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Maynard teen with autism asks Ellen DeGeneres to prom, while town cheers him on

February 3, 2014 01:15 PM
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Esteban Rueda, 17, stands with a white board where his classmates wrote all of the reasons why Ellen DeGeneres should go to prom with him.

After winter break, thoughts of prom season can bring stress and drama to high school students. There can be a lot of pressure to ask a date to the big dance in a creative way, but this year, at least one student, Esteban Barriga of Maynard High School, won't disappoint. Barriga, a 17-year-old senior with autism, is asking his dream date, Ellen DeGeneres, to prom with the help of a YouTube video starring himself and the citizens of Maynard.

Word spread of the video around town after Maribel Rueda, Barriga's mother, reached out to friends and her son's school about his dream. Barriga's high school classmates and teachers, the fire department, police department, local McDonald’s, and more rallied behind him and made over thirty video clips for the project, all urging Ellen to “say yes to Esteban.”

Before Barriga settled on the daytime talk show host as his date, he did not want to attend the dance.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to prom because I don’t have any friends. I don’t have anybody,’” Rueda said. “It broke my heart.”

Now, Barriga has a whole town behind him.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience because here’s this kid who thought he had no friends at high school, who thought he was on his own—now he’s suddenly the most popular kid in school,” Rueda said.

Aubuchon Hardware in Maynard is one of the local businesses that decided to help out.

“We see people all day long and we figured it was a good thing to do,” said John Bairos, store manager. “I don’t particularly know the kid but I know a lot of kids that work for me, and some of them know him … The more publicity, the better the chance he has of accomplishing it.”

Bryan Kiley, a Maynard High junior, filmed all of the clips at the high school. He met Barriga last year in gym class, where the two played basketball together every day. This year, Kiley decided to sign up for Best Buddies at the high school, a local chapter of a global organization dedicated to creating friendship and supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and requested to be Barriga’s buddy because they got along so well.

“He’s always funny; he’s always smiling,” Kiley said of Barriga. “He’s always in a good mood and puts people in a good mood.”

Kiley filmed whole classes saying “Ellen, say yes to Esteban!” and also interviewed individual students for the video.

“A lot of people thought it was a really cool thing and really wanted to see it happen,” Kiley said.

Barriga loves to watch The Ellen DeGeneres Show every day. His three dreams, according to his mom, are to be an actor, meet Jimmy Fallon, and go to prom with Ellen. A spokesperson for the show could not immediately be reached.

“He’ll say ... ‘Mom, she’s so funny!’” Rueda said.

The experience has especially touched Rueda because they have only been living in the town for a year.

“In high school, [students with autism] are bullied, they’re excluded … they don’t have many friends,” she said. “They’re outcasts, if you will. I hate using that word but it’s true. For me as a mother, to see the response Esteban is getting, says a lot about the place I moved to.

“It was the best decision I made, to move,” Rueda said. “It completely changed my life and Esteban’s life. We have never been so welcome in a town.”

As a volunteer with Autism Speaks, a leading autism science and advocacy organization, in Latino communities around Boston, Rueda knows Barriga might not have much to look forward to after high school. He will attend graduation this year but will stay in school until he is 22. After that, “his life is very uncertain,” Rueda said. “You lose a lot of services you usually have.”

Because of that, the video ends with a reminder about the often-forgotten adults living with autism. Mariana Barriga, Esteban’s 7-year-old sister who narrates the video, ends by asking Ellen to help spread autism awareness so teenagers like her brother, who will eventually become adults, have a place to go after prom.

“Whether Ellen says yes or no I think my son will not have a problem going to prom,” Rueda said. “I think he’s learning a lot form this. He’s learning he’s not alone.”

To learn more about the effort, visit Esteban's Facebook page here.

Maggie Quick can be reached at margaret.quick@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MaggieQuick.

Former Waltham police chief LaCroix granted his pension following assault convictions

October 24, 2013 07:05 PM

Former Waltham police chief Thomas LaCroix, who was convicted this summer of twice assaulting his wife at their Maynard home last year, will receive his pension after Waltham Retirement Board members voted unanimously Thursday night to grant it.

“There are times in a person’s life when one mistake can cost that person everything,” wrote Michael Sacco, Waltham Retirement Board’s lawyer, in his recommendation to the board. “After much thought and deliberation, I conclude this is not one of those circumstances.”

LaCrroix's pension will be more than $80,000 a year.

State retirement law states that if a public employee’s convictions are found to relate to his or her position at all, the pension for that employee can be taken away.

But Sacco recommended that LaCroix keep his. Citing Durkin v. Boston Retirement Board, where a Boston police officer lost his pension after he shot another officer while drunk, Sacco supported his decision by noting that LaCroix was not convicted of using a dangerous weapon when he assaulted his wife.

“LaCroix was originally charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and had he been convicted of that crime, the recommended decision in this case likely would have been different,” Sacco wrote.

However, Sacco still chastised LaCroix's actions in his recommendation, noting "there is simply no excuse for one person to commit a battery upon another person.

"As the chief of the Police Department, LaCroix must set the example and tone for the entire Police Department," Sacco write. "His career as a police officer is over and rightly so -- as a society we cannot have individuals enforcing laws that they themselves violate."

Sacco's written recommendation is a public record and can be obtained at Waltham City Hall's retirement office.

The Waltham Retirement Board’s decision comes after a Concord District Court jury found LaCroix guilty on June 26 of assaulting his wife, Andrea, last year. LaCroix resigned from his post July 10, the same day Judge J. Elizabeth Cremens sentenced him to 18-months’ probation.

Retirement officials summonsed LaCroix to a hearing after he applied for his retirement benefits this summer. LaCroix opted to have his September hearing closed to the public.

