Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Protesters Demand Water Bill, Dept. Changes

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Whether the bill came eight weeks ago or eight years ago, nearly 100 Brockton residents Monday banded together in a peaceful protest at City Hall Plaza against not only the water department’s billing and metering problems, but also a “circle the wagons” mentality that has frustrated some who have sought to challenge water use bills the department admits could be inaccurate.
“They’re trying to place everything on the homeowners,” said Bob Ford, whose bill jumped from about $205 to more than $12,000 in less than a year and has been fighting his bills for over seven years. “They have said it was underbilling and underestimating…undermanaged—that’s the ‘under’ they didn’t put in,” Ford said.
The group of protesters formed in front of city hall Monday at 3:30 p.m. Several members spoke to media and TV crews, while others collected signatures and have vowed to follow the issue until there is a resolution—a resolution that many believe should include someone’s job.
“They should have been doing more—they should have contacted people, if they knew it was a problem. They didn’t do anything. They circled the wagons and blamed it on the homeowners,” Ford said.
Most in the crowd, like Ayanna Yancey-Cato (Pictured above at top), whose $100,000 bill has been reduced to $17,000, talked of how they had questioned their bill and, in many cases, had the bill reduced, but were not made aware of the system-wide problems, including an admitted problem with the metering and billing system.
Many feel they overpaid for water they did not use.
One of those is MariAnne Silva, (Pictured below) who said she contacted the water department two weeks ago for a bill that jumped from about $200 to over $2,000. She said the amount was reduced by more than $900, but she believes the number is still wrong, but paid it anyway.
“They weren’t helpful at all and I still think (the bill)is wrong,” Silva said.
Two women Sandra Brown (Pictured above with a FIXED bill), and Kathy Jewett, a resident of Fieldside Gardens Condominium were in the minority. Jewett said she received a bill for $55,000 that the meter calculated over an 8-day period.
She had it reduced to $2,000 and believes the water department dealt with her in a friendly way--and no, neither Brown or Jewett are related to anyone working in City Hall.
“If you don’t go in screaming and yelling—and you have to watch your bill. If you’re a homeowner you have to keep track,” Jewett said.
Mayor Linda Balzotti and the City Council are working to hire an independent auditor to review the problems and make recommendations.
Tuesday night, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at city hall the City Council Finance Committee will discuss advertising for an auditor to sort out the bills.
Balzotti, who had prior commitments and did not attend the rally, said in a prepared statement that she is as frustrated as homeowners and will make a presentation during the finance committee meeting.
Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy said officials are trying to come up with a resolution--including limiting how many years back homeowners should be billed for problems in the city's metering system--because of me and is not yet sure if anyone in the water department should be fired or sanctioned over the matter.
“Should somebody be fired? I’m not ready to assess blame yet,” Brophy said. “I don’t want to lay any blame until we have the audit—the audit will give us a better idea of what happened,” he said.
The city is in the process of replacing its metering and billing system, however, the $11 million project will not be completed for at least 18 months--more than a year and at least four water bill cycles.
In the meantime, Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois (Pictured above talking to homeowner) urged any resident who has questions about their water bills to contact the water department (508-580-7135), mayor's office (508-580-7123) and city council.
For more BrocktonPost.com coverage of the water issue click here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Balizinha Soccer A Ball in Brockton

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Jose “Tuca” Rodrigues and his four teammates didn’t expect to walk away with the championship trophy for what is hoped to be the first annual Balizinha soccer tournament--a form of street soccer played in city parks around the world. “It was fun—better than sitting at home watching TV,” he said (Pictured above in red pinnie).
Not only did the team not waste their time watching TV, they walked away with a trophy and bragging rights. Initially, the adult division was to get a cash prize, but because teams did not pay to register, the winners have the honor of being the champs.
“We didn’t expect to win,” said 18-year-old Brockton High grad Zaias Andrade (Pictured below holding the championship trophy with Alex Resende, 14, of Brockton).
The tournament was sponsored by Self Help Inc., and organized by Fredson Gomes, the community and outreach coordinator for the agency’s community development division, with the help of Arnold Danielson, a founder of Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts who helped serve burgers and hot dogs during the matches which began at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and finished around 1:30 p.m.
