WORCESTER — Victoria Reggie Kennedy told the audience gathered last night for the Worcester Community Action Council’s 45th anniversary celebration that the antipoverty organization is as vital today as it was when it was created as an outgrowth of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Ms. Kennedy, widow of the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said her husband respected the work the Worcester organization does, and commended it for recommitting its efforts even as similar organizations are suffering in the tough economic times.
“Some people said caring for the poor was a luxury we couldn’t afford, that it was out of style, that it was a losing political issue,” Ms. Kennedy told the audience of around 500 people at Mechanics Hall. “But you knew we were talking about human beings, not politics, and you never stopped doing everything you’re about, to make lives better.”
The 45th anniversary celebration also included the organization’s Action Hero Awards, given to individuals, groups, and businesses who have had an impact on the council’s efforts.
The organization also announced the creation of the Edward M. Kennedy Scholarship Program, which will provide assistance for tuition, books, and supplies to college-bound youths. The scholarship will be funded by National Grid and the Quinsigamond Community College fund.
Deborah Penta, chairman of the board of directors at the council, called the late senator the organization’s “superhero,” and said his support of anti-poverty initiatives over the years, including the Economic Opportunity Act, which helped create organizations like the council, made him a worthy namesake for the scholarship.
Ms. Kennedy said organizations such as the Worcester one create hope for many individuals and families, and show them there are people who are there for them.
She said the organization reflects an ideal that the community and government can work together to make a difference in the lives of the poor.
She said the organization, which oversees groups that provide fuel assistance, summer jobs programs and green energy initiatives, has goals that dovetail nicely with anti-poverty initiatives included in President Barack Obama’s efforts to provide economic stimulus.
She also said that Mr. Kennedy’s passion for health care reform, which was recently signed into law, fits into the Worcester council’s mission to help the poor.
“Health care reform is the most important social program since the War on Poverty started 45 years ago,” Ms. Kennedy said.
“We know that despite its great history, the Worcester Community Action Council’s greatest days are still ahead,” she said.
The 45th Hero Award recipients were: Unum; Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce; Blackstone Valley Education Foundation; Center of Hope; Seven Hills Foundation; Energy All-Stars; NSTAR; Main South Community Development Corp.; Webster Five Cents Savings Bank; Smith & Jones; Greater Worcester Community Foundation; and Charter TV3.
(Back Row- left to right): 45th Action Hero Honorees: J. Christopher Collins, Unum; James Howard, Center of Hope; Richard Leahy, Webster Five Cents Savings Bank; Bill Van Dam, NSTAR; Mrs. Victoria Reggie Kennedy; Andy Lacombe, Charter TV3; Lee Gaudette, Blackstone Valley Education Foundation; William Breault, Main South Community Development Corporation (Front Row- left to right):Tony Simas, NSTAR; Kathleen Reville, Seven Hills Foundation; Jeannie Hebert, Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce; Ann Lisi, Greater Worcester Community Foundation; Jean Giguere, Smith & Jones; and Tony Shirley, Energy All Stars.
Worcester Community Action Council, Inc, (WCAC) held its 45th Anniversary Celebration Event on April 28, 2010 at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA. WCAC’s 45th Event celebrated the many organizations that have helped to contribute to WCAC’s achievements over the years, along with key action heroes. This year’s Action Heroes recognized included: Unum, Seven Hills Foundation, Main South Community Development Corporation, Center of Hope, Energy All Stars, Smith & Jones, NSTAR Electric & Gas Corporation, Webster Five Cents Savings Bank, Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and Education Foundation, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, and Charter-TV3.
At the same time, WCAC was thrilled to announce the establishment of the Senator Edward M. Kennedy Education Scholarship Program that was generously sponsored by National Grid and Quinsigamond Community College Foundation. The Scholarship Program will assist young people graduating from WCAC’s GED and Job & Education Center programs, as they pursue higher education. WCAC also recognized the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy; his support and advocacy have been invaluable to our success over the past 45 years. We were honored that Mrs. Victoria Reggie Kennedy served as our keynote speaker and accepted an award on the late Senator’s behalf.
Thank you to the many sponsors, in-kind donors, WCAC employees, volunteers, agency partners, community members, and guests for making WCAC’s 45th Anniversary Celebration such a special and momentous occasion.
