Community Stories

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Doug Petersen, second from left, this year’s Harold E. Drake, Jr. Citizen of the Year, is joined by Jay Davis Drake, President Dan Asquino, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli and Foundation Board of Directors Chair Ray Martino.

Service to the community and to students was the prevailing theme of the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation’s annual celebration, which offered guests a “passport into the future” of MWCC and its students, as well as an opportunity to reflect back on key figures in the college’s history and hear from several inspiring, recent graduates.

Long-serving community volunteer Douglas J. Petersen was recognized with the 2016 Harold E. Drake Jr. Citizen of the Year Award. Jay Davis Drake, a former chair of the MWCC Board of Trustees and a former member of the foundation, presented the award to Mr. Petersen in memory of his father, treasurer and former president of Royal Steam Heater Co. and Lynde Hardware & Supply, Inc.

The award recognizes community members who exemplify Harold Drake’s extraordinary commitment to the North Central Massachusetts region.

The event also recognized the academic success and civic engagement of MWCC students and showcased the new science and technology building under constructions and continuing renovations to the Haley building for an audience of college supporters, benefactors, students and community leaders. Guests proceeded through the campus with “passports” in hand, stopping at various destinations to learn more about the college and its programs. Stations included the Center for Civic Learning, the LaChance Library, the School of Business, Science, Technology and Mathematics, the Veterans Success Center, K-12 Partnerships and the Division of Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development.

Joined by his family, Mr. Petersen said he was humbled to receive the award. Among his many professional associations, business ventures and community causes, he serves as chairman of the boards for the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, and is also a member of the MWCC Foundation Board of Directors and a member of the HealthAlliance President’s Council.

“Doug has made a fantastic difference in our community,” said President Daniel M. Asquino.

In one of several surprise announcements, Dr. Asquino was presented with the Foundation’s Harold E. Drake, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for his three decades of service to the college and to the community.

Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli announced two new, endowed scholarships created through the generosity of Hubbardston residents Barbara and Jim Carpenter in recognition of Mrs. Carpenter’s parents, George and Bernice (Johnson) Babineau. The Babineau-Johnson Nursing Scholarship and the Babineau-Johnson Veterans Scholarship were each endowed for $50,000 by the Carpenters, which will help MWCC students for “generations to come,” Zottoli said.

To underscore the importance of creating endowed scholarships, the Foundation also transferred $10,000 from its general scholarship fund to create a new scholarship fund by selecting a winner from among the guests’ “passports.” Outgoing Student Trustee Tom Berger was the chosen winner, and will be able to name the scholarship and work with the foundation to determine the criteria of the annual scholarship.

Recent graduates Benjamin Spurr of Barre, a Navy Veteran who is now headed to UMass, Amherst to continue his studies in biological sciences and biotechnology, and Bella Ballin of Worcester, who will transfer this fall to Carnegie Mellon University to continue her studies in chemistry, were this year’s student speakers, sharing details about the way the college and the foundation helped transform their academic experience.

The foundation also recognized 81-year-old Aurea Carrion of Leominster, who graduated last week with an associate degree in Human Services, and presented a video of graduate Chelsea Garrity of Barre, who is now on a service trip to Costa Rica, giving her Commencement speech.

Several past recipients of the Citizen of the Year Award were among the attendees, including Ronald Ansin, Kim Ansin, former Senator Stephen M. Brewer, James Garrison, Charles Bowles and Richard Flanagan. The event was sponsored by Royal Steam Heater Co. Workers’ Credit Union, Enterprise Bank & Trust, Heywood Hospital, Fidelity Bank, North Middlesex Savings Bank, Rollstone Bank & Trust and Simonds International. Proceeds from the event support student scholarships.

“Our foundation scholarships help hundreds of students achieve the dream of education,” Zottoli said. “It is truly their passport to a brighter future.”

Sheila Boria and Aurea Carrion

Sheila Boria and Aurea Carrion

Jose Mangual, academic counselor for students enrolled in MWCC’s English as a Second Language program, has a ready answer for prospective students who feel they are too busy, too old or not ready to enroll in courses.

He introduces them to students who once had the same concerns, but now are succeeding not only in the ESL program, but in MWCC academic programs as well.

“If someone says, ‘I’m too old, I’m in my 40’s and I’ll be the oldest student there,’ I say, ‘Have you met Aurea Carrion? She is 81!’ ”

Mangual served as host of the ESL program’s annual year-end celebration, which recognized the achievements of residents new to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Uruguay, Brazil, Egypt, Ghanna, Syria and Vietnam. The festive event, held at the Leominster campus, featured laughter, encouragement, and array of traditional food.