The Taunton River Watershed Association and Brockton Symphony Orchestra set up informational tables near the sidelines and Jacinto “Djessa” Gomes, Fredson Gomes’ father, made miniature soccer nets for the tourney from recycled metal pipes and netting.
The tournament featured five teams of five players who passed, dribbled and scored on a concrete tennis court that was overrun with weeds before the match, and from all accounts is hardly used.
“No one plays tennis anymore,” said Lily Gomes, a soon-to-be freshman at Brockton High School and Gomes’ sister who helped register players.
Teams played two 14-minute halves with each side playing with four players on the court and one substitution who could jump in on the fly.
Organizers received help sprucing up the courts located in a section of Harold D. Bent Playground on Belmont Avenue—commonly known as the Ash Street Park—from a handful of Americorps volunteers who have been in the city since the torrential rains and subsequent flooding in March.
The volunteers pulled weeds and unrelenting shrubs from the cracks (Pictured below) in the surface and helped clean the area of potentially dangerous debris.
Jacquie Baker, a Doylestown, Penn., native and a spokeswoman for the AmeriCorps group currently in the city, said along with numerous other volunteer tasks, members are also required to help with a community-wide event, such as the Balizinha tourney.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun and this is a great idea,” Baker said of the tournament.
While the numbers of players—about 25—and spectators—about 25—was not as many as hoped, Danielson said it is something to build on.
“I can see this exploding, I can see this happening—a festival, something,” he said.
His enthusiasm isn’t without merit.
The five teams who came to play brought a high level of skill and spectators were treated to a fast-paced, hard-fought game of soccer that featured blind behind the back passes, ankle-wrenching cuts and twists, and ballet-like turns away from opponents.
The winning team, calling themselves “Angola” and wearing red pinnies, stuffed opponents with strong defense and took the most of its opportunities, including a rocket from 27-year-old Brockton resident Rui Santos,(Pictured above scoring a goal in the finals) whose second goal of the finals put Angola up 3-0 early in the second half over team “Battles" who wore yellow pinnies.
Things got tense when Battles busted through Angola’s defense and popped two goals into the net, cutting the lead to 3-2 with more than 9 minutes left to play.
Referee Moises Rodriques, (Pictured below) a member of former Mayor James Harrington’s staff, said after the match he was looking for the match to get intense, but happily the men playing didn’t get too feisty and throughout the tournament there was little to no foul play.
Fredson Gomes, who refereed the games with Rodriques, only threw one yellow card—a minor infraction--in the entire tournament.
“It was a great day, and we hope we’ll be able to do it again,” Gomes said.
For a previous story about the tournament, please see http://www.brocktonpost.com/2010/08/balizinha-soccer-tourney-hits-brockton.htmlarchive.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jonas Bros. Devotees Swarm Rox Stadium


Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
Brockton Post
BROCKTON—A quartet of Rhode Island teenagers hooted and hollered and sang snippets of their favorite Jonas Brothers songs—a chorus of lyrics that did not go unnoticed by hearthrob Nick Jonas, whose position playing third base for a softball game Thursday afternoon at Campanelli Stadium was within earshot of the exuberant girls.
“He gave us a thumbs up,” said Crystal Ocasio, 16, of Johnston, R.I., who with friends Sarah Wilson, Stephanie DuPuis, and Emily Gomes (Pictured below with thumbs up) joined nearly 5,000 Jonas Brothers fans who came from near and far for a softball game and Jonas Bros. extravaganza that challenged teenagers to pledge not to text-while-driving.
The driving awareness program, called “X the Text,” is sponsored by Allstate Insurance Company and features the Jonas Brothers as ball players—a team called the “Road Dogs,” which evolved last year from after show, blow-off-steam games between the brothers, their road crews and others in the band’s entourage into a public safety extravaganza.
The Road Dogs--made up of Nick, Joe (Pictured right throwing softball) and Kevin Jonas and extended members of the road crew--invades minor league stadiums with a road show blitz that not only delights hordes of screaming fans who may or may not have tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert at a nearby stadium later that night, but also promotes safe driving and the best part-- it's all free for their fans.
