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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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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.”

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cover story

December is For Giving: Give the Gift of Service

IRENA KACI

We are entering the season of giving, giving thanks, giving warmth, giving hope and giving of ourselves to uplift our community. The spirit of keeping the creeping darkness at bay is alive and thriving in our city. There are countless organizations in Worcester filled with people working to make a difference, including Mothers Helping Mothers, Muslim Community Link, Mental Health Collaborative, and Worcester Community Action Council. I have been able to connect with a few community leaders in three organizations in particular to talk to them about some more imminent opportunities.

Molly Pietrantonio has been working with Habitat For Humanity for the past 11 years, 9 of them as a Volunteer Programs Manager. Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester is part of a global affordable housing non-profit that builds and sells affordable housing to income eligible families in the community.

“We are always looking for people who are willing to donate their time. It’s one of the pillars of the work that we do.” Habitat for Humanity builds affordable houses for qualifying families. “We are actively building two units of affordable housing at 521 & 523 Sunderland Road, Worcester. These homes are on two 7,000 square foot lots that will be used to build two colonial-style single-family homes with 3 bedrooms and an optional 4th bedroom on the 1st floor, 2 full bathrooms and full basement containing 1560 square feet. Located in an accessible area for shopping, schools, parks, and highways, the homes will provide safe, affordable, and decent housing for two local families who will build strength, stability, and self-reliance. We are building Wednesday-Saturday from 8:30AM-4PM.” 

Habitat For Humanity is famously one of the most accessible volunteer options for anyone interested in giving back while re-upping their Vitamin B stores. “Literally there is no experience required. We have our own staff that is construction certified. The only requirements are a positive attitude and a willingness to try something new. Well that and a 45-minute virtual orientation with me. But that’s usually a cinch.” 

Of course it’s not all construction and physical exertion. For anyone less inclined towards the outdoors, Habitat for Humanity also has their ReStore Retail Alternative. “We have our retail outlet called ‘Restore’ (640 Lincoln St.) and a store manager, an assistant manager, 3 part time employees and a whole host of volunteers run it. ReStore is Habitat’s open to the public retail outlet that sells donated new and gently used home furnishings and building materials! The proceeds from all items sold at ReStore go to funding Habitat’s home build mission. The Habitat for Humanity MetroWest/Greater Worcester ReStore generates enough funds to build a home a year, while also keeping over 700 tons of useable materials out of local landfills! Tasks will consist of donations processing, customer service and sales floor merchandizing. From cleaning, testing, and pricing donations, to answering customer questions, volunteers help us do it all! The store is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30-5 and is always happy to have an extra set of hands during business hours.” 

While we gear up for a long winter here in New England, kicking it off as we do with our various food-oriented winter feasts, it is important to remember the ways in which not everyone has the same luxuries. The deep injustice of food insecurity in our society is even harder to tune out during the season of indulgence. Anyone interested in righting that wrong even a little bit at a time can lend a hand to a wonderful local organization known as Rachel’s Table. Since 1989, Rachel’s Table has been consistently striving to put food on the tables that need it the most. I spoke with Alissa Schimmel, current director and volunteer coordinator for Rachel’s table about what it might take to volunteer with them.

Rachel’s Table

“Rachel’s Table, (a project of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts) has a mission to end hunger in Worcester and to prevent the waste of nutritious food. I know that may sound lofty but we believe it’s attainable and we don’t mind approximating as best we can. We have groups donating to us and we are responsible for distributing it to agencies and shelters that feed those who are food insecure here in Worcester. We have been doing this work for decades, even before I think a lot of our society was aware of the scope of the problem. We were founded in 1989 so we were really one of the pioneers of this movement, at least locally.” 

Schimmel joined the small three-person team in May of this year. “I took over from two women who had been here for 25 executive director and program coordinator who coordinated all the volunteers 34 years. They both retired in June. They were really amazing and had done this work for a long time. So I am doing my very best and I know that I have huge shoes to fill. My role is a combination of both of their roles so I’m somewhere between an executive director and a volunteer coordinator.” The team of paid workers for Rachel’s Table is almost unimaginably small. “I have an office assistant, and a bookkeeper.” The real meat of the organization is its impressive scope of volunteers: “ We have 75 volunteers who really are volunteer run. They do all the work the rescuing of he food and delivering it to different shelters. Volunteer dispatchers who retrieve messages from our food donations hotline. And volunteer delivery drivers who then take these orders and deliver them wherever they need to go. We are partnered up with many local businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, farms etc. We even have people who will cook the food for our shelters. It’s really a labor of love and kindness.”