Special recognition was given to students who recently advanced in or completed their ESL courses, as well as to Ms. Carrion, who graduated with an associate degree in Human Services, and Sheila Boria, who earned an academic certificate in Human Services.

Carrion, who previously earned an associate degree from MWCC in 1990 in Secretarial Studies, worked as a liaison between the community and the Fitchburg and Worcester public schools. She retired from the Worcester Public School system in 2006.

Since then, she returned to MWCC to pursue her interest in the human services field and earned her academic certificate in Human Services in 2013. “I never get tired of studying,” she said. Her goal is to continue working in the human services field.

In addition to serving as president of the ESL club, Ms. Carrion has volunteered countless hours at the Leominster campus and most significantly, serves as an inspiration to fellow students. “It’s never too late!”

“I said if she can do it, I can do it. She was my inspiration,” said Ms. Boria, who will continue her studies and aspires to become a lawyer. “This is important to me. This is my future.”

 

 

2016 Gateway & Pathways valedictorians Christian and Bella 2

Valedictorians Christian Rossi, Jr. & Bella Ballin

Aspiring doctors, nurses, physicists, teachers and police officers, as well as many teenagers who are the first in their families to attend college, are among the largest dual enrollment graduating class at MWCC.

This year’s graduates of the Pathways Early College Innovation School and the Gateway to College program were recognized during a May 20 ceremony at MWCC. The dual enrollment programs, offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, as well as Athol High School, allow students to use school choice funding to earn their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits, an academic certificate, or an associate degree.

With 73 graduates from 26 towns and cities this year, the graduating class is the largest ever at MWCC. This year also marked the 10th graduating class of the Gateways program and the fifth Pathways graduating class.

MWCC President Daniel Asquino was the featured speaker, sharing personal anecdotes with the students and the hundreds of family members and friends gathered for the occasion.

When told as a child he couldn’t play sports because he was born with a disability, he persevered until he could. When told he didn’t swim well enough to become a lifeguard, he self-trained and not only became a lifeguard, but rescued three people who were clinging together for survival amid a rough surf.

When told by a high school guidance counselor he “wasn’t college material” he served the country in the Navy, then went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree while simultaneously working and raising a family on modest means. When he wanted to become a college president, he was told he couldn’t because he was on the “wrong track” – an administrative path rather than an academic path. He is now completing his 29th year as president of MWCC.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” he encouraged the graduates. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do it. Conquer the world. Do for yourself, do for your family, and don’t forget to give back to your community.”

Some of the graduates will remain at MWCC to continue their associate degrees, while many who have already reached that milestone plan to transfer to a public and private college or university. Several of the graduates plan to serve the country in the military or directly enter the workforce.

Bella Ballin of Worcester, who earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts: Chemical Science from MWCC two days before receiving her high school diploma, was the Pathways class valedictorian.

“Who would have thought that teens from all different towns and all different backgrounds would come together not only as a cohort or a class but as a family? Right from the start we managed to forge bonds so strong that we didn’t want to stray from each other. As our bonds grew, so did our maturity, adaptability, independence and knowledge,” she said.

This fall, she will transfer to Carnegie Mellon University to continue her studies in chemistry.

Christian Rossi, Jr. of Winchendon, homeschooled prior to enrolling in the Gateway program, graduated from MWCC Wednesday with an associate degree in computer information systems and academic certificates in cyber security and IT support specialist. He plans to transfer this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

He wryly shared that while he thought he was well versed in many topics before enrolling, he came to realize there’s always more to learn, such as the day a classmate had a pizza delivered to the college for dinner rather than packing food.

“Now why I hadn’t thought of that, I cannot say, but I know that I will remember it in case I ever find myself hungry at my next school.”

MWCC’s partnerships with the public school districts represent “the pillars of support for our students,” said Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement.

“It is through these partnerships that together, we have built a true community here at MWCC. We have created a place where students feel supported, encouraged and safe. We have built a place where new paths are forged and lives are transformed.”

