Community Stories

John Day.Mount Wachusett Community College student leader John Day has been presented with Campus Compact’s 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award for his dedication and commitment to serving others.

Campus Compact is a national coalition of nearly 1,100 college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility. The Newman Civic Fellows Award is named for Dr. Frank Newman, one of the founders of Campus Compact, who dedicated his life to creating opportunities for student civic learning and engagement.

Following an initial volunteer opportunity with the MWCC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement during his first semester in 2012, Day became increasingly involved in campus life and community service.

The Gardner resident currently serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA, dedicated to working with community partners to provide quality service learning and civic learning opportunities for MWCC students. He is treasurer and past vice president of the MWCC Student Government Association, is president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and is a founding member of the Students Serving Our Students (SOS) peer advocacy program.

In addition, Day participates in the college’s Leadership for Life program, is an orientation leader during new student orientations, has volunteered during alternative spring break with Habitat for Humanity North Central Massachusetts, and is a past member of the Campus Activities Team for Students. Day earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in May 2014 and is currently a full-time student pursuing a certificate in Small Business Management at MWCC. He plans to continue his studies toward a bachelor’s degree in business.

“We are extremely proud of John for his leadership on campus and in the community, and are delighted that he has been recognized with this distinguished award,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “John is motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated, and cares very deeply for his fellow students. As a student leader, he serves in many capacities, but above all, he is a true advocate for others.”

For the past three years, Day has served as a peer mentor in the SOS program, where he provides guidance and advice to fellow students who are struggling to meet basic needs such as housing, transportation and childcare, while pursuing their education. Nearly 90 percent of the students who seek assistance from the SOS office remain enrolled. Day said that as an SOS volunteer and mentor, he has gained greater insight into the inequalities that many area residents encounter.

“It is truly humbling to witness the struggle some students face to get an education to better their lives and the lives of their families,” he said. “I am glad to help them succeed. Working in the SOS office has opened my eyes to needs in our community and how I can be a part of addressing injustice and inequality. Through these experiences I have volunteered alongside people who are very different from myself; they hold different political, religious, and cultural beliefs, and that has been invaluable. I have learned what it truly means to be a part of a community which is full of respect, compassion and caring.”

Day has helped develop numerous civic engagement projects and programming, including the national Economic Inequality Initiative that is being spearheaded by MWCC, Keene State College and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment. This past fall, Day coordinated student, alumni, staff and faculty volunteers during the college’s second annual United Way Day of Caring event. Crews assembled 20,435 meals for homeless shelters, food pantries and veterans organizations in North Central Massachusetts.

Day is one of 201 college and university students selected for the national award this year. This is the third consecutive year a Mount Wachusett student has received the prestigious recognition.

“These students represent the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders. They serve as national examples of the role that higher education can—and does—play in building a better world,” Richard Guarasci, chairman of the Campus Compact board and president of Wagner College in New York.

The Newman Civic Fellows Award is generously sponsored by the KPMG Foundation. For more information about the organization and the award, visit

LEAN Green Belt MWCCHenry David Thoreau’s 160-year-old directive “Simplify, Simplify” is finding renewed meaning in today’s workplace. At Mount Wachusett Community College, seventeen employees recently received Lean Green Belt Certification to help streamline operations college-wide.

Lean training teaches participants to examine how they do things with an eye toward identifying ways to achieve greater efficiency, eliminate waste and streamline processes for more efficient and cost effective outcomes.

The goal is to build a solid foundation for a culture of continuous improvement, said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “This training will prove to be quite valuable for the college and our students.”

MWCC coordinates Lean, Six Sigma and other workforce development programs for area companies, though this was the first time college employees participated. MWCC is the first community college in Massachusetts to adopt Lean college-wide, said Jeremiah Riordon, Associate Vice President of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development.

The training, initially implemented in the manufacturing world, and recently was adapted for administrative purposes, is gaining national momentum among state agencies, colleges and universities, and other organizations. According to the Education Advisory Board, which recently completed a study on implementing Lean for Process Improvement at Community Colleges, higher education administrators are increasingly turning to the principles of Lean Six Sigma to enhance efficiency of institutional processes.

