Oct 15, 2014
WCSO Military Peer Support Group
By Sandy Meindersma CORRESPONDENT
Sunday, October 12, 2014
WEST BOYLSTON — Recognizing the need for assistance during deployment and upon return to civilian life, the Worcester County House of Correction has launched a new Military Peer Support Program to assist those employees and their families with matters associated with the employees’ military service.
Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis said the program was launched earlier this year as part of his commitment to officer and employee wellness.
“We are the first sheriff’s department to do it,” Mr. Evangelidis said. “We are proud of the help we offer out servicemen during every phase of the transition. This is the least that we can do for people who serve their country.”
As part of the program, Sheriff Evangelidis and the Peer Support Team recently held private ceremonies to welcome back Correction Officer Nicholas Curci and GED Instructor Kevin Conway. ‘
Mr. Curci, an E-4 Boatswain’s Mate in the Coast Guard Reserves, returned home from a nine-month deployment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in April. He has been at the House of Correction for three years, and part of his reserve unit for four years.
“Our unit is a deployable unit, so I signed up, knowing I was going to go,” he said.
Mr. Curci said he has found the Military Peer Support Program very helpful.
“It was great,” Mr. Curci said. “Someone sees you off and welcomes you home, and supports your family while you’re gone.”
Mr. Conway, an E-7 Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps, served six months in Afghanistan in 2012, and was mobilized three times during his four years of active duty, from 1994 to 1998.
Mr. Conway said the welcome home ceremony was very special to him and his family.
“My wife, children and mother all liked it,” he said. “They gave us a plaque and a coin, and some flowers for my wife.”
To ease the transition from military life back to civilian life and work at the House of Correction, the Military Peer Support Program includes 40 house of in-service training and a two-week peer shadowing arrangement to allow veterans to ease back into their roles.
Sgt. Richard Brooks, a member of the support team, said that when he returned to work back in the 1990s, it was very difficult.
“There were a lot of guys who had had a tough time, and there was nothing,” Sgt. Brooks said. “Today is so different.”
In addition to Mr. Curci and Mr. Conway, there are two other employees at the jail who are currently deployed.
Through the Military Peer Support Program, one of the employees, Justin Donahue, was able to take the promotional exam while he is deployed, something that had not previously been possible. Other support for the families has included assistance with health insurance forms and with the home buying process.
Oct 15, 2014
Paxton soldier among those benefitting
By Kimberly Petalas
WCSO Military Peer Support Group includes, from left, Captain Randy Daignault, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Hynes, Sergeant Richard Brooks, Dianne Jordan, Officer Andrew Schuler, Special Sheriff Rebecca Pellegrino pictured in the middle are Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis and returning veterans US Marine Reserve Gunny Kevin Conway & US Coast Guard Reserve Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicholas Curci. Missing from the photo is peer group member Officer Matt Fitzpatrick.In order to better serve his employees who are enlisted in the military, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has given the green light to a new support program at the prison.
The Military Peer Support Program works with each service member to identify needs before deployment, offer assistance and maintain communication during deployment, and assist in the transition back to work upon their return.
“We welcome them back with a private ceremony for their families and thank them for their service,” Evangelidis said. “We are the first sheriff ’s department to do it and I couldn’t be more proud of this program.”
U.S. Coast Guard Reserve Petty Officer, 3rd Class Nicholas Curci, a 28-year-old Paxton native, recently returned to the states in April.
“I was down in Guantanamo Bay for nine months,” he said. “It’s a whole different life down there.”
Although he said there were many comforts while away, such as McDonald’s and Subway, he said it was still hard to be away, as keeping in touch with his family was not an easy feat.
“There was no Internet so you couldn’t just go online whenever you wanted,” he recalled. “If you wanted to call home, you needed to get a calling card. It was a long time away from home. It was hard.”
Upon his arrival, the sheriff and the military peer support team helped Curci get back into the swing of things.
“They put you through a training, because when you are gone, things can change,” said Curci. “They slowly integrated me back into it. I didn’t start out in the cell blocks right away. I eased my way back in.”
Assistant Deputy Kenneth Hynes said he and Captain Randy Daignault, who is from Rutland, attended a three-day conference learning about officer wellness.
“You can be a little on edge when you get back, so we don’t want to make them deal with inmates too quickly,” said Hynes. “I was in the Army for three years and there was no transition. This has been very successful for those who have experienced this program.”
Capt. Daignault said that although he did not serve, he is honored to be a part of this program.
“I’m lucky to have a place in the implementation of this program,” he said. “I am proud to be working for a Sheriff who welcomed this with open arms.”
Sgt. Richard Brooks, a member of the peer support team, said when he returned from his service in 1990, they did not offer any support at the prison.
“They threw you to the wolves,” he said. “A lot of guys had challenges coming back and there was no support. Today, it is different and it is huge for these guys to get this support and to be thanked for their service.”
Now that he has finished his training, Curci is back to work as usual as a corrections officer at the jail and is happy to be there.
“It is nice to be acknowledged and they made it so easy to transition to coming back,” he said. “The support was great, and I am happy to be back.”