Pathways Early College Innovation School graduates:

Bella Ballin, Yasmin Barroso, Kaci Bradshaw, Levi Bushnell, Angelique Chaput, Calvin Clinkscale, Holland Crane, Michael Frye, Chandler Giuffre, Sara Khan, Margaret Linzey, Renata Menezes, Emily Perkins, Tea Preston, Michael Racine, Jr., Lucy Rivers, Riley Saisa, Adrian Sanders, Kelsey Schecker, Rachel Stankaitis, Joseph Williams

Gateway to College graduates:

Thayna Aguiar, Kelsey Allaway, Rebekah Amburgey, Arturo Aponte-Cruz, Jacob Bancroft, Taysia Baronowski, Kyle Bates, Katriona Bell, Rene Bergeron, Anders Bigelbach, Nicole Boufford, Shane Carroll, Nicole Cibor, Emanuel Corbeil, Mariah Courtemanche, Emmilly DeMatos, Lyndsey-Leigh Flahive, Bailey Fluet, Coco Fortier, Stephanie Garnhum, Gregory Germagian, Cassandra Gurney, Leshay Hicks, Adoria Kavuma-Winburn, Alyssa Kazanowski, Jamison Lajoie, Lisette Llapa, Rafaela Lopes, Audrey MacDonald, Brianna Martinez, Hayley McAuliffe, Anastasia Panageotes, Camila Pereira, Raul Pereira, Nicholas Powell, Lorena Rocha, Christian Rossi, Jr., Courtney Ruble, Alexander Schilling, Lauren Scioli, Mya Shepard, Milagros Silva Olivera, Constance Tazelaar, Emilia Torres, Pablo Trillas, Jasmine Welch, Beth Winters, Christopher Zukowski

 

Breana Keegan leads nursing pledge

Breana Keegan, president of MWCC’s Student Nurses Association, leads her classmates in the Florence Nightingale Pledge.

Family and friends from as near as Gardner and as far away as Zimbabwe came to celebrate the achievements of Mount Wachusett Community College’s associate degree nursing class during a traditional pinning ceremony held May 19 in the Fitness & Wellness center.

The 43rd graduating class was comprised of students enrolled in the day and evening programs and included LPNs who returned to continue their education through the college’s Bridge to Nursing program.

MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino congratulated the students on their success completing one of the college’s most rigorous academic programs. He noted that the care and compassion of nurses bring tremendous comfort to patients who are often at their lowest moment and in pain.

Summarizing key points made during his Commencement address the evening before, the president encouraged the graduates to move forward in their careers and lives with compassion, empathy and a positive attitude.

Mercy Dhliwayo of Fitchburg and family

Mercy Dhliwayo is joined by members of her family following the ceremony. From left, Jane Dhliwayo, who traveled from Zimbabwe to attend her granddaughter’s graduation and pinning ceremonies; Mercy’s mother, Patience Dhliwayo-Amoakohene, RN, who pinned her daughter; and aunts and MWCC alumni Privilege Dhliwayo, RN, and Patricia Dhliwayo-Kwangwari, RN.

“I can think of no other profession where these are so essential.”

Eileen Costello, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Community Service Programs, also welcomed the graduates and their families.

Dressed in traditional nurse uniforms, the students were welcomed into the profession by having the program’s nursing pin fastened to their lapels by a family member, friend, or an alumnus of the program, or a faculty member, to the cheers of family and friends. The pin symbolizes where the nurses completed their studies to become an RN and distinguishes them from other health care professionals. The eight-star MWCC pin is imprinted with the words “Service to Humanity and the World.”

As part of the ceremony, the students also took a nursing pledge that dates back to Florence Nightingale, who distinguished herself during the Crimean War by coming to the aid of sick and wounded soldiers.

 

President Asquino at podium

President Asquino shared the lessons he learned in 50 years of public service.

The transformative power of service and volunteerism was the resounding theme of Mount Wachusett Community College’s 51st Commencement on Wednesday, May 18, from the 157,000 service hours completed by students this past academic year to the decades-long legacy of President Daniel M. Asquino.

This year, 810 associate degrees and certificates were awarded to 734 graduates. The ceremony will be remembered as the final commencement President Asquino will preside over before retiring early next year.

Tina Sbrega, chair of the Board of Trustees, led a tribute to the president, who received a standing ovation in recognition of three decades at the helm of the college and nearly 50 years in public higher education in Massachusetts.

Since his arrival in 1987, he has established the college as a state and national leader in a number of key areas, from workforce and economic development to K-12 partnerships. Above all, Ms. Sbrega said, is the lasting legacy he will leave in the area of incorporating civic engagement as a hallmark of MWCC.