Legislative Breakfast Feb. 12, 2010: (left to right) Senator Harriette L. Chandler, Jim Kersten for Rep. Vincent Pedone, Stuart Loosemore for Rep. Anne M. Gobi, WCAC Board Member Winnie Octave, WCAC Board Treasurer Jack Foley, WCAC Board Chairwoman Deborah Penta, Rep. James J. O’Day, Stephanie Kozlowski for Rep. Paul K. Frost, Senator Michael O. Moore, WCAC Board Member Sue Obiero, and Rep. Robert P. Spellane.
What do you do? “My responsibilities include fundraising, technical writing and editing reports and proposals; public relations, events, program development, legislative work and being a representative of the agency on different community projects. It’s quite broad.”
How did you get into this job? “WCAC was started in 1965 under president Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and funded under the Economic Opportunity Act. Under the federal regulations for the agency, it must have a tripartite type board, with one-third from the private sector, one-third community sector and one-third public sector representatives.
On Wednesday, December 16, 2009, sixteen students, ages 16-24, from the Worcester Community Action Council, Inc. Job & Education Center (JEC), accompanied by the WCAC computer instructor, opened library cards at the Worcester Public Library to assist with their individualized career readiness program.
Dr. Judy Finkel, JEC Project Director and President of the WPL Board of Directors, believes that this is a truly beneficial opportunity for these young people. “We have formed a perfect partnership. The library cards will enable the students to borrow from the full range of library resources, and, most importantly, at this stage of their job and career search, to provide access to the library’s vast resources including on-line data bases and services.”
The JEC students, who have been enrolled in the program for 5 weeks and have completed 37.5 hours of Pre-Employment Training, are excited about this new resource, as well. “Obtaining a library card will give me the opportunity to have access to books so I can improve my reading skills. If people do not have computers like me, they can go to the library to access materials on-line. I am also looking forward to bringing my daughter there to get books, rent movies, and play computer games,” said Leslie Gonzalez, JEC student.
Students were provided with a guided tour of the library, as well as a thorough explanation of the library’s many valuable resources. Students were delighted to learn about free internet access, a computer lab, resume writing support, mock interview assistance, and many workshops that are open to the public. They were informed that their newly-opened library cards provided them with discounts at local attractions such as museums and theaters. For the majority of the students, this was their first-time utilizing the library.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) federally funded Job & Education Center connects participants to educational and employment supports including Adult Basic Education (ABE) and GED classes, college readiness skills, High School Credit Recovery, college certificate programs, career exploration, internship opportunities, job coaching, and job placement. Each JEC participant will receive case management and support in the transition to meaningful employment and an improved quality of life.
“We are thrilled to be able to host an alternative education program at WCAC,” remarked Jill C. Dagilis, Executive Director.
Jill Dagilis, WCAC Executive Director; Priscilla Holmes, Deputy Director; Steve Joseph, UNUM, Deb Penta, PENTA, Jennifer Roy, UNUM, and Chris Collins, UNUM (absent Cary Olson-Cartwright, UNUM).
WCAC recently celebrated National Philanthropy Day by honoring PENTA Communications of Westborough and UNUM in Worcester. Hosted by the Central Mass Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Deborah Penta, along with Chris Collins, Steve Joseph, and Jennifer Roy of UNUM were presented with 2009 AFP awards.
Deborah Penta, Founder and CEO of PENTA Communications, Inc., joined WCAC’s Board of Directors in 2007 because she was so compelled by the agency’s work to help 71,000+ income-limited people in 37 communities through 20 programs annually. Deborah constantly “pays it forward” through her work and volunteerism and her vision and generosity are boundless. Her firm revamped and maintains WCAC’s website, complete the annual report design/layout, design our Action Heroes booklets/invitations, and much more—all gratis! Personally, she and her family purchase, wrap, and anonymously donate 30+ winter coats for GED students’ children! Deb, now Board Chairwoman, is very engaged—officiating our special events, attending board trainings, and dedicating an incredible amount of time and resources to WCAC. Deborah is an incredible leader, mentor, and positive energy force! We are so fortunate to have her as an amazing ambassador for WCAC.