MWCC administrators, faculty and staff participated in the training, which required a project presentation and certification exam. The training and certification was administered by the William George Group, a Boston-based consulting firm that serves clients worldwide. Working individually and in groups, the participants tackled projects designed to improve procedures at the main campus in Gardner and satellite campuses in Leominster and Devens.

“The primary purpose of Lean is to cultivate a climate of continuous improvement in all areas of process management and to eliminate waste,” said Riordon, one of the training participants. “Lean forces you to ask why something is in the process. If there are steps that don’t add value, we’ve got to ask, ‘Why is it in the process?’”

For example, his team tackled the 52-step process of creating a brochure of noncredit course offerings, which starts with selecting courses to writing, editing, proofing and mailing the brochures. “After reviewing the process, we eliminated redundancy and the new process is just 14 steps and frees up one full staff person from the process,” he said.

The projects implemented include streamlining procedures in the human resources, marketing, admissions, records and institutional advancement offices, and improving efficiency of contract approvals, dual enrollment registration and placement testing.

The newly certified Lean Green Belt employees are:

Lea Ann Scales, Vice President of External Affairs, Communications and K-12 Partnerships; Robin Duncan, Senior Advisor to the President; Linda Fazio, Comptroller; Jeremiah Riordon, Associate Vice President, Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development; Heather Mulry, Director, Human Resources; Connie Helstowski, Director, Payroll and Benefits; John Walsh, Dean, Leominster Campus; Patrice Lincoln, Dean, Access & Transition; Margaret Jaillet, Assistant Dean, School of Health Professions, Public Service Programs and Social Sciences; Rebecca Forest, Assistant Dean of Records and Research; Sarah McMaster, Director of Marketing and New Media; Ramon Gonzalez, Director, Educational Talent Search; Kerrie Griffin, Director, Devens Campus; Heather Layton, Director, Grants Development; Shane Mullen, Senior System Analyst/Programmer; Michael Watson, Instructor, Manufacturing & Quality Systems; Teresita Encarnacion, Coordinator, Development Training.


Mount Wachusett Community College was awarded a $198,400 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education to continue the North Central Massachusetts College Access Challenge Grant program.

MWCC’s Division of Access & Transition launched the regional program in 2011 under a prior DOE grant. The program provides low-income, minority or first-generation high school students and college freshmen with tools and support services to help them persist and succeed in college.

The partnering schools include: Athol High School; Fitchburg High  School; Gardner High School; Leominster High School; the Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange; Murdock Middle/High School in Winchendon and the Sizer School in Fitchburg.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for students in our region,” said MWCC President Daniel M.  Asquino. “This initiative continues a successful program that benefits our communities by helping students achieve their goal of completing a college degree.”

As part of the program, current high school seniors receive personal counseling and  advising from MWCC advisors; participate in academic, career and financial aid and literacy workshops; are exposed to postsecondary education via college visits and fairs, and the Your Plan for College web portal. Students also participate in a first year experience seminar, pre-college summer bridge program, and ongoing counseling through the first year of college.

Through its Access & Transition division, MWCC serves approximately 4,000 middle and high school students throughout the region through 18 federal and state-funded access and college readiness programs.


Juniors Symposium 2015

High school juniors respond to MWCC Dean Jason Zelesky’s presentation during the college’s annual Juniors Symposium.


Two hundred area high school juniors were welcomed to Mount Wachusett Community College’s annual Juniors Symposium to gain insight into applying to colleges and universities, seeking financial aid and scholarships and related topics to help them succeed.

One hundred juniors from Narragansett Regional, Fitchburg, Sizer Charter and Athol high schools attended the half-day symposium on March 17, while another 100 students from Gardner, Fitchburg, Murdock and Mahar Regional high schools participated on March 19.

The event is one of 18 college access and readiness programs provided by MWCC’s Division of Access and Transition to approximately 4,000 middle and high school students in the region.

A pep rally, led by MWCC Dean of Students Jason Zelesky as a new feature of the symposium, served to inspire students with positive, relevant messages about the importance of education and pursuing one’s dreams. While a new car will depreciate the minute it is driven from the dealer’s parking lot, a college education will gain in value throughout adulthood by enhancing one’s earning potential, he explained.