There are many ways to participate in Rachel’s Table’s mission. “We are so flexible and we have volunteers that volunteer once a month or every single week. We have volunteers who want to be listed as backup or emergency drivers only so they only take shifts every once in a while. We have volunteers who work seasonally, only summers or only winters. The main requirement is that if you’re driving for us, you need to have a working and insured vehicle as well as a current driver’s license. And if you own a business and want to partner with us, you can always call and set up a plan with me.” For more information on Rachel’s Table you can visit rachelstable.org or simply email Alissa Schimmel at director@rachelstable.org or @rachelstable_worcester on Instagram & Facebook.

Another local community organization that always opens its doors to volunteers is the Jewish Community Center (661 Salisbury Street). I spoke with Andrea Sullivan, the deputy director of the JCC. “I oversee the membership department, fundraising, safety and security, marketing and general day to day operations. In this role for a year and a half, but I’ve been with the JCC for about 5 years, so I’ve been around long enough to know that we really rely on volunteers for our bigger events.” 

Every year the JCC hosts two big events that draw in a lot of community and volunteers:  ‘Good Deeds Day/Earth Day” celebration and the “Touch-A-Truck” community event in May. “ Good deeds day/earth day is one of my favorites. I love that event. It really makes me feel like we are reaching into our community and making things better. The event involves a variety of projects, including things like making comfort blankets, and food kits for those who are homebound or have low mobility. We partner up with other nonprofits like Beth Israel, Jewish Healthcare, whoever is willing to support us and it’s just such a great event. We always end up relying so much on our wonderful volunteers, and it really connects with the community. That’s what it’s all about, giving back and connection.” For more information head over to worcesterjcc.org or reach out on instagram @jccworcester

Rachel’s Table is hardly the only organization working towards bridging the gap on food insecurity in town. The soup kitchen known as Mustard Seed Catholic Worker has been operational for 51 years. Nicole Apostola has been involved with the Mustard Seed for about 8 of those years. “We run the soup kitchen every weekday M-F and serve meals to people who need it. We serve about 100 meals a day. On Tuesdays we have a food pantry available as well. We are fortunate enough to get donations from many individual donors, and local forms as well as the Worcester County Food Bank.”  Mealtimes usually run between 5:00-6:30 so volunteers can come in 4:45 to help set up and serve or at 5:45 to help clean up. “Really any time that people are able to give is extremely helpful. Even coming in for a half hour to help clean up is huge. We often have our volunteer serve coffee to people while the food is being set up and prepared.” Local churches, including First Baptist, Christ The King, and Blessed Sacrament, prepare meals. Whatever time commitment is possible, the message from Mustard Seed is simple: “ I think everyone we are seeing an increasing need of people both who are looking for a meal and who are looking for food to take home. I think there are more people in need now than in memory which is a long time, and that you know we are sort of in some ways at a soup kitchen the canary in the coal mine for larger things that are happening in our society. For us especially there’s been a lot more demands on the food pantry side. This is a harbinger of where we may be headed.” 

It is easy enough to talk about wanting to help your community and admirable even to join the effort of already existing organizations. However, Michelle McClain went even further than that. McClain is the founder, and executive director and pretty much the one woman show behind Mothers Helping Mothers. 

Donations from Mothers Helping Mothers

“We help moms get resources and we refer them to places DTA and social security we help them with monthly toiletry items, toiletries. We help dads too and I want to find resources. I work as a case manager for another company. They can come in and job searching. We will be doing some holiday toy drives and coat drives.” McClain works as a case manager in her other capacity but she transfers the skills right over to her passion for volunteerism. It is easy enough to pitch in and help McClain’s effort towards equity for families. For one thing, donations are always welcome and go a long way. “We just got our very first grant from Framingham CEG; up until this point, I was paying for everything out of pocket. Even with the grant, there are still a lot of needs. We are always looking for diaper donations, new socks; any kind of toiletry really is in high demand. We also have listings for volunteer on every volunteer resource site out there, volunteermatch.com, mother’s helper, mother’s Inc. The process is simple, just submit a resume and have a zoom meeting with me. That’s it.” 