Kevin Jonas (#19 pictured below cheering runs by the Road Dogs) during interviews with local media before the game said driving-while-texting is dangerous and can be prevented.
“A lot of people are out there doing it and everybody is guilty of doing it,” Jonas said. “I think if you can raise awareness it can make a difference,” he said.
The Road Dogs cavalcade included T-shirt giveaways and the Jonas Brothers giving their own no-text pledge on the field with fans who received autographed shirts.
All fans who took the pledge with a thumbprint signature--hence thumbs up--received a key chain and other Jonas Brothers gifts.
Outside the stadium fans signed their autographs on the Road Dogs' bus—a sleek, silver carriage that features larger-than-life images of the three brothers in their softball uniforms.
Since “X the Text” began last November, the initiative has collected more than 85,000 pledges from teenagers.
The Jonas Brothers will play in 12 “X the Text” softball games this summer, the next in Camden, N.J., before a concert at Susquehanna Bank Center—all opportunities for their rabid fans to get close to the heartthrobs.
Emily Gomes, of Lincoln, R.I., who drove her three friends from Rhode Island to the Brockton softball game, said she has taken the no-text pledge and will take it to heart as the girls travel down Route 24 to the Comcast Center in Mansfield for the second of two Jonas Brothers concerts.
The girls said they won the tickets from Boston radio station Kiss-108 FM, and for DuPuis and Gomes it’s their 15th Jonas Brothers concert—a musical trek that has taken them to six states and shows as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“We love them,” said Sarah Wilson, who added the four met on an online social networking site begun by the band—whose roots were in Christian music until they skyrocketed to superstardom with the Disney movie “Camp Rock,” and a subsequent television show.
“Yeah, I’m a Jesus freak,” Wilson said, “and I love all their popular stuff, but I love their worship music the best,” she said.
While teens shouted and screamed when the Jonas Brothers came to bat, ran the bases, caught a ball, or made a play, the Road Dogs’ opponents, Marquis Jet Flyers, a team of friends and employees of Marquis Jet —a Boston and New York based private jet travel company--had the joy of playing with the celebrities, but tasted the agony of defeat.
The Road Dogs beat the Flyers 25-17, and at one point the Road Dogs led 15-2.
“They kicked our butt. They got the trophy,” said Mike Lynch, a Scituate resident who was invited to play by longtime friend William J. Allard, a Cohasset resident and one of the founders of Marquis Jet. (Pictured below with Nick Jonas)
Michelle Southworth, a Hingham resident whose husband Wayne plays Sunday softball with Marquis Jet employees and friends said the Sunday games are competitive- including cuts and knocked out teeth—and the Flyers didn’t want to lose to the celebrity superstars.
“They said they wanted to kick those boys’ butts,” Southworth said with a smile.
Lynch said despite the loss the game was a lot of fun and being invited to play in the game impressed his 15-year-old daughter Kelsey Anne, a Jonas Brothers devotee who went to last night’s concert at Comcast Center and went on stage with a group of other fans picked out of the crowd by the brothers to perform a 2010 pop version of “Musical Chairs” with the band.
The softball game, Lynch said, was his time to shine.
Kelsey Anne, Lynch said, (Pictured below with teammate Hingham resident Jeff Cashman) scored the tickets for last night’s show-- including a visit to the sound check before the concert--all by herself, but for today’s softball game, Dad was the one with the all-access tickets.
“I got some points today,” Lynch said.
Many of the fans tried to explain the mania behind the band and ticked off numerous songs whose lyrics play at heart strings and call to mind feelings of longing for love lost and bliss in love found.
One woman, Webster resident Ashley Sweeney, a 21-year-old Iota Delta Nu sorority sister at UMass Dartmouth, said a Jonas Brothers concert last year helped soothe the pain of her father David’s death days before the concert.
“My father’s death was really, really hard on us, but my mother, my family, my friends, all said ‘Go, Dad loved music, he knows you love the Jonas Brothers—go,’” Sweeney said.
She went to the show and doesn’t regret it. Sweeney (Pictured above with friend Amanda) held back tears as she recalled the Jonas Brothers playing two songs at that concert, "Fly With Me," and "Black Key," which reminded her of her father and sent waves of chills and goose bumps up and down her body.
