surrendered animals when they have the space to do so, which ensures that all WARL animals are being given the best care and attention.
Because it’s a non-profit, the shelter relies totally on the kindness of others. But according to Simone, the outpouring of generosity is heartwarming.
“We run 100% off donations and that goes all the way down to the pet food,” she says. “We have almost 2500 Facebook fans and when we need something, like kitten food, we just put it out on Facebook and suddenly we have 100 cans of kitten food. It’s amazing how much the community supports us.”
In the past year alone, Simone and the team at WARL have made great strides for animals, forming fundraising and development committees and expanding their board. Currently, they are working on a program with the Worcester public school system that will teach children about dogs ~ including how to act around strays and how to read a dog’s body language to ensure safety. And Simone has no intention of stopping until as many people as possible know about WARL and how life-changing the shelter is for both people and pets alike.
Worcester 40, Screenwriter/English Teacher, Worcester
“I like digging into the past and highlighting the overlooked or ignored,” she said.
McCarthy’s film Wonder Drug, currently in development, does just that. It’s inspired by the world’s first drug disaster, DES (diethylstilbestrol), a drug given to pregnant women starting in 1938. The film follows a Big Pharma executive, a feminist doctor, and a thirtysomething newlywed, showing how the drug is detrimental to their lives across different decades.
“It was shocking to me that so many people have never heard of DES,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s a best-kept secret.”
Affected by DES herself, McCarthy is now working with Senator John Kerry and Senator Scott Brown to get an apology from the Food and Drug Administration for the DES drug disaster.
McCarthy has another film currently in development. Resistance, an historical drama about the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and the horrors of Auschwitz, is based on the life of one of her college professors, forced to grow up quickly as she moves from the school yard to the concentration camp, working for the Resistance along the way. To date, Resistance has won over 15 awards and nominations at international film festival screenplay competitions and labs, including the Atlanta Film Festival’s inaugural screenplay competition; Best Period Piece at the Action on Film International Film Festival; and Audience Vote for Best Screenplay (Synopsis & Reading) at the Prince Edward Island International Film Festival.
Free Skate, currently at script stage, is a sports drama about a talented but penniless teenage figure skater from Worcester who learns the true cost of her Olympic dream.
Even with so many projects going on, screenwriting isn’t her full time job. McCarthy, a Worcester native, teaches English at Worcester Technical High School.
McCarthy’s great success comes from her determination and ambition: “I’m the eternal optimist,” she said. “I always tell my students that it only takes one yes to change your life.”
25, Worcester, President, Barnstorm Cycles
Stop by Barnstorm Cycles in Worcester and you’ll see some kick-butt motorcycles, parts for your bikes, a helpful staff, and a 25 year-old hottie named Jake Cutler ~ who just happens to be the company’s president.
“I started the business when I was 18 with my father,” Cutler says. “He’s my partner. I went through three years of college, but then the business started taking over my life. And I let it take over my life.”
In his youth, Cutler was the ultimate tinkerer. Then came the motorcycles.
“At 10, my parents bought me a Honda scooter. Then when I was 16, I got my motorcycle license.”
That summer Cutler took a job landscaping and saved to buy a Harley Sportster. But once he had his new bike, Cutler felt the need to learn more about motorcycles in order to fix his own if need be. He apprenticed at a motorcycle shop in Dudley, later working at a machine shop and then a welding and fabrication shop. Today, Barnstorm Cycles utilizes all of Cutler’s talents and experience to give its customers the most personalized and perfected service.
“We do a little bit of everything at the shop,” Cutler says. “Typical day could be anything from tearing down a motor, or fixing valves to making something you just can’t buy anywhere else.”
Cutler loves his long motorcycle rides and has traveled far and wide ~ but there’s always time in his calendar for community outreach. Barnstorm Cycles sponsors a motorcycle ride that supports the Barton Center for Diabetes Education in North Oxford and a ride that supports Y.O.U., Inc. And when you can peel Cutler off one bike, he hops right on another.
“I also do a bicycle ride,” he says. “It’s the Tri State Trek to support ALS research. A friend of the family had a father who was diagnosed with ALS while I was in high school so that was the first year I did the ride. He died, but I do it every year in his memory. Hopefully they’ll find a cure soon so I won’t be riding to raise research money, but I’ll be riding to celebrate him.”
There’s change on the horizon for Cutler and Barnstorm. As of December 2010, he closed on a new building in Spencer, MA and intends to relocate the business.
“We’ll see who’s a loyal customer,” he jokes.
And Cutler, who benefited from so many apprenticeships himself, also wants to begin a formal apprenticeship program at the shop. “I’ve had some guys come in, they help out around the shop, they get their hands dirty. But I’d like to put something formal in place.”