Not particularly loquacious, McClain is largely action oriented. After talking with her, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mothers Helping Mothers is exactly that.

However you celebrate or survive the winter months here in our fair city, we encourage you to share whatever wealth you posses with those in need; Be it the wealth of your healthy and capable body, the wealth of your full table, or the always underrated luxury that is spare time. And always, keep the warm light glowing during the dark nights of the year. 

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Ziggy Bombs: The Man, the Plan and The Sandwiches

Irena Kaci

It is early morning on a Monday, but Mike Devish is clear eyed, full hearted, and ready to win. As I walk around the corner from my parking spot into what will soon be known as the original Ziggy Bombs (72 Franklin St. Worcester), I make note of my own curiosity about meeting the flavor fanatic himself, Mike Devish.

Inside Ziggy Bombs, there are red and black booths, as well as a few diner style tables. On the walls there are stylistic photos of local dining cars, many of which I already recognize as belonging to Worcester. I notice Devish, or Ziggy as he is often called, already hard at work. 

It is easy to like Mike Devish. For someone who has done an amazing job at promoting his culinary skills, he’s terribly uninterested in talking about himself. In some ways, his story is unique more by the outcome than the minutiae leading up to it. The city is teeming with restaurant industry lifers looking to open up shop and become the next hot spot. Devish is more aware of this than most, but none of it seems to get to him. 

“I grew up in Main South, Worcester born and bred. All I’ve done my whole life is cook. I started cooking when I was around 15 or 16 years old. My first job was being on the line at Friendly’s in the Auburn Mall. I’ve worked in countless places both in Worcester and all over Central Massachusetts. All my training has been in the field. I’ve worked the grill in various locations for 24 years now. I only started promoting myself around 2011. Back then I was working at Mom’s Diner in Leicester.” 

In addition to growing a budding franchise, Devish is also raising his 11-year old son. “I’ve been a single parent for his whole life. Doing that and trying to grow my brand and business, that was hard. Especially in the beginning.” Indeed Devish has memories of cooking on the grill one handed, using his other hand to rock the baby or hold a baby bottle. “Those times were crazy. Those were crazy times.” He credits his mother with so much support and childcare during early days of his career.  “I don’t know what I would’ve done without her. Even with her help, I felt like I was doing the impossible. It was a lot of juggling and rolling with the punches.” 

It was while Devish worked for the Grille at the Crossroads (1060 Main St. Leicester) that he first became known for his steak and cheese sandwiches. The Grille only had burgers and dogs on the menu, but Ziggy started running steak & cheese sandwiches as specials. The sandwiches quickly gained popularity and notoriety. In fact they were selling hundreds of Ziggy’s steak and cheese sandwiches a week, and pretty soon the Ziggy Bombs were becoming a consistent recurrence on the menu.

It was becoming clear that he was onto something. While Devish was working at Lucky’s Café (formerly on Grove St.) he began doing his own pop ups. 

“Even the first pop up I did, hundreds of people showed up. We started out with the pop ups, and people kept coming. It was obvious that we were onto something.” Slowly Devish built his following and then finally was able to invest in a food truck.

 “During my ‘pop-up’ era I piqued the interest of two investors, who saw that I could draw in these large crowds. We teamed up to do the food truck. I was taking the truck parking lots throughout the city, although one spot in particular more than others. It was actually right on Prescott Street, where I rent a garage. We did a few other locations throughout the city. And then once we did the food truck for a few months, we were looking for a brick and mortar shop. Finally we found this location. We opened on December 6, just last year.” 

Despite the rapid fire changes, Ziggy shows no sign of slowing down. “We’re opening two new locations soon. We’re doing one in Leicester. We actually have had the space for a while, but it’s taking a little time to set up the shop. That’s really the place where my career started taking off, so it feels especially important. The space is actually right where I used to cook; we acquired the old Uncle Sam’s Pizza spot. However, it’s looking like Leicester will be our 3rd location. We are opening up our shop near Boston University in Boston the next couple of weeks.”  

Devish is very insistent that he gets to do these things largely because of the support that he has from his team. In fact, while Devish will be preoccupied with overseeing the final construction push at the Boston location, his longtime employee Oscar Sanchez will be taking over the supervising duties at the Worcester location. Sanchez is a Mexican immigrant who moved to the US when he was 10 years old, and has his own storied tale of growing up in the restaurant industry. “I started working at Golden Pizza, alongside my dad. He showed me the ropes.” After that, Sanchez worked in a wide range of places, including Volturno’s, Lock 50, Deadhorse Hill and Simjang. “I  was actually working at Volturno about a year ago the Framingham location as Executive Sous Chef. One day, I saw that Ziggy was opening up his own place and he offered me a full time job. It seemed like a cool idea.” 