“The work you do every day (as students) translates into real dollars. When you purchase an education, every day that degree is worth more. That value continues to increase. You are making an investment in yourself.”

Touching on the theme of applying grit while striving to reach one’s goals, Zelesky shared inspiring stories that spanned a century of national events. When shown photographs from the early 20th century, no one in the audience recognized prestigious millionaire Samuel Langley, who was generously funded and well publicized during his efforts to be first in flight. But they did know who the Wright Brothers were, who despite being poor and unknown, succeeded.

He closed the presentation with a social media activity inviting students to share their dreams on Twitter, using the hashtags #grit and #MWCC. Careers in pediatric nursing, occupational therapy, engineering, teaching and the performing arts were among the many responses.

naturalization photo S&E

Elisabeth Pimentel gets a hug from her daughter, Ashley Covey, after she became one of 250 permanent residents sworn in as new U.S. citizens on Wednesday. Ashley helped out during the ceremony by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. They live in Fitchburg. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE PHOTOS / JOHN LOVE

GARDNER — For 250 people, Wednesday marked the first time they were able to call themselves American citizens.

During a naturalization ceremony at Mount Wachusett Community College, 250 permanent residents of Massachusetts were sworn in as citizens of the United States.

Citizenship candidates came to Massachusetts from 62 countries, including Mexico, Haiti, Cambodia, Morocco, Nepal, Germany, Russia and Iraq. Their naturalization ceremony included speeches, patriotic songs, the swearing of an Oath of Allegiance led by United States District Judge Timothy Hillman, and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by the daughter of one new citizen.

All candidates received certificates of citizenship.

Desire Banguendoh, among the 250, said it has been a long journey for him. He grew up in the Central African Republic, but was forced to leave in 2006, after a rebellion led to the killing of thousands of young men like himself. He and his wife and children fled to Chad, where they lived in a refugee camp for five years before a United Nations worker told him he would be eligible to come to the United States as a refugee. His family arrived in the United States on Nov. 4, 2009. They live in Worcester.

All along, Banguendoh said he was “very afraid.”

In Chad, he said, “the soldiers are no good, they play with their weapons and shoot them whenever they want.

Here, I have safety. It’s a good life here.”

He attended the ceremony with his son and his wife, who he said “will maybe become a citizen in a few years.”

Omolara Gilman, of Wilmington, was happy to celebrate that both she and her husband are now U.S. citizens. Her husband grew up in the United States, but Gilman is originally from Nigeria.

“My dad worked for Shell when I was growing up, so I moved around a lot,” she said. “I’ve never stayed in one place as long as I’ve stayed in the US.”

Gilman came to Massachusetts in 2005, when she enrolled at UMass Lowell.

When she started school, Gilman said, “I didn’t really know where I was going to go” after graduation. During college, though, she met her future husband, and decided to stay in the United States.

Sergui Eigelman, of Bolton, said he has lived in the United States since 2000.

He wanted to become a citizen “to participate in democracy,” said Eigelman, originally from the Ukraine.

“Mostly on a local level,” he added, “but on a state and national level, too.”

Mount Wachusett President Daniel Asquino spoke at the ceremony, as did Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

“Personally and professionally, it’s an honor to be a part of this ceremony,” said Asquino.

Hawke said his grandfather was an immigrant to the United States in the 1940s, and he is “eternally grateful” for the opportunities he was provided by being born a citizen.

“I hope you try to give back to your community and your country,” he told candidates.

After they spoke, Hillman administered the Oath of Allegiance to the 250 new citizens.

“You are now citizens of the United States of America,” he said.

Francisco Mateo, from the Dominican Republic and now of Fitchburg, participates in the singing of the national anthem during a naturalization ceremony Wednesday at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. Two hundred and fifty candidates became citizens of the United States during the event. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE “This nation now belongs to you as much as to those who were born here.”

Hillman advised new citizens to “work hard, live responsibly, and help preserve the opportunities and the freedoms that so many have fought and died to secure.”

