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Lunar New Year

Irena Kaci

I was thirteen years old before I knew what my Chinese Zodiac sign was (The Year of the Rat), and that it was based on the Southeast Asian tradition of the Lunar New Year. I found the existence of a whole other system for measuring time to be fascinating and mysterious. Worcester’s connection to the Southeast Asian community is vast; in fact we have the 3rd largest Vietnamese population in Massachusetts, and rank 3rd by percentage of 3%. Even without the statistics, the sheer abundance of Vietnamese restaurants from Mint Worcester, to Pho Dakao, to Anh Thu II, naming only a handful, demonstrates how integral Vietnamese culture is to Worcester’s cultural milieu.  And every February the community gathers to celebrate one of the two most important traditional holidays for Vietnamese culture. 

Tét decoration display at the Vietnamese Church
Display: Banners with Tét wishes, Vietnamese flowers with red envelopes

For some background information on the Lunar New Year I connected with Tuyet Tran from the Southeast Asian Coalition here in Worcester. Tran was happy to provide some historical background. “The Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Vietnam, and follows the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar measures the year in increments of moon cycles, which are about 28 days each therefore it’s slightly different from the regular western calendar. Naturally it changes the exact Gregorian calendar date from year to year. For this year it’s February 10th, and is the Year of the Dragon It’s really a celebration of the beginning of Spring.” 

The Lunar New Year celebrates themes of renewal, reinvigoration, and revival. In short it celebrates all things springtime. Tran explains:  “According to the cycle of the moon. It’s spring and therefore time for family and gathering and happiness. My favorite part of our tradition in Vietnamese culture is the opportunity to clean the slate and start fresh with everyone. In our tradition, you let go of grudges from the previous year. This time of year, people reach out to one another make amends or smooth things almost no matter what. Any particular disagreement you might have had, like if you haven’t talked to someone because you had a falling out for some reason, you call and you fix things before the New Year. If you don’t, it’s considered a bad omen.”

Mayor Joe Petty feeding the lion dancers red envelopes

In addition to behaviors associated with the New Year, there are also customs related to ringing in the spring and with it the new era. “We always set off firecrackers to chase away evil spirits. This is a big part of what we believe. You also want to start the new year with ‘new money’ so family members give each other these little red envelopes that contain one dollar bills to start the year with good fortune. The kids and the grandkids and everybody lines up and they wish the oldest in the family a year of health and good fortune.” 

Another huge part of the celebration is the variety of food, traditional to the Lunar New Year. “There are many foods associated with the big event.” Tran explains: “There are basically two shapes that we make as part of the food offering, circle to represent the moon, and square to represent the earth. We use glutinous rice and mung beans and the cakes can be made sweet or savory. If we are making them savory there are versions that put meat like pork inside. That’s my favorite.” Although the Southeast Asian Coalition is having their big New Year’s event this year at the end of January, Tran is able to direct me to other local groups making celebrating this month.”

Mint Kitchen + Bar Owner, Trang Le, making dumplings

Mint Worcester is always looking for ways to celebrate and bring awareness to one of the two biggest Vietnamese holidays. Owner Trang Le says: “I always look for ways to educate people and spread awareness about our culture and traditions. Last year we brought dumplings at UMASS and everyone loved them so much. This year we are planning on bringing the dumplings to UMASS again. We are set to be there on February 9th, and anyone eating at the cafeteria at Memorial or University Park will be able to enjoy Mint Worcester dumplings.” It doesn’t stop there, however, because Le values the cultural education piece, she’s also offering a ‘dumpling’ making workshop. “We actually did one dumpling workshop last year and we sold out. This year we are going to offer two sessions, one of which will take place in February. On February 14th, we will invite people to come into Mint and make their own dumplings. The dumplings are shaped like silver and gold ingots and are said to represent fortune and prosperity in the coming year. The more dumplings you eat the more prosperous you will be in the New Year. It’s also a great Valentine’s activity.”

Across town in a rather unexpected pocket, Neelu Mohaghegh prepares her own homage to Southeast Asian traditions. “My own personal background is Persian. My dad moved here from Iran in the 70s and basically built his real estate business from scratch. I grew up doing martial arts and feeling really connected to Southeast Asian culture. Additionally, we have our own Persian New Year that happens in March, so I’m really sympathetic to non-mainstream New Year traditions. So we are hosting our own Lunar New Year Extravaganza here at Fuel in Grove Street.”

The Grove Street Fuel location opened its doors on February 10th of 2022 so celebrating its inception comes hand in hand with the Lunar New Year. “This year our 2nd birthday party will celebrate the Lunar New Year. We love being able to share something that means a lot to a lot of people. We’ve had people travel from as far as Rhode Island to attend last year. This year we will have red envelopes that contain traditional New Year’s wishes.  Some of our new flavors for this year will be matcha, ube and black sugar. The latter is often traditionally used in Boba so it will be familiar. For entertainment, we are going to have “the Lion Dance” by the Eternals. Our event hours are 10am-3p and the Eternals will be doing their dance around 2pm as a kind of finale. We are inviting tons of local Asian owned businesses to partner with us and participate as vendors. Mochi Doh will be joining us as well, and we are in talks with Mint Worcester for them to participate. We are also partnering with the Worcester Center for the Crafts to paint stationary with ‘Year of the Dragon’ symbolism. It’s going to be great!”