Sanchez was there from the very beginning of the Worcester location. “I started working for Ziggy when he opened this restaurant almost a year ago now.” The connection is new, but it’s clear to see that Devish is readily admired. “ He does his own promotions. He follows his own ideas. He knows how to move himself so well. You just want to learn so much from this method. I know food business but a lot depends on utilizing social media properly. If you don’t have good marketing skills the business won’t move. And, Ziggy is great at that. Lucky’s it was very successful. Bushel and Peck was successful, largely because of him.” 

Already displaying a lot of loyalty and camaraderie with his employees, Devish is sharing the wealth of his growth and helping others realize their dreams.  “I am excited to be taking more of a leadership role. Ziggy Bombs is looking to become a franchise, and I wanted to do more in my role. Now I have this opportunity to step up into a leadership role.” 

Another person who owes Ziggy some of his recent opportunities is another right hand man, Andrew Hollingworth. Hollingworth has also been with Ziggy bombs from the beginning of the brick and mortar shop. “I was walking right by while they were building this restaurant. Like literally during construction, when Ziggy invited me to work for him. I was working at Russo’s Italian Restaurant then, and I kind of just went for it.” 

Hollingworth also comes with a wealth of experience. “I have 20 + years of working as a chef all over the city. I’ve been working in Worcester area restaurants for 12 of those years, and I’m originally from Southbridge. Local, too, born and bred.”  Hollingworth will be heading up the Boston location under Devish’s supervision, and he’s definitely up for the challenge. “Now we are going to a big school, and it’s going to be awesome. A lot of work and we will be two city guys, working hard everyday. I’m stoked.” When I ask Hollingworth what made him choose to move forward on Ziggy’s offer, the answer comes easy. “He’s so driven and has worked his way up from the bottom, which I trust. It’s very appealing to work for someone who knows the business from the ground up, see his ideas and how he does things. You get to have fun and make specials.” 

To round out the visit, I had to ask everyone to name their favorite sandwhiches. Hollingworth recommends The Rodeo, (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, American Cheese, Onion Strings, Bacon Bits, Topped With BBQ Sauce). Sanchez & Devish both go for the classic Boom Boom (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, Monterey Jack Cheese, Fried Onion Stings, Topped With Ziggys Boom Boom Sauce), though Devish also recommends the Pu Pu Platter (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, Monterey Jack Cheese, Chinese Chicken Fingers, Boneless Spareribs, Crab Rangoons, Topped With Duck Sauce)

Devish is easy to like and easy to root for. Ziggy Bombs is flying on wings made almost entirely out of Ziggy’s talent and stamina for his work. His philosophy on success is simple. “I eat like a kid. I am coming at this process like a kid. I just want to keep opening more and more locations. That’s pretty much the goal right now. Before this, my biggest goal was to open a restaurant by 40, and I did it. Now it’s time for bigger goals.” 

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Halloween Happenings

Irena Kaci

Halloween is here again, and with it some of the best events of the year. If you are a New England native, or even a younger transplant, you are one of many whose fall memories include crisp afternoons spent picking apples, eating candy and popcorn under clear blue skies in local farms and festivals. Though many of our local festivals take place during the month of September, perhaps my favorite hidden gem of a festival is an October only affair, I’m talking about Dismas House Farm’s Festival. 

Since moving to Worcester almost a decade ago, I have always longed for a low effort but high yield fall festival, and that is precisely what Dismas House’s Fall Harvest Festival has to offer. Since 2015, Dismas has been cooking up their homemade chili and butternut squash soups, served to keep visitors warm on the windy October days. Due to popular demand, the festival takes place over two separate Saturdays so as to give fans a couple of options for not missing out.

