People to Watch in 2018

With the new year, we always look to those who are going to make our world bigger, brighter and more compassionate. Fortunately, Worcester is full of amazing people bringing their talents to our city. So we’ve rounded up some of the people who are breaking ground, starting businesses, changing the world of politics, feeding the needy and accomplishing things that make us glad they call Worcester home.

 

 

Elizabeth Wambui, 31
Director of Development at the Nativity Schools

There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to have a voice in your community. Elizabeth Wambui, 31, is the epitome of being involved and spreading kindness.

Born and raised in Worcester, Wambui has been excited to see the city grow throughout the years and is now fortunate enough to be able to make a difference within it.

“To see the change that we’ve been talking about happen (in Worcester) is awesome,” said Wambui. “Getting more involved in the arts through Creative Hub Worcester and to just live a different experience in Worcester has been really awesome.”

Wambui is the director of development at the Nativity School in Worcester, where she is responsible for grant writing and fundraising for the school. She has a passion for working with the children and their families while watching them grow.

She also is a part of the Early Childhood Committee for the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Creative Hub Worcester and the Greater Worcester Alumni Club of Holy Cross. She was part of the Leadership Worcester Class of 2016-17, which allowed her to make lots of connections.

Currently, she’s sitting on the board for the city’s Strategic Plan. As part of this position, she’s able to go to events and be a part of the conversation about the direction in which the city is headed.

Recreationally, Wambui enjoys hiking national parks and cooking for family and friends. For 2018, she wants to focus on self-care and directing her talents where they’re needed.

“It’s easy to get lost in the insanity of life, so next year, I want to be intentional about taking the time and also to look at where in the community I can be most impactful,” said Wambui. “I think it’s really easy to just be involved with everything, and that’s great, and for me its led to a lot of amazing opportunities, but now, I think it’s time to focus on the areas where I can really use my talents.”

Italo Fi, 18
Campaign Manager

Everyone wants to make a difference, but for 18-year-old Italo Fini from Sao Paula, Brazil, that desire is matched with ambitious action.

Moving to the United States just before he turned 2, Fini has spent the majority of his life in Worcester.

“I have a passion for helping people, uplifting justice and creating a leeway for those in oppressive situations,” said Fini.

Fini’s involvement with political activism began with a program at N-Cite Media, when a documentary about undocumented students he featured in introduced him to City Councilor Sarai Rivera. Their introduction later led to Fini becoming Rivera’s field organizer during her re-election campaign in 2015.

Recently, Fini was the campaign manager for Dante Comparetto’s 2017 election to the Worcester School Committee, where he was responsible for core strategizing, tactics, media and voter outreach, events, scheduling and much more.

Fini is now a freshman at Assumption College, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology and an eventual master’s in either public administration or nonprofit management. He currently is the digital marketing specialist for the Christian Community Church.

For the new year, Fini hopes to find a full-time job and to continue helping people as much as he can, with a focus on the overflow at the homeless shelter in Worcester that was created last year.

“The narrative that immigrants are just troublemakers stealing resources is inaccurate. If an undocumented youth that can’t vote can make a change in the community, so can anybody else.”

Alexis Santiago, 22
Creator of Paseo

Life is just one long walk along a path, leading us to different places and offering us various adventures. That’s why Alexis Santiago, a 22-year-old resident of Worcester, chose Paseo as the name for his upcoming app that will revolutionize the world of grocery shopping.

In a world littered with the ideas of efficiency and minimal human contact to make purchases, Santiago is determined to uplift the customer-employee connection and create a foundation of trust between the two.

“Right now, online shopping is separate from in-store shopping, which is how many stores run, and the two are completely different,” said Santiago, “But what I want to do is join the two and make them run simultaneously.”

Santiago began working the cash register in his uncle’s grocery store at age 7. His early experience with a local business allowed him to understand the importance of community and residential interaction.

“I’m trying to make it (grocery shopping) a more enjoyable experience. Nowadays, a lot of customers just go and shop. The only connection is the time you go to the cash register. I want my app to be more of a way to invite the customers into the operation. It’s more of a personal experience tailored towards you,” said Santiago.

Paseo is designed to work as an app that will allow customers the ability to choose and know what they want and trust that the employers of the shop will be able to craft it to their liking. The payment will be executed online, and by the time they go to pick up their food, they will have their items handpicked and customized by the employees.

“At the end of the day, what I’m trying to create is an experience with customers.”

Santiago will graduate from Clark University in May 2018 and hopes to truly invest in this unique app that can revolutionize grocery shopping as we know it.

Tom Matthews, 23
Public Relations for The Railers

It’s an exciting time to be in Worcester, and 23-year-old Tom Matthews is pulling some major strings to make this city come alive.

Born and raised in Worcester, Matthews has been loyal to his home and is a behind-the-scenes part of what makes this city special.