Cary Olson-Cartwright, UNUM’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, contacted WCAC in February to learn about the agency and explain UNUM’s community partnership commitment and its philanthropy plan. UNUM believes in “giving back” and engages its employees in activities that support this strategy. Keenly interested in WCAC’s youth programs, Cary stepped up for our GED students when she and Chris Collins, senior V.P./General Counsel, began by donating lunches and meeting the students in small groups; later engaged UNUM employees in monthly mentor meetings to discuss career paths; and then provided the inaugural WCAC GED graduation at Tuckerman Hall! Our staff, the students and their families were thrilled to be treated to an elegant, catered celebration for their grand achievements. As lead sponsor for WCAC’s Third Annual Action Hero event in May, UNUM also generously provided lodging and transportation for Dr. Melinda Boone–our keynote speaker. UNUM, Cary, and Chris are WCAC’s caring corporate champions!
(Left to Right) Brian Ngo, Samantha Giles, Nimo Yusuf, Sailaja Thavva, Benjamin Chow and Garrett Mason, MCPHS students 2009.
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) has always made community service a top priority among its students and college mission. MCPHS has incorporated a Service-Learning requirement to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, which integrates community service with coursework and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. First-year students are required to select from several local nonprofit organizations to perform 20 hours of community service during their first trimester.
Worcester Community Action Council, Inc. (WCAC) was fortunate to have the volunteer service of 6 students: Brian Ngo, Samantha Giles, Nimo Yusuf, Sailaja Thavva, Benjamin Chow, and Garrett Mason, over a 7-week period that began in early October. These eager, intelligent, and upbeat young people assisted WCAC staff and departments with an array of assignments. On their first day at WCAC, the students expressed their willingness to assist in any way that would be beneficial to the agency.
Mr. Ngo, Mr. Chow, and Ms. Thavva focused their efforts on one-on-one tutoring with several Project Excel and WINGS GED students. Ms. Yusuf provided office support to a new initiative at WCAC–the East African Community Outreach Center. Ms. Giles conducted community outreach for SNAP (formerly Food Stamps program) to promote the program. Mr. Mason provided support to several programs at WCAC including assisting in the Fuel Assistance Department, SNAP, Youth Employment, and Administration.
WCAC is very appreciative to have had this dedicated group of students who often worked passed their required weekly hours, for the 7-week duration. “We could not have asked for a better group of volunteers. The students provided tremendous support to many of the agency’s programs. We at WCAC believe in ‘paying it forward,’ and the Service-Learning model exemplifies this belief. We have seen first-hand the incredible impact it has our local community organizations,” said Jill C. Dagilis, Executive Director. “Thank you, students, for such wonderful work at WCAC!”
Congressman Jim McGovern at the Worcester Public Library with WIA Summer Jobs participants (Photo courtesy of Mike Reno)
Congressman Jim McGovern saw firsthand how federal stimulus funding is helping young people gain employment experience. On August 4, 2009, he visited the Worcester Public Library where 12 young people are working for the summer doing library tasks such as shelving books, helping patrons access the Internet, clipping newspaper articles for the archives, and much more.
The Worcester Community Action Council, Inc. is the lead agency for the summer jobs program in Central Massachusetts. With federal Workforce Investment Act funding through the Central Mass Regional Employment Board, the agency has been able to recruit over 500 youth, secure 120 employers, and hire temporary staff to run the program within a short timeframe. The youth work 25 hours a week and are paid with stimulus funding.
This is the first time that a federal Summer Jobs program has included not only youth from Worcester and the surrounding communities, but also youth from the Blackstone Valley and South County Corridors. Jill Dagilis, Executive Director of the Worcester Community Action Council, said “We are proud to lead this important stimulus employment program for young people. ”
Lucy Gangone, Head Librarian of the Worcester Public Library, said, “the Library is pleased to participate in the federal summer jobs program for youth. One of the Library’s roles is to assist the community in workforce development, and this program targets an important population group for us–young people. Our patrons directly benefit from the daily assistance the youth provide to the Library by making materials and services available.”
For most of the youth at the library, this is their first job experience. Several participants remarked that they were learning a lot on the job and were enjoying working as a team. A key component of the summer jobs program is the mentoring provided by the onsite supervisor, who not only oversee the youths’ activities, but also help them to develop their professional work skills. Their skills were also improved through a rigorous pre-employment training.
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