By Jason Savio
Worcester has a lot of movers and sWorcester has a lot of movers and shakers on the fast lane to making noise in 2022. From politics to entrepreneurs, here’s a look at some people who are making a name for themselves.
Alice Dillon is making sure everyone can enjoy art and not feel left out. As the associate director at Arts Worcester, Dillon says she is “demystifying” what goes into creating an art exhibit so that artists and those who come to view the work aren’t intimidated.
Dillon started at Arts Worcester in 2018 as an intern while studying art history for both her bachelors and masters degrees at Clark University. Now, as associate director of Arts Worcester, she is in charge of all the steps that go into producing the physical exhibitions held at Arts Worcester’s galleries, including corresponding with the artists, describing what the gallery is looking for in terms of theme, and ultimately organizing and helping to set up the exhibitions.
“I would say that I am most proud of the relationships I’ve cultivated with not only the artists but also the visitors to Arts Worcester” Dillon says. “Because I am very aware that walking into a gallery can be very intimidating for a new artist or just somebody walking in off the street.”
She makes the experience at Arts Worcester more accessible by taking the time to answer questions artists have and creating signage for visitors who might be walking into a gallery for the first time and aren’t sure how to read artwork labels.
Going into 2022, Dillon says there are “great and exciting exhibitions coming up,” and she’s also focusing on her own artwork as a fiber artist working with fabric and thread. She exhibits her work regularly in Worcester and is looking to expand.
For something to get done, you have to get up and do it yourself. That’s the approach Derrick Cruz took when he decided to run for Fitchburg city councilor of Ward 6 this past November and winning despite having no real political background. In fact, Cruz had gone to film school in L.A., but when he returned to Massachusetts after graduation he made a change in his career path.
“Basically I just got pretty frustrated with what I was seeing on a national level across the board and got to a point during the pandemic and my isolation that I decided I either have to shut this TV off and live in my own little bubble, or shut this TV off and get involved,” he says. “I chose the latter.”
Cruz, 32, “got the Campaigning for Dummies book and it worked out,” as he explains it.
As a ward councilor, a lot of the work Cruz does is “constituent services,” the “day to day” issues, like fixing potholes and settling disputes between neighbors, for example. “I’m looking to build bridges and break down some of these barriers we put up during the pandemic,” he says.
He describes his new role as “therapeutic.”
“For anyone who is missing that sense of community, the best advice I can give is to get involved and give back to the community,” he says. “It’s a great feeling once you get involved.”
It’s lit, literally, at Katherine Aguilar’s Kommon Sense Co. inside the Worcester Public Market. Specializing in all-natural soy wax candles, Kommon Sense is a “sustainable gift boutique” that also carries products like organic bath and body supplies from other woman-owned businesses. Aguilar, owner of Kommon Sense Co., started her business in 2019 as only an online merchant before adding her current brick and mortar location. She creates the candles herself as well as the holders, which are repurposed glass bottles she gets from the landfill.
A U.S. immigrant from El Salvador, Aguilar is a proponent of woman-owned businesses. She is currently partnered up with 16 other businesses run by women and sells their products in her store. She has hopes of expanding to multiple locations across multiple states in the years to come. Aguilar says she wants to help as many young women as she can and is looking for interns who want to get involved with K. Sense Co. She also hopes to create a non-profit sector of her company in 2022.
If you’ve seen a running fridge sitting outside around town lately, your mind isn’t playing tricks on you. It’s part of Maria Ravelli’s Worcester Community Fridges, a mutual aid effort she founded in January 2021 to combat food insecurity in the city. The concept is exactly what it sounds like: an outdoor refrigerator that belongs to the community so that free food can be available to everyone 24/7.
“Hundreds of families access the fridges on any given week,” Ravelli says. “There’s definitely a lot of food going in and out of the fridges every day.”
Anyone can take what they need out of the fridge and also leave what they can, any time of the day, no questions asked. There are currently four locations: Main Street, Portland Street, Brooks Street, and South Street. Local businesses sponsor the electricity and allow the fridges to be placed nearby. Ravelli has a large group of volunteers helping her, but she says it’s really up to the community to take care of the fridges.
Ravelli is already working on a location for a fifth fridge and is also piloting an upcoming mutual aid resource fair in the spring for all the local grass-roots organizations.
At just 21 years old, Nick Lazzaro is already a big part of the community and striving to make a difference. He was elected to the Millbury School Committee when he was only 19 years old, where he currently sits as a board member, and is also the chairperson of the Policy Sub-Committee which reviews and suggests policy adjustments for the school committee to accept.
“I enjoy the ability to represent the student perspective,” Lazzaro says when asked about his experience on the board. “Most of my policy making and decision making comes through the lens of how I would have reacted to these policies when I was a student. I enjoy being able to advocate for students who have previously been underrepresented.”
Lazzaro is currently a Junior at Holy Cross and plans on going to law school. As for his work in the community, he is hoping to continue being active in local government in some capacity after his term is up in April. When not in class or working with the school committee, Lazzaro has his own small business called Nick’s On-Site Detailing that he’s used to create a scholarship fund for student entrepreneurs.
