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The Gardner News
By Damien Fisher

Fitchburg – Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis says he has saved the county $1.4 million while doubling the size of the inmate Community Service Program in 2011.

“As a former legislator I understand the needs of local towns, this program is a true win-win for communities and for the Sheriff’s department,” Evangelidis said. “The community is able to accomplish projects at little to no-cost and inmates become more productive which in turn creates a safer community.”

In his first year as sheriff, the Community Service program visited over 50 towns in Worcester County and completed more than 150 projects.

The program not only saves Worcester County’s communities thousands of dollars during tough fiscal times, the sheriff said, but provides inmates with an opportunity to turn their lives around with productive work days. The work release crews are made up of non-violent, non-sex offender individuals, who are close tot eh end of their sentence and have earned their place in the program.

Northern Worcester County saved approximately $250,000 over the course of the year. The program helped the Athol and Winchendon Senior Centers, the Athol, Gardner, and Leominster Housing Authority facilities, as well as the Johnny Appleseed Visitor’s Center, the Johnny Ro Veterans Memorial Park, the Gardner VNA, and Sholan Farms. The towns of Barre, Hubbardston, Oakham, and Lancaster have also benefited from the program.

Diane Burnette, Director of the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center, said the program allowed her to accomplish things she could not have without assistance.

“The inmates were extremely polite and hardworking and the officer was very professional. I can’t say enough about how grateful we are for the program,” she said.

In addition to scheduled weekly maintenance projects Sheriff Evangelidis made crews immediately available after June’s tornadoes, Hurricane Irene, and the Halloween Snow Storm.

Leominster Housing Authority Assistant Director, Bernie Kirstein, said the help after the hurricane was essential.

“It would take us weeks to clean up from the storm if we didn’t have their help,” he said.