But the celebration doesn’t have to end there. RICEMA (Refugees & Immigrants Cultural Empowerment Massachusetts) is a performance arts and education center, focusing on preserving the art and culture of refugees and immigrants through education and performing arts, connecting a rich cultural identity to the community and contributing to the American experience*. In line with their mission, RICEMA is hosting their own Lunar New Year event on February 17th. The festival will take place at the Boys & Girls Club (65 Boys & Girls Club Way) and will feature a Lion Dance, as well as several vendors and performances, including Mint Worcester, Nori, and Euphoria. I spoke with Boa Newgate to get the scoop. 

Brother and sister, Alex and Layla, wearing Ao Dai for Tét

“The Lunar New Year is known as Tét, and it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. Tét celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. During this time families reunite and honor their ancestors while praying for luck, health, and prosperity in the New Year. Our celebration will have many games, activities and performances throughout the day. We will also have Worcester’s first Ao Dai competition. If you have the best Ao Dai outfit/dress at the festival, you will win a cash prize!”

Historically reserved for lovers or the lovelorn, the color red takes on a whole new meaning this February. In Southeast Asian tradition, red is favorable for making your New Year dreams and ambitions come true. Worcester in February invites us all to think outside of the scope of western traditions and focus on what makes the shortest or coldest month around here exude warmth and shine. Recapture the magic of childhood glee and come out in support of our diverse tapestry of Southeast Asian culture by attending a Lion Dance, sampling some matcha flavored beverages, or even reaching out to old friends to make amends. It’s the Lunar Year’s end, and also its beginning. Let it be yours too.

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Love’s Spectrum: A Guide to February in Central MA

Charles O’Donnell 

February casts a spell of enchantment over Central Massachusetts, blending an air of romance with a variety of events celebrating love and friendship. From traditional Valentine’s Day festivities to unconventional gatherings, the region unfolds a diverse array of activities, catering to various interests and lifestyles.

For those immersed in the spirit of love, Valentine’s Day becomes a cherished moment with significant others. Central Massachusetts warmly invites couples to embrace this special day through a variety of events and experiences. Before the day of love, savor an unforgettable “Valentine’s Dinner at Polar Park” on February 10th, starting at 6 pm, offering delectable cuisine and a romantic ambiance. Secure your tickets online to ensure you don’t miss this exclusive celebration. Additionally, partake in a delightful “Valentine’s Day Cookie Decorating” event on February 10th, 10 am to 11 am, at the Worcester Public Library. On Valentine’s day itself, February 14th, 6 pm to 8 pm, lose yourself in the enchanting “Valentine’s Night with Giuliano” at Birch Tree Bread Co., featuring an evening of music and delightful treats.

However, February is not solely about romantic relationships; it’s a time for cherishing bonds of friendship and family and creating new connections. Kicking off the month, the Worcester Gay Professionals Group gathers for their monthly social and networking event, details of which can be found on their Facebook page. “Galentine’s Day,” celebrated on February 13th, encourages individuals to spend quality time with family and friends. Whether it’s a cozy “Stitch n’Bitch” session on the first Monday of the month at Technocopia or a leisurely stroll around the Canal District for food, wine, and music, countless opportunities await to share laughter and create lasting memories.

Looking beyond Valentine’s Day, Central Massachusetts offers cultural experiences for everyone. For aficionados of drag, the region presents a captivating array of performances throughout the month. Femme Bar hosts “Win, Lose or Drag! Game Night” on the second Thursday of the month at 8 pm, featuring hosts Gem Stoner, Bootz Morales, and DaishaDore Famouz. These events provide a platform for self-expression and creativity, celebrating diversity and inclusivity in Central Massachusetts. Every third Thursday, Ralph’s Diner hosts “Harley’s Fun House,” a vibrant event hosted by Harley Queen starting at 9 pm. Electric Haze transforms into a hub of entertainment every Thursday night with “Malodies with Mal,” an event hosted by Mal E. Fishn’t beginning at 9 pm. For a unique experience, catch the “Throat Punch! Drag Roulette Competition: Season 2” at Blackstone Worcester on the last Thursday of every month at 9 pm, hosted by DaishaDore Famouz and Betweenya Lipz.

Adding to the growth of the community, the first annual Worcester Community LGBTQ+ Welcome/Icebreaker Event is set to take place at Gambrino’s Cask & Barrel on Wednesday, February 28th from 6 PM to 9 PM. Open to ALL (18+) community members, this event focuses on integrating those who have not found a home in the community. Designed to ensure the comfort and privacy of those who are closeted or questioning their sexual and/or gender identity, registration details can be found on the event page on Facebook.

