Tag Archives: incitytimesworcester.org – CECELIA website

🏘️Why People are Homeless🏘️

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani Meuse

People are homeless because they can’t afford the ever-rising, sky-high rents. That is it. It isn’t because they “choose” to be homeless. It isn’t because they’re criminals. It isn’t because they’re addicted to a substance. It isn’t because they’re “lazy” or won’t work. People are homeless because they can not afford rent. Period.

I’ve lived in Worcester for well over a decade. I’ve personally been homeless and slept in my vehicle in Worcester. I’ve been homeless despite being college-educated, working two full-time jobs, making a six-figure income. After that experience, I shifted my professional plans and chose to work in this city to assist those like me. People who have no place to call “home” despite their best efforts. People who are looked down upon by the bulk of our society and overlooked by the rest. People who truly just need a helping hand to reclaim their lives. I couldn’t do nothing. I’m not the kind of person who can complain about a problem and not work to solve it.

Watching Worcester, the city that I call home, standing eyes wide shut in the middle of this housing crisis is sickening to me. We admittedly have less than 25% of the shelter beds in this city that we need based on our unsheltered population; yet Worcester City Manager Eric Batista says the city can’t put resources into shelters!

No one believes a shelter is a substitute to housing, but a well-modeled, service-rich, client-centered shelter that provides safety from the elements while connecting individuals to the various resources needed to
exit homelessness is sorely needed in Worcester on a year-round basis.

Affordable housing and inclusionary zoning laws are great, but don’t go far enough and literally do nothing for those folks who don’t or can’t make 60% AMI. We need no- to low-income, no-barrier housing options. We have one option coming on board this calendar year that will provide a few of those units, but that housing development was planned in 2018 … that is five full years between planning and executing.

So even if the City of Worcester plans and commits to a couple hundred units of supportive housing today, we won’t have access to those units for another half-decade.

Where are folks supposed to sleep in the interim?

The City of Worcester won’t enact a campsite sweep moratorium, so if we don’t have housing and we don’t have shelter beds and people aren’t allowed to sleep in a tent … then where should these hundreds of
individuals go?

We have no public restrooms in the city. We have no daily warming or cooling centers.

Though in the last several years we have had shower and hygiene options for the unsheltered in Worcester, we now no longer have those available either. We’ve lost treatment beds for those struggling with addiction; our substance use treatment beds in the state are already only half of what is needed for the population.

Our city manager says he will work with healthcare facilities to address the mental health of our unhoused population; but explain to me how that will work when our healthcare facilities are already overwhelmed and boarding mental health patients for 5+ days in the ER while conducting statewide bed searches.

News articles coming out each week about backlash and neighborhood complaints when a shelter or housing option is proposed. The NIMBY-ism is truly sickening. Seeing our city accepting that hatred and caving to that vitriol is absolutely disgusting.

Our people are our biggest asset and we are failing one another.

Anyone could end up homeless; an
accident, injury, loss of a job/income, loss of a spouse, mental health crisis, fire, etc is all it takes. Our housed neighbors are burdened paying 50% – 70% of their income on housing alone! Prices continue to rise. Subsidies and public housing have a 6 to 10 year wait list. Property management agencies demand 3 times the rent in income, credit scores above 680, perfect rental history, etc.

We provided shelter and services to more than 250 people this past winter. Men, women, veterans, elderly, high school students all stayed with us to seek assistance. An educator working each day to
teach our city’s youth only to return to a shelter each night. A first responder, hairstylists, construction workers, social workers, auto mechanics, estheticians, vet techs, admin assistants, landscapers, welders, wait staff, retail managers, recovery coaches – ALL homeless! All desperate to find a home of their own, all working and paying taxes yet unable to have a safe place to sleep each night. All struggling to hide the fact that they are homeless from their employers, friends, coworkers because they hear the rhetoric and they see how others feel about and act toward the unsheltered individuals in our city.

We are better than this! It isn’t going to be easy to remedy the mess we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into, but it is possible. This is a very complex issue that requires a strategic, comprehensive and
multifaceted approach to solve; but I assure you it is possible. Experts, data and research do not lie.

We know how to address this crisis, and we can do so if the city manager will listen to the experts in this field and follow the evidence-based practices we continue to insist upon.

⛪Spencer’s Church Fire …the Tee Shirt👕🌈

By Rosalie Tirella

First responders worked all afternoon and evening. photos: R.T.

I took Jett and Lilac out after supper yesterday and saw Spencer’s first responders unhooking the thick fire hoses that ran about a quarter of a mile from the town library, up Main Street and to the old Spencer church, now in ruins. It was a long afternoon for the guys I saw. The First Congregational Church on Main – built in the 1860s – one of the architectural jewels of our downtown – was engulfed in flames during this afternoon’s wild thunderstorm. The charred steeple crashed to the ground, the church organ’s tall pipes melted in the heat, the food in the food pantry was lost. The church’s demise is temporary – a resurrection is certain.

At the top of the hill – a historic church engulfed in flames.

It was a grand old church! At the end of my day, driving home from running CECELIA in Worcester, it always caught my eye. I looked out my car window and stared – upwards. The big, white church – even whiter when the sun shone on it – claimed the highest parcel of Spencer land – it was elevated! Because it was the house of God, built in the days when the house of God was the most important house in town. This was true for all America – from New York City to Spencer. The church was built to always be “taller” than the bank building. Taller than town hall or city hall.