John Murray is making moves and making the most of the unprecedented time COVID brought. Between the time he graduated from Saint John’s High School in 2019 and his recent start at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Murray volunteered on multiple campaigns, including Tony Economou for Worcester City Council, Deval Patrick for President, and Joe Kennedy for Senate, for whom he worked communications and was an intern and a delegate at the Worcester caucus. He
started his own student run political radio show at Worcester Polytechnic Institute called “Youth Views” where he’d interview political candidates. Murray has also got involved with student government at UMASS, serving as a senator on the Outreach and Development Committee.
Murray took time off from school during the pandemic, and calls his decision “a blessing in disguise” because he was able to work in local political campaigns for Johanna Hampton-Dance for City Council District 2, Khrystian King for City Council at Large, and Jermaine Johnson for the Worcester School Committee.
“Seeing the level of success across the city, and saying I played a small role in big history, is very fulfilling,” Murray says.
Murray is looking forward to returning to UMass in the spring and in the interim has created a Facebook group called Worcester Political Dialogue to try to promote conversations about local politics and bettering the community.
Guillermo Creamer Jr.
If you’re working as an intern and enjoying a check, you may owe Guillermo Creamer Jr. a thank you.
Creamer Jr., 27, is the co-founder of Pay Our Interns, an advocacy group that focuses on getting interns paid in the public and private sector. He co-founded Pay Our Interns in 2017 and to date it has gotten Congress to allocate over 45 million dollars in intern pay, according to Creamer Jr. Creamer Jr. knows what it’s like to be an unpaid intern because he once was one working at the D.C. Mayor’s Office and in Congress.
“To put it bluntly, Pay Our Interns has completely changed the way internships function,” Creamer Jr. says. “It’s now less common to find an unpaid internship than it was five years ago.”
A Worcester native, Creamer Jr. is no longer working hands-on with the D.C.-based Pay Our Interns and is instead a remote special projects associate for Blue Haven Initiative, an impact investment organization, for which he is in charge of running a $3 million portfolio.
Creamer Jr. is also on the Human Rights Commission for the city of Worcester, helping lead the police body-camera effort and “being in tune with human rights throughout the city.” He ran for city council during the last voting cycle but came up short. Not deterred, Creamer Jr. is not eliminating the chance of running again. “It’s possible,” he says. “I can’t say no.”
Sonia Paulino is all about sharing what she loves with others in the community. She recently started a teaching position at Worcester Technical High School after working as a software developer for nearly five years in the Worcester Public School system.
As a software developer, Paulino worked on a small team developing internal applications–mostly apps administrators would use–such as a sign-in application for people visiting a school so the office could digitally keep track of everyone who entered the building. She’s also part of Code Squad, what she describes as a “nonprofit boot camp that teaches adults how to code.” It was there that she realized she has an affinity for teaching and decided to take on the role at Worcester Tech.
“I thought that vocational teaching specifically was a good for me because I still love IT,” Paulino says. “It was my chance to combine my love of IT and my love of teaching.”
In the new year, Paulino says she is going to strive to be a good teacher, positive influence, and get involved in the Worcester Tech community.
For Worcester native Clare Robbins, the future continues to look brighter and brighter. Last summer she was hired as the chief of staff to the Worcester City Council and in the fall was promoted to the role of assistant city clerk.
As chief of staff to the city council, she says her responsibilities included assisting the councilors with day to day operations, events, communications, and constituent services. In her role as the assistant city clerk, she assists with election and clerk operations.
Robbins has always had an interest in the political process. She graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire with a degree in Politics and Gender studies, and studied at the school’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, a spot that every presidential candidate stopped to campaign.
“It really showed me how important it is for elected officials to hear from citizens and influenced me to pursue a career in government,” Robbins says. “I particularly like municipal government since it affects everyday people the most.”
Before joining the city of Worcester, Robbins was the state scheduler for United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
For 2022, Robbins says she is looking forward to continuing to work with her colleagues in the Clerk’s Office and serving the residents of Worcester.
Chances are you may have met Brendan Eddy when he was a child knocking on doors helping his father, William J. Eddy, run for city councilor in Worcester. That experience developed a passion for politics for the younger Eddy, who has since gone on to serve as field director for District 2 City Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson’s successful re-election campaign. Eddy also worked on congressman James P. McGovern’s campaign for re-election in 2020 and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty’s campaigns for re-election as well as interning in his office in 2018 and 2019.
Currently a senior at Boston University majoring in Political Science, Eddy is about to embark on a new adventure as a strategic engagement & business development intern at National Grid Ventures, working on a joint-venture with RWE to develop offshore wind farms along the east coast. He will be joining National Grid’s graduate development program post-graduation from Boston University in May 2022.
“I’m proud to be a part of the clean energy transition and look forward to doing my part to ensure environmental sustainability,” he says.
Worcester’s own Lardy Navarro discovered his passion for fighting at a young age. “I used to fight in school, or you know, outside in the streets. I felt like people were bullying me because I was the smaller guy,” Navarrao explained. He began taking martial arts classes by the time he was 14 and hasn’t looked back since.
Navarro is set to make his pro debut in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship in early 2022 as the youngest fighter in the organization at only 20 years old. He will begin the year at a five week training camp with top fighters, boxers, and Olympains in Florida. As an amateur boxer, he won Golden Gloves, Silver Mittens, and even competed in the Nationals. Bare knuckle boxing was only recently sanctioned in the United States, and Navarro explains it’s a “whole different sport”.
He is thankful for his strong support system in Worcester, ranging from his family to his sponsors. “I know from the bottom of my heart I’m going to do big things, I want people to tune in and get excited,” Navarro says.