February in Central Massachusetts is not merely about celebrating love on Valentine’s Day; it’s a month filled with diverse events catering to a range of interests. Whether you’re enjoying a romantic dinner, embracing Galentine’s Day with friends and family, or attending LGBTQ+ events, the region provides ample opportunities to forge lasting memories and celebrate relationships both new and old. As the winter landscape blankets the area in serene snow, the events of February bring warmth, laughter, and a profound sense of community to Central Massachusetts.

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Wavvz Newage Fashion Boutique Opens on Main Street

Maya Capasso

With the help of a supportive community of creatives, designer Qlynton Carboo celebrated the grand opening of Wavvz Newage, his boutique fashion store on Main Street, in mid-November. The bustling storefront echoes with laughter and conversation as tailors create and customers chat about Qlynton’s exciting, fresh designs.

Qlynton’s love of fashion began at an early age as he watched his mother create outfits to sell in tourist-heavy areas of Ghana, where he spent his early childhood years. “When I was a baby, she used to carry me around with my big brother, going to museums to sell outfits and toys she made,” Qlynton shares. “When I got to the United States and came to New York, I realized the path of college and a regular 9-5 job wasn’t satisfying enough.” Qlynton found himself leaning towards art and creativity. When he picked up a sewing machine at his friend’s house, he realized he found something special. “I picked it up and was like, ‘You know what? Let me take my shirt off.’ My friend had a rug, so I used it to see what I could do. Lo and behold, I put something amazing together.”

Within a few weeks, Qlynton bought his own sewing machine and put all his focus and passion into creating new clothes. “I bought a couple of T-shirts and made a long sleeve with those two fabrics. That’s when I realized that, wow, it works!” he says. “The next projects were hoodies and jackets, and that’s when I realized this is my passion.”

Qlynton’s dedication to his craft and unquestionable talent brought him from experimenting with his sewing machine from Walmart to opening his community-driven business’s storefront in just six years. The concept for Wavvz Newage began in 2017 when Qlynton began showing his designs. Gradually, he expanded into teaching aspiring designers how to sew and develop their style. “I was able to create something for myself using my gifts and talents. And through that, I know I can teach other people,” Qlynton shares. “I see a lot of kids who have the skills, and I just want to pass it on. I want to let them know that they don’t have to give up on whatever they wanted to do as a kid. There are people and organizations who can help and are looking for creative people.”

Wavvz Newage isn’t just a boutique with unique hats, jackets, hoodies, and other fashion items. It’s also a way for Qlynton to make a difference in the Worcester community. As he attempted to make headway in the Worcester fashion scene, Qlynton realized he’d have to pave the way for other designers in his stead. “I’m using the disadvantages I had while establishing the business to transform the Worcester fashion scene. I realize I’m in the unique position to be able to do it, so it’s like, why not? And it’s working.”

Qlynton, one of Pulse’s people to watch in 2023, clearly lives up to the title. Not only has Wavvz Newage quickly become a lively hub for fashion lovers, but it’s bringing Worcester into a new era of fashion that Qlynton loves to spread to the community. “Yeah, I can sew. Yeah, I can make an outfit. But that is just one part of it,” Qlynton says. “I get to meet a lot of cool people and to pass down this knowledge. I get to watch as my work solves problems in the community. That is what drives me. That is why I do this. I wake up every day and ask myself, ‘Whose life can I change today with a jacket? Whose life can I change today with a stitch?'”

You can visit Qlynton at his vibrant store to check out handmade clothing bursting with color and character in the Wavvz Newage fashion boutique at 660 Main Street in Worcester. 

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Kool Aid George is Crushing It 

LuAnn Thibodeau

George Annan is an artist who captures the world through the lens of a camera. George hails from Worcester and said that photography has not always been something that he did. But that changed when some college friends introduced him to their love of photography, and it was magical. 

George has done a lot of great commission work for nationally known companies like Puma and Converse, but his deep love for urban agriculture and his family roots in the country of Ghana led him to become very involved with Worcester Environmental Council (REC), and 2Gether We Eat, two Worcester organizations that are focused on ways to cease food insecurity while also providing education and employment opportunities in the city. 

From late summer of 2022 through September of 2023, George became involved in the inaugural Black Artist Residency program at the Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM), something that he says has been a wonderful experience for which he is very grateful. He said that he owes a great deal of thanks to FAM, whose staff was absolutely amazing in their help and support of him. His photo series part of this program is entitled “From Seed to Plates”, focusing on black farming. This is part of the current exhibit- “Dialogues, Diasporas, and Detours Through Africa”- at FAM, and is on display through January 14, 2024.

 

Among honors that George has received are being named an Outstanding Alumnus at Worcester State University and being featured a couple of years ago in Pulse as one of the People to Watch. 

When I asked George about the differences or similarities between the United States and Ghana, he said that he hadn’t been to Ghana since he was 11 years old, but he remembers it as being such an expressive land. He also feels that way about the US and is thankful for his friends who showed him the beauty of the world of photography. 

So, my next logical question was- what’s the next step, what’s next for George? He said that he moved to the Boston area in February of this year, so he is exploring the region and getting a taste of what it has to offer. He says he’s very curious, and loves the good energy around it. 

