The South Worcester Neighborhood Center

By Kate Grady

Executive Director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Center (SWNC) Ron Charette recently finished wrapping up the Days of Summer kids camp, six weeks of reading, playing soccer, acting, and learning about nutrition. …

Ron Charette oversees an amazing year ’round food pantry, in the basement of his neighborhood center, located on Camp Street. It is open to anyone and everyone – folks who need a little help putting dinner on the table. pics: Rose T.

The College of the Holy Cross sends students through their federal work study program to the center on Camp Street to help facilitate the youth program, which is funded through the Worcester Community Action Council. The students work the duration of the camp’s six weeks.

A Holy Cross student helping at the neighborhood center. The college, located in South Worcester, has worked closely with Ron through the years. A real neighborhood partner!

The SWNC is checking off their 15th year running this program offering kids ages six to 12 the opportunity to score a goal in the field and read The Hardy Boys in a quiet room.

Hannah, age 11, left the SWNC on the last day of summer camp with armloads of books. Charette believes that her new-found passion for reading will open many doors for her in the future. This program remodels traditional summer school practices with a new blend of summer learning. Daily at 12:30 p.m. each student is required to read. A star chart, certificates, and written reports make up the remains of the program’s “read it, write it, or recite it” curriculum aimed to encourage recreational reading practices outside of the classroom.

One of SWNC’s super terrific volunteers!!

During their long summer’s most children forget the lessons they’ve learned in school. Warm months pose an extra academic obstacle for lower income families who do not have the time or money to participate in educational summer opportunities for youth.

This summer neighborhood kids read and kept up their math skills in the main room of SWNC – with the help of Holy Cross college student volunteers.

Against the back wall in the main room there’s a table with clothing for poor families …

Low-income students fall 2.5 to 3 years behind by the time they reach the 5th grade (NSLA). Summer camp offers a clean slate for most children, serving as more of an anecdote rather than a continuation of their days at school.

The mission at the South Worcester Neighborhood Center has always been the same, says Ron: “To help people in need.” In the summer this organization serves 70 children from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting the morning with their first important lesson in health and nutrition, eating breakfast. Charette believes this camp is important for the wellbeing of this neighborhood’s youth. He says, “I keep the program going so that the youth in the area have a place to go to in summer. Many would remain alone or watching siblings. Also, since the schools are closed, many would not have a breakfast or lunch without our program.”

The Ronald McDonald [Health] Care Mobile is at SWNC for anyone who doesn’t have a doc. Visit. The health professionals will treat you. They will also help with health insurance info and connect you to health centers in the area so you have a primary care physician!


The RM Care Mobile parked in front of the SWNC on Camp Street.

It is becoming more apparent that camp is no longer just about building bird houses and playing kickball but maintaining reading levels, ensuring they get their first meal, and providing free childcare for working families.

At the end of the program the “super readers” were given a $20 gift card to Wendy’s and a $10 starter savings account with TD bank. While rewarding students for successful reading practices can encourage those behaviors to become habitual, it becomes sticky with the types of rewards given. By only rewarding the students who are “super readers” with these tools, we are habituating a belief that only children who excel academically can secure stability in their lives, starting with core essentials like funds and meals…

The food pantry downstairs was just painted and its shelves prettied up with colorful shelf paper. Thank you, volunteers!

Canned goods in the food pantry. Ronny feeds hundreds of Woo folks each year!

Low-income students lose at least two months’ worth of reading achievement during the summer, while middle-class students tend to make gains in their reading proficiency. This type of reward system further exasperates the gap between these peer groups within the South Worcester community. However, organizations like the College of the Holy Cross, and Ronald Charette at the SWNC help their schools and students further, by addressing the summer learning loss through the support of strong programs that incorporate equal learning opportunities for all children!
One of Rose’s late mom’s fave books when she was young – and a HUGE Red Sox/baseball lover!