Banguendoh, like many immigrants and refugees, is very grateful for the freedom of the United States compared to his former home.

“The discrimination in the C.A.R. is continuing,” he said. “When I call my mom and my dad back home, they say I should never come back. I’ve missed them for 10 years.”

Though it’s difficult to be away from his family, Banguendoh said he loves living in the United States.

“I’m very happy (today),” he said. “I’m so proud, and I say, ‘thank God,’ because it’s not easy here to move step by step and become a citizen.”

His friend and fellow Worcester resident, Augustine Kanjai, came to the United States as a refugee as well, from Sierra Leone. Kanjai was a journalist in his country who was thrown in jail for taking a photo for a story, he said.

“I had to endure a lot,” he said. “I was harassed, I was intimidated, and it was not easy for me.”

Kanjai and his family are not yet citizens, but they were at the naturalization ceremony to celebrate with Banguendoh.

“This is the citizen we’re here for today,” Kanjai said proudly, clapping his friend on the back.

“Next year,” he added, “it will be me.”

By Anna Burgess,   March 19, 2015


Site work has begun for MWCC’s new science building.

Last week’s snow plowing of the Gardner campus front lawn may have seemed like a strange sight, but the work was an essential first step in preparing for our new science and technology building.

Following an extensive planning and design phase that began in 2013, the front lawn of the campus was identified as the most feasible site to accommodate the new building, which will provide much-needed upgrades to our 40-year-old campus, particularly in the growing STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Now, site preparation work is underway, with construction slated to begin in April.

To make way for the new addition, the three maple trees were removed as planned, though they will maintain a permanent place on our campus. The wood is being sent to a mill, where it will be cut into boards and kiln dried. Once the amount and quality of the boards are known, the lumber will be repurposed for commemorative items, such as a conference table, podium, benches and plaques.

Late last week and early this week, division offices on the second and third floor are being relocated to adjacent classrooms to make way for demolition that will provide connection from the Haley building to the new wing. This week’s construction activities also will include more site preparation and erosion control measures, additional trailers for the contractor, construction fencing, excavation for relocating our 12-inch water line, and removal of the satellite dishes.

During the week of March 23, the west ramp will be removed, offices on the second and third floor will be demolished, and construction partitions will be installed within the Haley building. Blue tape on the floor indicates the location of these temporary partitions (first floor between Murphy Conference Room and Marketing, women’s restroom near library, basement women’s room and police locker rooms, second and third floor division offices, second floor women’s room and faculty women’s room near room 247, third floor women’s room and faculty women’s room near room 347). A men’s restroom on each floor in the same hallway will be designated for use by women.  The stairwell on the east end of the Art Wing will also be blocked.

“It’s exciting to see actual progress,” said President Asquino. “Our intent is to get this project completed as quickly as possible with minimum disruption. We realize there will be inconvenience for all, but the end will be worth the efforts.”

Construction is expected to take 18 months, and updates will be posted regularly. The college is coordinating with the State’s Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) for a date for a ground breaking ceremony.

Questions or concerns may be directed to Vice President of Finance and Administration Bob LaBonte, or Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Jon Wyman.


MWCC student Louis Ayisi at $30K Commitment Statehouse

MWCC student Louis Ayisi, speaking at the State House $30K Commitment announcement, shared how transfer pathways make higher education goals attainable.

A new collaboration between Central Massachusetts’ four institutions of public higher education – Fitchburg State University, Mount Wachusett Community College, Quinsigamond Community College and Worcester State University – will guarantee qualifying students their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in high demand programs for $30,000 in four years.

Presidents and representatives from the colleges and universities joined Secretary of Education James Peyser, Commissioner of Higher Education Richard Freeland, Senator Michael Moore, chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, and other key officials in announcing the new agreement March 9 at the State House.

The “$30K Commitment,” starting this fall, is a promise from the institutions to support the career goals of Massachusetts residents; prepare students for high-demand degrees; and outline clear paths for students to complete affordable associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in four years. Tuition and fees will be frozen for qualifying students.