“It really helped. I would just really like to thank them,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney, with her friend Amanda Dolan, a Hingham resident, said she is one of the “older” Jonas Brothers fans and people might think she’s silly, but she loves the music, the lyrics, and Nick, Joe and Kevin.
“I’ll do anything for them,” Sweeney said, adding she drove 90 minutes from Webster, Mass., for the game. “It was the longest ride,” she said.
Although many said it was the music and lyrics that attracted them to the band, an unabashed common theme pulsed through the throngs of mostly teenage girls at Campanelli Stadium who shouted wedding proposals and screeched undying love, and while they said the Jonas boys are excellent role models, fantastic musicians and lyricists, there are other reasons to fall in love with three young men living a teenager’s rock star dream.
“They’re cute,” said Zabrinah Kelle, 15, of Brockton, whose 14-year-old friend Victoria Viola, added, “nice butts,” to which their 14-year-old pal Allison Lemack noted, “they’re hotties.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Brain-Er-Cise" For Seniors at COA

Brockton Post
BROCKTON--The Brockton Council on Aging will offer a free workshop on ways seniors can keep their brains sharp.
The program, called, "Brain-Er-Cise," will take place Thursday Sept. 2 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Council on Aging.
The workshop will be taught by Joyce Kelly, an LPN from Cedar Hill Health Care Center in Randolph.
Seniors are encouraged to reserve seats by calling the senior center at 508-580-7811.
The Council on Aging is located at 10 Father Kenney Way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brockton Schools Finalize Bus Routes

Brockton Post
BROCKTON--The Brockton Public Schools recently announced the 2010-2011 school year transportation routes, officials said in a prepared statement.
To check your child's bus route click this bus routes link to go to Brockton Schools' webpage.
The district’s transportation system has 41 buses and 47 vans.
The district has worked to maintain transportation in the face of a nearly $10 million cut to its fiscal 2011 budget.
“Daily attendance is critically important for students, and we want every child to be in school, on time and prepared to learn on a daily basis,” said Superintendent Matthew Malone. “One of the most important things children learn in school is the value of individual responsibility, and attendance is the first step in making the lifelong learning process successful,” he said.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires a 92 percent attendance rate for schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, and the district has worked to ensure students and families have the resources and support they need to fulfill this important mission.
The first day of school is Thursday, September 2, 2010 for all Grades 1-12 students; the first day of Kindergarten is Wednesday, September 15, 2010.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weddleton Badge Retired at Rox

Brockton Post
BROCKTON--During ceremonies Thursday night, the Brockton Rox paid honor to Brockton native State Trooper Sgt. Douglas Weddleton by retiring his badge number 2047 which will be permanently displayed on the team's centerfield wall for all to remember.
"He was a gentle giant, a great leader and a great first line supervisor," said State Trooper Bob Crocker, who helped "break in" Weddleton when he was a rookie trooper in training 30 years ago.
Weddleton's wife and children were offered proclaimations from the State Legislature and his son Matt threw out the first pitch of last night's game. (Pictured below)
Weddleton, 52, was killed in June when he stopped one vehicle and was struck and killed by a second vehicle while working a paid detail in Mansfield.
Both drivers face drunk driving charges.
Last night's ceremonies also highlighted a new state law, dubbed the "Move Over Law," that requires drivers approaching an accident scene or emergency situation to move over from the closest lane to a lane farther away from the situation.
State Police Superintendent Marian McGovern said since the law took effect last March, troopers have focused on teaching drivers what the law requires.
"Our goal is two-fold: to educate and enforce," McGovern said.
She said "Operation Lightining" has been taking place throughout the summer in an effort to educate drivers about the law and increase awareness and safety.
"We're targeting impaired and erratic operators and aggresive drivers," McGovern said.
Trooper Crocker said Operation Lightning isn't about writing tickets and paying a $100 fine--the maximum allowed under the Move Over Law. "It's about education and awareness and safety," Crocker said. "It's a hazardous thing we do every night," he said.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rox To Honor Fallen Trooper Weddleton Thursday night


Brockton Post
BROCKTON--The Brockton Rox Thursday night will honor Brockton native and State Trooper Sgt. Douglas Weddleton when the club will retire Weddleton's badge number and place an image of it on the outfield wall, team officials said in a prepared statement.