The young president of Barnstorm Cycles is very happy with his position and encourages others to start their own businesses if they have a vision. But he is quick to warn people about the level of dedication it takes to succeed.
“It’s a lot of work,” he admits. “If you think something will take 10 hours, it will take 30. And at the end of the day, the only one you can hold responsible if something goes wrong is you. But it’s very rewarding.”
42, Director of Marketing and PR at the Hanover Theatre, Worcester
The Hanover Theatre boasts a number of exciting shows featuring huge celebrities . But even when faced with the big Broadway personalities, Lisa Condit, Director of Marketing and PR, remains unequivocally professional.
“I never get star struck,” Condit laughs. “Sure, we all get giddy if a favorite act or performer is coming to the Hanover, but by the time the show actually comes, it’s all business.”
With a degree in comparative literature, this marketing guru has always had a love of theatre and dance. Condit has over 20 years of PR and marketing experience, has been a VP of marketing, has headed her own PR agency, and now focuses her excellence on the Hanover, where every day is a new adventure.
“A typical day includes preparing for whatever deadlines we have coming up as well as meeting the goals of the longterm strategic plan. It’s a mix of everything ~ marketing, communications and PR,” Condit says. “We have a really good team in place that helps to make it all happen.”
Condit caters to the needs of celebrities as they make the Hanover Theatre their temporary home, but she gives the same level of dedication and excellence when local groups grace the stage ~ an act which both directly and indirectly supports the arts scene in Worcester.
“People from all walks of life are able to come through our doors in order to laugh, cry, reflect, and share something meaningful,” Condit says. “This process is incredibly rejuvenating, not just for the audiences and the people who work and volunteer at the theatre, but for each additional contact that is made as a result.”
In addition to her work at the Hanover, Condit has been a Girl Scouts troop leader for six years. Her scouts focus on community service activities and conservation efforts in the East Quabbin area.
When she has a few moments to herself, this go-getter loves grabbing a bite at Mezcal Tequila Cantina where “the guacamole is to die for!” But aside from a rare snack break, Condit keeps her eye on the prize.
“I want the Hanover Theatre to be a household name ~ not just for people who are directly connected to Worcester, but for people who are within the 25 mile radius,” she says. “I want people to know that this is a Broadway stop and a stop for national acts.”
26, Owner, Honor Roll Productions and Founder of Open Road Music Festival
Bringing together the Worcester community for 7 hours on a Saturday might seem like a feat that could only be accomplished by a national celebrity or politician, and making those people aware of the environment might seem near impossible. Thankfully, “impossible” is not in the vocabulary of Marcus Ohanesian, Open Road Music Festival founder.
“Worcester is so greatly diverse,” says Marcus. “There are so many different ethnicities, foods, cultures, and attractions in this city. Most of the time it goes overlooked and underappreciated.” He hopes that the festival will change that perception and bring to light how wonderful the city really is.
The Open Road Music Festival not only brings people together to hear some great local tunes and other entertainment, it is also an earth friendly and sustainable music and arts festival that promotes environmental consciousness. The festival features vendors selling eco-friendly products and services and food options for hungry patrons who prefer organic and vegan palette pleasers. There are recycle bins located throughout the park to encourage folks to do their part. The festival also donates some of its proceeds to the Joy of Music Program (JOMP), a respected community music school in Worcester.
Born and raised in Worcester, doing something in and for the community is a personal move for Marcus. Other than the obvious advantages to protecting the Earth, he says, “It also gives Worcester a great name by having a music festival and community event that brings people into the city. It also gives Worcester bands a chance to play an outdoor festival in their own hometown in a park they’ve probably driven by a hundred times.”
Ohanesian hopes that others will be inspired by what he is doing by becoming more environmentally conscious, but also by seeing that no matter what their own idea may be, it CAN be accomplished with some planning and a strong desire to see it happen.
Honor Roll Productions is in the process of booking bands for this year’s festival, which will be held in September. They are looking for a venue since Institute Park (where the 2010 festival was held) is under construction. He welcomes ideas for venues and bands and suggestions can be sent via the website:
To learn more about Honor Roll Productions, which books bands at venues all around Worcester, go to http://imhonorroll.com.
Photo credit: Philip J. Carcia
28, Owner & Principal Planner, Crave26 Events/Paint the Town Pink, Worcester
Working women in the Worcester area are already thanking Meredith Bond for bringing to light all of the businesses that offer services just for them. Many women don’t realize that there are so many local businesses out there which are tailored specifically to the female working population. This misconception is what Meredith hopes to change through Paint the Town Pink Worcester, offered through her parent company Crave26 Events, which specializes in specialty event planning. Crave26 Events is based on the belief that if you can come up with an idea, the idea can be brought to fruition. The website proclaims that “If you crave it, we’ll create it,” and offers high quality event services which take the stress off the customers so they can enjoy seeing their ideas come to life.