This year, Dismas’ Fall Festival will take place on the Saturdays of October 7th as well as 14th from 1-4. Visitors can enjoy the hay maze stuffed (and regularly replenished) with hidden candy waiting to be found, and then slide right down out of the barn. Dismas has ‘pumpkin’ painting stations, as well as face painting stations. There is always lively music in the background, and the friendly staff offers hayrides up the slow hill that overlooks the farm. It is an easy and picturesque way to spend the afternoon, while supporting a plucky farm with an important mission.

photo from Dismas House’s Facebook

Not far from Worcester’s Tatnuck Square, the Leicester farm stand and local gem Breezy Gardens is located right down McNeil Highway. Every autumn, Breezy Gardens sets up their giant pumpkin slide for children to herald their busiest time of the year. I spoke with manager Kim Miczek who updated me on this year’s events. 

“We start with our pumpkin festival to kick off festivities. This year will be the 30th of September and 1st of October. After that, every weekend in October as well as Columbus Day. We have an admission fee, and that covers hayrides, a small maze designed for families with young children, particularly children ages nine years and younger. Guests are welcome to pick their own pumpkins or visit the goats or take a hayride around the farm. We try to keep things new and updated every year. Indoors we have our corn kernel ‘sand boxes’. Some kids don’t ever leave those once they settle in. They’re so popular! The big attraction for some of the bigger kids is a giant pile of tractor tires that we set aside for climbing. Kids use it as another version of a jungle gym, but it’s unlike anything else around here. They love to play on it. We top it all off with a bouncy house and our classic giant Jack-O-Lantern slide.”

photo from Breezy Garden’s Facebook

If you have a hankering for haunts, and ‘will travel’, consider celebrating October with one of Tom & Arlene’s D’Agostino’s ‘Dining with The Dead’ events. The October iteration will take place at the Publick House in Sturbridge on October 30th.  

“We’ve been doing these events since 2007, and they’ve been quite successful. We’ve been using the Publick House for the past five years. We sell tickets on Eventbrite. Tom gives a presentation on the history of the haunts and place and the rooms where they’ll be investigating. We try to cap it at around 52 people per event and we often have a wait list.” Tom explains. “I’m a softy so I cave in and let extra people in.“ chimes Arlene.

Dining with the Dead at Old Sturbridge Village

The structure remains the same at each event. There is the presentation, a small window of ‘giveaways’, including things like books written on the subject of the paranormal, novelty tarot cards and the like. Next, there is an all you can eat dinner buffet. At the end of dinner, Tom & Arlene go over the equipment that will be used during the ‘investigation’. Once everyone is prepped on the equipment, the group breaks into four subgroups of about 14 people and they start exploring the four available spaces. 

The D’Agostionos love sharing their most memorable events. Tom recalls an incident with Room 14, “One time during our investigation dinner at the Publick House, Arlene was in Room 40 and I was in the ballroom, when suddenly there was a loud crash in Room 14. It was loud enough that it sounded like somebody might’ve dropped a grand piano down the stairs. We all moved quickly down to the room, but when we unlocked the door, it was completely empty and still.” But that is only one of many memorable stories. 

“At the public house, the cameras have motion sensors, and the cameras go on even when the room is empty. Sometimes you can see like a form moving around the table. It’s uncanny!” Arlene goes on. “Another time at The Publick House I was up in Room 40, I usually investigate that room, I was telling everyone about the haunts. All the sudden the whole room started to smell a sweet, cloying aroma like that of funeral flowers. No one sprayed any perfume or anything like that but the smell was very noticeable. It permeated the whole area. And as quick as it came on, it dissipated. It was very distinct. Another time, all of a sudden there was a very strong odor that smelled like ammonia, which is what we use to clean spaces. It was unmistakable.” 

Arlene and Tom have compiled a long list of ‘anomalies’ that defy our perception of reality. “It’s really something. We love the work,” says Arlene, “At the end of each investigation we gather all the materials that we record and that participants record, and we make sure to make it available to everyone who attended. You never know who’s going to notice something unexplained, and that’s what we all want to see.” Indeed, what is Halloween if not the celebration of the unseen?

Tower Hill Botanical Gardens is celebrating the season of fright with its most magical display yet. Lea Morgan has been working all month to make her creative vision come to life, namely a nature-meets-art installation called “Myths, Magic, and Monsters”.  The menagerie of magical creatures is currently up and available to visitors at Tower Hill Botanical Garden. Using inspiration found in nature, the team at Tower Hill has created eight creatures, including a mermaid, dragon, a phoenix and many more. I spoke with Morgan about the scope and strategy of this project.

photo by Troy Thompson Photography

“All these creatures are spread out in the ramble, which is the children’s area. I designed them but our education and horticulture team has been integral to the project’s installation. We are celebrating the project with an event called ‘Enchanted Weekend’, which will take place the weekend of October 7th through the 9th.” 