Weddleton, 52, a veteran State Trooper, was killed in June when he pulled over one vehicle for a traffic stop and a second car slammed into the back of the first--crashing into Weddleton who was on foot. Both drivers face drunk driving charges.
The badge retirement ceremony, which will take place before the start of the game at 7:05 p.m., will also promote the state's Move Over Law which took effect in March 2009 and requires drivers who approach an emergency situation to move to a lane farther away from the emergency and slow down to a safe and reasonable rate of speed.
State Senator James Timilty and Massachusetts State Police Col. Marian McGovern are expected to speak about the law.
There will also be a pre-game parade with area rescue vehicles on the warning track, and during the game, the team will be honoring local police and fire departments, with the two sides competing against one another during between-innings promotions.
Discounted group tickets are available for the game, and can be purchased through the Rox box office at Campanelli Stadium, by calling (508) 559-7070, or at the Brockton Rox website.
(Photo courtesy Massachusetts State Police)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Quick Answers To Water Bill Overcharges, Audit, System Overhaul

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—A similar move by two city councilors has postponed Mayor Linda Balzotti’s plan to hire an independent auditor to review on-going water department billing and metering system problems that have plagued the department and has prompted more than 100 calls a day about overcharges and other problems.
Instead, City Councilors Thomas Brophy and Thomas Monahan have requested the City Council issue a Request for Proposals advertisement, or RFP, for an independent auditor to review the water department’s systems—a request that prompted Balzotti to stop her plans to hire an auditor under her authority as mayor which she announced late last week.
“We think it best serves the public’s need to know,” said Councilor-at-Large Thomas Brophy. “It’s not someone chosen by the mayor or anybody else,” he said.
Balzotti announced in a statement late last Thursday afternoon that she had decided to hire Mark D. Abrahams, head of Framingham-based Abrahams Group, to begin an audit of the water department’s billing and metering systems.
She said Abrahams has more than 30 years in public accounting and financial systems and worked with the city when it integrated a city-school general accounting system several years ago.
“There’s no question about his qualifications,” Balzotti said. “He would have done a great job, and he would have started this week, instead of two or three months from now,” she said.
Balzotti had expected to hold a private meeting with Abrahams and other city officials Tuesday (Aug. 17), but it was cancelled after Brophy and Monahan requested a city council order for an independent auditor to be put out to bid instead of the Mayor acting on her own.
She said John Condon, the city's chief financial officer, began seeking an independent auditor in late July, after a controversy broke out over an abundance of astronomical water bills received by numerous residents.
Since the latest controversy began in June, Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson said the water department has received more than 100 calls a day with questions about bills and other metering problems.
"I guess all the negative publicity has been a good thing, because we want people to call us," Thoreson said.
He said the department received about 160 calls on Monday.
Balzotti said although she will not fight the city council on the matter, she believes the faster the audit is done the better, but in the name of cooperation has agreed to wait for the RFP process to work its way through—which could be three months or more as opposed to the 4 to 6 weeks she expected Abrahams to bring some recommendations.
“I let the city council order go through so when there are recommendations and solutions it will be something everyone can agree with,” Balzotti said. “When the work is done we’ll have some answers, until then, there will be an audit, but not many answers for a few months—probably at least two billing cycles,” she said.
Brophy said while the RFP process maybe slower, it’s the right way to go.
“It’s the best way to ensure the public trust,” Brophy said.
He said the auditor RFP question is expected on the City Council’s Monday night meeting (Aug. 23) agenda. He said usually an item on its first reading is sent to the finance committee for review and recommendation, slowing the process even more.
However, Brophy said, the board can suspend those rules and ask for action that night, and he expects the question to at least be discussed if not approved Monday.
In the meantime, city officials expect to continue sorting through billing overcharges similar to the ones that have surfaced in the media, including one woman who received a bill for $100,000.
“Anyone who has an estimated bill should contact the water department,” said DPW Commissioner Michael Thoreson.