The First Congregational Church – the tallest edifice in Spencer – built on the crest of Main Street. Built on the top of the hill in the center of town because cross and cupola were once more important than cash and campaign slogans.

Ending their shift …

The Spencer firefighters, police officers and other town workers were calling it a day now. Everyone looked tired and a little disoriented. The air was still heavy with smoke, and when we got back home my clothes stank of smoke.

Water flowed to the fire before hoses were unhooked.

The smoke hung heavily over the center of town.


June 3

The tee …

During our a.m. walk today I noticed that someone left/displayed this Gay Pride tee on a pallet by a store in our “plaza.” For the taking…or just a reminder? So Spencer!🌈 …I wonder how the Town of Spencer is marking the month, June, Gay Pride Month. I wonder how State Senator Gobi – now Governor Healey’s Rural Expert and a Spencer resident – WILL HELP/SUPPORT GAY FOLKS IN RURAL MASSACHUSETTS.

June is Gay Pride Month

Our walking path …

🍿🎟️New film review by Luis!🎬The Super Mario Bros. Movie!🍿

Movie Review

By Luis Sanchez

Luis is applying to colleges this spring/summer! Go, Luis! photo submitted.

It’s me – Luis with another movie review! This time we will be referring to The Super Mario Bros. Movie released on April 5. It is an animated movie based on Nintendo’s popular Mario video game franchise. It was produced by Illumination, Universal Pictures, and Nintendo itself. The voice cast includes Chris Pratt as Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, and Jack Black as Bowser.

The story follows plumbing brothers Mario and Luigi who are magically transported to an alternate universe where a battle between the Mushroom Kingdom, led by Princess Peach, and the Koopas, led by Bowser, is occurring. This film has gained a lot of appraisal, including breaking the record for the biggest worldwide opening weekend for an animated film and the highest-grossing film based on a video game.

To begin, let’s talk about voice acting. When the trailer was first released, a lot of people were against Chris Pratt’s casting as the voice of Mario. Although the public was right – Chris Pratt did not “sound like Mario” at all – it worked incredibly well for the tone of the movie. The rest of the voice actors fit incredibly well for their respective roles as well. There wasn’t anyone else that I would think of who would fit a role better. Jack Black as Bowser can go down as one of the best castings in the history of cinema, along with Joaquin Phoenix as Joker!

I enjoy video games, so I always find it exciting when a video game becomes a motion picture. On some occasions, it’s more fun for the film to follow the plot of the video game. Otherwise, it feels as if the film is only using the characters, and not the game as a whole for the movie. The Super Mario Bros. Movie does an excellent job at sticking to its video game roots, while also developing a new path for the characters to follow.

There was never a time in which I found myself wanting to skip over a scene, and I know that when I rewatch the movie I will want to see it from the opening credits to the climatic fighting scenes. This is a film that is meant to be watched with friends, family and loved ones.

If there was a word to describe this movie, it would be “cute.” I recommend this movie, and rate it a 9/10 for its amazingly fun adventure and the true dedication that the screenwriters had towards making this a tribute to the wonderful Super Mario Bros game.

🏘️Homeless in Worcester – and our Success at Blessed Sacrament Church this past winter!💒

By Nahani Meuse

Nahani. photo submitted.

My heart hurts. We, as a community, as a city, as a people, must do better. If I were to find a homeless puppy on the side of the road, I could make one phone call and that living soul wouldbe safe. In under an hour, I could secure shelter, food, medical care and advocacy for that dog. However, if that puppy were not a puppy, and was instead a human being, I couldn’t guarantee assistance. It would be a hit or miss,uphill battle to secure safety for that person.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful that homeless animals have safe options. I am a huge animal advocate, and actually run a dog rescue in my “free time.” My heartbreak is from knowing that even in the 2 nd largest city in
all of New England, I can not always provide a safe option for a homeless human being. I’ve worked in this city in homeless services for well over a decade, I’ve operated shelters, I’ve developed outreach programs to reach those on the street. We have countless service providers, beating the pavement each day to offer advocacy to the people who’ve long ago given up on receiving any true help, and resigned themselves to a life on the street, on the fringes. Marginalized, stigmatized and victimized again and again.

A homeless person suffering in the dead of winter in Downtown Worcester. CECELIA file photos.

Worcester is the second largest city in the entire region, not just the state, but in all of New England. Homelessness is at epidemic levels and has been for years, with no hint of declining. Although people become homeless in any number of cities and towns, many flock to city centers due to the resources available (public transportation, detoxfacilities, shelters, etc). In Worcester, we have one year round shelter built for less that 60 people and a handful of population specific shelters that hold far less, for veterans, or women fleeing exploitation andabuse. Routinely every one of these shelters is at capacity; despite the literally hundreds of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets.
Often times people would rather take their chances sleeping on
the streets than to enter the one year round shelter option in the city.

More must be done to help Worcester’s homeless!

