UPDATED: 10/16/2014 06:53:07 AM EDT
By Michael Hartwell, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Oct 16, 2014
Oct 16, 2014
10/16/2014 7:40:00 AM
News Staff Writer
The Sheriff’s Annual Coat Drive kicked off Wednesday morning with members of the Crowley family and representatives from Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, Warmer Winters of Leominster, Rutland Knitting Group, The Gardner Museum, the Spanish American Center of Leominster, and Hope Center of Fitchburg.
PRINCETON – Set against the stunning fall foliage, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis kicked off the Sheriff’s Annual Coat Drive at the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area Wednesday morning, decked out in a hand-knit scarf and joined by some of the drive’s many partners.
“This is really one of the most special days of the year,” Sheriff Evangelidis told the crowd gathered at the base of the mountain.
Last year, the drive distributed more than 2,000 coats to families across Worcester County and this year the Sheriff said the event already has a substantial head start thanks to the ski area and the Crowley family, who donated 1,500 coats to the cause.
“These guys have been so generous in what they’ve done to not only get this program started, but get us halfway there,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.
David Crowley, Wachusett Mountain general manager, said the coats were given as part of the ski shop’s “Shop and Swap” program, where customers can drop off winter coats and hats in exchange for credit toward lift tickets in the fall and winter skiing season. Mr. Crowley said the program helps make skiing affordable, particularly for large families, and any items that do not sell later are donated to Wachusett Mountain.
Several of the drive’s top contributors were also present, including Warmer Winters, a group out of Leominster that harnesses about 100 volunteers throughout the year to produce over 4,000 hand-knit jackets, mittens, scarves, and hats for donation. According to CEO Judy Gentry, in addition to contributing to the coat drive, the group has recently begun reaching out to the homeless people in Fitchburg and Leominster who spend the majority of their winter outside.
“We give people brand new, beautifully made things,” Ms. Gentry said of the group’s work.
The Coat Drive will run through November, with distribution taking place in December. Sheriff Evangelidis said collection boxes will be placed in locations throughout the county, including The Gardner Museum during normal business hours and Hannaford Supermarket in the city. All coats must be new or slightly used and will be dry-cleaned before they are handed off to various charities and community centers throughout the region.
“When the coats get to the center, it’s pretty much a party,” said Nicolas Formaggia with the Spanish American Center in Leominster — which will receive items collected from the drive.
The city’s Hope Center and Cleghorn Neighborhood Center in Fitchburg will also distribute coats to families, along with many others.
While participation and donations toward the drive have grown, the sheriff noted that there has also been an uptick in the number of families in need in the area and that for many, a winter coat can be the first step toward stability.
“The need in the community is greater than ever,” the Sheriff said. “This is so much more than a coat.”
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.”