01.12 12 to Watch in 2012

The Faces of Worcester County’s Future

By Tine Roycroft

Marketing and Resource Development Associate at the YWCA

It’s that time of year again ~ resolutions, fresh starts, and Pulse’s “People to Watch” issue. This year, we’re featuring 12 exemplary local individuals who are making a name for themselves and for Worcester County itself ~ they are artists, volunteers, entrepreneurs, 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 Twelve” 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?

Jo-Serena Rodriguez is part marketing expert, part fundraising queen, part mentor, and all heart. At 28, this Worcester resident is the Marketing and Resource Development Associate at the YWCA and spends her days overseeing the organization’s branding, communications and events. But Rodriguez doesn’t rest when night falls.

“I feel that many smaller non-profits don’t capitalize on their marketing. Whenever I can help them reach their goals, I go right for it,” she says.

Rodriguez works with the Investing in Girls Alliance, a group which brings together Worcester agencies that serve girls. She’s also a member of ALPFA, the Association for Latino Professionals in Finances and Accounting, and is hoping to establish a local chapter, and she’s done marketing and outreach for Planned Parenthood and Girls C.H.O.I.C.E.

Rodriguez studied Business Administration at Worcester State College and Quinsigamond Community College, which is where she fell in love with marketing. She also uses her experience as a former hairdresser to bring a creative aspect into everything she does. With her talents, Rodriguez found a great fit working at the YWCA.

“What drew me to the YWCA is its mission of empowering women,” she says. “I was a teen mom, I’m a Latina and their mission matched my core values.”

What’s the next chapter in this marketing professional’s life? Rodriguez is looking to do more work with educating women about finances and empowering them.

Rodriguez’s New Year’s Resolution: To go into business for herself


Director of the Citizens Committee to Elect Tim Murray

Daniel Donahue, Director of the Citizens Committee to Elect Tim Murray, took an interest in politics and bettering the lives of others at any early age.

“Growing up in the city, you see different issues,” Donahue, 24, explains. “I liked trying to help people figure out how they could try to solve them.”

The Worcester resident went on to study Political Science at the College of the Holy Cross, where he enrolled in community organizing classes. He spent his junior year abroad in Ireland at Trinity College in Dublin, studying Irish politics.

“I loved Ireland, but I wanted to come back home to Worcester,” Donahue says. “There are things here in Worcester for me that I can’t find anywhere else.”

But a deeper passion for politics wasn’t all he brought back from Ireland. Donahue had fallen in love with hurling ~ the national sport of Ireland that is similar to a cross between lacrosse and rugby ~ and helped start up the Worcester Hurling Club with Paul Curley. The WHC also has a great youth league that teaches the kids how to join in on the fun in the field.

Always looking to help the city he loves, Donahue finds time in his busy schedule to sit on the Site Council at the Vernon Hill School and, in the future, he’d like to hit the books once again to earn a graduate degree. But when he does have 30 minutes of downtime, he loves catching up with good friends at the Greyhound Pub in Kelley Square.

Next up, Dan will be joining Worcester mayor Joe Petty’s staff as Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Director.

Donahue’s New Year’s Resolution: Getting outside more!


Owner, RedCarpetWorcester.com

Worcester has a crazy club scene. But without the hard work of charismatic John Keenan, owner of Red Carpet, you might be spending your nights at home, dancing in the dark alone.

Red Carpet (RedCarpetWorcester.com) is a promotion and concierge company that rivals all others. Keenan works with some of the hottest clubs in Worcester –Club Instyle and Overtime Tap to name a few – to bring you the sexiest, most energetic nights of djs and dancing. Always going the extra mile, their services range from securing transportation and accommodations to grabbing those VIP tables and early admissions to clubs for their customers. They’re also available for planning outrageous birthday or bachelor/ette parties.

About 7 years ago, while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Keenan dove into the promotions world. Armed with a deep knowledge of computers, and inspired by all of the marketing he was witnessing on social networking sites, he decided to give club and bar promotions a try. Today, Red Carpet is a great success, but Keenan still finds time to give back. Working with Justin Hammond at Cookie Magazine, he helps plan and promote a yearly event where all cover charges are donated to help fight ovarian cancer.