The horrific reports of abuse, theft, violence, exploitation, etc have been public knowledge for years, yet no other option is put forth. Every social worker in the city has heard stomach turning details of people’s experiences in that shelter; many have witnessed it first hand and most have reported these incidents, yet no change occurs. The lack of transparency and accountability in shelter services in Worcester has only fueled the abuses that have existed since the PIP.

This past winter Worcester’s Blessed Sacrament Church on Pleasant Street provided a safe, clean space for homeless folks to eat, sleep and receive services. photo submitted.

Staff at these facilities were given the green light to tell any guest to leave for nearly any reason, and I’ve seen them do it hundreds of times. If an individual overdosed and wouldn’t go to detox,
they were thrown on the street. If an elderly individual had incontinence issues, rather than get them medical hygiene products, they were told to pack their things and leave the shelter and it was justified because “they need a higher level of care.” If an individual suffering from mental illness talks to themselves,
they were told to leave shelter for “bothering others.”

If a staff member didn’t like the individual, or was having a bad
day they would tell people to leave the shelter. If two individuals
hugged or exchanged a handshake, they were immediately accused of “selling drugs” and kicked out of shelter. At one point, the banned list for the city shelter was over 100 individuals! In 2016, with another brutal New England winter fast approaching, our city worked hand in hand with non-profit organizations and the faith-based community to create an emergency winter overflow shelter. The idea was that when the year-round shelter was full, there would be a safe place for people to seek refuge from the storms, the cold, the streets. Yet every spring the people who had accessed the winter shelter were again put on the streetsuntil the following winter. The all-volunteer shelter became
known as “Hotel Grace” and year after year would open the doors to provide safety for 60 people from the frigid winter. It operated on Temple Street each winter for several years prior to relocating to Vernon Street during COVID.

Hotel Grace operated out of the old Ascension Church on Vernon Hill winter before last. Folks could shower in the mobile shower unit.

Unfortunately, what had began as a beautiful, humane option for winter
shelter turned into yet another organization that was exploiting
and abusing the very vulnerable population it was supposed to
serve.The folks surviving and sleeping unsheltered have a host of concerns as well. The unkind elements are certainly not
the only fear these people face. There is risk of assault, overdose, being robbed of what little they have, being raped, infections, exacerbated wounds due to lack of hygiene, no place to toilet or bathe, etc. Some say homelessness has been criminalized and I understand that argument. People are routinely encountered by police who tell them they must move from where they are sitting or sleeping, or risk arrest because they are “loitering” or “trespassing.” We’ve seen the state come through encampments with bulldozers destroying everything in their path. Others have had their tents literally sliced with knives by the police.

Downtown Worcester: sleeping on a vent to stay warm. So many homeless people die in the winter!

A handful of us working in the field have become discouraged that every year at winter shelter we would see the exact same faces again and again, year after year. While they had a safe place to escape the cold, they received no real resources to exit homelessness.

We began to dream of a better
option. We spoke of operating a shelter without barriers. We
envisioned a shelter that didn’t simply provide a bed for the
night and food. We wanted to bring social workers, case managers, recovery coaches, religious supports, housing navigators, crisis interventionists, clinicians, physicians and treatment providers in to the shelter. We wanted to remove the barriers of appointments, transportation, stigma, etc and bring the help to the people who needed it in the moment. We wanted to dismantle the status quo, punitive system that exists in shelters … We all continued to work within the parameters that the current system had set for us, while dreaming of something so much better and doing everything we could in ourspare time to see that dream come to fruition.

Since 2016, the City of Worcester has taken a reactive approach to emergency shelter. Each year come mid-autumn, we panic and worry about where winter shelter will be this year, when it can open, where people should seek safety once the overflow is full, etc. In these same 7 years, Worcester has seen tremendous growth and improvement. There are numerous brand new housing developments but very few of them are affordable. Thereis a huge ball park down in Kelley Square. There are new shops, restaurants, businesses of all sorts. Yet in our thriving city, our most vulnerable still have no home. The closing of winter shelter is an entirely different nightmare. Stress, anxiety, emotion, hopelessness, defeat etched into the faces of the men and women as they pack their few belongings into their bags with nowhere to go, and uncertainty of what the future holds. It is truly inhumane to offer people the safety of shelter and then to throw them back to the streets when spring arrives. Homelessness is not a winter only issue.

Each spring, following the closure of the winter shelter, we see an uptick in untimely deaths of those who’d stayed the previous winter at
shelter. It is incredibly heartbreaking to think that people are literally dying on the street – alone – because they have no safe, humane, year-round option for shelter, services and care.

This winter, we were able to do something different. We were again constrained by the winter only timeline, however, we were allowed to bring all of the resources to the guests at the shelter to make true, lasting progressfor and with them. We obtained ID’s, birth certificates and social security cards. We helped numerous folks file employment applications and obtain jobs. We applied for Mass Health, SNAP and GA benefits. We connected veterans to the VA and to Veteran’s Inc. We helped young adults enroll in college courses.
We assisted refugees in navigating the tumultuous immigration process. We had physicians and nurse practitioners providing healthcare weekly. We has substance use providers providing medicated assisted treatment at the shelter every day. We had staff dedicated to conducting housing search and identifying units available for guests who couldn’t find a rental unit.

Because the City of Worcester has “dropped the ball,” Worcester’s first responders must often be nurse, doctor, social worker, even priest, to the city’s homeless.

