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Pineapple belts and banana wallets: This ain’t your father’s leather!

By Scott Miller

Buy vegan pocketbooks, totes, wallets, shoes, belts, boots. So stylish! And cruelty-free! Art: PETA

I was shopping at Target last week. I needed a belt. Nothing fancy, just a nice, simple belt I could wear with a pair of jeans. When I got to the menswear department, I thought, “Eh, all they have is leather.” But no, the labels said otherwise. Faux leather has come a long way. Curious, I checked out a few other big retail stores, including Gap and Old Navy. Many of their belts were made of vegan materials, too. And they looked great.

When it comes to fashion and function, men who still use skin to hold up their pants are out of the loop. It’s easier than ever to find vegan leather belts, wallets and bags that look and feel the way you want them to.

Animals aren’t fabrics; leather is someone’s skin. And because its source — usually cows or alligators, even dogs or cats — is rarely indicated on labels, it’s hard to tell where (or whom) it came from. Most of it comes from developing countries, including India and China, where environmental regulations are lax and animal welfare laws are either nonexistent or rarely enforced. In the U.S. and many other countries, animals killed for their skin first endure the horrors of factory farming, including extreme crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding and tail docking without painkillers. At slaughterhouses, workers routinely cut animals’ throats and even skin or dismember them while they’re still conscious.


Kind people love cruelty-free fashion: Alicia Silverstone posed nude to promote vegan leather. Nobody good is getting naked for animal-skin tote bags. Many modern men’s accessories are made of high quality microfibers or polyurethane. For those with more upscale tastes, the vegan leather industry is trailblazing an organic path: Black Nopal makes men’s belts using cactus, and allTRUEist makes them using corn.

All natural, state-of-the-art leather produced without suffering or slaughter is now made from apple, mushroom, pineapple, coconut, stone, waxed cotton, grain, flowers, orange, paper, leaves or tree bark. Indie brands like Paguro and revelo manufacture belts out of recycled tires. Watson & Wolfe and Corkor sell vegan leather belts made of cork. And for gearheads, Couch sells vegan belts made of the same seat vinyl used in the 1978 Chevy Camaro LT.

Guys who carry their money in wallets made of the skin of sentient beings should cash in on humane, vegan leather instead. Tree Tribe vegan leather wallets made from bananas, VeloCulture creates them using upcycled bicycle inner tubes and Hempmania crafts them from … you guessed it.

No one dies for cruelty-free backpacks, satchels, weekenders and fanny packs, so they hold your stuff without the baggage. ASHOKA Paris and Matt & Nat create cool men’s vegan leather bags from recycled plastic bottles, Gunas makes them from mulberry plants and high-end Minuit sur Terre uses grapes.

Fellas, you’re just a shopping trip or Google search away from compassionate and fashionable style. Because sometimes you just want a nice, simple, cruelty-free belt.

🎟️🎥🍿Luis Sanchez’s review of Wednesday Series🎬❇️

Wednesday Series Review

By Luis Sanchez


Who would have thought that a spooky series was just what we needed to end the year? Wednesday is a supernatural comedy horror Netflix series based on Wednesday Addams (played by Jenna Ortega) from the widely known spooky Addams Family. In this series, Wednesday Addams is introduced to Nevermore, a school for outcasts, and has to learn to manage connecting with her new schoolmates, control her newly-found psychic abilities, and solve a murder mystery. Typical high school problems, am I right?

The show’s premise is a bit shallow. The plot does not suffer from anything; it works well within the Wednesday world. What I’m referring to is how it is slightly uncreative. Many murder-mystery shows are displaying similar characteristics, and that is because they are all using a similar template. Wednesday is simply Riverdale season 1, but add supernatural elements and the Addams family. However, the show still succeeds. Despite being predictable (I solved the murder case by the third episode), the quirkiness of the show makes it stand its ground. It’s like having two siblings both dress up as ghosts for Halloween, but one simply wears a bedsheet with holes while the other sibling wears all white and even uses makeup to make themselves look pale; Wednesday is the sibling wearing all white while the other shows are like the sibling wearing the bedsheet; both costume ideas are basic for Halloween, but one is more interesting than the other. There is one reason why this show was able to succeed, though.

Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams did a lot of the heavy lifting with this show. She was casted for the role in part to represent Wednesday’s Latina heritage. We cannot forget to credit the writers for such a great character they were able to draw out. Wednesday Addams was a serious, dark, gothic and intelligent girl who rarely blinked. Her stern and direct way of speaking was different from the other characters, which helped her stand out in addition to her black and white attire. Wednesday is a girl who shows no emotion and finds joy in what others would feel pain. Ortega effectively portrayed this character and made her the reason for me to keep watching the show. I simply wanted to know more about Wednesday. The few moments where Wednesday showed emotion caught me off-guard but were quite rewarding. It was also comical to see how Wednesday would despair to what others would celebrate and celebrate to what others would despair.

Overall, Wednesday is what made Wednesday succeed. It only makes sense. Wednesday was a classic CW teen-drama with murder mystery turned supernatural and quirky. Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams carried the show. The show would have succeeded more than what it did if it took more time to explore its supporting characters and dedicate less time to the boring love-triangle that is not even worth mentioning here.

It may seem like I’m saying more negatives than positives, but that is to avoid spoilers. I give Wednesday a 6.3/10, and recommend watching it now during the hype because once the hype is gone, so will be the show.