Keenan, 26, has a lot to look forward to in 2012. “We’re launching a website that will link djs, promoters, venues and agencies together. That will be launching on March 7. It’s our big project – we’re really looking forward to revolutionizing the world of DJs.”

Keenan’s New Year’s Resolution: To stay focused and see to it that his website succeeds in 2012!


Worcester County Field Organizer for the Democratic Party State Committee

At just 21, Nora Keefe is already the Worcester County Field Organizer for the Democratic Party State Committee. The intensely busy job keeps her moving around the clock, networking with the many town committees, strengthening relationships with voters, and educating others as to why voting is so important. She knows she has found her niche in life, and accounting classes are partly to thank.

“I decided last fall not to go back to school,” remembers Keefe. “I was studying something I wasn’t invested in ~ accounting.”

Determined to keep busy and find something in which she could invest, Keefe got involved in a state representative race in Holden. From there, she joined the “Get Out the Vote” effort and worked for the entire democratic ticket ~ and when her current position came into existence in 2011, she jumped at the chance.

“My mom is a community organizer in Worcester so I saw the importance of being active in the community at a very young age,” says Keefe. “[Mary Keefe] ran for City Council two years ago and that was my first step into politics.”

Within the next few years, Keefe certainly sees herself heading back to college to obtain a degree. She’ll be weighing her academic options, but if she does move from Worcester, she’ll have a hard time being away from InHouse Coffee on Shrewsbury Street.

“I stopped drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee because I liked their coffee so much!” Keefe admits.

Keefe’s New Year’s Resolution: Keefe didn’t have one in mind, but Pulse can see this young star rising into her own political career.


Founder of Charles Saulters Media

At 27, Charles Saulters, founder of Charles Saulters Media (www.charlessaultersmedia.com) in Leominster, has experienced the full spectrum of highs and lows that come with living an artistic existence. But he’s still full of fight and hasn’t stopped raging forward.

His media company offers the best in photography, videography, and graphic design. Where did it all start? Saulters admits to toying around with disposable cameras when he was 15, taking random candids, but never being serious about it.

“I was a musician in a traveling band [Easton Legacy] for a long time,” remembers Saulters. “I was the one on top of managing and booking shows, promoting us. I started doing things with Photoshop, got into graphic design and taking photos. I realized how rewarding it was.”

After years of touring non-stop, the band broke up. “It had been my life and I needed to fill that space in my heart. My love of art and photography had been growing so I decided to take the plunge,” he says.

Saulters soon found his “big boy job” ~ the gig that was going to lead to a long and fruitful career. “I got the interview, they interviewed me for three hours, introduced me around. And then they never called me back,” he remembers. “I told myself that I was going to go out on my own and get to a level where the company WISHES they had understood my potential.”

With patience and dedication, he made that dream come true. Today, he has a successful company (he was recently spotted at CMF during Tribeca Film Week) ~ working with singers, models, wedding parties, film directors, dancers and more ~ and still finds time to help advise other artists on how to avoid the big pitfalls along the path to happiness. “I love people, I enjoy making them smile, helping them connect their ideas with exciting solutions and making them feel as though there is someone else who is as passionate about their project as they are.”

Saulters’s New Year’s Resolution: To more proactive about getting published



Community Youth Organizer at Oak Hill Community Development Corporation

Patricia Mallios, Community Youth Organizer at Oak Hill Community Development Corporation, spends her days educating and empowering the teens and the residents of Worcester’s Union Hill, Oak Hill and Upsala Street neighborhoods. It can be a difficult role, but it’s one that she’s been preparing for.

“My father passed away when I was in high school,” says Mallios. “Luckily, I had some key adults in my life ~ in school, in church ~ that were there to guide me and help me along the way. I want to help other kids the way I was helped and I love seeing the promise in the kids I work with.”

Mallios, 28, attended Clark University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Community Development. She was able to immediately take what she had learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world at Oak Hill CDC by promoting homeownership, helping residents with asset and property management, encouraging neighborhood economic development and, of course, helping teens.

When she’s off the clock, Mallios doesn’t stop her efforts to make the world a better place. She’s on the board of the Initiative for Engaged Citizenship, which focuses on voter outreach through education and registration. And in 2012, she’ll be focusing a lot of attention on Press Pass TV, an organization she now co-chairs that teaches teens to use investigative journalism to learn about and address issues.