And while he thought back, in sort of a flashback way, his photography he “spoke into existence” and “it’s not a finished product yet”. “There are still many dreams and goals, and the sky is the limit”. Well, I must say that if anyone can reach their goals, realize their dreams, and go to the limits of the sky, George Annan is the one who will do it. He’s an amazing, dynamic young man, whose future looks blazingly bright and brilliant. 

To see more of George’s work, check him out on Instagram at koolaidgeorge, and also see his display at the Fitchburg Art Museum. Now if I may borrow a phrase from a famous movie, to George I say, “May the force be with you”, as you continue to rise above the moon and stars. 

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The Hotel Vernon

Vincent Pacifico

One of Worcester’s most iconic and significant historic properties is hidden in plain sight in the heart of Kelley Square. Most of us drive right by it and don’t even realize how legendary the Hotel Vernon is. This four story masonry building is located at the corner of Vernon and Millbury Street and has its back towards the highway. The building has a bar room on the ground floor with hotel rooms on the second through fourth floors with communal bathrooms. At its original time of construction in 1901 the area was known as Vernon Square and was most likely a gathering place for the neighboring community. The construction of Interstate 290 changed everything when it cut off the Vernon Hill neighborhood from the square making it harder for people to access the downtown from all of the residential areas. But what makes this place so legendary? So far this describes most hotels built in the early 20th century.

During the years of prohibition this building became a gathering place for locals to drink and hang out. Local baseball legend Babe Ruth frequented the Hotel Vernon during his time on the Boston Red Sox and it’s said he used to eat raw hamburgers here. However, it wasn’t on the ground floor bar that people drank at – that’d be too risky. A secret speakeasy bar located in the basement is where all the action happened. You had to know how to get down there and what the secret password was to get in. It’s said that no one ever got caught drinking there. Today the speakeasy still stands, feeling almost stuck in time with dust on the bar and dim lighting as you walk through the cave-like basement. A truly magical piece of Worcester’s history still very much intact.

But what’s up with the nautical theme and the big boat steering wheel? They call it the Kelley Square Yacht club and it has its very own ship room that resembles the inside of a yacht. This was during the great depression when money was tight so it gave everyone in the neighborhood their own yacht to hang out in. Nautical treasures and memorabilia can be found through the ship room and bar room.

Today, over 100 years later, the Hotel Vernon is still very much alive and well, serving cheap beer, putting on live performances and renting out rooms. Its charm is still very much there and its secrets of the past are still hidden in plain sight. If you’re looking for a cold drink and know where to go, tell them that Madame Rhubarb sent you…

Photo Citations

Image 1-7: Image taken by Peter Fauci

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People To Watch: 2024

Worcester’s own movers & shakers are at it again. This year a whole new series of Worcester juggernauts are here and sharing their secrets for success. Do you want to know what to expect of Worcester’s motivated groundbreakers come 2024? Read on my friends!

Anita Amin

Anita Amin has always been a Worcester Stan. “ Worcester has been a place in which I found myself returning. From the second that I could drive, I would somehow end up here, either at the Java Hut or Tortilla Sam’s.” A Worcester State Alum, Amin pursued a degree in Business Administration and interned with Polar Beverages. The experience of studying food and flavor trends combined with her upbringing in an Indian/Pakistani household, put Amin on a path of one day launching her own business.  On how her values weave into her work: “I’ve always been the one that will try something new. My dad and I spent time watching the food network together. I got my sense of entrepreneurship from him.  He had several businesses, including a stall at the Worcester Flea Market. I have so many relatives with different dietary restrictions that even if I’m cooking for family I have to be very cognizant of many different culinary hurdles. I take all of that very seriously.” Amin found herself gravitating towards process improvement and customer experience. While working at the Hahnemann Community Health Center, Amin noticed a need. “I was sitting in a clinical setting with a bunch of students and residents. I was horrified at what a limited scope it was for nutrition and flavor in the cafeteria. I began bringing some extra prepared lunches in for people who wanted any. It brought me joy to make sure people were eating.” In February 2020, Amin was ready to launch her venture when of course everything came screeching to a halt. Finally in 2022, Amin was accepted into the Worcester Food Hub and was able to get fully insured and licensed. On what 2024 will bring: We will be doing a soft launch of premade lunches in January. I’ve already done some minor one-off jobs to get started, but my real entrepreneurial efforts starts this coming January 2024. I’m also really looking forward to one day having a brick and mortar space, ideally with a little local grocery attached to it.  You might not know it just looking at her but: “I actually have a Worcester themed tattoo. It is the heart (of the commonwealth) with the ivy leaves underneath it and it’s on my left arm on my bicep”