“The LaCroixs are delighted that the Retirement Board granted Chief LaCroix his retirement,” said Nicholas Poser, LaCroix’s pension lawyer, after the Thursday hearing. “The LaCroixs are anxious to move on with their lives. This has been a searing experience, and now they have been gratified.”

LaCroix’s pension benefits will begin dating back to July 10, the date he resigned, officials said.

LaCroix, 50, worked for the Waltham Police Department for 26 years, and was appointed chief in 2007. Retirement officials said that city employees must have worked for 20 years, or 10 years if they are 50 years old or older, to qualify for pension benefits.

LaCroix’s 26 years of police service, coupled with his age, would result in an annual pension equivalent to about 52 percent of his average salary and longevity pay over the last three years.

Last year, LaCroix made $163,119 in salary and longevity, according to payroll records.

LaCroix had been on paid administrative leave for a little more than a year when the jury returned the guilty verdict in June. He was then taken off the city payroll, but continued on unpaid leave. At that point, he had collected about $200,000 in pay after his arrest on June 14, 2012, according to city payroll records.

Waltham officials do not have the right to appeal the Retirement Board’s decision in court, said Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy in an email Thursday.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownwaltham, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

Fun ways to celebrate Halloween west of Boston

October 20, 2013 12:27 PM

On the one hand, there is the kitschy Halloween beloved by small children, with silly or clever costumes, jack-o’-lanterns, and mountains of candy. On the other hand, there is the haunted-house fun of a good scare — be it from a gory costume or a spooky noise.

While traditional house-to-house trick-or-treating may still be the best way to spend Halloween itself, there are also any number of ways to explore the other dimensions of the holiday -- whether your preference leans more toward a walk through a graveyard or a craft activity.

Here some of the many ways to celebrate Halloween in communities west of Boston this year.

-- Halloween Walk and Tour of the Old Burying Ground in Lexington takes place Saturday (Oct 26) at 6:30 p.m. and leaves from the Depot Building, 13 Depot Square. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children, with discounts for Lexington Historical Society members. For reservations, more information, call 781-862-1703 or go to www.lexingtonhistory.org.

-- Frightful Friday at Gore Place, 52 Gore St., Waltham, in its final installment this week, has tours starting at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Admission is $15 adults, $10 for ages 5 through 12 and Gore Place members. Capacity is limited. For tickets, call 781-894-2798 or visit www.goreplace.org.

-- Murder at the Masquerade takes place at Merchants Row in the Colonial Inn, 48 Monument Square, Concord, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:15. The ticket price, which includes a gourmet three-course dinner, is $69. For reservations, e-mail kkunce@concordscolonialinn.com or call 978-371-2908, ext 544.

-- Spookapella, a concert by North Shore Acapella and guests, takes place Saturday Oct 26 cq/ts at the Center for Arts, 14 Summer St., Natick. The show begins at 8 p.m.; tickets are $22, or $20 for TCAN members. For tickets or information, call 508-647-0097 or go to www.natickarts.org.

-- Halloween Open House at Dana Hall School of Music, 103 Grove St. in Wellesley, is next Sunday, (October 27)2-4 p.m. Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged; call 781-237-6542 or e-mail music@danahall.org.

-- Pumpkin Patch, a seasonal party held annually by the Sudbury Valley Trustees at Wolbach Farm on Wolbach Road in Sudbury, is scheduled for Saturday(Oct 26). Admission is free for SVT members; $2 per person for nonmembers, with a family maximum of $10. For more details, call 978-443-5588 or go online to www.svtweb.org.

-- Decorate a Bag at Artbeat, 212A Mass Ave. in Arlington, Saturday (Oct 26)from noon to 7 p.m., and next Sunday (Oct 27) from noon to 5 p.m. Admission and supplies are free. For more information, call 781-646-2200 or go to www.artbeatonline.com.

-- Halloween Family Day at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, on the Regis College campus at 235 Wellesley St. in Weston, takes place Saturday (Oct 26)from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 781-768-8367 or go to www.spellman.org.

-- Welcome to Our [Halloween] Home at the Orchard House, 399 Lexington Road, Concord, offers a special after-hours tour Saturday scheduled for Saturday(Oct 26)from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. Admission $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students, $8 for ages 6-17, and $4 for ages 2-6. A family rate for two adults and up to four youths for this event will be offered at $30. Space is limited; reservations can be made by calling 978-369-4118, ext. 106; for more information, go to www.louisamayalcott.org.

-- Tales of the Night at Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, 208 South Great Road in Lincoln, takes place Thursday and Friday (Oct 24 and 25)from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance for $11 before Wednesday, Oct. 23, or after that for $13. Call 781-259-2218 or go to www.massaudubon.org/drumlin.

Heat wave likely killed Assabet River fish

July 26, 2013 01:33 PM

OARS, a non-profit group that monitors and protects the Assabet River, is blaming the recent heat wave for hundreds of dead fish found floating in the river on July 20.

OARS volunteers removing an invasive plant species “discovered the floating remains of hundreds, if not thousands, of fish in the Assabet River in Stow,” the group said in a statement.

So-called fish kills can occur because of pollutants, and also by high water temperature and a lack of oxygen in the water.

“After two days of much cooler weather (on July 22nd) we measured afternoon water temperatures still over 86°F in the area downstream of the fish kill," said OARS scientist Sue Flint. "Where the river is shallow and slow-moving, afternoon water temperatures can reach lethal conditions--93°F is lethal for almost all species of fish.”

If fish have no deep or shaded places to retreat from the heat fish kills like this occur. Narrower sections of the river are lined with trees that provide shade. Groundwater also contributes cool springs that provide a safe haven for fish during heat waves.

According to OARS, evidence of changing rainfall patterns and temperature tells us that these problems are going to become worse rather than better unless major efforts are made to improve the resilience of the region's rivers and streams. Last year was the hottest year in Massachusetts out of a 118-year record.