Martin Luther King, Jr: a prophet of peace and social justice

By John Monfredo, retired WPS principal and teacher and former Worcester School Committee member

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– MLK, Jr.

The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive and well in Worcester this month. On January 14 Worcester State University held its 29th annual Youth Breakfast Celebration to an audience of community members, parents and students. Then, on MLK Jr. Day, Monday January 16th, Quinsigamond Community College held the 38nd annual event to a crowd of over 600 and honored the work of Dr. King as well as honoring community members.

Retired Friendly House Executive Director Gordon Hargrove was honored for his over 50 years of outstanding work at the Friendly House. For decades he assisted the neediest children and families in the Worcester area. He received the Eleanor T. Hawley Community Service award. Also, receiving the Eleanor T. Hawley award was Dr. George S. Smith for his service to the community in starting up this special day in honoring Dr. King and for all his work within the community. The Worcester Police Department Service award went to Captain Kenneth Davanport and to Police Officer David Rutherford for their outstanding service to the community.

Gordon P. Hargrove (1)
Worcester hero, social service agency icon and all around terrific person Gordon Hargrove was honored at the MLK event for decades of service to the poor in Worcester as executive director of the Friendly House!

The overall theme at the events was remembering the “Dream” of Dr. King and moving forward in an attempt to assist others, to espouse the importance of non-violence in our community and to assist the less fortunate in our society. The guest speaker at the event was Rachael S. Rollins, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Her speech was outstanding, for she addressed the importance of carrying on Dr. King’s legacy.

Other speakers included Congressman Jim McGovern who spoke about racism. He said, “We need to disrupt racism in our individual choices, in our economic choices and especially, in our political choices.” Also, President Luis Pedraja of Quinsigamond Community College, on that same issue, stated, “Unfortunately, the pandemic revealed that we saw, more clearly than ever, that racism and systemic oppression still have a strong hold on our society…We still see that violence plagues us, and that hatred still thrives in our midst.”

Then Worcester City Manager Eric Batista, the city’s first Latino manager and a former student of mine at Belmont Community School, stated that one of his top priorities is to create a more inclusive and representative workforce… a future where diverse young adults see themselves better represented in positions of leadership within the community. He also spoke about everyone willing to work together for a better Worcester.

It was 29 years ago Gordon Hargrove and his sister Dorothy Hargrove, along with a few other community members, organized the MLK youth breakfast for students and it has continued with many other individuals carrying the torch. Students across Worcester County have been encouraged to participate in a poetry contest honoring Dr. King, Jr. In addition, student performances and special awards were also given out.

Student Art initiative awards were given out to Richard Bonus, a junior at WSU and to Maria Orozco Orjuela a freshman at WSU. Student dance performances were done by Friendly House Teen Program, The Learning First Step Team and by Jo Ann Warren Studio. Nasya Osei, of South High School sang the National Anthem and the Southeast Asian Coalition performed a song and dance routine. Vanessa Ford, an outstanding adult soloist, sang several songs throughout the program and encouraged audience participation.

Another highlight that the audience loved was the father-son musical team, Noah and David Allen, from “The Journey Community Church in Worcester.” Noah played the trumpet and his father the guitar and they did an outstanding job of entertaining the crowd. Noah will be attending Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship.

Mistress of Ceremony was senior Tayla Weeden from WSU. In addition, on behalf of Mayor Joseph Petty an award was presented to Richard and Elizabeth Gonzalez for their service to the community by City Councilor Etel Hazhiaj.

Another longtime advocate for Worcester families: John Monfredo!

There were several award-winning students who received college scholarships for their academic and work within the community: John Bouhanna, Ian Njihia, Tiernan Ashford Ivory O’Neal, and Rachel Sinclair all from WSU. The awards were given out by WSU president Barry Maloney.

The winning poems certificates given out by community leader Dorothy Hargrove went to the following students:

Grade 12: Judith Adu-Worcester Technical High School and Kiauna Russell- North High School

Grade 11: Anya Geist-South High School and Kevin Avalos-University Park Campus School

Grade 10: Alexis-Danielle Coleman-North High, Fernanda Duerte- South High School, and Abenezer Asmare and Cayvon Johnson – University Park Campus School

Grade 9: Nakeisha Moise- North High School and Matthew O’Connell- Venerini

Grade8- Missage Budimbu – All Saints Academy, Alexander Kowalski and Gianna Rosario – Saint Joseph School, Sorelle Lavalle – Saint Bernadette School, Armeline Chaban, Ryan Donahue, Davi Nogueira, and Joseph Castillo all from Venerini Academy

Grade 7: Georgeanne Gajewski and Kaylie Bageris from All Saints Academy, Louisa Akowus, Terhon Donovan, Ana Serna from Burncoat High School – Molly Hachigian and Ella Parslow, Alvin Montreuil from Saint Joseph School – and Elizabeth Spillane from Venerini Academy.

The poems were outstanding and here is a sample of one of the winning poems:

He Stood With Us

He led many to The Lincoln Memorial and said:

“We may have all come on different ships,

But we’re in the same boat now.”

He said he had a dream.

He was right.

Now many people hold hands all around the world.

Black American, Asian, Latino, Indigenous

And all people of color Survive together.