David Quiroa

David Quiroa came to Worcester through one of the city’s most familiar funnels, by attending Clark University. Hailing from Haverhill, Quiroa is a first generation Guatemalan American who studied Political Science and very quickly discovered his love for local politics. Quiroa has worked on Elizabeth Warren’s 2018 campaign, and, has served as a district representative for representative McGovern. More recently, Quiroa has served as Senator Markey’s Regional Director, closely managing the housing portfolio, amongst other tasks. On how his values weave into his work: “I believe that we need to care for the most vulnerable in our community. My parents were immigrant parents to this country. Growing up I realized a lot of services and things were out there but we didn’t always know how to access them.  It helps that I can see things through the lens of the immigrant experience. So I work on that, using the lens. I work on accessibility. I understand that is a kind of struggle that happens when integrating and going into a new place; I always wanted to help with that. What better way than city hall?  It’s at the local level that you have the most effect.” On what 2024 will bring: “I really deal with a lot of incredible people who work at city hall and in the community. Basically trying to figure out solutions to issues that the city faces. There’s an incredible support and network here in Worcester. I love public service. I’ve been a public servant going on for five years. It’s something that I love to do because you do see the impact of the work that you do. I am marrying my college sweet-heart I met at Clark in August 2024. That is what I am looking forward to the most.” You might not know it just looking at him but: I studied abroad and lived in Japan for a year. I studied Japanese while there.

Dr. Tasia Cerezo

Dr. Tasia Cerezo chose Worcester precisely because of what Worcester has to offer. “ I grew up in Florida and transitioned to MA after completing college to join AmeriCorp. I moved to Worcester two years ago this month in search of a diverse community for my family. Worcester, being the second largest city in New England, I knew would offer that to us. I wanted to be sure my children could see themselves in their classrooms.” On how her values weave into her work: Meryl’s Safe Haven completely weaves into my belief that a sense of community and belonging makes a difference in how we do or do not thrive. I value what we can do as a community and truly believe it takes a village. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if there weren’t people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and I know how cliché that sounds but it’s true. The work of MSH is intended to provide opportunities for young people and families who just need someone to give them an inch. In some ways, the creation of my organization, Meryl’s Safe Haven, started as a passion project. I had always wanted to start a nonprofit organization but wanted to be sure it filled a need of the community and didn’t think I had found it, yet. As I grieved the passing of my aunt, worlds and ideas collided: the need for shelter programming, my desire to start an organization, her desire to one day start an organization for young people, and an idea to honor her memory. MSH is absolutely a passion that, I’m hoping, will have long-term impacts on the individuals we serve and the community as a whole. You might not know it just looking at her but: “I collect rubber ducks and I love music so much that I went through the casting for a game show. I couldn’t travel outside of the country for the taping so I had to ultimately bow out. I was heartbroken!”. Proud Moment: I am proud of is publishing my first children’s book: Fostered Love: The Journey of Foster-Parents. I wrote it about five years ago and decided in November to have it illustrated and self-published. The response to this book has been heartwarming.  

Joseph Corazzini

Joseph Corazzini is a Worcester born and bred native. He went to North high, and then to Worcester State University for both his bachelor’s and master’s. The experience has given him a clear view of the systemic issues in the city, and inspired him to tackle some of these larger issues. On how his values weave into his work: I think the work that I do now with Clark University and working on community affairs speaks exactly to my most cherished values. As Vice President for Government and Community Affairs, I get to facilitate and activate positive community. I’m really glad that I’ve helped expand the Universe Park zone scholarship program. Now 1200 additional local students have the opportunity to attend Clark for free. Expanding access to education is huge for me and the community in which I grew up; This is a big step in how we celebrate our diversity and show gratitude toward our neighbors as a University. It is just building good bridges. Proud moment: I am so proud of all of the programs I developed out of school type programs while working in Framingham. I made it possible for students to pursue a career in education as early as being a junior in high school.  The initiative grew to 6-7 different departments and generated revenue for the district. It was almost a (nearly) perpetual motion machine for academic careers. I’m immensely proud of what I achieved there, but I work hard still not to become easily satisfied. I constantly challenge myself. I want to keep growing in my work, and keep building bigger and better things. You might not know it just looking at him but: I DJ sometimes a little on the side, and I actually Paolo the baristo in the ‘made

for TV’ movie March Sisters at Christmas. You can watch the movie (and me) on Amazon Prime. 