Over the past 64 years the intensity of rainfall has increased dramatically in New England, resulting in more floods but also less recharge of the cool and clean groundwater that feeds the rivers in the summer, OARS said.

“There are many things communities can do to improve the resilience of their rivers and streams,” said OARS Executive Director Alison Field-Juma in a statement. “Recharging stormwater into the ground will make a big difference, and reducing nutrient pollution through decentralized wastewater treatment with ground discharges will also help. This requires longer-term investment than we are used to making. Protecting floodplains and riverbanks from development is as important as ever.”

Those who wish to report a fish kill should contact OARS at (978) 369-3956 or office@oars3rivers.org, and to MassWildlife at (508) 450-5869.

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com. Follow @johnswinc on Twitter.

Groups support work leave for domestic violence victims

July 22, 2013 04:02 PM


The following letter was sent by the executive directors of Jane Doe Inc. and Waltham-based REACH Beyond Domestic Violence


Dear Editor:

Sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking victims/survivors should not have to choose between immediate health or safety and continued employment to support their families. But imagine that an abuser is interfering with the victim’s ability to work by preventing the victim from going to work, harassment at work or sabotaging other aspects such as transportation or child care. Or that the victim/survivor needs time off from work to seek medical attention or attend court hearings but fears losing the job as a result.

These are real examples of how violence can interfere with the victim’s/survivor’s employment—often their only access to economic stability. It’s estimated that victims of intimate partner violence lose 8 million days of work each year, the equivalent of 32,000 full-time positions. Nearly half of sexual assault survivors surveyed in one study lost their jobs or were forced to quit in the aftermath of assaults. In 2007, between 15.2% - 27.6% of women surveyed lost a job because of abuse. In 2009, a Department of Justice study found that 1 in 8 stalking victims who had a job lost time from work. More than half of the victims lost 5 or more days of work.

As victims struggle to maintain employment as a result of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, employers are also impacted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence equals $727.8 million. Employers recognize this—one study reported 66% of employers believe that addressing domestic violence experienced by employees would benefit their company’s financial performance. By allowing victims access to time off, either paid or unpaid, employers can assist employees in getting the help and support they need with the peace of mind of not being penalized for loss of work. When survivors are able to access medical care, counseling and other advocacy services, they are more able to meet the demands of employment. When they are able to have time off to attend court hearings or meetings with attorneys, prosecution of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking crimes improve.

We’ve learned a lot from working with survivors about what kind of assistance they need to maintain financial security and social support systems that their job provides. Victims are more likely to be able to separate from an abuser when they have a higher degree of economic independence. Providing employment leave to address issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking experienced by them or a family member is one place to start.

Representative Thomas Stanley and Senator Cynthia Creem have sponsored a bill (S853/H1764) to establish employment leave and safety remedies to victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault. This bill would require employers to permit their employees up to 15 days of leave from work per year. The law will impact employers of 50 or more employees, and individuals will need to provide some form of documentation in order to be eligible for the leave. This bill is a priority for the membership of Jane Doe Inc. because of the remedies it provides for victims and survivors seeking safety and stability.

Through a combination of public policy, individual advocacy and community resources, we can help victims make choices that provide for personal safety and economic security.

Mary R. Lauby
Executive Director
Jane Doe Inc.
617-248-922
mlauby@janedoe.org
(cc: ttroop@janedoe.org)


Laura Van Zandt
Executive Director
REACH Beyond Domestic Violence
Member of JDI Policy Committee
781-891-0724
laura@reachma.org



Cyclists to raise money for pantries in Ride for Food through Dedham

July 12, 2013 01:08 PM

Cyclists will pedal through Dedham in the second annual Ride for Food in September to raise money for food pantries in Greater Boston.

The event last year raised $33,000 for the Dedham Food Pantry, organizers said.

This year, it will collect money for that pantry and seven others: A Place to Turn in Natick; Food For Free in Cambridge; The First Church Food Pantry in Jamaica Plain; Needham Food Pantry; Open Table of Concord and Maynard; Wellesley Food Pantry and Westwood Food Pantry.

The ride, scheduled for Sept. 15, features three courses of varying lengths: 12 miles, 25 miles, or 50 miles, organizers said. Riders will be treated to a barbecue feast afterward.

The nonprofit Ripples of Hope and the volunteer group Three Squares New England sponsor the fundraiser.

For more information, including to register, visit www.threesquaresne.org.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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LaCroix resigns Waltham police chief's post after getting probation in domestic assault case

July 10, 2013 12:25 PM

After being sentenced Wednesday to 18 months probation for assaulting his wife last year, Thomas LaCroix resigned as police chief of Waltham.

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy said she was notified of LaCroix's resignation from the police department Wednesday afternoon.

LaCroix had been on unpaid leave since he was convicted by a Concord District Court jury last month of assaulting his wife twice in their Maynard home on June 12 last year.

Judge J. Elizabeth Cremens sentenced LaCroix earlier in the day Wednesday. The judge ordered LaCroix to undergo an evaluation to determine if he needs to take a course designed to rehabilitate batterers. He will face another evaluation on whether he will be allowed to drink alcohol during the probation period.

LaCroix was also ordered to stay away from certain witnesses in the case, including Shannon Policano, who testified that she saw LaCroix assault his wife, Andrea, in their garage, and Claire Coen, a coworker of Andrea LaCroix's who said Andrea showed her bruises and told her she was beaten.

LaCroix was convicted of two assault and battery counts last month even though his wife testified that LaCroix has never assaulted her.

LaCroix had been on paid administrative leave for over a year until the jury convicted him June 26 of two assault and battery counts. He was then taken off the city payroll but continued on unpaid leave.