During his last year at Clark University, Matthews earned the opportunity to intern at Worcester Magazine and gain further experience in the field of journalism. He was later hired as a reporter and social media coordinator for the magazine.

In early 2017, Matthews had the chance to meet the staff of the new Worcester hockey team, The Railers, during a video project for the magazine. Soon, Matthews found himself the public relations and social media coordinator for the new team.

“I’m really enjoying the position I’m in, and I’m incredibly thankful to The Railers for the opportunity they’ve given me,” said Matthews.

As public relations and social media coordinator, Matthews is responsible for a number of things, such as press releases, video series, social media pages and story pitches to the press. He even gets to travel with the team across the country and has already visited Colorado, Utah, West Virginia and Ohio.

“It’s great to see the huge turnout at games and the support we get from the city. Being from Worcester, The Railers have put me in a really awesome opportunity to succeed,” said Matthews.

Matthews is optimistic for the new year; he’s looking forward to another year with The Railers and hopes to keep in shape while on the road. All in all, he’s excited about all of the promise of the future.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in Worcester right now; there’s so much going on, and it’s been so cool to grow up here and kinda see all these new people take interest in the city. Everyone’s really made an effort to put Worcester on the map and have it really be the second biggest city in New England.”

Stefany Mendez, 26
Vice president of ALPFA

Some people are handed their success, and others barge through all obstacles, snagging their desires from the cold fingers of unlikely probability.

Stefany Mendez, 26, is one of the latter — a self-driven woman who will defeat all odds to pave the road for anyone who needs someone to look up to.

Mendez was born in the Dominican Republic, later moving to New York before settling in Worcester. She was the first in her family to graduate college and experience the accomplishments of being class president, making dean’s list and earning high honors.

“I was very self-driven, the first of my family to graduate college. I told myself that I could do this — that no matter where I go, I’m just going to figure it out and make it work,” said Mendez.

After graduating Nichols College with a double major in marketing and international business, Mendez applied for a temp job and ended up at Harvard Pilgrim. They later hired her after her six-month contract came to close. Her next step was to get her master’s degree.

She now works in the Procurement Department at Harvard Pilgrim, where she focuses on creating efficiency in the company’s purchases. As a Latina, Mendez focuses on supporting minority suppliers, as well as being vice president for ALPFA, a Latino networking association. She is also a co-chairman of Latino Leaders of Action at Harvard Pilgrim, which keeps Latinos in mind when the company is in search of new services or ways to engage. On the side, she is a Sunday school teacher and member of the choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Main Street.

In 2017, Mendez was referred to the Partnership Organization, a year-long program that provides guidance on becoming a true professional leader. For 2018, she hopes to widen her knowledge in procurement, expanding to IT products and becoming a more qualified leader.

“I want to be successful in order to pave the road for others to be better than me. If I can demonstrate that it’s possible, they can see that they can do that and beyond.”

Matt Achilles Cross, 20
DJ

Achilles — a name worthy of a hero and legendary warrior. A perfect fit for Matt Achilles Cross, a 20-year-old Worcester hero of EDM.

Achilles’ passion stems from his desire to get people dancing and make them smile. He has no lust for fame, but simply craves the honor to DJ for people who share his love of EDM.

“It started off with my love for Flux Pavillion, Skrillex and all those guys back from my middle school days,” said Achilles. “I knew a few friends that were into DJing at the time, and they were able to show me a few things and help me during my starting days.”

Achilles began with performing for local venues, such as Club Rumors and Industry, but eventually he made the climb to DJing in front of thousands, such as his recent event at Hyperglow Worcester.

His next big move is to study music production and recording in L.A.

“I want to keep pushing farther and turn music into a career. I want to be able to be financially secure and give back to my family.”

As 2018 unfolds, Achilles wants to focus on getting his name out and offering people his passion of DJing EDM.

“I’m at an OK spot, but there’s room for improvement. There’s always room for improvement.”

Aran Goldstein, 35
Chef

Nothing brings people together quite like food, and nobody knows that better than 35-year-old Aran Goldstein, of Worcester. His passion for cooking has brought him all around the world, sparking his desire to cultivate his own culinary institution in the city of Worcester.

Goldstein first began developing his career with internships at Olives in Charlestown and at restaurants in Portugal. He later worked at the Liberty Hotel in Boston and at multiple restaurants in New York, where he first taught culinary classes. Goldstein spent more than a year abroad, staging various restaurants in Italy and China. For the past four years, he has continued his love for cooking and teaching at Salt Box Farm in Concord.

Most recently, Goldstein is working at forming his own concept at Noah’s Table, which will include the creation of a cooking school in Worcester.

“I’m really excited about all the activity downtown,” said Goldstein, who is in the beginning stages of developing his school since moving back to Worcester six months ago. “I want to create something that gives me flexibility and gives me and the community a chance to learn about food in different ways.”

As 2018 comes around the corner, Goldstein is preparing for a year of hard work and ambition to make his dreams come true.