He stood for the right to let people of color

choose who may be in charge.

He stood with us.

He fought with us.

Here I am, a 12 year Black girl,

Asking you to stand together

For the future he dreamed of.

Louisa Akowua – Burncoat Middle School

Again, both events were outstanding and did our city of Worcester proud.

✍️A note to Worcester’s new city manager, school superintendent … and the usual suspects!🙏

By Rosalie Tirella

The Green Island three decker Rosalie grew up in was recently sold. photos: R.T.

Re: Worcester housing and Worcester kids – this post is for them. And the new Worcester Public Schools superintendent, Worcester’s city council, school committee and new city manager. City “leaders,” WHERE WILL OUR POOR CHILDREN – and their parents – live in the new, gentrified Worcester with its inflated rents and unscrupulous slumlords and sneaky developers? I just found out: the young developer and his brothers who are doing major work on my old Quinsigamond Village building and the other two buildings that he bought several months ago – 34, 36 and 38 Blackstone River Road – this developer is known for buying Worcester property and putting in TWO bathrooms in a three decker’s individual apartments. Adding a whole new bathroom, so there are two. He’s not slicing and dicing the big beautiful airy spaces – most original three deckers have 3 bedrooms – like other developers do to maximize their profit by creating two or three units out of one. No, this guy adds a bathroom to each tenement SO HE CAN freeze out most Worcester families and RENT TO FOUR OR FIVE PEOPLE who are UNRELATED and, pooling their $$$ financial resources, will be able to pay the new, exorbitant rents he will charge. Each person may be paying $800 for his/her own bedroom. Kitchen and dining room shared. Two bathrooms a blessing! Roommates. Not a Woo family.

This happens in the WPI neighborhood all the time, with WPI students getting into these big apartments, four or five students per apartment. Then the four or five of them pitch in$$$ to pay the high rents that working families can no longer afford to pay. My old beau lives in the neighborhood. When he first bought his house in the WPI ‘hood all his neighbors were working class families who rented the apartments in the two- and three- family homes. Now the houses are filled with WPI students because the landlords’ rents are too high$$ for a working class Worcester family.

As far as the Blackstone River Road buildings go, this extra bathroom gambit is illegal, as the neighborhood is NOT ZONED for this kind of dwelling unit. If each tenant in each three decker and two family has a car, that’s a lot of cars per floor! That’s 12 cars for a three decker that used to maybe have four or five. It all used to be terrific immigrant housing built for a family during the turn of the 20th century. Immigrant families, generation after generation, the sons and daughters, then the grandkids, lived in these edifices and were able to enter the middle class after a generation or two. The American Dream happening in Gateway Cities all over New England. There may have been two cars for the entire three decker back then! When I was a kid growing up in a huge Green Island three-decker apartment we had no car, but the family on the second floor had ONE car to do it all, and even the huge family on the first floor (about 10 people!!) had ONE car, too. A long station wagon with those cool wooden side panels.

Worcester’s East Side three deckers – nice homes to live in for Worcester’s Italian immigrants – and their descendants – during most of the 20th century.

The old Worcester neighborhoods actually made being poor tolerable back then: you lived in a spacious three decker apartment – bigger than some houses in Worcester – where you had big windows in each big bedroom room, a front and back porch, a dining room attached to your parlor and often a pretty big backyard. And a landlord who wasn’t out to make the biggest buck ever! Rents were low, we had our neighborhood school, Lamartine Street School, our local park, Crompton Park, Millbury and Water streets for our shopping/ business district … all a 10 minute walk from my family’s Lafayette Street tenement. Same for all the families on Lafayette, Lodi, Endicott, Grosvenor, Sigel, Lunell and Bigelow streets. So no one ever moved away from Green Island! We kids all started Lamartine Street School together as kindergartners and seven years later graduated from sixth grade. Togetherness. You were a huge extended, albeit dysfunctional, family!

Birthday celebration: “Bapy,” Rose and her two kid sisters in their Lafayette Street apartment, circa 1967.

All gone today – Worcester’s public schools have a student population that is always on the move, on the run. Families jump from one neighborhood as they move from one crumby three decker to the next – and often to a new school, for the kids. The landlords suck, the apartments aren’t up to code, the neighborhoods are rough and the rents keep going up up up. I forget the official name schools label children and families who are on the move – sometimes homeless – every few years. But it’s a detriment to the kids’ education. How can a child focus on books, do reading and writing assignments? Learn? Also: Make friends? Bond with teachers and adults who are great role models? How can they look forward to school traditions?

Tell me, new WPS super!

Gas stoves. Most three deckers have them, along with gas parlor heaters. It all worked well for a century or so, but now we’re finding out gas stoves cause asthma in children and worsen adults’ asthma. Federal officials recommend electric stoves OR ADDING A HOOD OVER THE STOVE AND A VENTILATION SYSTEM THAT sucks up the dangerous gases that are byproducts of cooking with gas. Some carcinogens! At least open the windows, we’re told!

My question: IS THE CITY OF WORCESTER BUILDING AND CODE departments AWARE OF ALL THIS??? AND CHANGING CITY CODES to reflect the new findings? To protect poor children? WHAT ABOUT IT, DIRECTOR AMANDA WILSON?