“I heard a lot of people saying that there was nothing to do in Worcester, and I thought to myself ~ no, there is actually A LOT to do in Worcester,” says Meredith. “I wanted to create an event for women comprised of all businesses in the area that were flying under the radar which catered to them.” And she did just that, creating the first Paint the Town event ~ which turned out to be a huge success. Meredith reaches out to companies she feels would catch the eye of event attendees. In the case of Paint the Town, she focuses on businesses that would appeal to professional women.
“I feel that Paint the Town events give residents a new outlook on how to get to know products and services in the area. It’s an excellent way for businesses to showcase what they have and the events drive much needed commerce to the local companies. It gives people a chance to network and create partnerships. I have a firm foundation here in Worcester. Anything that promotes growth in local enterprise is a good thing.”
In 2011, Meredith hopes to continue the momentum with more Paint the Town Pink events that reach even more businesses and potential female consumers. Part of what made the first Pink event such a success was the comfortable, no-pressure environment that allowed women to meet socially while also taking note of the wide spectrum of businesses that make their home in Worcester. Also, the events have swag bags which are filled with free products and discounts from local businesses; Meredith came up with the idea as another fun way for local businesses to make themselves known even if they can’t actually vendor at the events. Any business can add items to the swag bag for free.
“In 2011 I plan on doing one big Paint the Town Pink event ~ a gala of sorts ~ where we gather past vendor participants as well as new businesses and have them all at one big, ultimate Worcester Girls’ Night Out event featuring local businesses from Worcester and surrounding towns. I do plan to keep the smaller individual events going as well.”
As far as Meredith’s take on her future?
“I have a strong drive and I know what I want and where I want to be 10 years from now. Only you know the scope of what you can do. Anyone who has a goal or idea should follow through with it to the best of their ability. So far everything has been a success, but I definitely want to go much further and I believe I will.”
To learn more, visit www.paintthetownpinkworc.com or call 774-287-5609.
33, Entrepreneur & Owner, Status Ride Car Rentals and Cinch IT, Worcester
When it comes to success driven workaholics, Michael Clark coins the term. Only in his early thirties, Clark founded and owns two businesses grounded in his two passions, cars and computers. After the dot com boom crashed and he was laid off from the company he worked for, he promised never to work for someone else again.
“I used that time to scrape everything I had together, which wasn’t much,” says Clark. In 2004, he founded Cinch IT, a company that offers solutions for Medical, Healthcare, Legal, Financial, Hotel, Automotive, and Technology industries. Six years later, Cinch IT has four engineers who take a proactive approach to optimizing and securing client networks for Massachusetts compliance purposes. Michael will be hiring a new account rep to help the business grow even further.
Status Ride, Michael’s other business venture, is a car rental company focused on renting luxury and exotic cars. He offers for rent ten of the most sought after cars in the world, including the Ferrari F430 and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Michael decided to start the company after looking into renting a Lamborghini himself for a special occasion, and finding the closest rental company was in New York.
“I saw a small niche for the New England area and thought it was worth exploring. I researched trends for a year and found that there was definitely a market for this here,” Michael tells me. “When I started telling family and close friends about my idea, they thought I was crazy. Every bank said no. I was able to source funding privately from people who share my passion about cars.”
In 2011, he hopes to double the sales of Status Ride, add some more “sweet rides” to the fleet, and show other people that Worcester is a great place to start a high-end business. Status Ride also helps the community by bringing in the highest bid at local charity auctions.
“Imagine if I listened to everyone who said I was crazy,” Michael says. “You don’t have to be stuck in a job you hate. You just need to be motivated and creative enough to make something happen. If everyone tells you it can’t be done, it could mean you everyone is too scared to try it and you could make a success out of it.”
To rent a luxury ride and feel like a celebrity for the day ~ or to learn more about Status Ride ~ go to www.statusride.com.
To learn more about services at Cinch IT, visit www.cinchIT.com.
28, NAACP organizer and Assistant Professor, Clark University, Worcester
But in recent years, membership has dropped, and the group’s presence in Worcester has faded to almost nothing.
Ravi Perry, Ph.D., is working hard to change that.
Perry, 28, an assistant professor of Government at Clark University, is working to reestablish the branch by attracting new, passionate members. The NAACP is completely volunteer-run, and membership is $30 per year ~ people of all races are encouraged to join.