Brett Iarrobino & Emma Couillard

Brett Iarrobino & Emma Couillard are the two masterminds behind the Worcester Writers’ Collective. Iarrobino and Couillard are both Worcester transplants by way of Clark University. However, they each decided to put down roots in Worcester after their undergraduate experience. “Before I even realized how strong my connection was I was spending my summers here and just naturally treating this place like home. Today, I’m still living in Worcester, I teach in Worcester Public Schools, and I stay involved with several of the nonprofit organizations that play their part in keeping the city creative and active. I’ve grown so much, professionally and personally, from the work that I’ve done in this community, and that work has taught me a lot about organizing, being creative, and taking care of the people you are in community with. It’s difficult to imagine who I would be today without the work I’ve done, the memories I’ve made, and the connections I’ve found in this very special place!(I) “I started volunteering with Worcester youth, and the intense spirit of the city was immediately evident. The people of Worcester have a frankness, honesty, and openness about their stories. This candor has extended to the Worcester Writers’ Collective, in which everyone is forthcoming with their work and their experiences. You just have one beer with someone, and you will know what their childhood was like, and what their dreams are. The vibrancy and heart of people is what has kept me in Worcester.”(C) On how their values weave into their work: “Seeing people find and share their voice at the Worcester Writers’ Collective is incredibly rewarding. For years, I thought that writing was an exhausting, private existence. The Worcester Writers’ Collective is the opposite of that. People have so much energy, and they love sharing about their personal process. I find my own writing improving as I hang on to the other writers’ insights. Just by participating in this group, my writing has become more active and energetic. A simple conversation with another writer has often brought me to a realization of where I need to go. This is why I truly value this community. We come together to assist each other, and to celebrate each other’s achievements. I have not found this bond with any other group of people. It makes me feel incredibly optimistic about the future of Worcester’s writing community. We have some future legendary writers in our midst, and I’m there to organize all these great minds together.” (c) “I recently read several poems about Worcester with my seventh graders, and after we went off to write our own, I got to spend an afternoon reading through these incredible meditations on anything from their favorite-looking triple-deckers to the funny-looking bridge in Elm Park. To be able to do this in a classroom, where we are in community with each other daily, where we build routines, create inside jokes, celebrate good days, and process the tougher ones, just makes the writing and the learning even richer. And those Worcester poems we read? They were lifted directly from the Worcester County Poetry Association’s 2023 Rain Poetry collection, where I have the pleasure of serving on the Communications Committee and even know some of the winning poets firsthand. The short answer to this is writing, a beautifully obvious throughline for what I do, what I’m passionate about, and how I find ways to be creative in the city and collaborate with others.” (I) On what 2024 will bring: “It’s become clear to the WWC team we’ve tapped into a creative need that wasn’t being met in Worcester and we’re proud to have stepped up and held space for writers in a way that wasn’t always there in the city. . As we look ahead to 2024, I’m excited to find more ways to get these stories on their feet and bring more listeners and audience members into the fold. So many of our writers are telling stories that benefit from speakers, visuals, and production that we have the means to execute through accessible outlets like the JMAC. And, organizations like the WCPA, which have been around for a while and have existing infrastructure and connections, are out there doing work that aligns with ours in the city and the region. It’s time to keep getting folks in the room who can be collaborative and share our vision. (I) We are having our first public showcase of writing at the Jean McDonough Arts Center next year. It’s an amazing space where our writers will be able to present their work to an outside audience. I’m extremely excited for our writers’ words to be funneled into one product that shows off all the brilliance in our group. Personally, this will also be a culmination of a years long project. It’s an opportunity for us to bring attention to the dynamic community we have created. We had a vision for a group that would bring people together to challenge each other and make local writing better. Now that idea is about to be presented to everyone outside our little bubble. There’s some vulnerability in that, but mostly I am just enthusiastic about the future of this group. (c) You might not know it just looking at them but: “I had a serious concussion in high school when I fell off a bunk bed. I had trouble reading or writing for months. That made me not take either pastime for granted!”  (c) “My favorite book as a kid was “Punk Farm” and it was actually written by local author Jarrett J. Krosoczka, famous for also writing ‘Hey, Kiddo’. Learning about that connection years later in my graduate program made me even more sure that Worcester is my home.”

Mags Munroe (and Scooby)

Mags Munroe hails from our own neighborhood.” Worcester wasn’t always my home. For most of my life, it was the city next door. And, I’m actually from a smaller town on the edge of the city, and Worcester was always the place I commuted to for work, meeting up with friends, or enjoying good food.”  In 2022 after a brief stint in San Francisco, Munro felt compelled to move back and to make Worcester her home. Proud moment: “The mural I did for Lincoln Street School comes to mind. At the time there were modular buildings being added to the school to accommodate the students, and they were to be painted as part of World Wide Walls, (formerly known as POW! WOW!). After helping artist Kaplan Bunce, (Kapache1), on his mural, I was tasked to paint my own mural on the school. I knew I wanted to include an uplifting message, so I centered my mural around the phrase “Be You,” hoping it would be something the students would be uplifted by.” On where to find her in 2024: “This upcoming year, I really want to do more illustration stuff! I would love to do more artwork around Worcester. I also have been dying to do more large-scale work. One of my favorite murals I’ve done was for Glazy Susan, a beloved Worcester donut spot that shut its doors earlier this year. So, I would love to do more murals in the near future whether it be for local businesses or more public art.” On little known facts about Munroe: “I make a really mean vegan pizza bagel.”