And what about that City of Worcester apartment registry, Amanda and Worcester City Council? City officials were supposed to create a directory OF EVERY RENTAL UNIT IN THE CITY OF WORCESTER and workers were to visit each unit periodically to make sure: its stoves work, the bathroom is in good shape, windows are not broken, doorways and hallways and stairwells are safe, the heating system is ok. The previous city manager, Ed Augustus, said he was planning to get this directory going – but he never did. Now it’s up to new City Manager Batista to do the right thing and help poor Worcester kids! Mr. Batista, make sure their parents have a good, safe stove to cook their meals on, a safe, effective heating system so they’re not cold during the winter, windows that aren’t broken and are good enough to keep the elements out during rain and snow storms. Are the porches ok?

The new City of Worcester hires on Irving Street and Main Street are really on probation in the eyes of most Worcesterites. For us, they needn’t get fancy and expensive$$$ with hiring extra administrative assistance and holding meetings with their people to protect themselves and their high paying jobs. They needn’t get caught up in their profession’s professional lingo. They just need to step up, work hard and do the right thing by poor Worcester kids and their families.
The original El Morocco restaurant. The Wall Street area was another Worcester immigrant neighborhood (Middle Eastern) that boasted scores and scores of three deckers with front- and backyards. Real homes where immigrant families could build their American Dream. Photo courtesy of the Worcester Historical Museum.

🍾It’s Veganuary! Resolve to do more than lose weight in 2023!🍾🥔

By Heather Moore

Get educated – and change your life! Art: PETA

Let me guess: You’re resolving to lose weight in the new year, right? You want to fit back into your favorite jeans, the ones that have been stashed in the back of your closet for nearly a decade. You’re planning to eat better in general, and you hope you’ll reduce your risk of suffering from heart disease, diabetes and cancer, too. Good for you! You can accomplish all these things — and more — just by going vegan.

By observing “Veganuary” — the international campaign that encourages everyone to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy, at least for a month — you’ll not only get healthier but also help protect animals from suffering, combat the climate catastrophe and other environmental problems and conserve resources. You might even spend less on groceries, since plant foods tend to be more affordable than animal-derived ones.

That’s not bad for someone whose primary goal was to drop a few pounds!

You won’t be alone, either. About 6% of people in the U.S. are vegan. The number of American vegans increased by 300% (about 9.6 million people) between 2004 and 2019, and more vegans are sprouting up every day.

Last year, a record-breaking 629,000 people from 228 countries and territories took part in Veganuary. Many of them are still vegan. People often accomplish even more than they expect when they first go vegan. New vegans, for example, tend to lose weight without even trying. That’s because, in general, vegan foods are typically low in saturated fat and calories, in addition to being naturally cholesterol-free.

Vegan foods also tend to be high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which help boost your metabolism, so you burn more calories. On average, vegans have lower body mass indexes than vegetarians and meat-eaters do, and vegans are considerably less likely to suffer from diet-related diseases.

Eating vegan foods spares animals, too, obviously! It’s estimated that each vegan saves nearly 200 animals every year. Animals are sentient beings with unique personalities and likes and dislikes. They value their lives just as we value ours and grieve when they lose a loved one.

By eating vegan foods, you’ll not only spare chickens, cows, pigs, fish and other animals used for food but also help prevent habitat destruction and mass wildlife extinction. Research shows that animal agriculture is the biggest threat to 86% of the 28,000 species known to be at risk of extinction. Scientists believe that nearly 90% of wild land animals will likely lose habitat by 2050 unless more people go vegan.

So give it a try. Why eat the same boring foods every week? There’s a whole world of vegan options for you to explore, including vegetable curries, veggie stir fries, falafel, seitan, tempeh and various grains, greens, fruits and legumes, that can all be prepared in a number of delicious ways. According to the multinational investment division of Bank of America, vegan food sales, including vegan meats and lab-grown meats, are set to grow to $300 billion by 2025.

There’s no need to wait two more years for vegan living to become even more popular. Let’s make 2023 the year we all resolve to go — and stay — vegan.

💕The Worcester Public Schools – always in style! New column from John Monfredo …


By John Monfredo, retired Lamartine Street School teacher and Belmont Community School principal and former Worcester School Committee member

This September on Highland Street: a dad walking his son to school. photo: R.T.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, CECELIA asked students in Worcester County to write about their “Three Wishes for the Holiday.” In staying with that theme, I thought that I would write about my “Three Wishes” for the WPS administration and the Worcester School Committee, for our students, as we enter 2023.

Let’s start with School Safety!

The WPD police officers were removed from the high schools this year because the Worcester City Council, with the approval of some members of the Worcester School Committee, removed the funding. The move was opposed by former WPS Superintendent Maureen Binienda and our secondary school principals because they felt it was not in the best interest of the students. This was considered a preventative measure. As a school committee member at that time, I opposed the move – not only because of the safety concern but because I had witnessed the positive interaction between students and the safety officers in the schools. Having the police in the schools gave students the opportunity to interact with them and build trust. I felt – and still do – that it was a mistake to eliminate the police officers, especially in this climate of gun violence within our society. According to recent police records, there has been more violence taking place in our WPSchools since the SRO’s were taken out of the schools. In addition, the bonding with the students is a missing ingredient to other plans mentioned by some city council members. At one of the meetings some citizen stated the students are fearful of the police. It is all the more reason to build a partnership!