Enchanted Weekend centers around this exhibit but includes much more. “There will be a local vendor fair, we are setting up craft activities for children, and we’ll have a live owl presentation. During lunch times we are even offering unicorn pony rides. We will have live Celtic music playing, and stilt walkers strolling about to add to the magical mise-en-scene. Kids are invited to come for the events, the craft workshops or just even to enjoy the variety of magical creatures roaming the grounds. It’s incredibly family friendly, and is sure to entertain people of all ages.” 

photo by Troy Thompson Photography

There is no doubt about it, this new tradition of celebrating Magic and Monsters, serves as a very welcome lead up to Tower Hill’s already jubilant winter lights event. Even as the outdoor light dims, the inner light grows brighter.

While we are on the subject of inner light, the Dirty Gerund –the poetry staple at Ralph’s Rock Diner –is joining forces with the Worcester Writers’ Collective [WWC] to set up their own Halloween offering. For one night only, Monday October 30th at 8, the WWC will take over the Dirty Gerund and regale their audience with tales, poems, and vignettes celebrating mystery and horror. For anyone interested in the literary side of Halloween, this will be the one not to miss. If ever there was an appropriate setting for telling gory stories, Ralph’s Diner and its grungy energy is the perfect setting to hunker down with your beverage of choice and listen to local writers and storytellers perform their own magic.

“The Great Jack O’Lantern Journey” at Southwick Zoo

“The Great Jack O’Lantern Journey” is back from September 28th to October 31st at Southwick’s Zoo. This well loved festival, at New England’s largest zoo, offers entertainment and family-friendly
fun. You’ll be transported to a world of Halloween wonder through stunning hand-carved pumpkin displays, each telling a unique story. This festival is suitable for all ages, with enchanting displays, tasty seasonal treats, and live entertainment is a Halloween must.

“The Great Jack O’Lantern Journey” at Southwick Zoo

As always readers, Halloween in New England is a special time, perhaps even the most special time.  So close to summer and yet already moving toward wintery depths, Halloween rides on the tension between darkness and light. Whether you are enjoying the flaming foliage against the clear blue sky while riding hay bales, or stalking magical monsters and ghosts in old saloons, you are celebrating the best that New England has to offer, the season that turns the seasons, and the month at the very heart of this transition that is October. 

“The Great Jack O’Lantern Journey” at Southwick Zoo
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Welcome to Worcester Class of 2027: Come on in The Worcester is Wicked Fine

Irena Kaci

Another year, another influx of budding adults: Worcester’s incoming first years is part of what keeps our city current and alive. We at Pulse are here to give a helping hand and a guide to what newly minted adults might enjoy and engage with in their various locales. 

If you’re coming into Worcester via Clark University, congratulations on joining the ranks of the city’s humanitarians, activists and artists. Nestled in Main South, Clark University is committed to seamlessly integrating the local community with student led missions. I spoke with recent graduate Brett Iarrobino, whose volunteer work during his undergraduate years included refugee assistance, and after school help to elementary school children. “St. Peter’s Church does homework for elementary school students. They pair you up with one or two different kids. It was a very cute way to engage and get some face time with some residents. Another volunteer spot was Main Idea Youth and Arts Nonprofit. Worcester Refugee Assistance Group also is a great place to volunteer. They are very active with the Korean, Afghan, and Burmese populations.”

Volunteering in the community is not the only way to engage with Main South. Just around the corner from campus there are several small eateries with a smorgasbord of multicultural offerings. “Formerly Acoustic Java, the new coffee shop nearest campus is now called Belen’s Casa De Pan, and it is a delicious Salvadorian bakery. The new owner is a former Clark University graduate herself. Further down, there’s Hacienda Don Juan. It’s a lunch and dinner spot with $1 pupusa for students.”