Khalil Guzman-Jerry

Khalil Guzman-Jerry has lived in Worcester his whole life. “I grew up in the Sever Street Project Complex, eating Pickle Barrel after school, and getting ice cream from Jerry’s ice cream truck in the summertime.” More than that, Guzman-Jerry studied first Tatnuck Magnet, then University Park Campus School, and finally Worcester State. Every step of his life has been tied to the city that he loves, and for which he is filled with gratitude. On how his values weave into to his work: Guzman-Jerry values passion and intentionality. “One way I could answer this is I prioritize doing the best I can with whatever I create. I had an office job for 3 years. There was no art in my life. I felt so trapped, as if I could see the rest of my life play out in a cubicle. I swear I’d wake up and feel in an intense sadness. I quit my job. Started making art full time and decided I am going to give everything I have to this passion for the 5 years and If it doesn’t work I can say at least I gave it everything I had and there’s no regrets. So with in my work there is an intention of executing to the best of my abilities with every single thing I do, big or small. In another way, I would say my values and priorities lay around, establishing Worcester on a large scale, we can provide to the culture of this country and the world. We have so many talented people here and we’ve had people who made it out and we’ve had people who just haven’t gotten the shot yet and I think there’s a lot more people who haven’t gotten that shot, so with my work I really want to represent Worcester.” Proud moment: “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity belief and excitement people have in my work, something in the community that I’m really proud of would have to be the REC youth grow mural sponsored in partnership with PowWow. Itfelt definitely felt like a passion project. I love things that involve the community working together in any kind of way. I’m all for anything that gets people socializing and doing things together. The work that they do is amazing and the fact that they get kids closer to nature is truly unique. I was able to create a mural that adds color and vibrancy to their healthy farm and I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to work with Travis Duda.” On what 2024 has in store: I’m just really looking forward to working as hard as I can, meeting a lot of different people on the way and doing a lot of really cool stuff and having a lot of cool experiences and representing the city the best that I can. You might not know it just looking at him but: I tattoo myself I did not close I cut my hair even though my hair is crazy right now.

Mayor Mike Nicholson

Mayor Mike Nicholson is another Worcester County native, hailing from the nearby town of Gardner. After interning in the Mayor’s office through college, Nicholson pursued a career in public service. Before long his passion and commitment led Nicholson in the Mayor’s seat for the city of Gardener at the tender age of 25, making him the third youngest Mayors Gardener has ever had. On how his values weave into his work: The two ideas that guide how I chose to weave into my work is the idea that the main job of those of us in local government is to help build a community that people feel proud, safe, and happy to call their home, and the mantra that “people are policy” that I learned from working in Governor Baker’s Office. The initiatives I put forward, the work that we do, and the projects we undertake all have these as the underlying theme with them. Proud moment: One of the projects we’ve undertaken in Gardner is the re-instatement of the beginner band program at Gardner Elementary School and the re-vamping of our music programs as a whole. In my first budget that I proposed as Mayor, I re-instated the elementary school beginner band and instrumental instruction position, so that students would be back to playing instruments in our elementary school by the time the new school building construction was completed. In the first year over 190 students were participating in the program, with well over 200 students (a third of the full population of that school) participating in grades 3 and 4. I am very much looking forward to seeing how this program impacts our music programs in the long run as these students throw and progress through school.” What to look for in 2024: Facing some challenges with downtown Gardener’s disrepair back in 2020, Nicholson has been slowly working to rebuild. “We set up grant programs where local/small businesses could apply for funding for new signs or awnings for their storefronts, provided grants to properties who chose to renovate the street visible facades of their buildings, and set up two vacant storefront revitalization districts in the Downtown area and Timpany Boulevard corridor to create a targeted plan on how to proceed. Twenty-two buildings in the downtown area are under new ownership, over 50 businesses have newly opened their doors or expanded their services in Gardner, tens of millions of dollars of private sector investment has been poured in the City, and areas that once felt like they were hanging on by a thread have a new sense of life to them.  I’m really excited how all of this growth and development will impact the City in the long run when it’s all finished and all of the construction that is currently going on throughout these locations is completed. We already know that Chipotle, Aldi, and Five Below are set to open in Timpany Plaza in the next six to eight months, and that a few restaurants have signed on to build out new locations in the downtown, but there’s a lot more potential out there that’s still waiting to be grasped.” You might not know it just looking at him but: “I marched in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a member of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band, playing the trumpet.” 

Kate Mastro

Kate Mastro took the scenic route toward a life in Worcester. Growing up in a nearby town, Mastro explored many of the adjacent cities including Boston, Providence and Nashua, before finally making her way to Worcester. “It became clear that the city was changing, growing, and becoming a vibrant landscape that I was eager to call home.” On how her work weaves into her values: “I love connecting people with one another and am fortunate my profession allows me to do this on a daily basis. Facilitating connections within the community and watching those relationships grow and thrive is a really cool thing to see.” Proud moment: “As a Sales Manager for Deep Eddy Vodka, I’ve been privileged to sponsor and support numerous events and causes, many of which celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Being able to play a small part in facilitating the celebration of queer joy and unabashedly embracing your truest self is something that truly brings me happiness.” On where to look for her in 2024: “As the city continues to grow and diversify, I look forward to nourishing existing connections and supporting small, locally owned businesses. Shout outs to a few of my favorites: Pasta Mani, Maker to Main, and Ilah Jewelry!” You might not know it just looking at her but: “I once did tequila shots with Guy Fieri”