How best to build a partnership than to have police in the schools and ensure the safety of the students? As a former WPS school principal, I had members of the police department serve as mentors, and we had special nights for the police, students and parents to get together. Many of my former students still talk about this positive relationship. As we move forward, let’s get input from our principals and staff, those in the schools, as to what is working and what needs to be changed. That’s wish #1!

Second Wish

As a school district we need to address the achievement gap starting in the early years. We need more prevention programs. Closing “the gap” is widely considered to be one of the major challenges facing public education. The gap refers to the academic achievement between students whose families who are of low-income and students from middle and upper-income families in Worcester. Despite everyone’s interest, the gap has continued to persist, and only modest progress has taken place.

We, as a community and school district, need to address the problem and make it a top priority. Yes, parent involvement and reaching out to parents is essential. Every school needs to have parent involvement as their number one priority. We need to teach parents and encourage them on how to help their child at home. As part of that process, we need to start early and can’t give up on our parents.

First, we need to expand our FULL DAY preschool programs. I made that request dozens of times as a school committee member but was told it was a money issue or we didn’t have room in the existing schools. Both answers are unacceptable. We have the money – we just hired 17 new school administrators! And there is room in many of our schools.

We also need to work with private pre-school organizations and get our students to attend a full-day pre-school program. I can attest that full-day preschool programs work, for as a principal I had a full-day program for several years and my first-grade teachers told me that they could pick out the students who were in the program. These children were ready to read!

Along with that issue is the problem of students enrolling in kindergarten at the age of four. Many of the four year olds entering school are not emotionally or socially ready! In Worcester, unlike ALL districts in the state of Massachusetts, children can start the year off at age four for the age cut off is December 31st. Other districts in Massachusetts have the cut off date August 31st.

Why is Worcester the only district with an early starting date? As I proposed several times in the past, why not change the date to August 31st?

If you are not going to change the date here is another plan: After screening our four-year olds, consider a Kindergarten 1 classroom or a pre-school program for those students not ready. Many of those children can then be in a full-day two-year program in the kindergarten. They will have ample time to acquire readiness skills and mature. Thus, they will be starting off grade one with the necessary skills to be successful and not be frustrated at an early age. There is NO REASON that this can not be done in Worcester!

In summary, my second wish is for the starting time to be pushed back to August 31st – or that we enroll our four-year olds in a full day pre-school program or a K1 program. Adding more full-day pre-school programs is part of this wish. Let’s do it NOW! Early education is important for our children. Investments in quality childhood education more than pay significant returns to children – our future citizens. Again, this is a preventative approach that is long overdue!

My Final Wish

This is a tough one because I did have several wishes … more after school tutoring, additional training on the teaching of reading, raises for our staff, more Instructional Assistance in the elementary schools … but I’ll stay with the theme of three wishes.

Next, let’s change the starting time in our secondary schools!

This has been an on-going discussion across our nation and, as research continues, more conversations persist. Researchers in the field of health see very early a.m. start times as harmful to teenagers. They concluded that poor sleep has been linked to increased reliance on caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, and they also discovered a link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance.

While it may seem the solution is for teens to simply go to bed earlier, researchers say that isn’t a viable solution. Teens experience hormonal shifts that make falling asleep earlier difficult. Their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep at 9 p.m., even when they’re tired.

Schools that have shifted to a later school start time have seen positive results, such as:

… increased attendance rates

… a decrease in disciplinary action

… a decrease in student-involved car accidents

… an increase in students’ GPA

… an increase in state assessment scores

… increase in student attention

… decrease in students sleeping in class

… increase in quality of student-family interaction

One school, according to the research, saw a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse and symptoms of mental health issues.

The evidence is indisputable and, in the past, the administration in Worcester did agree on this – but the problem was how to do it. My recommendation is that we discuss this issue at the next school committee meeting or at a standing committee meeting with a deadline of March 2023 to come up with a plan.

I am asking that we review this issue creatively to see if we can come up with a starting time of 8 a.m. and research what other large school districts that have changed to a later starting time have done to accomplish this goal.

We as a school district need to make healthy policy decisions for all students. So let’s move away from the talking stage and see what can be accomplished. We know the benefits from the research, but we are always stuck in neutral. Let’s be creative and see what can be done!

Those are my three wishes for our Worcester Public Schools students in the new year. If you have any thoughts on the subject, let me know. Email me at

Happy New Year!

🥂New Year – new movie!🍿🎟️

By Rosalie Tirella

photo still: Wally, left, and Andre imbibing and pondering aloud the meaning of it all.

New Year … New Movie! Actually, I saw this terrific film, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, in 1981, when it first came out. At Clark University, I think, with my boyfriend at the time. The movie was kinda personal back then because a lot of Clarkies hailed from New York City or the Jersey suburbs. My closest female friend lived in Brooklyn; my boyfriend grew up in a leafy Jersey ‘burb. Then when I quit college and lived on that hippie commune, a pal of mine was from Long Island and another was from Greenwich Village. So I got to visit a bit of NYC – especially Manhattan – in my youth. It was pre-Giuliani clean-ups and his aggressive, racist policing … pre-broken-window urban theory, pre-gentrification, back when my friend’s big sister lived in a big beautiful old brownstone with several friends from college. Next year she was off to study in Japan! My Chinese American gal pal, the one from Brooklyn, grew up in an apartment building yards – I mean just a few yards – away from the subway tracks. At night her whole apartment shook as the trains rattled thru her family’s neighborhood. I spent a weekend there once – with her and her big, quiet family – both parents Chinese immigrants. Few words were spoken, everyone seemed so placid – the exact opposite of the Tirella Lafayette Street clan where no one ever shut up, where stories were told to thin air, where everyone had OPINIONS and REBUTTALS. My friend’s family seemed like they were from another planet – a planet where WHOLE APARTMENTS SHOOK AND VIBRATED, 24/7!