According to College Board, the average cost of one year of tuition and fees for a private, four-year college education is $31,000—more than the cost of four years outlined in the $30K Commitment. The average cost of in-state tuition and fees for public institutions is $9,139 a year. The $30K Commitment reduces the cost of a four-year degree program to $7,500 a year.

The commitment aligns degree programs and allows for seamless transfer between the two-year and four-year institutions for programs including business administration, computer science, early childhood education, biotechnology, criminal justice, biology and chemistry. Students who wish to continue their studies beyond the baccalaureate level will benefit from institutions’ articulation agreements with other schools. Those heading straight to their careers will be able to capitalize on internship opportunities and professional networks related to the fields of study included in the $30K program.

Participating students will be expected to maintain good academic standing with full-time course loads each semester. In addition to easy transfer opportunities from the community colleges, students will be guaranteed admission to the state university programs outlined in the agreement.

Secretary Peyser called the initaitive a “very important step in the right direction.”

“The biggest thing we can do do is make college more affordable,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino, noting that the $30K commitment addresses many crucial areas, such as college completion, economic development, innovation and college readiness. “The community colleges and state universities of Central Massachusetts enjoy strong collaborative partnerships, and this agreement – creating opportunities and controlling costs – is evidence of those relationships.”

“Equally important…are our partnerships with our K-12 partners, including our dual enrollment work allowing high school students to earn college credit,” he said.

MWCC pre-engineering major Louis Ayisi was invited to address the gathering as one of the student speakers. “When I arrived in this country from Ghana 11 months ago, I made the best decision of my life (to enroll at MWCC). For first generation students like me, the sky is not the limit, but the stepping stone,” he said.

Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle noted that the school district is privileged to have partnerships with MWCC and Fitchburg State. “You cannot do this work alone.”

“I enthusiastically support this program because it locks in the price of $30K, and can spur our students to stay on course and complete their degrees. That commitment from our students will improve retention and four-year graduation rates,” said Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland. “It is my hope that the program will dramatically increase awareness of the affordability and high quality of our programs, and serve as a model for what we hope to do on a statewide basis.”


Johnson Dang

Johnson Dang of Ayer creates a strand of his own DNA during MWCC’s STEM Awareness Day.

Aspiring scientists, engineers and mathematicians interested in high tech careers discovered a host of options during Mount Wachusett Community College’s second annual STEM Awareness Day on March 6.

The event featured a variety of hands-on demonstrations ranging from trying out equipment used in 3D printing to creating a necklace containing one’s own DNA, as well information on various academic careers, financial aid and transfer options. It also showcased MWCC’s upcoming STEM Starter Academy and STEM SET scholarship program.

The college is currently recruiting students for its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Starter Summer Academy. Participating students will receive two free college courses, textbooks, up to $1,750 in stipends, academic support and tutoring, and will attend industry field trips and MWCC’s Summer Leadership Academy.

“We are excited to once again offer the STEM Starter Academy to local learners pursuing a degree in STEM fields,” said Veronica Guay, Assistant Dean of the School of Business, Science, Technology and Mathematics. “Summer participants will enter the fall semester with seven college credits, money in their pockets and be well on their way to obtaining their degree.”

Funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and the Department of Economic and Workforce Development, the program aims to inform, engage, recruit, retain and graduate significantly more students and enhance their success in STEM pathway programs that lead to job placements or transfer to higher level STEM academic programs.

The summer program will run July 7 through Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as August 25 and 26, at the Gardner campus.

Funded through a $150,000 grant, the summer academy is open to recent high school graduates and adult learners who place into English Composition and Intermediate Algebra or higher, and enroll in one of MWCC’s STEM programs in the fall 2015 semester.

Qualifying STEM majors include biology, biotechnology, chemistry, clinical laboratory science, computer information systems fitness leadership and exercise science, natural resources, general studies allied health, physics or pre-engineering.

In addition, STEM majors at MWCC may qualify for an annual $3,300 STEM SET scholarship, available through a grant the college received from the National Science Foundation.