“It starts with trying to go about it with a good heart and staying close to your own mission. But also to combine that with knowing that it takes good organization and work. And that’s what I’m finding out now. You have to put in the work. But hopefully if you do that, things will fall into place.”

Another Theory Productions
Filmmakers

When the door of opportunity isn’t wide open, you have to take what you have and pry it apart.

The creators of the independent film company Another Theory have taken all their talents and used them together as a sledgehammer to beat that door down.

“I studied acting in L.A., along with 4 million other people,” said 28-year-old Adam Masnyk, one of the creators of Another Theory who spent part of his youth in Worcester. “I realized that everyone’s just sitting by the phone, waiting for someone to tell them ‘Oh hey, you’re going to be a star!’ But I learned very fast that I don’t want to sit and wait around. I want to work for what I want in life. So I’m going to create my own stuff.”

From there, Masnyk teamed up with his friends Jon Perry, 28, and Peter and Sierra Hoey, 28, who have a passion for filmmaking. The four came together and began filming That’s E in 2015, based at That’s Entertainment in Worcester. During filming, 29-year-old Andrew Forgit walked in to see cameras and actors scattered around the building; not long after, he, too, became a member of the Another Theory team.

Since then, Another Theory has completed multiple films, shorts and full features alike.

When it comes to making these movies, each member’s roles are versatile. “We will literally do whatever we have to do to get these movies made,” said Forgit.

Odd Men Out is the name of their newest movie to hit the screen. “It’s going to be good. It looks beautiful, and we have some really strong performances. I feel really good about it,” said Perry, who directed the film.

Another Theory has won multiple awards, and the creators are strong ambassadors for local arts and involvement. “We like to address topics that give back to the community,” said Perry.

This company of ambitious filmmakers will continue to grow and raise the bar on their goals of filmmaking. “2017 has been a big year for us. We hope to keep growing as people, for the better,” said Perry.

Masynk speaks for the whole crew when he says, “In the long run, we hope to make a living off this.”

Olivia Francois, 28
Founder of Breaking Bread

Your past does not define you, but it may just qualify you for a mission.

Olivia Francois, 28, of Worcester, has no intention of wasting time when it comes to making a difference. After experiencing trauma as a child, Francois always pondered how she could be of use to others. Little did she know, she would become an amazingly influential person who touches the hearts of many.

Francois is an avid worker at Straight Ahead Ministries, where she is a life coach, mentor and case manager to imprisoned youth. She’s passionate about empowering adolescents and giving back to the community.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Francois started an activity called Breaking Bread, where a $20 budget helped her cook hot dogs, serve leftover baked goods and give away thrift shop clothes to those in need every Friday. Her only helpers were at-risk youth who were looking to give back to the community.

“With Breaking Bread — it’s action. This way, the youth are a part of the change, not a part of the problem,” said Francois.

Last year was especially impactful for the Breaking Bread project. Francois was able to reach out to the St. John’s Food Pantry for food to give away after the Friday meal. In August, Breaking Bread had a back-to-school backpack giveaway, and in November, it hosted a Thanksgiving meal for more than 200 people.

“It’s a safe space,” said Francois. “When people are there, they know they’re not being judged. All different walks of life are able to be in the same room together, where there is only laughter and peace. For this time you come in, you’re accepted.”

For 2018, Francois hopes to be able to speak at schools and raise support and awareness on the ways in which Breaking Bread is trying to help others.

“I want to give the youth an opportunity to serve and step into leadership. We want to give them the tools to experience another side of life.”

Nassim Aoude, 24
CEO of Alpinax

Nassim Aoude’s company Alpinax, focused on the drone, information and data industry, is a prime example of taking what you love and making a career out of it.

But this isn’t child’s play. This is dedication, ambition and skill used together to create outstandingly complex drones that are composed of expensive equipment.

Born and raised in Worcester, Aoude, 24, has always gravitated toward creation and innovation. His familiarity with drones began in college, when he first started working with these devices to capture imagery for the organizations with which he was involved. Interest in his products allowed him to pursue this field as a full-time job.

Since the company’s creation, Aoude has refined his ability to communicate with industries and customers and provide quality feedback on engineering projects. Last year, the company focused on building relationships and networking.

“This year, we’ve been building our key partnerships and positions to start scaling up faster,” said Aoude. “We’re making sure that the jobs that we’re doing for our current customers are being done well and correctly.”

Alpinax recently worked on a virtual reality project with companies from Switzerland and Italy that are currently stationed in New England. Alpinax acted as the drone partner, which designed a custom virtual reality rig to fly cameras around for a medical company. Aoude is optimistic for the advancements and projects that will take place in 2018.

“It’s been a long journey, but we finally have some really cool projects that we’re really passionate about. The industry is constantly evolving and we’re looking forward to doing bigger things.”

Story by Jennifer Michuad
Photography by Matt Wright
Location provided by Mercantile Center

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