Manhattan was very gritty in the late 1970s – but democratic. Everyone could live here in a free, diverse, crazy America. I remember: hookers would follow my boyfriend (and me) after he drove in to the city to pick me up at Port Authority. 42nd Street was a world of strip clubs, peep shows and prostitutes. For miles and miles, it seemed! Exciting to me – just 18 years old and a wannabe writer hungry to experience the world. Oblivious to the pain and class divisions! Lovin’ the human carnival! I remember the subway cars – inside and outside – covered in graffiti. I mean every square foot. You ran through Central Park if it was nighttime.

I loved it.

The beginning of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE reminded me of the New York City of my youth – and a little bit of me and my friends. We were all kind of like Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory, two real life New York City theater people the movie centers on: we too were sensitive, artsy, philosophical – and garrulous as hell.

We first see protagonist Wallace (Wally) Shawn making his way through the garbage-choked streets of Manhattan – on his way to have dinner at a fancy restaurant with his old pal and colleague, Andre, a NYC avant guard director who has had a kind of nervous breakdown and dropped out of the theater scene. We see Wally, depressed and gnome-like in his big trench coat, gloomily walking past all the garbage, boxes and bags of refuse, block after block after block. He’s oblivious to oncoming traffic. He hops onto a subway car, numb to the garish spray paint sprayed all over its interior and the unfriendly faces, fellow subway riders. All the while we’re privy to his thoughts: Wally doesn’t want to have dinner with Andre – has been avoiding him for years, even though Andre was the one who discovered playwright Wally – staged his first plays, encouraged and championed Wally. Now Andre had dropped out and was being very weird, running around the globe having all these strange experiences. Andre was in Scotland, Poland, Tibet … the Sahara desert. “Andre was talking to trees,” says the glum and frightened Wally to himself. “He hadn’t been with his family in months. Andre used to hate being away … couldn’t wait to get back home to Chikita, Peter and Marina.”

Wally only agreed to this dinner after a friend called him, begging him to check on their mutual friend: a few weeks ago he had seen Andre in a tough part of town, leaning against a crumbling building, sobbing. Andre had just seen the film AUTUMN SONATA and broke down after Ingrid Bergman says: “I could always live in my art, but never in life.”

Well, Wally makes it to the expensive, fancy restaurant, full of dread. But his trepidation is misplaced. The handsome, suave Andre seems ok, walks up to Wally and gives him a hearty hug. They are led to their table, and for the next 1 1/2 hours they discuss: the meaning of life, the aloneness of death, the mystery of marriage, casual love, the theater, old age homes, swastikas, huge cabbage heads, cooperative insects, a photograph, weight loss, teachers … I mean, God, what a magical time at this dinner table! Wish I had been there!

But we are! The film, co-written by Gregory and Wallace after tape recording months and months of their real-life conversations and piecing the best parts and themes together, directed by the great Louis Malle, is meant to make you, the movie goer, the silent dinner date, hovering over this entire nutty, glorious affair. Listening in … Andre was one of New York’s promising talents, and he had in fact dropped out of life. Wally was a kind of struggling avant guard actor and playwright in New York City – the son of iconic editor William Shawn of The New Yorker. At the very beginning of the film, as he walks to his dinner appointment, Wally, once upper middle class, now struggling like a real writer, thinks to himself: “When I was young I rode in taxis … all I did was think about art and music. Now I’m 36, and all I think about is money.”

Point taken.

The road not taken – Andre’s way. The lover of cozy domesticity – that’s Wally. But Andre is such a terrific person and such a great story teller that Wally – and we, the viewers – hang on his every word, can picture in our minds, those teeny insects marching to the field where they’re allowed to nibble on the crops…the photo of Andre’s wife when she was 26 – young and sexy to Andre. A photo that he always carried with him. A few months ago he really “saw” the picture of his wife of 20 years: her face, mournful … she looked so sad … She was so beautiful but “she was lost,” Andre says. Wally slurps his potato soup and nods with understanding and compassion. Sometimes in silent, sweet disbelief as Andre’s adventures get more and more … esoteric, culminating in Andre being buried alive!

Then that was that for Andre. The end of his quests. Andre stopped searching, went home to his family and went to see an agent to tell him he was interested in directing a play …

Through the entire dinner, from soup to espresso, you come to love Andre and Wally. You love the warmth between them, their mutual cheerleading … their empathy and intelligence, their ability to really listen to “different” ideas and to react honestly, respectfully. With love.

Decades ago I used to have conversations like that in Clark University dorm rooms with my beau and my Brooklyn friend and other pals. Most adults called them: college “bull-shit sessions.” But to us students they were as important as our Kafka classes! A few hours set aside at night to drink beer, unwind and open up about ourselves and our families, our dreams and plans … a time to question, challenge, support and share. Real conversations. The kind of intimacy that seems to elude much of present day American society.