For more information about the STEM Starter Academy at MWCC, visit or contact the admissions office at 978-630-9110 or


Senator Stephen Brewer1Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation, Inc. will honor long-serving former state Senator Stephen M. Brewer as the 2015 Harold E. Drake, Jr. Citizen of the Year at its annual Foundation Dinner on April 9 at Mount Wachusett Ski Area in Princeton. Outstanding MWCC students who receive foundation scholarship funds also will be honored.

“Senator Brewer worked tirelessly to serve the needs of his constituents in Central and Western Massachusetts, and has long supported efforts that benefit students of all ages in our region,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “His commitment to serving others epitomizes the virtues of civic engagement that are incorporated into the educational experience at Mount Wachusett Community College and also reflects our values as an academic institution. His leadership and dedication over the years have been monumental, and we are delighted to recognize him as the 2015 Citizen of the Year.”

Senator Brewer retired last fall following 26 years in the state Legislature. After serving as a selectman in Barre and as a legislative aide to Senator Robert D. Wetmore, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1988 and to the state Senate in 1996. Most recently, Senator Brewer chaired the powerful Senate Committee on Ways and Means and served on the Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules and the Joint Committee on Rules. Previously, he served as Senate vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture, as vice-chair of the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee, and as a member of the Joint Committee on Public Safety.

Senator Brewer earned his baccalaureate degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he recently joined the faculty of the Center for Public Policy and Administration. He earned a master’s degree in history and government from Assumption College and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy from MWCC during the college’s 2008 commencement. He is a resident of Barre, where he lives with his wife, Valerie, and is the proud father of their two daughters, April and Audrey.

The Harold E. Drake, Jr. Citizen of the Year Award is presented in memory of Harold E. Drake, treasurer and former president of Royal Steam Heater Co. and Lynde Hardware & Supply, Inc. The award recognizes community members who exemplify Mr. Drake’s extraordinary commitment to the North Central Massachusetts region.

Tickets to the annual foundation dinner are $75 per person, and proceeds go directly to student scholarships. A social hour will begin at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are required and may be made by contacting Jo-Ann Meagher at 978-630-9387 or


Photo 7GARDNER About two dozen volunteers climbed aboard their spin-bikes at 9 a.m. on Sunday and began pedaling, and — with the exception of a short break now and then — they didn’t stop for the next three hours.

The event, held at the MWCC Fitness and Wellness Center, was the 7th Annual Pedal to End Cancer, a New England-wide indoor cycling fundraising event to benefit the American Cancer Society. Event Coordinator Lori Pucko said the school’s involvement in the event began seven years ago when a member of the fitness club was diagnosed with cancer.

“We thought it would be a nice way to raise some money, and we’ve just been doing it every year,” Ms. Pucko explained, adding that the event raises several thousand dollars in donations annually. “We’re up to over $30,000 over the past six years.”

Ms. Pucko, who is also the group fitness manager at the center, said the event is one that club members look forward to each year, an indication of just how many lives are touched by such a terrible disease. “This event is super-important to them. They have loved ones that have passed, and some of our own members are still struggling,” Ms. Pucko explained.

Participants this year were pedaling in recognition of Diane Guertin of Hubbardston, a fellow fitness center member who is battling cancer for the second time and currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment. “(Diane) actually called me Friday night from UMass to wish us good luck,” Ms. Pucko said.

“She has participated in this event every year, so we’ve been taking pictures and videos and we’re going to send them to her.” Participants were allowed to form teams of three to reduce their pedaling time to a more manageable hour, according to Ms. Pucko. Short hydration and bathroom breaks were also permitted. Ms. Pucko said the event, which this year featured food donated from Hannaford’s Supermarket and Papa Gino’s, had grown over the past seven years. This year’s event also featured music and videos provided by Platinum Productions of Lunenburg, and massage therapist Sharon Godin of Orange donated her services to participants.

After a moment of silence to remember those lost to the disease and to recognize survivors who are still battling, fitness club member sang an emotional version of Amazing Grace.

Sunday’s event raised nearly $5,000 and concluded on a touching note, as participants attached personal messages of remembrance or encouragement to about 20 helium balloons, went outside and released them to the sky.

The Gardner News 3/2/2015

Stephen Landry, News Staff Writer