LaCroix, 50, worked for the Waltham Police Department for 26 years. He was appointed chief in 2007. The department has been run by Acting Chief Keith MacPherson during LaCroix’s absence.

The sentencing Wednesday came after prosecutor Suzanne Kontz pushed for a two-year probation period during which LaCroix would not be able to consume alcohol and would also have to complete a court-assigned batterer's course, which Kontz said would take a minimum of 18 months.

Kontz described the abuse in the case as "continuous" and said in domestic violence cases, the perpetrator has a hold or certain power over the victim.

"This case is not Andrea LaCroix versus Thomas LaCroix, but the Commonwealth versus Thomas LaCroix," Kontz said. "Sometimes the Commonwealth has to step in to help those who cannot or will not help themselves."

However, defense attorney Thomas Drechsler accused the court of trying to bring down harsher punishments based on felony charges that LaCroix was acquitted of, asking instead for a one-year probation ending on June 14, 2014.

He also tried to convince the court not to prohibit LaCroix from consuming alcohol, citing compliance from his client during the year-long pre-trial conditions, which included house arrest, a curfew, and wearing a GPS bracelet.

Outside the courtroom after sentencing, Drechsler said he considered the outcome as "positive" and said he filed paperwork for an appeal.

The jury convicted LaCroix on charges that he assaulted his wife twice - once when he picked her up and threw her in the couple’s garage and another time that left her with a bloody, swollen lip.

He was acquitted of charges that he assaulted his wife by slamming her head on a kitchen countertop, that he attacked Policano, and that he threatened to kill both if they went to police.

Andrea LaCroix testified for the defense that her husband never assaulted her.

However, Policano testified that she saw LaCroix assault his wife in the garage. She, Coen and another of Andrea LaCroix’s coworkers said Andrea had told them that her husband had assaulted her. They also said they saw injuries on Andrea.

According to city payroll records, LaCroix collected $182,358 in salary and other benefits last year, including a $16,814 longevity bonus he received after he was arrested.

In total, LaCroix has collected about $200,000 since he was arrested on June 14 last year and placed on administrative leave, according to payroll records.

A statement from Waltham-based REACH Beyond Domestic Violence on LaCroix's sentencing said although many domestic abuse cases never make it to court, they emphasized the importance of this particular high-profile trial.

"The sentencing [of domestic abuse cases] is often not what it would have been had the assault taken place on a stranger in a public place rather than on an intimate partner behind closed doors," the statement said. "We wonder if the situation were different, would the consequences be harsher both in terms of sentencing and public opinion?"

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com . Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss

Franklin High grad Victoria Bernardini receives seventh annual A. James Lavoie Scholarship from Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation

July 5, 2013 03:39 PM
Victoria Bernardini 1.jpg
Courtesy of the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation
Victoria Bernardini of Franklin who received the seventh annual $5,000 A. James Lavoie Scholarship

This press release was provided by Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation

Dana M. Neshe, President of the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation, has announced that Victoria Bernardini of Franklin is recipient of the seventh annual A. James Lavoie Scholarship.

The $5,000 award is named in honor of Mr. Lavoie, former president of Middlesex Savings Bank, who was deeply committed to the support of education. Bernardini, a graduate of Franklin High, will attend UMass-Dartmouth. She plans to concentrate on the history and cultures of the Middle East, and she hopes to spend a year of study abroad.

An independent committee selected Bernardini for the Lavoie Scholarship for her essay in response to “If you could do one thing to improve the quality of life in your community, what would it be and how would you do it?” Bernardini proposed a peer-to-peer counseling program she named “High School Journey…Seriously.”

As a learning-disabled student whose dyslexia came to light in grade school, Bernardini followed an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through Franklin High and overcame her difficulties in reading and math. But in freshman and sophomore years she did not take her studies seriously. She explained that she would have benefited greatly from a program in which upperclassmen advised younger students on how to realize their academic potential and improve their prospects for admission to college.

“Doing well in high school has very serious consequences. High school students often live in the moment and let academics slip. Both my teachers and parents expected good grades from me, but often the message did not get through. I believe I would have been receptive to some friendly advice and guidance from an informed peer,” she wrote.

Bernardini’s plan envisioned a series of seminars by a cadre of senior-class volunteers who would explain the school’s academic expectations and stress the importance of setting high standards – including consistent class participation, homework, cumulative grade point average, and SAT scores – beginning in freshman year.

“We’re pleased to award this year’s A. James Lavoie Scholarship to Victoria Bernardini,” said Neshe.

“Her essay demonstrated both a mature understanding of high school education’s importance and a clear, realistic path to helping young people reach their full potential. We also salute her for perseverance in her own studies, and we wish her the very best at UMass-Dartmouth and in her future endeavors.”

The Foundation also announced that 30 other students from 25 communities have received $1,000 scholarship grants. Selection criteria included academic merit, financial need, community service, and personal improvement.

The towns represented, the students, and the college they plan to attend, are listed below. Unless noted in parentheses, the students are graduates of their respective town’s high schools.

Ashland: Phoebe Kurris, Bridgewater State. Bedford: Evelyn Sainato, TBD. Bellingham: Megan Kenney, University of New England. Boxborough: Ryan Small (Acton-Boxborough Regional), Endicott. Concord: Jack Struck (Concord-Carlisle), American University.

Framingham (4): Fiorella Portal-Venturi (Advanced Math & Science Academy), Worcester State; Jonathan Montanez (Joseph P. Keefe Technical), TBD; Melanye Fontanelle (Framingham High Resiliency for Life Program), Mass Bay; Colin Moran, University of New Haven.

Franklin (2): Victoria Bernardini ($5,000 A. James Lavoie Scholarship), UMass-Dartmouth; Katherine Nazzaro, Bridgewater State. Groton: Jamie Park, UMass-Amherst. Holliston: Jacob McLinden, UNH; Hopkinton: Jaclyn Chirco, Assumption; Littleton: Garrett Essman, University of Vermont.