I miss the bull shit.

☃️The best Christmas gift 🎄🌹

By Rosalie Tirella

Rosalie, this Christmas.

My best Christmas gift this year, better than the AutoZone and Dunkin Donuts gift cards, meaning as much to me as my kind neighbors’ Christmas cards and lovely lemon-scented candle: the set up of my “dining room” centerpiece – the old farmer’s kitchen table, white tiles still in tact, its big wooden legs nick-less despite all my moves through the years … finally put together. Now I can eat my meals at my table instead of in bed or by the coffee table or standing before the kitchen counter.

Rose’s table – ready for meal time! pics: R.T.

Yesterday, a good man put my farmers table together. For my Christmas Eve. I didn’t know Spanish, he didn’t know English, so we couldn’t make small talk. Still, we communicated. We kept smiling, tentatively, at each other, me gesturing with my hands and saying: IT’S OK. It’s OK. PLEASE! He wavering for a few minutes – should he go up to this old white lady’s apartment to help her? The old broad in candy striped shorts babbling away stupidly, her two silly dogs running circles around her, tangling their leashes around her? But he did.

I said to this stranger, my right hand over my heart: THANK YOU! The dogs are good! Good! My house ok!

The American story: Two strangers from different parts of the world taking a chance on each other.

At Christmas!

So …up we flew on my building’s elevator! Oh, hear the angels’ voices! Down the corridor we ran on the Night Christ was born! Two poor people following the star of light … my dogs, Jett and Lilac, leading the way, their spirits so bright!

We entered my cozy apartment. The young man went to work putting the big wooden legs into my old farmers table. A 10- minute job. The table a gift from a friend 30 years ago, Dianne, a woman who gifted me my first furniture for an early apartment, for the early Christmases. Most of her stuff has left me, fallen to the wayside of time – except this grand old farmers table, so on-trend decades ago, and my bed’s simple but lovely headboard. This Christmas I remember “Di” with love and gratitude!

Back in my home, the young man struggled with my “toy wrench,” and the old table’s legs wobbled … My dogs, sitting politely with me a few feet away, wanting to run up to the guy to sniff away. Jett growling very very low. Me shushing Jett. BE NICE, JETT!! BE NICE!

Jett, foreground, is always a bit protective.

The young fellow, short and stocky, a dark brown, working in the restaurant kitchen week days, walking to work even during the coldest days … wearing a heavy sweatshirt on top of another sweatshirt … living in the rougher part of town. Me, knowing the American story having lived it, but spending last Christmas in my car, homeless, struggling, too. I wanted to say to him: My friend, it will work out! Let your family and friends help you! Make sure your future children ace their classes in public school … They’ll be the next generation of teachers and doctors. Trust me! This is America! The best Christmas gift!

But I couldn’t speak his language. So I said, loudly and stupidly, over and over again: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! BEAUTIFUL JOB!, my right hand touching my heart. He smiled shyly. Once in a while he’d glance up from working on my old table, turned upside down on the floor, to glance at my big white book case, directly behind him – filled with books and more books. Then his eyes would wander to the stack of newspapers, my newspapers, CECELIA, written and edited by the granddaughter of illiterate Polish and Italian immigrants.

America on Christmas Eve.

When he was leaving my apartment, gesturing to the stairs, wanting to skip the elevator, I gave him a small envelope with a tip$ inside, not much money at all. Then I went back to my Christmas stash and gave him a new pair of winter gloves, still attached together with their tag. I loved them. They looked so cheerful with their snowflake pattern.

Merry Christmas!

🎄My Favorite Christmas Movies☃️

By Luis Sanchez

Luis! photo submitted.

My favorite memories include hot chocolate, snow, blankets, family and a movie. As you can tell, I love the Christmas season. My family and I take a few days during the vacation to gather around and watch a few Christmas movies that’ll make us either laugh or cry. You all know that I tend to look beyond the surface of a movie; I digest it properly and come up with an in-depth analysis, but during family-movie nights I sit back and enjoy what is presented to me.

This Christmas enjoy your favorite holiday movies with your favorite warm beverage! photos: R.T.

There are three movies in particular that have been engraved into our yearly schedule. It’s not Christmas if we don’t watch these movies together. They each provide their own unique message about life, and it’s always good to be reminded of those lessons every now and then. These movies have brought my family together, and in no particular order are my top three favorite Christmas movies:

Home Alone narrates the story of a young boy who needs to defend his home from burglars after he was left behind by his family as they went on vacation. Despite watching it for the umpteenth time, my family will laugh as if it was the first time we watched it. The creativity of the traps always gets to us. What I also enjoy is the uniqueness of the movie in general. It’s a rollercoaster of events. This movie does a great job of weaving two subplots surrounding our protagonist, Kevin, together. When they come together for the climax of the movie, we become aware of the lessons hidden behind each story. A great way to end family night is with a movie about family itself.

Don’t be a Grinch!