Staff were dedicated to providing our guests the services they needed to successfully exit homelessness and itpaid off!Slowly but surely, as the winter progressed, we were seeing phenomenal results. Each week we would be saying“So long and good luck” to a handful of guests as they packed their belongings to move into their own homes. Each week we would escort a guest to pick out furnishings for a home they never dreamed would be a reality. And each week as we sent one guest to a home of their own, there was another individual waiting at the door for a chance to enter our shelter and work with the resources available to find their way to exit homelessness.

The work was exhausting, the
hours were long and the stories were truly heart shattering. Yet day after day, ourdedicated team of staff showed up to offer assistance to our neighbors who needed us the most. It wasn’t easy, but nothing worth attaining ever is. Even
on our worst days, I can confidently say that regardless of the guest, theirbarriers or their disposition, our guests were treated with the dignity, compassion, respect and decency they deserved. Confrontation occurred, untreated or
under treated mental health issues
flared, personalities clashed, and yet we remained the calm in the middle of that storm. We showed our guests, many of whom were anxious due to past abuses by other service providers, that they were safe here. We offered any resource our guests were willing to accept. Most did take advantage of several resources we made available, but some did not and chose to only sleep here and that is ok too. Hopefully, by making the offer of assistance but allowing the
individual to choose and respecting that choice, we built trust.Perhaps a guest wasn’t ready for housing this winter, but they know when
they are that they have advocates here that will work to assist them.

Many guests struggling with substance use disorder weren’t ready for treatment, but they knew we offered resources free of judgement, so they were able to be brutally honest without fear of reprisal. Feedback from our guests was taken very seriously and mattered to us, because we wanted to build and improve in any way that positively impacted our guests.

I am so incredibly proud of what we
accomplished this winter at Sowing Seeds of Hope at Bethlehem Hall.

I am amazed at the dedication I saw day in and day out from our staff, our volunteers and this amazing organization we partnered with. I am honored to have led this team and I look forward to working together with each one of you in the future, as we all continue to work to serve the homeless population.

If we all continue to be the change
we want to see in this world, progress will be made. Continue to advocate for a safe, humane, resource-rich, year-round shelter option in Worcester. Continue to advocate for affordable housing, housing subsidies that don’t take 10 years to acquire, permanent supportive housing projects, support services for formerly chronically homeless individuals and families.

Call your Worcester city councilor, call Worcester’s city manager, call your congressman. Continue to be anbadvocate and an ally for those who still don’t have a place to call “home.”

The City was poised to convert the old St. Vincent’s Hospital nursing school on Vernon Hill into affordable housing for seniors. Our senior citizens are still waiting! There are so many projects for the homeless that the City of Worcester delays, staves off … until people forget. Please, STAY ON YOUR CITY COUNCILORS! MAKE SURE THEY DELIVER FOR OUR MOST VULNERABLE NEIGHBORS!

Together, we can move mountains.
Together, we made a huge difference this winter! Together, we will be the solution moving forward!


🏘️This article, written by Nahani Meuse, represents her opinions – not the agency she works for, Open Sky.🏘️


By Rosalie Tirella

Downtown Spencer this morning: Lilac at the parade. photos: R.T.

You know me and Spencer parades. So there I was, today, at 9 a.m, with Jett and Lilac, on our little stretch of Main Street, outside our apartment building, waiting for the Spencer Memorial Day parade to roll by. I stood with about 75 other folks – kids, seniors, couples, young families with a baby or two and single men and women waiting for that Annual Spencer Memorial Day Parade to crest the hill by Town Hall and to make its way past us and our tiny clutch of businesses and WHITCO WHITCO and more WHITCO.

Waiting for the parade.

I stood outside our building feeling the sun on my face, watching my dogs nose their way into the families seated by us – on their shameless quest for doggy biscuit handouts – and thought: It’s all here, the homemade pageantry of rural America. Town life before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and even the Internet. A workaday Main Street with townsfolk in sweatshirts and light jackets making their own fun – not paying for “entertainment,” most of which is borderline pornographic these days.

Part of the parade route.

There we were, Jett, Lilac and I on our Main Street, Rose chatting with folks as we watched the decked-out Jeeps and cars drive by with big American flags attached to front and back, crisp American flags whipping in the wind. …

Beep beep!

There were the young girls passing out small, cloth American flags to everyone as they walked the miles to the town cemetery with that spring in their step that only the young know. …

Handing out American flags.

There were the really little kids grabbing their flags and immediately waving them at everything. The older vets rode in cars down the parade route …

He served his country.

… the Boys Scouts troop and Cub Scouts were in uniform as they held their banners and flags, the Spencer firetrucks sparkled and the Spencer firemen wore their dress uniforms as they marched ahead of their just hosed-down trucks. …

Proud first responders – Spencer firefighters.

Waving to the crowd.

There was the usual gaggle of local pols …

… the representatives of all our US military branches – Navy really stood out – and, of course, the excellent David Prouty High School Marching Band playing the theme music of the US Navy, US Marines, US Army … rousing, soul-stirring music that we don’t hear often enough. Maybe hearing the music would bring us all back together again …

The David Prouty High School Marching Band

Budding musicians!