“He will be remembered most for having brought our community together for the good of all,” she said. “Throughout his 47 year career in public higher education in Massachusetts, Dr. Asquino has been driven by the belief that education is society’s great equalizer and has spent every moment of his career devoted to all of you and the tens of thousands of graduates who came before you.”

In delivering the commencement address, President Asquino reflected the accolades back to the students, faculty, staff and alumni for their hard work and commitment, personally and collectively.

“This is an amazing, transformative, magical college. Lives change here like nowhere else.”

He encouraged the students to enjoy life’s celebrations, and manage challenges and setbacks as an opportunity to “pick yourself up, and move on.”

Among the life lessons he shared, he advised the graduates be flexible to adjust to the ups and downs of life’s circumstances and to be mindful that “life is a merciless reflection of your own attitude.”

“There is no balanced allocation of good fortune or failure. The question then is when you are confronted with disappointment, tragedy, discrimination, how do you handle it? It’s OK to momentarily feel distraught and sad…but then you need to, as difficult as this may be, pick yourself up and move on. Let us be the person who sees opportunity in every calamity, rather than calamity in ever opportunity. That is the Mount way.”

Student speaker Chelsea Garrity, described her journey from being “a small fish in a big pond” to becoming an engaged student leader.

Chelsea Garrity student speaker MWCC 2016 commencement

Student speaker Chelsea Garrity shared her graduation rap song.

“I don’t think that I became a big fish in a small pond because the Mount isn’t a small place and it isn’t a competition for survival. I grew as a person, I challenged myself, and I tried new things. And that is my challenge to you. Class of 2016, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. Try something you never though you would like or do….I promise you that it will all be worth it.”

Known for her spontaneous rap songs, she concluded her speech in similar fashion to the delight of the crowd.

“So here’s to the community that raised you up, and here’s to you for never giving up. And when it comes time to throw your cap up, Remember – for the graduates, by the graduates, we the graduates, Word. This is our future, and we will change the world.”

A number of awards were also presented during the ceremony.

The 2016 Service Above Self Award was president to Raymond M. Martino, President and CEO of Simonds International, who spoke of the power of collective volunteerism. The award recognizes those who have made significant contributions to MWCC and the 29 cities and towns that make up MWCC’s service area.

Tom Berger, student trustee for the past academic year, was presented with the Trustees Award for his service, and three graduates were awarded the President’s Key for their academic excellence, Mellissa Richards, Jonathan Inman and Kelly Veautour.

Retiring professors Janice Gearan and Kathleen Panagiotis were awarded emeriti status.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, who received the 2016 Alumnus of the Year Award, lamented that unlike the student speaker, he had no rap song to share, but drew laughter when he spontaneously sang out an operatic “President Asquiiiiinooo.” Mayor Hawke shared his personal story of his academic “ordeals and debacles” as he made his way from a “straight-C” student to college graduate thanks to the direction he received at MWCC. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and MBA.

“To my soon-to-be fellow alums, when you come to the two roads diverging in the woods, whether you take the one less traveled or not, always remember and be proud that your road began here at MWCC.”

 

SL celebration 2016 Dan Chelse and Stevie

Student leaders Chelsea Garrity and Stevie LaBelle presented President Asquino with a globe representing the far-reaching civic impact of MWCC’s students under his leadership.

It was a quintessential Mount moment. After leading MWCC’s decades-long commitment to civic engagement, President Asquino had an opportunity to pair his pride in student volunteerism with a song by one of his favorite musicians – Elvis – crooning one of his favorite anthems, “America the Beautiful.”

More than 130 students, faculty and staff stood, many singing along, as the music filled the South Café during the college’s annual Service Learning and Volunteerism Celebration. While the event marked the altruism of MWCC students, the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement paused to reflect on the president’s dedication to the college and to the community as he prepares to retire early next year.

“Fifteen years ago President Asquino declared to this region a Decade of Civic Engagement. It was so successful, after that decade ended in 2011, he declared a subsequent decade,” said retired Senator Stephen M. Brewer. “This incredible advocacy and successful effort resulted in the only endowment given to a community college for civic engagement in the entire nation.”

MWCC Parent Support Group

Members of the Parent Support Group, with club advisor Ann Reynolds, were recognized with the Above and Beyond Award for their many initiatives on campus this academic year.

“There is a value and a virtue for what you do,” Senator Brewer told the students. “We know government cannot do it all – no entity can – but we can do our part. That is the value. The virtue of what you do is as old as the Chinse proverb, ‘Those who sheld light onto others can only have it reflect back onto themselves.’ As leaders of our future, you are lighting the way as you go forward.”