Someone who truly has a unique family is the Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In this film we travel to Whoville – a town that celebrates Christmas like there’s no tomorrow. The Grinch is a being who terrorizes the town, but this year he decides to steal all of Christmas from Whoville. One thing that I will waste no time in mentioning is the subtle rant this movie gives about the holiday season itself. In order to not spoil it for anyone who may not have seen it yet (in which case, this is the year to watch it!) I will not directly quote the line. The main point of that line is how much the meaning of Christmas has changed, and not necessarily in a good way. Along with that dialogue, there are plenty of comedic moments that also make my family and me cheer. Let’s not forget to mention Jim Carrey’s exceptional performance as the Grinch in the remake. We could see him as both the antagonist and the protagonist at the same time! We should all appreciate moments like those, because it’s difficult to act that way and have the audience agree with you for both sides. The quirkiness of the movie is what drove the message home, and the message will stay true for a long time. Real life lessons in a dream-like world is a productive way to teach not only the youngsters, but the older generations as well. This is why How the Grinch Stole Christmas will remain one of the most elite Christmas movies of all time.

The creator of the Grinch, “Dr. Seuss,” was born in Springfield, Massachusetts.

To wrap things up in a cute little bow like the one on top of the Christmas presents that you’ll receive this year, I want to take a moment to praise the popular film known as The Polar Express. The movie takes place during Christmas eve. A young boy sees outside his home a mysterious train that is bound to the North Pole. He hops aboard and meets other kids as the train embarks towards the famous Santa Claus. The Polar Express is more meaningful than it is comedic. Similar to the other movies, its unique message resonates with the audience. The characters form unique bonds between each other. This helps the movie feel more realistic despite its fantasy elements. The characters make genuine mistakes. Let’s not forget about the hot chocolate!

Christmas movies make the holiday season more cozy. They bring bundles of fun. As an avid movie-watcher, it feels good to take a step back and enjoy the motion picture. I always have fun with these three films. Each movie is good in its own way. I recommend watching them! Get yourself comfortable, cue the snow, and have a Christmas movie night at your leisure. Life sometimes rushes at over 100 miles per hour, so don’t forget to give yourself some breathing room.

Luis graduated from Worcester’s South High School in June and is applying to colleges this winter. photo submitted

As the year comes to close, I want to thank all of you for reading my columns and reading this newspaper/website. May the new year bring us joy and prosperity! Hug those around you! Have happy holidays and a happy new year!

🎅Should you really give that kitten as a Christmas present?🎄

By Melissa Rae Sanger

Christmas file photo: Rose and Cece when Rose lived on Ward Street, in Worcester. Never give pups or kitties as spontaneous gifts. Discuss, plan, research … promise to make a decade+ long commitment to your new pet.

Earlier this year, we opened our hearts to a tiny black kitten with a white stripe down her back. She had been abandoned outside in the cold and was covered in fleas and fighting a nasty infection. After fostering her for a time, we decided to make her a permanent member of our family.

Little Rue is now about three months old, a glorious mixture of sweet and spicy with a touch of mischief. She gets into everything and seems to gravitate toward potential hazards — like our Christmas tree. It stands unadorned in the family room, waiting for lights and ornaments. We haven’t decorated it yet because Rue sees it as her personal jungle gym. I’m hopeful that she’ll soon grow bored of it.

I’m glad that Rue had some time to get used to her new home and that we had time to get used to caring for her before the busy holiday season. With all the enticements, excitement and expenses that the holidays bring, taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal can be overwhelming for families. For animals, being given as “gifts” or bought on a whim can be disastrous.

Among other things, Rue needed a new breakaway collar, food, vaccines and a spay surgery. Considering how costly Christmas is, I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for all of these during the holidays. According to Forbes, the average cost of caring for a cat in the U.S. is $900 annually. The cost for a dog averages $1,480 per year — and that’s just for basic, bare minimum care. An illness, a trip to the emergency veterinarian or another unexpected expense can quickly set guardians back thousands of dollars.

Holiday visitors, travel and packed schedules also make it harder for animals to adjust to a new home — and for their guardians to give them the attention and patient guidance they need. Although we’ll have more guests than usual over the next month, I’m confident that Rue is now comfortable enough in her surroundings to do just fine. And we’re familiar enough with her care routine—playing with her, feeding her, refilling her bowl with clean water, scooping the litter box, grooming her and cuddling her — that we’ll stick with it no matter how busy the holidays get.

Many animals given as gifts won’t be loved and cared for like Rue. They’ll be condemned to a miserable existence — imprisoned in a crate all day or chained outdoors. Or they’ll join the countless others who end up in animal shelters or abandoned on the side of the road to freeze or starve to death after an unprepared recipient discovers that caring for them is an unwanted responsibility.

Please, never give a living, feeling being to anyone as a “gift.” And if you’re emotionally and financially able to care for an animal family member for a lifetime (remember, many animals live well into their teens), make their introduction to your home a happy and successful one by waiting until after the hectic holidays are over.

You can still create a Christmas memory by gathering presents for your future family member, such as a soft bed, dishes, toys and treats galore, a collar, food and a litter box or leash. Wrap them up with a big red bow and leave them under the tree. You can even leave a note for the rest of the family explaining that you’ll be adopting an animal companion from the shelter after things quiet down.

As for us, Christmas will look a bit different this year: We won’t have any fragile ornaments on the tree (if we decorate it at all), we’ll be leaving ribbons off packages (too tempting and dangerous for a kitten) and we’ll need to be a bit more cautious with our spending. But these are all small sacrifices for having Rue spend Christmas (and every holiday to come) off the streets, safe and warm at home.