Maynard (2): Morgan Parmeter (Assabet Valley Regional), Merrimack; Colby LeSage, Bridgewater State. Medfield: Scott Todd, Florida Institute of Technology; Medway (2): Abigail Gay, Tri-County Regional) Wheelock; Madison Holland, Simmons; Milford (2): Gabriela Rosa, Blackstone Valley Regional), Assumption; Madeline Parsons, Worcester State.

Millis: Matthew Fife, Westfield State; Northborough: Josue Deleon (Algonquin Regional), Worcester State. Natick: Timothy Sakharov, Northeastern; Needham: Julie Weinberg-Connors, Beloit College; Sudbury: Adam Bradley (Lincoln-Sudbury), UMass. Wayland: Mark Bonner, TBD; Wellesley: Amanda Harkavy, Dartmouth; Westford (2): Aaron Febbi, UMass-Amherst; Emily Morency, Elon University.

The Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation was established in 2000 through an endowment provided by Middlesex Savings Bank to ensure funding of scholarships and worthy non-profits in any economic climate. Over $325,000 has been distributed to date through the scholarship program.

Girl Scouts of Eastern Mass. earn Gold Awards for service projects

June 20, 2013 04:20 PM

Girl Scouts of Eastern Mass. announced Thursday that 51 Girl Scouts have earned the Girl Scout Gold Award-- the highest recognition a member of the organization can achieve.

The award recognizes a service project within a girl's community that creates change and becomes ongoing while also portraying a girl's organizational, leadership, and networking skills. To earn the award, girls must complete the Silver Award and a minimum of 80 hours of service, according to a press release.

The awards were given in a ceremony on June 19 at the Marlborough Holiday Inn.

Here is a list of the girls and an explanation of their projects:

Emily Allard, Stoneham
Allard's project, Lindenwood Cemetery Visitors Project, helped visitors easily locate the cemetery plots of their friends and family. She replaced the street signs and poles and created a detailed map of the cemetery near the entrance. Smaller paper maps are also available for visitors to take with them.

Claire Bagnani, Chestnut Hill
Bagnani’s project, Elder Youth Connection, helps senior citizens who are living alone or lacking support systems. Children of Brookline regularly spent time with the elderly and provided assistance by grocery shopping and running errands. The partnership between elder housing communities and the youth of Brookline formed a strong bond among the two communities. The program, titled SHOP, will continue this relationship between the senior citizens and high school students.

Andrea Bourke, Kingston (she moved to Maryland but remained in her Kingston GS troop through Skype and other technology)
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the unhealthiest waterways in the world, due to human habitation, development, deforestation, overfishing and nutrient pollution. Bourke's project, Save the Bay, aimed to promote awareness for this regional issue and brought about change by educating others on how they can affect the problem. She worked with a school that bordered the bay to create a rain garden designed to catch rainwater off the roof of the building closest to the bay. The garden was 800 square feet and contained native plants. Bourke also created posters and brochures to educate others on how to keep the bay clean. The EcoClub at the school will maintain the garden.

Meckila Britt, Ashland
Britt's project, One Skein of Yarn, helped bridge the gap between generations through knitting and crocheting. She managed a group of individuals, ages 10 to 101, who spent time together learning to knit and crochet. The group made hats, scarves, and mittens for the homeless. In December, they assembled their projects into gift baskets that were delivered to a local family shelter. They also provided a basket of home-baked goodies for the shelter staff. The group continues to meet and make additional items for other shelters.

Emily Buckley, Canton
Buckley's high school requires that each student complete 20 hours of community service. The only source of these opportunities is through the Career Center website, which was not maintained properly and needed to be updated with more current and diverse opportunities. Buckley's project, Career Center Website Rehabilitation, provides easy access to information on local nonprofit organizations, as well as organizations outside the community, offering students more diverse service opportunities to choose from. Members of the school's chapter of the National Honor Society will update the website annually.

Rachel Cabitt, Rowley
Cabitt's project, Painting History, combined art and history to educate the community about the town's history. She painted a mural in the town hall and held workshops in the library to share the historical aspects depicted in the mural. She then had participants express what they learned artistically.

Kathryn Chiffer, Topsfield
Chiffer's project, Project Lunchbox: Let's Eat!, educates elementary school students and their families about the link between healthy eating and positive school performance. She taught multi-generational nutrition and cooking classes, which included reading labels and understanding marketing strategies used by manufacturers. She maintains a blog to educate the wider community about the importance of healthy eating and writes a weekly column in her school's newsletter. Chiffer also convinced the school cafeteria to add one of her healthy recipes to the menu. Her school will continue to support her endeavors by applying for a grant to fund an expansion of her program.\

Arianne Chipman, Hingham
Chipman's project, Green Thumbs Gardening, teaches local elementary school students the value of growing local produce and supporting local farms. She helped them plant a garden that was maintained over summer break by students and their families. An autumn harvest was shared by the school community, allowing for cost savings on the school's produce. The school will be continuing this program.

Jennifer Crawford, North Reading
Crawford's project, Interfaith Leadership Summit, addresses religious intolerance. Through the summit and a video documentary, she educated local youth groups about different faiths and encouraged them to teach others what they learned. High school students from the area participated in workshops on diversity, acceptance, tolerance, religious pluralism and identities. Crawford's church youth group plans on making this an annual event.

Danielle Davies, Boxford
For over 15 years, the Boxford Town Library has been in poor condition, with limited storage and very little usable space for programs and activities. Davies' project, Boxford Library Rescue, gave the library a much needed update and reorganized the library's storage space. Davies worked with volunteers to clean out the library barn, providing the library with more storage and better access to materials stored there. In addition, they reorganized and repainted the current space, giving the library a fresh look and more space for community programs and events. The Friends of the Library have agreed to maintain the storage space.