Perry emphasized that it is important for the elected officials in Worcester to be representative of the overall population. “That’s not the case right now, and it’s one of our goals once we establish the branch here. As a city that is made of twenty-five percent minorities, we need to get some color on the city council.”
Perry, who earned his Ph.D from Brown University in political science, has long been focused on issues facing African Americans in the United States, concentrating his activism and research on black and urban politics and minority representation.
His blog, called “Don’t Talk, Just Do” (donttalkjustdo.blogspot.com/), is a commentary on black and urban politics.
An Ohio native who moved to Worcester over a year ago, Perry established a chapter of the NAACP at the University of Michigan during his undergraduate years there.
Besides revitalizing the NAACP, Perry hopes to encourage civic engagement of all people, including college students who may live in Worcester for only a few years.
“We can’t have complacency,” he stressed. “We need voter participation and we need active citizens in Worcester. It’s important that people who have lived here for a long time, as well as people who are recent transplants, are aware of what’s going on in the city government.”
29, Relief Worker, Worcester
After a stint in the Peace Corps, stationed in Ba, Fiji, Rhiannon Doherty realized she wanted to help take care of people.
“People kept coming up to me and asking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
She wanted to know the answers, and she wanted to help.
Doherty, 29, came home to Worcester and enrolled in the nursing program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science.
Though she had experimented in a number of different careers ~ including acting, modeling, and teaching theatre ~ she felt strongly that she needed to reach out to those in need.
“I needed to do more to make a difference, to do something concrete,” she said.
Now, she’s the community outreach chair for the Massachusetts Student Nurses Association, where she encourages individual chapters of the MASNA to be more active in their communities through health fairs, screenings, fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and the like.
She’s also a member of the Red Cross’s disaster action team. Trained in relief work, she responds to local disasters, helping to provide food and shelter. “We are the first to the scene of a disaster to provide immediate relief assistance,” she explained. “This could be a small house fire in the middle of the night or assisting with a shelter for many during a local ice storm.” Her personal interest is mental health medical care in shelter situations, as one day she hopes to become a Nurse Practitioner and work in community health. Doherty also has plans to continue doing relief work, either nationally or internationally.
Doherty stresses it doesn’t take a lot to make someone feel a little better. “With a sense of humor, you can make patients smile and feel normal again,” she said. “It’s important to act with compassion and think of the whole person.”
When Justin Mayotte started Flash House studios in 2009, he envisioned a large studio and a one-stop place where people could go for any kind of photo job they needed. There were smaller studios that specialized in portraiture or weddings, but his vision was on a much larger scale. He wanted to take it up a notch and offer something more to Worcester. The studio was named Flash House, which initially Mayotte laughed at. “It was so cliché,” he tells me. “But when we thought about it, it was too perfect, simple, and encompassed everything we do, so we went with it.”
Justin Hammond was trying to start up a clothing company and was looking for a unique way to show the clothing through photography so he could use the photos for his website. “His ‘in your face’ style of photography just really stood out,.” Hammond says of Mayotte. “After doing some behind the scenes videos and hanging out at some photo shoots, I ended up picking up a camera myself.”
In January of 2009, “the Justins” began shooting together. With Hammond’s nightlife connections from doing video and flyer design and Mayotte’s artistic eye for capturing people in unique ways, Flash House took off. Both photographers are self-taught with a background in design. “I spent all summer photographing flowers in my backyard, changing the settings and learning the camera. I learned lighting through renting a studio in Boston once a month,” says Mayotte. Hammond has a strong background in digital editing and Mayotte showed him the basics of shooting. “I am still learning day to day,“ Hammond tells me. “The more I shoot, the more I learn. It’s never ending and I love it.”
Flash House, positioned right in the heart of the increasingly popular and bustling Canal District, offers a little something for everyone. From club photos to child photography, fashion/model portfolios to weddings, they have the market cornered. They even offer advertising design and create logos and websites for businesses. Justin and Justin are finishing up their portrait studio this month.
“I want to be able to have a studio where photographers can be creative, models can gain experience and companies can grow,” says Mayotte.
“Eventually I would love to travel all around the world working with top models and making connections. Ideally, I would love to photograph some celebrities too,” says Hammond.
Outside of photography, Mayotte plays on a co-ed soccer team or can be found line dancing at the Dance Ranch here in Worcester. Hammond is also a musician, a writer, and a self-confessed “tech nerd.”
Both Justins feel that Worcester can be an even bigger presence on the map with what they’re doing. “There is so much undiscovered talent here when it comes to models, musicians and artists,” says Hammond. “There are so many talented people here and I feel like it’s hard for them to express that and have a place to create, so I’m hoping we can help change that,” adds Mayotte.
To find out more about the services at Flash House or to view their portfolio, visit www.flashhousestudios.com.