I think I drove by David Prouty High when the school had an outdoor fundraiser for new uniforms for their marching band. They must have raised the money because these marching band uniforms that the kids wore today were beautiful – school colors vibrant and those toppers with the orange plumes (or were they pom poms?) curling in the breeze! I wish they had stopped before our crowd to play a song for a bit longer, but they matched on, as all marching bands must!

Making the town proud🥁

There sat the older woman and her husband with their red sports car in the Price Chopper Plaza parking lot – she in one of those foldable canvas chairs you see at all the outdoor concerts and he in their cherry red sports car, reclining in his driver’s seat (leather, I’m guessing) and enjoying “the good life.” …

… They were among the first people to claim a spot this morning. “My son’s a fireman,” the woman said proudly. He was going to be in the parade.

The young couple with two babies pointed to me, taking pictures. They were stationed across the street and had taped an American flag to a pole. Another young couple with a two-year-old boy in a baseball cap talked dogs with me, and their little boy ran to the still cute Jett to pat his face. Jett gets all the attention because he’s still really good looking, but these days he’s … tentative. So he backed away from the little boy. I explained to the mother that Jett was 17 years old and maybe struggling a bit. I offered up the loveable Lilac who immediately shoved her bum under the mother’s hand for a butt massage. “It’s hard to let go,” the young mother said, watching my geriatric Jett. I agreed and immediately felt sad: Would this be Jett’s last parade????

Then there was the older couple who talked newspapering with me, the three of us growing nostalgic for the true small-town, local paper. The wife had worked for circulation at the Telegram and Gazette decades ago, when it had a real circulation, and you could tell she and her husband missed the local touch. …
I thought to myself: Forty years ago Spencer and every one of these towns in Central Mass would have had their own town newspaper, and you just bet the editor would have assigned a reporter to cover the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade. Now, in 2023, a poll shows about half the country doesn’t even know what Memorial Day commemorates. Today, it was just me, doing it like I did in the old days when I was a cub reporter starting out at the Spencer New Leader, circa 1986. “Covering” the Memorial Day Parade, taking pictures of a town event important to its people, a community tradition, an avenue for its young people to learn some history and to come to understand what it means to be a part of a community. I got to hear some music with some real flair this morning, too! Hopefully, some of the young musicians at David Prouty will go on to be in jazz bands or teach music or play funky porch concerts in years to come. For today, they’ll experience how a town comes together to remember, to honor, its fallen soldiers – many of whom died horrific deaths when they were just a few years older than the musicians in the Prouty marching band. They died for America before they got to make their own life music.
The scouts

The little guys held their banner up ok!

Go, Spencer youth!🇺🇸👏

💕 Common Sense🐾🐾

By Rosalie Tirella

Rose and her Jett in Spencer

Could it be possible, at 61, to fall in love with … a town common? To feel about the space the way you do about a new romance? Excited to see your love each and every day … alive with anticipation! And can you fall in love with your town common even though it’s not, strictly speaking, a real town common?… Not at all a grassy space with manicured flower gardens, benches, a pond with ducks and swans … maybe even a gazebo where brass bands play on summer nights. Possibly the site of political protests now and then. In other words: Picturesque. Even elegant. Sometimes radical.

No, here in Spencer, you’ve got no real town common. It’s wild and rural, but it’s also rough bluecollar, as the town’s roots are French sheetrock workers … factories. Every where you see the pretty girls who look the same: fair skinned with long dark hair, often pulled back into a no-nonsense pony tail. Their faces look the same, too: pretty and delicate and French. You see the new diversity, too, but the townie girls, distantly related from generations past, all look like princesses from my old childhood fairy tale books. You see a few ancient factories standing … you see the famous SADD name chiseled into an abandoned factory and wonder if it’s at all related to the Mr. Sadd, a town selectman, you “covered” as a cub reporter when working for the Spencer New Leader almost four decades ago. He was a town leader written up in The New Leader often. I think his son also served on the Spencer Board of Selectmen.

So there is no picturesque town common here in Spencer, a green space in the center of town to traipse around in like there is in West Brookfield or even Millbury. It’s a bit too working class for that. So we’ve had to create opportunity, especially after my wrist surgery, unable to drive my car. A town common is really just a place where the common folk meet and greet each other! So we’ve got the Spencer Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street, across the street from the Spencer Town Hall and a few yards away from the town library. And you’ve got the opportunity to meet EVERYBODY. The PRICE CHOPPER plaza – a huge parking lot with all the basics – seemed like a stretch at first but it’s a genuine town common, a central hub. Past the dumpster, along the concrete, across the parking lot itself Jett and Lilac and I walk every day. The Plaza is the shopping mecca for everyone in town, and everyone, even the poorest of the poor, or folks in motorized wheelchairs, seem to be in good spirits. You’ve got everything you need to live a pretty good life in Spencer at the Price Chopper Plaza: the supermarket, a CVS, a package store, a Rob Roy hair salon and a laundromat. Across Main Street you’ve got Whitco’s and a few other shops. When you think about it, outside of nature and Whitco’s, everything else can be considered superfluous.

Jett and Lilac with Rose.