Jessica Desmond, Chelmsford
Women and children are often victims of violence and do not know how to protect themselves. Desmond's project, A Fighting Chance, collaborated with self-defense instructors and local police officers to provide workshops on basic self-defense, while also educating participants on laws related to domestic violence and rape. She created a video to be used by her dojo, which has decided to run a six-week course on self-defense for women and girls.

Emily Doucette, Maynard
Doucette's project, Organizing for the Future of the Choral Program, organized her school's choral collection based on music type, artist, and title. Doucette created a log documenting resources and a new storage system that holds more music, and updated file cabinets with new paint. She also created a Guide to Being a Chorus Librarian to ensure that her new organized system would be maintained. She utilized Facebook and a blog to recruit volunteers.

Elizabeth Driver, Topsfield
Driver's project, Read, Reinforce, Reach Out, provided supplemental materials for classrooms with autistic students. She assembled binders containing literacy materials and activities that reinforce concepts taught in classroom books. Driver created two displays, one aimed at adults and the other toward children, at the local library to educate the public about autism. She also visited some elementary classrooms to emphasize the importance of understanding autism and inclusion.

Jazmin Eltoury, Quincy
Eltoury's project, Creating a Safe Environment for Youth in Town, provides the children in her community safe opportunities to participate in outdoor activities on a regular basis. She started a teen group that met regularly at the local sportsman club. She also created an instructional video to teach the fundamentals of archery and help parents get their children involved in archery and outdoor activities in a safe environment.

Claire Faddis, Boxford
Faddis' project, Water Conservation Education and Promotion, promotes water conservation through education. Faddis worked with second graders in her community, educating them about wasting water and the important role water plays in their daily lives through classroom activities. Students now conserve water by turning off the water when brushing their teeth and checking for leaking faucets. She also taught adults in the community about using rain barrels to capture water, which can be used to water gardens and lawns. She wrote numerous articles on rain barrel usage for the local paper and created a website which will continue the education process.

Caitlin Fitzmaurice, Scituate
Fitzmaurice's project, A Child's Sanctuary: Go Green for Marine Life, brings community awareness to marine biodiversity and teaches the community to protect this special habitat. She ran two events for families that held a number of interactive, fun and educational activities about marine life and the harmful effects humans can cause. She worked closely with NOAA/Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and trained their volunteers, who will continue to provide Fitzmaurice's workshops to the community.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, North Reading
Fitzpatrick's project, Parish Park Rededication and Cleanup, constructed a memorial garden in North Reading's Parish Park to honor the town's veterans. She, along with volunteers, created a beautiful, reflective space where townspeople can remember and appreciate the veterans. Upon completion, Fitzpatrick organized an event to honor the veterans and to dedicate the space to them.

Kiersten Flodman, Rowley
Flodman's project, Babies on the Go, gave access to developmental toys for families with new babies. She worked with community groups to gather supplies, make blankets, and assemble bags containing rattles, books, blankets and laminated cards explaining the importance of developmental play. Local physical and occupational therapists and service providers distributed the bags to their patients.

Alicia Healey, Canton
Healey's project, Mission Pet Safe, is an educational campaign for pet owners. The campaign addressed pet safety, including accidental poisoning, car accidents, proper restraint practices, pet first-aid kits and heat-related deaths from dogs left in cars. Healy, with the help of volunteers, created bookmarks, a traveling display, first-aid kits, brochures and puzzles for preschoolers. She gave presentations at the library and the middle school and high school. She also wrote an article for the newspaper, shared the information on global websites, and created a website and blog.

Emma Holland, Hingham
Holland's project, Sounds of the Past, involved working with fellow student musicians to compile and bring back historical 19th-century American music to the town's historical society. She researched, transcribed and learned the music with help from her fellow musicians. The group recorded the music, which is now available for use by the historical society and can be found on YouTube. They also held a live performance of the music for the local elementary school. To view her project blog, visit www.gssoundsofthepast.tumblr.com.

Caroline Hultin, Sudbury
Hultin's project, Up and Out for Gold 2012, addresses homelessness. She worked with Heading Home, a nonprofit that provides emergency, transitional, and permanent housing to low-income homeless and formerly homeless families. Hultin, with the help of volunteers, furnished and cleaned an apartment for a homeless family. She also recruited younger Girl Scout troops to collaborate with Heading Home to set up additional homes.

Anna Krah, Medfield
Krah’s project, Coexisting Cultures, expanded cultural education in her community. She created a Chinese Club at Medfield High School and introduced the plight of people in Nicaragua to children in the third grade. As a result of their experiences, high school students expressed greater interest in a Chinese exchange program and the third graders gained a better understanding of the global impact of community service.

Danielle Lapierre, Chelmsford
After being used by the community for years, the Lady of Fatima statue at St. Mary's Church has become overgrown and inaccessible. Lapierre's project, Create St. Mary Parish Marian Grotto, involved designing and building a beautiful grotto with the help of many volunteers. The newly transformed space is now a place where the community can meditate, reflect or pray. A dedicated group of parishioners will maintain the area and already plan to add a waterfall feature.

Katherine LaScaleia, Sudbury
LaScaleia’s project, Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Reducing Idling in the Community of Sudbury, educates both youth and adults about the environmental, economic and health hazards of idling. She ran a bike rally to inspire children to ride their bikes while also teaching them about the dangers of idling. She used various methods to bring awareness, such as writing a series of articles for the newspaper on the hazards of idling and created a website where people can take a pledge to reduce their idling.

Whitney Ligonde, Dedham
Ligonde's project, Educational Inequality, organized high school students to tutor younger students one-on-one through the middle school's homework club. Working with school staff, she changed the policy that only National Honor Society students were allowed to tutor middle school students. She worked with the math department to train the tutors and develop a curriculum. Her high school will continue her work by making this an official club.