The May 17 event, organized this year by student leaders, recognized a wide range of campus and community service learning and volunteer initiatives throughout the academic year. As of last year, MWCC students annually completed over 157,000 hours of experiential learning, volunteerism, community service, internships, co-ops, practicums and field experience, which carries a value of over $3.6 million to the region, said Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement.

Dozens of graduating students received pins or medallions to wear during commencement in recognition of their extensive hours of service.

The United Way of North Central Massachusetts was presented with the Community Partner of the Year Award in appreciation for its efforts to establish MWCC as a “Day of Caring” site, which has enabled students, faculty and staff to volunteer for the annual service day during their free time on campus. During the event this past September, the college community packaged more than 21,000 meals for area residents in need.

Service Learning celebration nurses group photo

Graduating nursing students proudly display their service learning medallions for their hours of patient care.

Service learning scholarships were presented to Tatijana James and Bonnie Veilleaux and Rafaela Lopes was honored in recognition of receiving the national Newman Civic Fellows Award from Campus Compact.

Professor Janice Gearan, who is retiring this spring, was presented with the Civic Engagement Career Achievement award and Assistant Professor Daniel Soucy was presented with a civic engagement medallion. The event also featured a slideshow of murals created throughout Gardner by MWCC art students.

The Above and Beyond Award was presented to the Parent Support Group, an active club that has sponsored numerous events and initiatives to benefit students and families, and students who serve through the Students SOS office and SLiCE program (Student Leaders in Civic Engagement) were also recognized.

 

VFW donation to MWCC scholarship fund

The Ovila Case Post VFW continued its support for student veterans at Mount Wachusett Community College by presenting a $1,000 donation to the MWCC Foundation for scholarships. Pictured from left, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, President Daniel Asquino, Commander Joseph LeBlanc, past Commander Donald Progen and MWCC Director of Veteran Services Bob Mayer.

The Ovila Case Post 905 Veterans of Foreign Wars recently donated $1,000 to Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation’s Veterans Memorial Scholarship.

President Daniel Asquino, Foundation Executive Director Carla Zottoli, and Director of Veteran Services Bob Mayer accepted the generous donation from VFW Commander Joseph LeBlanc and past Commander and MWCC alumnus Donald Progen, and thanked the post members for their ongoing support of MWCC and student veterans.

The scholarship was established to recognize the important role played by MWCC in ensuring that the sacrifices and service of veterans who served the country will not be forgotten.

Scholarship funds are awarded to new or returning full-time students who were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or are currently serving in the Reserves or National Guard.

Jasson Alvarado Gomez film premiere TGN

Mount student director Jasson Alvarado Gomez, second from right, and others created a student film which premiered Thursday at the school. From left, are filmmakers Anastasia Anderholm, Kendall Mallet, Gomez and Anders Bigelbach. (News staff photo by Andrew Mansfield )

As far as anyone can remember, prior to Jasson Alvarado Gomez, no Mount Wachusett Community College student has ever held a film premiere at the school.

But a lack of precedent means little to the ambitious, aspiring filmmaker or his friends at the Mount who played starring roles in his first feature-length movie, “Black Diamond.”

“I always like to do new things no one has ever done.

Doing this is good for students because they can see anything can happen … to follow their dreams,” said Gomez.

Gomez wrote, produced and directed the movie, with the cast being mostly made up of Mount students or former Mount students he’s met over the past few years.

Filming began in April 2015 and was completed recently, all the work culminating in the premiere of the movie held May 5 at the school.

The event mimicked the bright lights and glamour of the Hollywood scene; the red carpet was rolled out for the students, who wore dapper suits and elegant dresses.

The movie “Black Diamond” itself is far more rugged, being in the action-crime genre, involving a California teenager in foster care named Karla who is kidnapped by a gang that surgically implants a rare diamond in her body, hoping to use her as a trafficker into Mexico.

But with the help of people in the foster care system, Karla is moved out of state away from the gang, which instigates the drama of the movie as the gang does everything it can to find her and recuperate the valuable diamond.

All the action involved played out a childhood dream for Gomez, who said he always wanted to know how to make television since he was a little kid growing up in Honduras.

At the age of 14 he came to America to live with his uncle, and his parents still remain in Honduras.

Currently, Gomez lives in Orange.

At the Mount, he is enrolled in the Media Arts & Technology major, allowing him to hone his skills in the craft of film directing, which he hopes to make into a career.

“When I came here, there are so many opportunities in this country.