Mallios’s New Year’s Resolution: To try boxing and to save up to go to Greece this summer to visit family.


Marketing Manager, St. Mary’s Credit Union in Marlborough

As a little girl, Sarah Day always dreamed about becoming an astronaut. After attending Notre Dame Academy, Day packed up her ambition and moved to Florida where she attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She started out as an Engineering Physics major and, right before graduating with a degree in Human Factors, secured a job with Galaxy Scientific to work for the government in the space program.

Then September 11, 2001 struck and Day’s plans, like those of many, were forever changed.

The contract that had been waiting for her was redirected elsewhere. She moved to Massachusetts where she worked as a bank teller while trying to find work within the aeronautic field.

“The one thing I’ve learned is that life has a way of putting you where you are meant to be,” Day, 31, says wisely.

Day was quickly promoted within St. Mary’s Credit Union in Marlborough, where she is now Marketing Manager, and took on even more responsibilities as a volunteer at Rachel’s Table.

“It’s a non-profit food rescue organization,” Day explains. “We work with restaurants, grocery stores and private citizens ~ anyone who has nourishing food that would otherwise be thrown away because it’s in excess of what they need. We pick up that food and deliver to 39 soup kitchens and shelters.”

Looking towards the upcoming year, Day is also excited about continuing her work with the Children’s Milk Fund, which provides milk to children’s programs in the Worcester area that would otherwise not be able to afford it.

Day’s New Year’s Resolution: To learn how to relax more.


Principal of the Nativity School of Worcester

Sean Dillon, principal of the Nativity School of Worcester, is changing the tides. With his warm spirit, kindness and determination, kids may now actually WANT to be sent to the principal’s office.

The Nativity School serves at-risk, middle school-aged boys in Worcester. With very small class sizes, oftentimes two teachers per class, extended school hours, and an extended school year, Nativity is doing everything it can to give these boys the tools they need to succeed. Dillon, 29, started at Nativity when he began a 2-year fellowship program there in teaching after graduating from the College of the Holy Cross.

“After a year of teaching at Nativity, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Dillon says. “One of the components of this school that makes it so special is that we have a lot of contact with our graduates. They come back on a very regular basis ~ to get their work done, to get tutoring, but sometimes to just say hello and be with people they know.”

As the principal and the 8th grade reading teacher, Dillon’s days are long. But in his free time he is a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and loves running.

Dillon knows that no matter where the future may lead him, he’ll always be involved in education and most likely inner city teaching. “I love the population, I love the families and kids I work with here,” he says. “It’s so rewarding.”

Dillon’s New Year’s Resolution: To skip his usual Worcester Half Marathon and go for the full deal


A 2011 Worcester Arts Council Artist Fellowship Grant Recipient

Alex Charalambides is the poetic soul of Worcester whose commitment to sharing the magic of words with teens will keep poems weaving throughout the city’s fabric for decades to come.

“It’s my hope to create more opportunities for Massachusetts teens to share their work, let their voices be heard through poetry.” Charalambides says. “They have the talent. They just need people to listen.”

At 37, Charalambides is the founder and director of the Worcester Youth Poetry Slam, co-founder of Mass L.E.A.P. Collective (Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance), and a recipient of a 2011 Worcester Arts Council Artist Fellowship Grant. His soft and humble confidence would make one think that the artist had always known his direction in life, but he reveals that his path to poetry was not as set as iambic pentameter.

”At first, I wanted to be the next big indie filmmaker or rock star,” he remembers. “After I graduated college, I kind of hit this artistic wall where I was spending too much of my time trying to find people to work with me to get a project off the ground. One day I saw this film called Slam. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone read a poem without any musical backing or any other thrills. I just took to poetry and never looked back.”

To add to his list of accomplishments, the determined wordsmith has also hosted the Dirty Gerund Poetry Series at Ralph’s Diner for the past two years and was even featured on the PBS show “Fetch” as a poetry mentor.

And in 2012, Charalambides has no intention of slowing down. Along with all of his other accomplishments and positions, he’ll be the coordinator of the 2012 Louder than a Bomb Youth Poetry Festival.

Charalambides’s New Year’s Resolution: To continue pluggin’ away and dreaming big.