But my Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street – my “town common” – sets my heart aflutter every day! It’s Jett and Lilac’s happy place. The site of our daily jaunts, the place we walk around and around in, waving to this person, chatting with that lady, smiling at this old guy, graciously accepting compliments about Jett from the woman in a wheelchair or talking with the kid who just took our photos or the young guy who works at Rob Roy and says my haircut – given by his coworker, a Bay Path High graduate and very creative gal – is “fun.” Or the CVS staffer who says to me, “We love seeing you!” Or the woman in the motorized wheelchair who used to have wolf hybrids at her house as pets but is now too old to keep dogs. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY TO HAVE THEM!” she says of my Jett and Lilac, as her scrawny hand gives Lilac’s bum a good scratching. No wonder Lilac is ecstatic to take our morning strolls – our jaunt consists of nothing but kind words about her and Jett and lots of rub downs. She even seems to have her favorites – rushes up to familiar faces for some lovin’. I have real conversations with the people here about dogs loved and lost, chickens who come when you call their names, golden retriever pups heading for the family boat. The old people tug at my heart. The Spencer kids are open and high spirited. You soak up the sun – or the rain drops – as you walk the plaza sidewalk and connect with half of Spencer. Folks buying their groceries, doing their laundry, picking up their prescriptions, but never too busy to stop and … see you. Everything seems so personal, slowed down … relaxed.

Which is why I decided to now label myself “semi-retired.” So I can stick around Spencer – the Price Chopper Plaza and the town Library and my apartment – which I love. Why subject myself to hassles at my age? Why not just bake a veggie lasagna and another apple tart and read a short story? I am rounding that final bend. Why make it a demolition derby? Why race at all? l could drive into Worcester five days a week to run CECELIA, but I’ll be coming in three days a week and working out of my home the other two. I can still write my columns, shepherd my story-seeking scribes and sell ads. I’ll be 62 in October. I want to see more nature … and write different stories.

🍐🍅🥦Food Fight! It’s Fruits vs. Vegetables!🍎🌽

By Scott Miller

🥦🥬🥒🫑❤️ art: PETA

Yesterday was “National Eat More Fruits and Vegetables Day,” which sounds like an order. People don’t like to be told what to do. However, the sentiment is well intentioned.

We’re told to eat fruits and vegetables rather than vegetables and fruits. Fruit is always in front — at the supermarket, on our refrigerator shelves, even alphabetically. Most people prefer fruits to vegetables, and not just because fruit tastes better. Fruit is fun and wacky. Vegetables are serious and sensible. Grapes are the life of the party. Lettuce sits in the corner, complaining about the loud music. Candy is fruit flavored. Mixed drinks are fruit flavored. Tasty treats aren’t vegetable flavored. “Have a Popsicle — it’s cabbage.”

But both fruits and vegetables are ideal foods for compassionate people concerned about the well-being of all sentient beings, as animals don’t suffer for your pomegranates and carrots. In that sense, we could call it National Eat More Fruits and Vegetables and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Cereal Day. (Mini-Wheats are vegan!) And there are bonus health benefits. Produce is good for you. Most other things are not. Aside from the pork industry and heart attack fetishists, nobody is encouraging you to eat more pigs.

Both fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and are rich in fiber and antioxidants. Because fruit is higher in sugar and calories than vegetables, nutritionists say that vegetables are better. On the other hand, a tricycle is more fuel efficient than a Porsche. That doesn’t make it the superior vehicle. It’s unlikely that America’s obesity problem is due to fruit consumption. Doctors never tell their patients, “You’re eating too many apples.” Want to get in shape? Less butter, more bananas.

Of course, diet is not just about health. Vegans eat all kinds of food, as long as it doesn’t involve the exploitation of animals. One could also refer to me as a “Pop-Tartan” (but not the frosted kind, made with animal byproducts). The misconception that vegans eat only vegetables has to do with these two words’ sharing the same first three letters: V-E-G. And although we encourage cashiers to try cashews, we also suggest that they eat strawberries and broccoli — and say “have a nice day” less often if they don’t really mean it.

Yeah, vegetables are the poor cousins of fruits. Passion fruit sounds sexy. Dragon fruit sounds mystical. Peas and leeks sound like bodily functions. “Life is not a bowl of cherries” implies that cherries are sweet and enjoyable. Life is not a cluster of artichokes, and thank God for that. Yet vegetables have a fresh, natural flavor. Celery and bell peppers are crisp and pure and unprocessed and feel like they belong in your mouth. Nobody regrets having eaten a side salad.

The same can’t be said for a chili dog. Plus, as a meatless option, vegetables are also entrées: mushroom burgers, cauliflower wings, eggplant meatballs. So give vegetables their due.

But while the battle between fruits and vegetables rages on, we are lacking in both. Only one in 10 adults eats enough greens. Consumption is especially low among younger Americans — not surprising since TikTok isn’t classified as a vegetable. Strategies for increasing our fruit and vegetable intake include expanding local agriculture programs and promoting community gardens.

From a purely scientific standpoint, animals have nervous systems and brains, allowing them to feel pleasure and joy. This same biology explains the fear, frustration, and physical pain they experience when people use them for food. Fruits and vegetables don’t feel pain. When you punch the air, it’s possible that you’re hurting ghosts. Rational thought tells us otherwise. Use your brain. If zucchini welfare is still a concern, however, know that eating produce directly — rather than feeding it to animals killed for their flesh — requires fewer plants and doesn’t hurt animals, who we know feel pain.