Emma Couillard completed both her BA & MA through Clark’s 5th year free program and had her own recommendations and fond memories to impart. “Right near campus, there’s Saigon as well as Mint. They are both Vietnamese cuisines but totally different vibes. Saigon is more casual and lunch, whereas Mint is over by Worcester Pizza Factory, and hosts a lot of college-student friendly events, such as trivia and karaoke. They also offer a lot of good deals for students. On campus, I loved the Hillel-run Midnight Bagel Events. It is exactly what it sounds like: Bagels and schmear at midnight, as a study break. One great place to know about on campus is the Traina Center. It’s a bit off to the side right on Park Avenue, but they host a lot of great events, including a small museum in the bottom floor, which runs exhibits of local artists, both students and non-students.” 

Mint Kitchen and Bar’s Big Mint Platter

If you’re coming to Worcester via WPI, congratulations on joining the ranks of the future engineers, problem solvers, and having the unique experience of Greek Life while on campus. WPI has the distinction of being in the most ‘trafficked on foot’ part of our city, and is packed to the gills with dining and activity options. 

Right on Highland Street, there are various WPI student frequented haunts like Thai Time, and the Bean Counter Café. The Bean Counter is well known around these parts for their delicious vegan and gluten free baked goods. An easy place to sit down and get some work done, The Bean Counter also boasts one of the most active and current bulletin boards for local events. 

A few doors down from both these spots is Taqueria Del Pueblo, a lively food stand turned restaurant, offering affordable lunch and dinner options for students and faculty alike. Not far from campus there is also Worcester’s most beloved dive bar, Ralph’s Rock Diner. Ralph’s offers the grittiest Worcester, served with a side of 90s grunge.  For students looking to unwind with punk rock or poetry, Ralph’s offers Slam Poetry nights on Mondays, and a smattering of local shows throughout the month.

If your interests are a bit more board game oriented, you’ll not want to miss the city’s Nerd Mecca a.k.a. That’s Entertainment. That’s E! hosts weekly Magic The Gathering, DnD, and more. It’s an easy walk through historic Elm Park, where the latest installation of ‘Art in the Park’ will enliven your stroll.

That’s Entertainment! on Park Ave.

If you’re coming to Worcester by way of Holy Cross, congratulations on joining the ranks of elite athletes, young go-getters, and entrepreneurs. Holy Cross is a mini universe of its own. You’ll have to drive a bit to get off campus, but fret not because even on campus there is plenty to do. From Cool Beans, the on campus coffee house offering a social space to meet and collaborate, to the Seelos Film House, offering exclusive features, your cup will be full. 

Should you choose to venture off campus, you will be less than two miles away from BirchTree Coffeehouse, one of the city’s most renowned and architecturally beautiful coffee houses and bake shops. They make some of the city’s best pizzas on Wednesday night and they offer student discounts. Situated right beneath BirchTree is the Crompton Collective, the gateway to Canal District’s most charming section. Local vendors, handmade goods and the biggest flower shop in town (Seed to Stem) await your perusal. To make a day of it, round the corner and take in a game of America’s pastime at Worcester’s own Woo Sox Ballpark, Polar Park. 

Polar Park

If you’re coming to Worcester by way of Assumption, congratulations on joining the ranks of tomorrow’s healers, organizers, and entertainers. Congratulations also on having, in this reporter’s humble opinion, the most picturesque campus. You will be happily situated equidistantly to both the city and the countryside, with ample options on either end. A short drive from campus on Salisbury Street, and you will find the Worcester Art Museum, one of our more prized locales offering tours, classes and so much more. If you’re looking for more of the same, not far from the WAM there is also ArtsWorcester, a small gallery that packs a big punch. If you’re looking for some communing with nature, it will be easy to head in the opposite directions to hit up Moore State Park or the Cascades for a rigorous and very autumnal experience. Looking for coffee shops, there are quite a few within the mile radius, including Espress Yourself, a small European style café. Just up the street, there is Root & Press, if you’re looking for a more collegiate atmosphere. Root and Press does double duty as both bookshop and coffee/lunch spot. You can dine in or al fresco and pick up your extracurricular reading all in one trip. 

If you’re coming to Worcester via Worcester State, congratulations on joining the ranks of local juggernauts who may or may not know Worcester just as well as I do. Worcester State’s campus and campus offerings are perhaps the most successfully intertwined with the local community, giving anyone who isn’t a local, a chance to blend in with ease. Located right on Chandler Street, one of Worcester’s thoroughfares, Worcester State students are very centrally located. 