Owner, Thai Island Restaurant

If you need a leading lady for a best-selling, action/adventure novel, stop by Thai Island Restaurant in Holden and ask for owner Olga Kwasniewski. She’s the successful, savvy, smart and gorgeous heroine your novel’s been pining for ~ and she comes with a riveting story all her own.

“How I came to Worcester is quite a story,” Kwasniewski laughs. “I am from Uzbekistan. I came to America to explore the many new opportunities.”

After majoring in Oriental Languages in her home country, she went on to work for the President in internal and international economic affairs. When she moved to the US, she attended Worcester State University for early childhood development and began waitressing part-time on the weekends.

“I thought it would help me learn more about the culture,” Kwasniewski recalls. Not only did the experience do that, but it took her down a new path ~ one that led to her opening her own restaurant. When she’s not at Thai Island, you might find her strutting down the runways and catwalks, as she is a fashion model too!

And Kwasniewski still finds time to give back to the community. Last year, she put together a great event at her restaurant with delicious food, tarot card readings, and a vodka tasting ~ and proceeds were used to enable a student from the Worcester Arts Magnet School to attend art classes at the Worcester Art Museum.

The future is wide open for Kwasniewski and if her life up until 2012 is any indication, we can expect to see some amazing things happening around this lady.

Kwasniewski’s New Year’s Resolution: To do even more charitable outreach


Vocal and Artist Development Coach at Bristol Recording and Voice Studios

Patrice Peris is a ball of fire and talent that refuses to be stopped. At 30, she’s a fabulous singer and performer who has hit the stage at venues including Gillette Stadium, TD Banknorth, and the Hard Rock Café. Her songs have been blasted across Europe and here in the states. But not only does she continuously hone her own skills, she is also a phenomenal vocal and artist development coach at Bristol Recording and Voice Studios.

She started off as a student at Bristol Studios in Boston and then trained as a coach. Most recently, she opened up a branch of Bristol Studios in Worcester and has a bevy of talented students who are already out performing at events.

“We’ve been getting a great response,” Peris says. “In the past year, we’ve done the Peace Festival, we performed at Strides Against Breast Cancer in Worcester and the Festival of (Giving) Trees.”

In addition to both being a star and a coach to the stars, Peris does a lot of work with DrugFreeWorld.org. “I’m drug-free and I feel it’s important to express that artists don’t need to be on anything to be creative. I love giving back.”

Peris has a lot to be excited about in 2012, but one of the coolest things is the release of her new single and with that, a single release party that is certain to be extraordinary.

Peris’s New Year’s Resolution: To continue to grow and develop herself as an artist and continue to expand Bristol Studios


Founders of WooFood.org










Mitch Li, Matt Dewolf, and Adam Chin are all medical students at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. But they’re also the incredible minds behind the site and the movement that is changing how the city eats out ~ WooFood.org.

“Woofood came to be when the three of us were discussing a trans fat ban in Worcester restaurants,” Dewolf, 25, remembers. “We took a step back and thought about how we could do something even bigger. We wanted to look at the entire eating experience ~ from the time a person sits down and looks at the specials list to the time they’re placing the order. How the waiter can possibly nudge you towards the healthier option.”

“Each year, many people have New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier,” notes Li, 25. “And the reason why we keep having to revisit this issue, year after year, is because you go into an environment that doesn’t encourage you to eat a healthy lifestyle. So with WooFood, we’re trying to get rid of that problem. We want it to be easier for people to make healthier eating choices, but not take away their freedom to order a juicy burger if that’s what they choose.”

Using their combined knowledge of health, the restaurant business, and the help of the book Nudge, which focuses on choice architecture, the three came up with the criteria for WooFood. To be WooFood certified, a restaurant needs to meet the group’s standards in terms of having healthful dishes that are made of healthful ingredients. In addition to a restaurant being certified, there are also specific meals on their menus that are noted as being WooFood certified. The idea is to help people make the healthier choices without sectioning off those choices to a specific area of the menu. Dewolf also notes that how a waiter presents the daily specials can affect how the customer orders.

“Instead of just saying that a dish comes with fries,” Dewolf said, “they could say that there’s a lovely side of locally-grown tossed salad greens, dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette. That sounds great and it’s good for you.”