Noel Stemn

Like many of Worcester’s finest residents, Noel Stemn immigrated to the city from Monrovia, Liberia when he was 6 years old. “I immigrated here during a time of civil war in Liberia. Since then, Worcester has been home to me ever since, growing up in the inner city and being a part of my community every step of the way.” On how his values weave into his work: “Woo Juice is the community. From before opening the storefront to this day, Woo Juice has sponsored and donated to over 15 events. All of our beverages is has some type of significance and meaning to it that brands with the city/community. As the business continues to grow, we’ll continue to make an impact in our community.” Proud moment: Giving back to my middle school (The Nativity School) is something I’m the most proud of because that is where it all started for me, it’s part of the reason I’m in this position today. So to sponsor the basketball team and school by giving them juices, sneakers etc is something I couldn’t be more happy about, branding with Nativity is something the company will always do. What to look for in 2024: “Looking forward to working with more schools in the city/ central mass as well and gyms and hopefully groceries stores. Healthy juices is something everyone can benefit from and it’s needed more in all of our communities” You might not know it just looking at him but: I lived in Ghana for 2yrs and I’ve also been to 44 out of 50 U.S states.

Brad Chapman

Brad Chapman grew up in Paxton but spent most of his youth skateboarding the streets of Worcester. Aside from an 8-year stint in Boston, Worcester has always been his home. “When I moved back to Worcester in 2017, I dove into the art community head first. I started working at C.C.Lowell, going to all of the openings I could, submitting to shows at the Sprinkler Factory, ArtsWorcester, and any other galleries that would take my work. Worcester’s art community was and still is inclusive, welcoming and supportive, filled with hard working, talented emerging artists, making thought provoking work. I felt accepted and my creative passion was revitalized. I then made the decision to get my Masters Degree so I could start teaching, and began a low residency program at Goddard College, so I could stay in Worcester and continue building on the relationships within the art community.” Proud moment: I am assistant director of the Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Art gallery at Worcester State, and have been responsible for bringing hundreds of emerging artists into the space for a chance to share their work and ideas with the greater Worcester community. I curated the WooTown Funk exhibition in September 2022, proving to be a vibrant show with intriguing work which attracted the highest attendance of any exhibition in the gallery since its opening. Not only is the gallery hosting the upcoming GLOW Show at the gallery opening January 25th, accepting submissions until January 5th, I also have some opportunities for further community building in the works- so keep an eye out! On what 2024 has in store: I look forward to expanding my teaching in the future. I am an adjunct professor of Art at Worcester State and I hope to continue building classes and offering students more chances for self-discovery and a sense of agency and pride in their abilities. I will be having a solo exhibition at the Mary Cosgrove Dolphin Art Gallery at Worcester State University in March of 2024, called Step Right Up, which will feature paintings, sculptures and drawings, integrating vintage objects and cultural detritus from the past. This will be my first solo show and I am eternally proud of this body of work. You might not know it just looking at him but: “Along with proudly serving as a board member and being actively involved with Turn Back Time, the phenomenal nature-based educational center in Paxton where Veda is a teacher and administrator, we are also vintage & antique dealers. You can find our small business, The Bleau Pig vending at Vintage Rebel Curiosity Shop in Leicester, MA and Live Flea or Buy in Millbury, MA. Anything that doesn’t make it into my art or our personal collection ends up at either of those locations, filled with vintage, nostalgia and quirky oddities.”

Caleb Sandoz Encarnacion-Rivera

Caleb Sandoz Encarnacion-Rivera is proud Worcester native raised in the city’s Main South neighborhood. He attended the Worcester public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade, eventually beginning my classroom teaching career in Worcester Public Schools at South High Community School, where I taught history. He currently serves as the new Director of Equity, Cultivation, and Recruitment for the Worcester Public Schools. On how his values weave into his work: “As a self-identifying Afro-Taino Boricua and Christian who grew up in the inner city, my entire professional career has been centered around work rooted in my faith, my ancestral and cultural history, and my lived experiences as a resident of Worcester that aims to dismantle oppressive structural power within institutions. I decided to become a classroom teacher because I viewed my practice as a form of activism, empowering students to tap into their abundant wealth of knowledge and become agents of change. As I have transitioned into education leadership over the past few years, I continue to hold those values from my time in the classroom. I have been able to develop further and advance my skills to view educational leadership through a social justice lens that prioritizes critical consciousness and identity, building capacity among students, caregivers, teachers, staff, and administration to be a part of a systemic transformation that disrupts dominant narratives and sustains social change.” Proud Moment:  In 2018-2019, The Youth Civics Union research team successfully conducted the city of Worcester’s first-ever youth-led quantitative education research study on the impact that lack of teacher diversity has on students of color in the Worcester public schools. This was one of the most pivotal and proudest accomplishments of my career as an educator because it is the prime example of what I set out to do as an educator: disrupt and flip the power dynamics of systems of schooling to foster the growth and development of agents of change among our gifted Worcester public school’s scholars. You might not know it just looking at him but: “I am blessed to have grown up in a large, loving family with eight brothers, three sisters, and my beloved mother and father.”