I spoke with recent graduate and current Assistant Director of Conferences and Events, Caitlin Kincaide for some insider tips.  “My friends and I really like to try different places to eat, weekends or afternoon free time. If it was lunch and we wanted to study and do homework we would go to Nu Kitchen, The Mercantile, or the Boynton. We also went to a place called Blackstone. They do ‘flights’ of everything there, so you can try different menu times. On campus, there is usually one Halloween related fair, filled with Halloween activities. Also, in September, they bring a mini-farmer’s market on campus for a big health fair.” 

Nu Kitchen

To caffeinate, I would recommend the newly established Worcester Sweets, which serves the best Colombian coffee around, in an atmosphere that I can best describe as Barbie-core. While lunch spots are aplenty, I want to give a special shout out to Nu Kitchen, which is a well worn WSU hangout, always offering exactly what is needed. But within a stone’s throw, there are several options including Nancy Chang’s for a mom and dad sit down dinner, and Sushi Miyazawa, a surprisingly delectable hole in the wall. Make it a triple feature and stop into Tidepool Bookshop for the latest poetry reading, or book launch and you’ll feel like both a college student and a Worcesterite in no time.

Even though Worcester boasts the title of second largest New England City, we do not suffer the congestion of some of the bigger cities out there, and therefore all of these options are easily available. For this reason, it makes sense to set up a central list of Worcester 101, listed below:

Bars:

While I understand that most first-years are unlikely to need this advice right away, it never hurts to plan ahead. Worcester is fortunate to boast a long list of breweries, and beer gardens. 

Not least among them, is the Worcester Beer Garden (64 Franklin Street), offering beautiful open air dining, with a luxurious twist. You’ll forget that you’re not across the pond in some of their fantastically luxurious seating options. 

Blue Jeans Pizza (270 Park Avenue) is another collegiate spot that just invested in their own beer garden, and it does not disappoint. Located in a rather heavily trafficked corner, you’ll get the most Worcester vistas, while enjoying a slice and maybe (someday!) a cold one. 

My personal favorite brewing spot is Greater Good Brewery (55 Millbrook Street) offering both casual indoor and outdoor dining. 

And last, but not least, because BarbieCore is having a moment, Femme Bar, Worcester’s answer to the gay bars of yesteryear. Featured on their very ‘on theme’ menu you’ll find sparkling wine on tap, and a can of ‘gay beer’.

Restaurants:

Worcester has too many to name, but I’d like to mention those that might go easy on a college student’s budget the most. 

First up Fantastic Pizza (910 Main Street) has the best falafel wrap, at the most reasonable price but they have pizza and mozzarella sticks too. While you wait for your order, you can play the old timey Galaga machine that still takes quarters inside. 

Or, head off to George’s Coney Island Hot Dog (158 Southbridge Street) for a classic at a reasonable price. It’s not just the hot dogs, but also the turn of the century time capsule atmosphere that’ll make you think fondly of your college years. 

Shawarma Palace (20 Franklin Street) downtown offers the absolute best shawarma around, at lonely a fraction of the usual price. 

And, lastly, if you’re looking for Vietnamese cuisine, Da-Lat (425 Park Avenue) goes easy on your wallet while absolutely pummeling your taste buds.

Events/Activities: 

Worcester offers countless ways to spend the time, but I’d like to mention a few under the radar and perhaps uniquely Worcester options for newcomers to explore. 

I have never lived anywhere else where I could watch wrestling live, and it’s all thanks to Wrestling at the White Eagle (116-120 Green Street). Every Thursday night at 8pm, any interested parties can see wrestlers from all over New England duke it out with impunity. 

If you’re jonesing for old school vibes and 90s era arcades, do not miss out on Materia Machina (116a June Street). The owners are a dedicated duo, looking to bring the same joy of coin-operated games to the residents of Worcester. But wait, there’s more. Just a couple of doors down, its sister business, a budding ‘video store’ and event place is shaping up to be a hub for local news, and local politics. 

If you’re a cinephile, you will do well to explore the Elm Draught House Cinema (35 Elm St., Millbury). It is a small but hearty presence, with the goal of keeping art house movies alive and on the big screen. 

Last, but certainly not least, if you’ve ever thought you might write the great American novel, give the Worcester Writers’ Collective (20 Franklin Street at the JMAC) a chance. Their weekly Tuesday night meetings include a small but plucky band of artists, writers, and thespians looking to be a part of your journey.

So there it is, the Worcester of 2023. It will surely change and be changed by countless forces, and congratulations again on being part of our history and part of that change.