Li, Dewolf, and Chin began partnerships in this endeavor with restaurants (like The Flying Rhino on Shrewsbury Street) by cold calling owners and starting conversations.

“There are some great benefits for businesses too,” says Chin, 24. “We’re promoting these restaurants. We’re hoping to have doctors recommend WooFood restaurants to their patients if they are going to go out and are looking for healthy choices. We’re trying to get some contacts together to form a WooFood newsletter that would go out, maybe about once a week, which would be great advertising for the restaurants.”

Right now, WooFood.org is clearly focused on “the Woo.” But Li, Dewolf and Chin are certainly open to expanding the concept to other cities. And in their spare time, they’d all like to finish med school.

Chin’s New Year’s Resolution: To read more ~ specifically, books that are NOT medical texts

Dewolf’s New Year’s Resolution: Complete his second tough mudder (amazingly tough, obstacle-filled race through mud!) to support the Wounded Warrior Project

 Li’s New Year’s Resolution: To do more rock climbing


2011 Revisited: FlashHouse Studios

By Katey Khaos

In our 11 to Watch in 2011 issue, we featured Worcester’s own Flash House Studios, owned and operated by “The Justins” ~ Justin Hammond and Justin Mayotte. We checked in on them to see what this dynamic duo has been working on this past year, and here’s an update!

What’s the biggest change Flash House Studios has seen in the past year?

JH ~ The studio in general. We renovated the studio to make it a lot more professional and family friendly and to showcase our work with nice prints and welcome people in a lot more. We get compliments on it all the time by everyone, models, photographers, parents, or anyone random stopping in. It’s a good feeling knowing people see the quality of what we do and take us serious, the studio change really helped that.

What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on since the 2011 issue of Pulse?

The Patriots Cheerleaders was a huge project. We shot their team poster and I also edited their entire 2011 swimsuit calendar. It was work that took a few months in total between all the projects they had me work on and was a great experience and I am honored to be able to work with such an awesome client and organization.

I also got flown out to Hollywood to shoot with celebrity and Playboy Playmate/cover girl Crystal Harris, who starred on the last two seasons of E!’s “The Girls Next Door,” [and also shot] Miss November 2011 Ciara Price, who also was that issue’s cover model. I shot with both girls at Crystal’s house.

Some other notable shoots for Flash House?

Justin Mayotte offered modestly, “Four Year Strong (for Pulse Magazine’s November 2011 issue!), Ashley Kelsey from MTV’s “Real World San Diego,” Rebecca DiPietro, former WWE Diva and Miss Hawaiian Tropic USA pageant winner, and Jenny Dell , ESPN Analyst

Justin H, What do you feel is the biggest personal accomplishment?

I wouldn’t say this is the biggest but I went to the Playboy Mansion, haha! That was something that was on my bucket list I never thought I’d check off! But I helped a friend/model win Playboy’s Miss Social and she took me with her for that, so our hard work paid off. My biggest personal accomplishment though was probably just knowing that I’m recognized as a great photographer by some big names in less than 2 years. I’m being asked to shoot by celebrities, Playboy Playmates, and the Patriots Cheerleaders team. It’s a great feeling knowing that others recognize your talent and give me the opportunity to do big things with it. I mean, I got published in Maxim Magazine, and Sports Illustrated this year!

Justin M, how has Flash House changed as a whole this year?

Flash House was definitely a brand this year. We really got the name out and had an awesome summer with weddings, senior pictures, and of course the portraitures for the holidays. People are starting to realize who we are and it’s growing pretty quickly.

What are you guys hoping/planning for the future?

For Flash House , I’d love to see the portraiture keep doing really well to the point where we have to hire other portrait photographers to help us out, and maybe even expand into a higher traffic spot like a mall. I also want to see more commercial work in the area so we can make more businesses look good, or real estate photos better, anything we can do to make everything look better around here!

Justin Hammond added, “I’m going to continue taking opportunities to go major cities like Los Angeles and New York and work with celebrities and big name models. I’m also thinking about getting an agent or some sort of representation to help get ad campaigns and shoot features for articles in magazines or covers, and musicians for album artwork, etc. I really want to take on the industry now that my name is getting out there more.”


Photos by Justin Mayotte of Flash House Studios