Meat, eggs and dairy are environmentally unsustainable, bad for our health, and deadly for animals. We shouldn’t need a special day to remind us what to put in our bodies. Visit a peach orchard. Then go to a slaughterhouse. Stroll through a cornfield on a sunny day. Then walk the dark corridors of a factory farm, rows and rows of hens kept in tiny metal battery cages used as egg-laying machines. It’s enough to make you want to eat more fruits and vegetables.




👩‍🔧Got a Gadget?!👨‍🔧

By Rosalie Tirella

A few weeks ago: Rosalie, in her terrific Spencer apartment. pics: R.T.

This morning while driving in Downtown Spencer, I noticed the humble GADGET REPAIR shop diagonally across from our building.

“GADGET REPAIR” read the main sign of this business located on the corner of Main and Wall streets. I smiled. There were about 15 signs and flags stuck all over this tired building, as downtown Spencer business owners believe more is more and love to plaster their shop windows with signs – and I thought to myself: What’s a gadget? Does anyone even use the word “gadget” anymore? How would the word fit into a conversation taking place in 2023?

Jett is neutral about the Gadget Repair store in Downtown Spencer.

Maybe I could define the word – even correctly identify a gadget – in 1970. Today I think I’d be hard-pressed to do so, let alone find a gadget in my apartment, despite my poverty-induced, low-tech lifestyle.

Gadget. The word conjures up images of Al Jolson records spinning on the Victrola, kettles on the stove … granddad taking out his accordion after supper and playing a few tunes on the front porch for the family, cousins visiting from Kentucky.

But what exactly is a gadget? Are we talking old transistor radios? Ham radios? 1950 hair dryers? Hand-operated meat grinders, like my Bapy used to grind meat for her pierogi? Or is a gadget a blender you crank by hand, like the one I had hanging on my wall in my Blackstone River Road apartment – another one of Bapy’s kitchen “gadgets.”

I’m guessing – I’m not running to the Google dictionary to find out – the definition of gadget encompasses more than the culinary arts. Maybe old hand tools could count as gadgets. The old beau has a level, wrenches and more tools from Sears circa 196O. The level was a gift from his grandfather, but the wrenches and other hand tools he bought at a Sears on the North Shore (he grew up in Lynn). He once proudly told me that Sears was the best place to buy hand tools if you were a carpenter or handyman because any Sears Craftsman hand tool you bought at Sears was guaranteed. For life. So if a wrench got funky on you after lots of use you could walk into any Sears in any town in America and exchange it for a brand new one. For free. The old beau loved this concept. First, it meant Sears hand tools were top-notch. They were not garbage – made to crumple after a few turns and whacks. They were built in America and meant to last – or else Sears wouldn’t offer to replace them for free. Second, Sears was showing respect for the average American – their core customer – who didn’t have tons of dough. Maybe first generation Americans. The working man in Ohio, the average guy or gal in Indiana who had his or her own shop or small business. Or the dad in Jersey tinkering around the family’s cute cape in the suburbs during the weekends, maybe building his daughter a backyard tree house.

Would the gadget shop owner know a “gadget,” if he or she saw one?

When I think “gadget” I think the actor James Stewart in some terrific 1940s movie like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Gadget is the perfect Jimmy Stewart word – his aw-shucks accent makes the word Midwestern, comical, corny even, but it also gives it dignity. Something that needs tinkering needs a person with a brain, a person who “tinkers” – another word you don’t hear too often these days. I can just picture George Bailey, Stewart’s character, in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE saying, “Clarence, you get me back to my family – now! … Hey! What’s that gadget?!” And Clarence, George’s guardian angel, sent down from heaven to earth to save George’s perspective, would give George his 1789 pocket watch.

You wind gadgets, but you wind wrist watches – and they’re jewelry, not gadgets. Gadgets have springs, and I lost the “spring” in my step at 40! I’m as antique as a gadget! I shuffle along Main Street, in the center of Spencer, when I walk my two dogs. Jett, my husky mix, limps some because he’s 17 – geriatric for a medium-sized dog. A few friends have suggested that I buy him a doggy cart – a handmade wooden cart with harness and wheels you attach to a dog’s hind quarters to help him stay mobile when he gets really decrepit. I say: NO to this ridiculous GADGET!

Or is the doggy cart too BIG to qualify as a gadget?

I think most gadgets are hand-held. Like an electric pencil sharpener? I’m not sure.

I could simply call this Spencer small business and ask the owner: “When you write “gadget” on your sign, what do you mean exactly? What kind of gadgets have you repaired lately?” But that would be too … labor intensive. And looking closely at my photo of the gadget repair shop, I see colored illustrations on it … illustrations of lap tops and cell phones right there on the sign. Is this what the owner calls gadgets?! I never considered a lap top computer to be a gadget … certainly not today’s smart phones … maybe the early mobile phones that resembled walkie talkies.

Is a walkie talkie a gadget??????