Christina Liotti, Danvers
Liotti's project, Seniors on the Move, aims to inspire senior citizens to become more active. With the new Danvers Rail Trail in mind, she created a club called Walk with the Seniors. Students from her school walked with seniors as a group, giving them a sense of security and the option of assistance if needed. Her high school has made this an official community service option for students.

Anne LoVerso, Southborough
LoVerso’s project, Childhood Health and Fitness through Circus Arts, addresses childhood obesity and the lack of childhood health and fitness. She worked with a local circus school to develop a static trapeze curriculum with step-by-step instructions for tricks, spotting, warm-up exercises and conditioning. She, along with a team of volunteers, held a workshop for 4th and 5th graders to share circus activities and provided information on healthy eating at a large community event. Her curriculum will be used by gym teachers in elementary schools. The National Honor Society has also agreed to hold a fitness booth at their opening day event.

Alison McDermott, Hingham
McDermott's project, Teens Teach Technology, helps senior citizens feel more comfortable with using technology. She and her peer volunteers provided workshops on Skype, Twitter and Facebook. The senior citizens are now able to connect with family overseas, reconnect with old classmates and share photos with loved ones. McDermott created a binder and PowerPoint presentation for future workshop leaders.

Samantha McGoldrick, North Reading
McGoldrick's project, Raised Beds for North Reading Food Pantry, involved creating and maintaining four raised garden beds behind the food pantry building. These gardens help supply the North Reading Food Pantry with fresh fruits and vegetables to serve families. The local garden club has agreed to care for the gardens and will donate plants to keep the project going.

Molly McGowan, Waltham
McGowan’s project, The Imagination Station, addresses the lack of imaginative play present in many children’s hospitals. For a hospital play room, she created a cabinet that is filled with imaginative play toys and that can be accessed 24/7 by children and their families. She worked closely with a Child Life Specialist to determine appropriate activities for hospitalized children of all ages. McGowan created a committee of volunteers who will maintain the imagination station.

Jessica Merritt, Pembroke
Merritt's project, Water Safety, brought community awareness to drowning and how it can be prevented. She created informative and interactive activity stations that included open water education and CPR demonstrations. In addition, she created a binder with all the information needed to continue this awareness program, which the town landing chairman has agreed to do.

Melissa Moody, Newton
Moody’s project, Wetlands: The Final Frontier, brought community awareness to the local wetlands. She worked with DCR officials and local volunteers to install informational posts throughout the Charles River Wetlands. Each post has a QR code that visitors can scan with their smart phones. The code directs them to a website (www.qbqtrail.org) with information about that particular part of the wetlands.

Katelin Oberlander, West Yarmouth
Oberlander's project, Mini Clinic for Field Hockey, gives younger girls a better understanding of field hockey before they enter high school. She held field hockey clinics where girls practiced the sport, learned to work as a team, enjoyed exercise and learned about proper nutrition to keep their bodies fueled.

Leda Olia, Newton
Olia’s project, Will Run for Fun, introduced elementary school children to long-distance running to promote enthusiasm for the sport at a younger age. She created an afterschool long-distance running program and employed high school volunteers. She also produced a handbook, which will be used by future volunteers to continue the program.

Ann Pastorello, Tewksbury
Pastorello's project, Operation Blanket, helps educate the community about animal shelters and animal adoption. She worked with local children and members of the senior center to create blankets and treats for cats at the MSPCA shelter. Pastorello created a PowerPoint presentation and flyer that she shared at various workshops. She also made a YouTube video demonstrating how to make the blankets.

Hannah Peternell, Westford
Peternell's project, New Student Protocol, creates a welcome program for new students at Westford Academy. She designed an infrastructure of support, such as welcome phone calls to new students, invitations to a new student orientation banquet and appointing peer counselors to show new students around, to help ease their transition into a new school. The program will be continued by the school's guidance staff and peer counselor group.

Samantha Rizzo, Canton
A can is recycled in 6 weeks, but takes hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Rizzo raised public awareness about the need to recycle through her project, Recycling Receptacles. She gave a presentation to her local Board of Selectmen to show why the town needed public recycling receptacles and explained the costs between different types of receptacles. She made a public service announcement on recycling, which will air annually on Canton Community Television. Rizzo also created recycling stickers to encourage the public to use the new receptacles.

Kristina Ryan, Burlington
Ryan's project, Heartbeat Awareness Program, addressed teen pregnancy and provided support systems for teen moms. Ryan partnered with Heartbeat Pregnancy Health Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free resources to pregnant teens such as free ultrasounds, prenatal and infant care, counseling, and items needed for the baby. Ryan gave community presentations to teens and their families about the health center and the resources available. She also collected supplies for the teens and newborns that the organization will distribute.

Meredith Scheiring, Hingham
Feeling inspired to help teens who are newly diagnosed with diabetes, Scheiring's project, Diabetes Domain, created a website for those with diabetes. On the site, people can share inspirational and personal stories, advice, regrets, words of encouragement and information on developing technology for diabetic care. The College Diabetes Network will maintain the website: diabetesdomain.wix.com/dd.

Kristen Shevlin, North Reading
Shevlin's project, Backyard Gardens, addresses the issue of limited access to healthy foods. She worked with members of the community to build raised-bed gardens. Some fruits and vegetables are for community consumption while others are donations to the local food pantry. She also provided healthy recipes for the food pantry to hand out to patrons. A younger Girl Scout troop will continue her project.

Charlotte Skolnick, Pembroke
Skolnick's project, Self-Guided Historical Tours of Pembroke, provides the community with an interactive experience of the town's rich and interesting sites. She worked closely with the Pembroke library staff to develop accurate descriptions of the historical sites. With a team of volunteers, she created two walking routes and three driving routes through town. Skolnick held a kickoff event to introduce the walking tours to her community.