Sep 19, 2014
Produce grown by inmates donated to pantry
By Kimberly Petalas
Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis unloads a milk crate of summer squash at the Rutland Food Pantry. Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, food pantry volunteer Lynne Amsden, volunteer Paula Stidsen, Officer Brian Almstrom, and volunteer Cynthia Katinas help process the food donation.
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis recently paid a visit to the Rutland Food Pantry to donate some fresh produce that was harvested as part of a new program aimed at creating healthier communities.
Evangelidis has implemented the Inmate Agricultural Training Program at Worcester County Jail and House of Correction in West Boylston, in partnership with the state Department of Agriculture. Mentioned
The sheriff ’s farming program, which utilizes an existing 12-acre parcel of land appropriated by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, is tended to during the week by inmate labor. The crops, which are all organic, include corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins. With just under $1,000 in initial start up costs for seed and fertilizer, the program has grown into a costeffective win-win for both the inmates and the local community, Evangelidis said.
“Fresh produce is a rarity,” said Paula Stidsen, a volunteer at the Rutland Food Pantry. “This is a real treat to those that we serve.”
Cynthia Katinas, another volunteer at the pantry, said the gift from the sheriff ’s office is “a real treasure.”
“Usually we are handing out canned food so this gives our clients something different,” she said. “It is nice to have and it also defrays the cost for us by having food donated to us.”
Officer Brian Almstrom is one of the officers who helps to oversee the program, spending his time in the fields with the inmates.
“It really brightens their day and ultimately changes their mood,” he said. “They are out in the fresh air and I think that makes a complete difference for them. It is changing them as a person.”
The sheriff personally unloaded dozens of milk crates full of vegetables at the Rutland Food Pantry on Sept. 12, saying that the Wachusett area still holds a special place in his heart.
“Being the former state rep from the area, I still hold a special place for these communities, even though my coverage area as sheriff is greater than this,” he said. “It truly changes them as a person, and that is the point of these programs. We see a lot of the older inmates in this program, while the younger ones are involved in the painting and building community service programs. We are giving them valuable life skills so when they leave, they have something productive they can do in society.”
This year’s harvest has yielded more than 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 lbs of additional vegetables, providing inmates with a better alternative to the usual canned vegetables with the added benefit of a significant savings of over $20,000 in inmate food costs at the jail.
“The initiative by the Worcester County Sheriff ’s Office touches on every imaginable aspect of common sense I can think of,” said Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Commissioner Greg Watson. “Inmates are learning valuable skills while at the same time supplementing their diets with fresh, healthy produce that they have grown and harvested themselves.”
Sep 19, 2014
9/12/2014 7:09:00 AM
Gives inmate grown crops to CAC
News Staff Writer
GARDNER — Sheriff Lew Evangelidis wheeled a shopping cart loaded with pumpkins and various types of squash to the Pleasant Street offices of Gardner’s Community Action Committee on Thursday morning.
“We have about 400 or 500 pounds of vegetables,” he said.
Inmates at the Worcester County House of Correction in West Boylston have been running a small farm on land at the jail site for the past three years. Recently, Sheriff Evangelidis expanded the program from 10 acres to 12 acres.
“The inmates get a lot out of it,” he said.
With more than 300 acres of land at the jail site, it isSheriff Lew Evangelidis wheeled a shopping cart loaded with pumpkins and various types of squash to the Pleasant Street offices of Gardner’s Community Action Committee on Thursday morning. a low cost way for the Sheriff’s office to offer a new opportunity to the inmates. The program allows 10 inmates a chance to work outdoors and pick up valuable work and life skills while spending time on the farm throughout the year.
“We started this with about $900 in seeds,” he said.
The farm program produces all organic crops of corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash and pumpkins.
This year’s harvest has yielded over 9,000 ears of corn and 12,000 pounds of additional vegetables providing inmates with a better alternative to the usual canned vegetables with the added benefit of a significant savings of over $20,000 in inmate food costs at the jail.
The inmates who work on the farm are screened for any behavioral concerns before they are allowed to work on the project outside the jail facility, he said.
It is similar to the work program Sheriff Evangelidis operates, allowing inmates the chance to perform work for municipalities or non-profit groups throughout the county.
While the project is good for the inmates themselves, it is also good for the many communities receiving bounty from their labor at the farm. The Sheriff said he makes sure that the ample produce from that farm gets to people who need it most, such as the families who rely on Gardner’s Community Action Committee for help with obtaining groceries.
Gardner CAC Executive Director Julie Meehan said her organization assists more than 10,000 families every year from Gardner and the greater Gardner area.
“We can see 30 to 40 families a day,” she said.
The Gardner CAC has dry goods and meat donated from agencies and private businesses boxed and ready to be given to people in need.
Fresh produce, however, is hard to come by, Ms. Meehan said.
“It’s a lot of canned and processed stuff,” she said.
The fresh vegetables brought by Sheriff Evangelidis and his staff will be handed out on a first come, first serve basis. Ms. Meehan said whenever fresh food comes in, many of the Gardner Community Action Committee clients will share recipes for the produce.
Sheriff Evangelidis is also already preparing for the annual coat drive his office runs in the winter, ensuring disadvantaged children have outerwear to keep warm.
The coat drive is set to kick off in December.