🌌🍿🎬The movie Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 has a powerful message about animal testing🐇🐁🐇🐁🐇

By Scott Miller

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a fun superhero comedy-action Marvel movie — but it has an unexpectedly compelling message. As the film reveals Rocket Raccoon’s backstory, moviegoers learn that our beloved hero (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was the subject of cruel laboratory experiments run by the High Evolutionary, an evil villain void of compassion. Fellow Guardian Nebula says that what happened to Rocket was “worse than anything Thanos ever did.” Sadly, this type of plot doesn’t come out of Knowhere. In the real world, millions of animals are enduring it right now.

Stop the suffering! photos: PETA

Here are a few points from the hit movie that blend fantasy with reality:

The High Evolutionary refers to Rocket as 89P13. In real laboratories, animals are not treated as sensitive, complex individuals with feelings and fears, but as pieces of laboratory equipment with ID numbers tattooed on their chests or inside their ears.

Rocket is shown strapped into a nightmarish restraining device while being experimented on. He is helpless to defend himself, as his arms and legs are tightly bound. This inhumane contraption is eerily similar to those that real laboratory workers use to restrain monkeys.

In the film, Rocket and his animal friends are kept in small cages and given no enrichment or mental stimulation. They daydream together about a better future. In real life, animals in isolation experience psychological distress and exhibit abnormal behavior, such as pacing and self-mutilation. In both scenarios, the future is grim. Just as the High Evolutionary kills his living “tools” once they are no longer of use to him, in real laboratories, animals are usually killed and dissected after enduring a lifetime of suffering.

Writer/director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 screenplay doesn’t back away from its true-to-life subject matter. Although some of the film’s flashback scenes are tough to watch, this movie “sees the individual” — which is why PETA honored Gunn with a “Not a Number” Award. We urge animal experimenters to see it.

The High Evolutionary is an insane narcissist whose experiments serve no purpose other than to satisfy his own perverse curiosity. Yet this is not so different from real life, in which laboratory staff purposefully breed animals to suffer from debilitating conditions, including cancerous tumors, weakened immune systems and a variety of painful disabilities.

Stop the suffering!

Stop the suffering!

Mice have been dropped into inescapable beakers filled with water in near-drowning tests at Eli Lilly, purportedly to study human depression. At the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, experimenters remove the ovaries of tiny marmoset monkeys and overheat the animals with hand warmers to mimic hot flashes in an attempt to study menopause — even though marmosets don’t experience menopause! For decades, experimenters at the University of Wisconsin/Madison drilled holes in cats’ skulls for “sound localization” experiments — even though the lead experimenter admitted that “our goal is not to produce a clinical treatment or a cure.”

But when it comes to this horrible exploitation of animals, any goal is irrelevant because the experiments don’t work. A 2014 review published in The British Medical Journal found that “even the most promising findings from animal research often fail in human trials and are rarely adopted into clinical practice.”

You don’t have to be Star-Lord or Drax the Destroyer to take action for living beings suffering in university and government labs. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ends on a positive, inspirational note. Spoiler warning: The film imagines a world where animals can live in peace. PETA is actively working toward that future through its Research Modernization Deal by promoting animal-free research methods that could actually result in treatments and cures for human diseases. Find out how you can get involved at PETA.org.



🌺🌼A “fresh” column by Pam, one of our newer columnists!💐🌷

Lilacs and Fields

By Pamela Jordan

Quinsig Village today. CECELIA file photos.

I love this time of year – it’s Lilac Time! Growing up in Worcester’s Quinsigamond Village, it was almost like you could smell the scent everywhere you went. And the colors – dark and light and white. Where I lived at the bottom of Holy Cross Field, there is a street called Oswald. It was about a quarter mile long and was a dead end. In the back of every yard was a continuous hedgerow of lilacs eight or nine feet tall. I would sit under the bushes and read, surrounded by the heavenly scent. I often wondered who planted all of those lilacs.

I found out later in life why there was such a proliferation. An old Swede from the once Swedish neighborhood told me when a new outhouse was needed, a spot next to the old one was dug, and a lilac bush was put in the old hole! They are long-living bushes, as long as the dead branches are trimmed off. A lilac will not grow on a branch where a previous one bloomed.

So when I was a little girl in Quinsig Village it was tulips and forsythia and lilacs for Mother’s Day. And my Mom always welcomed my bouquets. She had a special vase for special occasions, and I always felt so proud that she used it for my gifts.

On the other side of the hedgerows were the fields, Holy Cross and Currans, and many which were unnamed – it was just “The Field.” If any of you remember the names of others, please let me know!

One of the many side streets branching off Greenwood Street or Blackstone River Road – going up the hill, deep into the residential section of Worcester’s Quinsigamond Village.

The fields were glorious for kids – forts and fencing with Catalpa bean pods. Berry picking and quiet chats. It was possible to traverse the entire Village from Butler Street to the Auburn line at Packachog without ever walking on pavement. We would leave in the morning with sandwiches and snacks, pen knives and books, and be gone for the day. Nobody worried about bugs or ticks. It was a simpler time. As one went along, other kids would join in. The days flew by and, as dusk drew down, we would take the streets back home – nobody wanted to be in the fields in the dark.

Many of these fields are gone now – accommodating new duplexes and houses taking up the green spaces. I was down at my old stamping grounds last week and while many things have changed … the lilacs are still there.