Gabriella Smith, Andover
Smith's project, Rediscovering Haggetts Pond Through Modern Technology, promotes the trails surrounding Andover's Haggetts Pond. She used modern technology to make the trail's information more accessible and appealing. Using GPS and cartography software, Smith created a detailed map of the area. She worked with volunteers to develop an informational website about Haggetts Pond as well as a kiosk displaying a QR code that brings smart phone users to the website.

Eliza Lily Snow, Hingham
Snow's project, Middle School Circle Club, is a club for middle-school children, with and without disabilities, to interact and socialize in a safe, judgment-free environment. The bi-monthly club focuses on the importance of inclusion and acceptance. The Circle Club helped to strengthen friendships and inspired members to participate in the high school's Best Buddies program. Students from the Best Buddies program will continue the Circle Club at the middle school.

Amelia Steeger, Medfield
Steeger’s project, Cranes for Change, created environmental educational clubs at the local afterschool program for children in grades 2–6. She also set up a monthly group at her church to explore topics like chemicals in body care products, recycling and repurposing materials, and growing organic foods. She worked in conjunction with Medfield Green to sponsor a Forever Green Family Night Out. Each participant created a paper crane to symbolize their pledge to help the environment. This event will be continued by Girl Scouts working on their Sow What? Journey.

Jennifer Sullivan, Wakefield
Sullivan's project, Replacing Missing House Numbers, addresses the issue of house numbers not being visible to emergency personnel. With the help of volunteers, she checked approximately 5,000 houses in Wakefield and notified owners that their house numbers were missing or not easily visible from the street. Sullivan worked with the local fire chief to send letters informing residents of the safety issue. A local hardware store offered a discount on the purchase of new house numbers if residents showed the letter. The local fire department will continue her crusade.

Samantha Traficante, Kingston
Traficante's project, Kiosk and Signage Maintenance at Open Spaces, brought public awareness to Kingston's conservation properties. The properties were run down and vandalized, and Traficante worked with a team of volunteers to clean up the properties and repair information kiosks. She also created map boxes to hold site maps at each location.

Katerina Tsoutsouras, Rowley
Tsoutsouras' project, Loving Literature: Helping Children Develop a Love of Books and Reading, addresses illiteracy by finding ways to motivate children to read more. She scheduled weekly book club sessions at the Ipswich Library and United Methodist Church for children ages 5 to 8. Volunteers offered reading sessions for different skill levels and time for crafts to further engage the children. When parents were surveyed, they expressed that the children were more interested in reading at home in their free time after attending the sessions.

Emily Van Laarhoven, Southborough
Families with children who have special needs have trouble finding qualified babysitters. In order to have child care they have to hire a specialist at $25-30 an hour, or rely on older siblings. This is often detrimental to the family dynamic and creates additional strain both financially and mentally on parents. Van Laarhoven’s project, Training Course for Babysitting Kids with Special Needs, trained volunteers to recognize and understand specific special needs diagnoses, creating a pool of knowledgeable and skilled babysitters at a reasonable rate.

Stephanie Wasiuk, Maynard
Wasiuk’s project, Music for the Future, organized the high school band’s music into an easy-to-use system, making resources easily available to students. She restored over 200 boxes of organized material, made note of missing pieces, and documented the contents. She also created a how-to manual for the system and a shelving unit to track music being returned and ensure its proper storage.

Laura White, Reading
White's project, Spreading Shakespeare, helped people appreciate Shakespeare by exposing them to his work. With the assistance of volunteers dressed in costumes from the 1500s, she held workshops for teens at the library's Teen Summer Reading program and worked with younger children at Camp Rice Moody. She also helped middle school students put on a performance of Twelfth Night. A recording of the performance and how-to videos can be found on YouTube.

Anna Willms, Wellesley
Willms' project, Preparing Children for an Eye Examination, addresses children's fear and anxiety concerning eye exams. She created a video and booklet to educate children on what an eye exam entails. The video and booklet have been given to Mass Eye and Ear and Children's Hospital to help alleviate their young patients' fears.

Trial of suspended Waltham police chief Thomas LaCroix scheduled for Thursday

June 19, 2013 01:20 PM

The trial of suspended Waltham Police Chief Thomas LaCroix is scheduled to begin this Thursday in Concord District Court, according to the Middlesex District Attorney's office.

LaCroix is facing allegations that he assaulted his wife and a female neighbor in separate incidents in Maynard last year. He is formally charged with two counts of assault and battery, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a countertop), witness intimidation, assault, and two counts of threatening to commit a crime.

After LaCroix's arrest a Middlesex prosecutor said in court that LaCroix had grabbed his wife in a chokehold June 12 last year and slammed her onto a kitchen counter in their Maynard home.

The June 12 incident followed a quarrel that morning when LaCroix intercepted a work-related text message that his wife had sent to a male co-worker, the Globe reported, citing police records.

He also talked about killing his wife, her friend, and himself, the prosecutor said.

LaCroix is under house arrest and required to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet. Reached by phone this spring, LaCroix declined to comment.

LaCroix, who has pleaded not guilty, was placed on paid administrative leave after his arrest in June, allowing him to continue to collect his $146,305 annual salary. Last year, he collected $182,358 in salary and other benefits, including a $16,814 longevity bonus he received after he was arrested, according to city payroll records.

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy previously told the Globe that the suspended chief could lose his job if he is found guilty on the criminal charges, as well as if the city finds that his conduct was in violation of Police Department rules.

However, McCarthy said, no matter what the verdict is in the criminal case, the city must conduct an independent investigation in order to dismiss LaCroix from the force, and the investigation can be completed only after the trial.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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