This is what I want to do with my life,” he said.

Considering “Black Diamond” is an amateur production without any real budget behind it, Gomez relied on plenty of help from his peers to play the actors in the movie.

He said “I was just talking to anyone that came my way” in order to make the project come to fruition.

Front and center in the effort was former Mount student Kendall Mallet, who played the lead role of Karla, the teenage girl who is implanted with the diamond.

Mallet has a background in singing and will be attending seamstress school for fashion in the fall.

She met Gomez while she attended the Mount and thought the project was a different, interesting endeavor to pursue.

“I think it will be cool to show my kids, show my grandkids, ‘Hey, I was in this movie,’” she said.

Playing Karla’s foster care mother in the film was Mount student Tammy Goodgion, who studies Business and Human Services.

She had no experience with acting, but when Gomez asked her if she wanted to try, she said she figured why not.

“I loved the experience.

The cast and crew they were wonderful, wonderful to work with,” she said, calling everyone a “big family.”

Gomez also benefited from the generosity of some local establishments in Gardner such as the restaurant Taco Rey Coliman and the South Gardner Hotel that let him shoot some scenes there.

Many of the scenes were also shot at the Mount or in outside areas.

For now, there is no release plans for the film, but Gomez said he might put it on DVD later on.

In total, about 10 actors were used for the film, and since many are current or former Mount students, the film marks an accomplishment not just for them, but the school as well.

Individually, Gomez is quite accomplished himself too.

Next school year he will serve as the student trustee on the Mount’s board of trustees, making him a voting member.

He was also elected to serve as a student member for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education next year, and will be sworn into the position this summer.

Perhaps more notable than any one achievement is in general how independently driven Gomez is, working toward success in America while being away from his parents who live in their native Honduras.

“Going to school has helped me so much. I want to make my mom and dad proud,” he said.

By Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, May 11, 2016

Rafaela Lopes 2016 Newman Civic Fellow

Newman Civic Fellows Award recipient Rafaela Lopes

For her dedication and commitment to serving others, Mount Wachusett Community College student Rafaela Lopes has been presented with Campus Compact’s national 2016 Newman Civic Fellows Award.

The Leominster resident was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others by creating a youth-run social venture that helps young people experiencing or close to homelessness, as she had experienced as a child in Brazil before moving to Massachusetts seven years ago.

“Rafaela has made such significant contributions to our community both locally and globally, that even at her young age, she truly stands out as an inspirational leader deserving of recognition,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino. “We are very proud of her for her spirit of generosity, and proud that she becomes MWCC’s fourth student to consecutively receive this prestigious award.”

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 award honors the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and a tireless advocate for the civic engagement of higher education.

A dual enrollment student in MWCC’s Gateway to College program, Lopes will earn her high school diploma this spring and an associate degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences in the fall. After that, she plans to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree, and then enroll in dental school.

“I believe that helping others is my life’s mission. I try to lead by example, in the hope that one kindness will yield another, in turn generating a chain of kindness,” she said.

For the past three years, Lopes has been actively involved in the United Way Youth Venture program, which is co-sponsored by MWCC, the United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Ashoka’s Youth Venture. She created the social venture Go Make a Difference when she was just 15. Since then, she has led her team in fulfilling its mission to help the community locally by providing regular birthday celebrations for homeless children and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity of North Central Massachusetts.

The culmination of her dream – to make the impact of her venture global – was realized in February when she organized a student trip to a rural village in Haiti for a week of service at a nutrition and health center. She was instrumental in raising thousands of dollars and collecting 14 suitcases packed with essential supplies in preparation for the trip. She is in the process of organizing another group trip to Haiti next winter so more young people can experience the joy of giving back.

Lopes is also actively involved with the UWYV team Friends of Rachel’s Challenge at Leominster High School and with the ALANA club at MWCC.

“With both organizations, I’ve been able to serve and support the community while sharing positivity and friendship. I plan to continue to lead service and inspire my fellow students to help me make a difference with volunteering, whether with homeless families or in regions of severe poverty.”

Recipients of the Newman Civic Fellows Award are nominated by their college’s president or chancellor. Honorees are chosen for their leadership and ability to take action in pursuit of long-term, positive social change. This year, 218 students were selected to receive the award.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate such an extraordinary group of students,” said Campus Compact president Andrew Seligsohn. “We are seeing a resurgence in student interest in acting to create lasting social change, and this year’s Newman Civic Fellows exemplify that commitment.”