He said about 1,000 letters were sent to homeowners last Friday. Those 1,000 are residents who have had estimated bills for more than six billings cycles or about 1 ½ years.
Water bills are sent to residents every quarter--every three months--and are marked either estimated bills or actual bills.
Thoreson said estimated bills—and their resulting astronomical overcharges--or in some cases undercharges--are a product of two things: the city’s inability to enter homes to read water meters and the accelerated breakdown of the city’s data reading devices that are attached to those meters.
He said water department employees have manually read more than 8,600 meters during the last billing cycle because of the breakdowns in the electronic metering devices that are outputting information to billing systems about water usage per gallon that are wrong in many cases.
“This is nothing new, and we knew the system was failing and had problems, but recently it began failing exponentially,” Thoreson said.
Thoreson said the current system was installed around 1993-1995 and at the time was state-of-the-art and expected to last about 10 years.
“We got about five more years out of it,” Thoreson said.
The City Council about three months ago approved an $11 million bond bill to pay for an updated, state-of-the-art meter reading system—which in part will be paid through a state grant that received state approval this year after two other failed requests for the low-interest funding.
Thoreson said the billing and meter reading problems have been going on for about three to five years, but because there was no money to replace the systems, the water department did the best it could.
“We have employees working 10-12 hour days, Saturdays and nights to get these meters read and solve these problems,” Thoreson said.
He said he resented comments that the department was “sloppy” or “incompetent."
Thoreson said an RFP for one of four parts of the meter system replacement is expected to be advertised next Tuesday.
Thoreson said the four parts of upcoming bids for the new system are:
1) replacing electronic devices on the outside of the meters that are supposed to feed usage information without being in the home;
2) replacing wires and setting up a data delivery system to replace telephone land lines that once uploaded usage info for billing but because residents use cell phones and not land lines are now obsolete;
3) computer software and radio systems to transmit data and offer greater error detection;
4) and lastly the installation of the new devices, software and radio systems in homes and at the water department.

The first advertisement, Thoreson said, will be for the replacement of the outside electronic devices, and followed shortly after by the next three parts of the project.
He said once all the bids have been reviewed and discussed--a process he hopes will be completed by late fall--Thoreson said he estimated it would take 18 months to install the new equipment in the homes and businesses of the city’s 24,000-plus water users.
“Once we start, we’re not going to stop until we’re done,” Thoreson said.
Another measure to make the replacement process easier, Thoreson said, is a new city ordinance that would allow city officials to enter homes that have not responded to requests to install the new equipment.
He said with the foreclosure crisis and other reasons, the city has come up against a host of problems entering properties with absentee landlords or landlords who advise tenants not to allow meter readers into the home.
The ordinance has not yet received approval, Thoreson said.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Family Fun Day Volunteers Needed

Brockton Post
BROCKTON--Organizers of Summer Sunday in the Park are asking Brockton residents to volunteer two to three hours--community service that will help the family-oriented event be a success.
"We would like to get as many people as possible," said Maysa de Oliveira, director of Mayor Linda Balzotti's office for constituent services. "If they can give two, three hours or more. We're not asking people to be there all day," she said.
The city-wide field day includes free face painting and children's activities, music, dancing, martial arts performances and a host of food and craft vendors.
It will be held Sunday, Aug. 22 from Noon to 6 p.m. at D.W. Field Park.
Admission is free.
de Oliveira said volunteers are needed in the morning at 9 a.m. to help set up tables and booths for the free kids crafts and community resource tables.
During the event, volunteers could be asked to man booths or help organize fairgoers for activities like face-painting in the children's section, or the popular "Trackless Train" that takes attendees around a portion of the park.
"Volunteers will help make it orderly, safe and organized," de Oliveira said.
Currently there are 10 members on the organizing committee and 10 volunteers.
de Oliveira said 20 or more volunteers would make a big difference.
"It's a way to help out the community and meet new people and it's fun," de Oliveira said.
Volunteers are also needed to pack-up and clean-up after the fair ends at 6 p.m.
Anyone interested in helping out contact de Oliveira at the mayor's office at 508-580-7123 or by email at mdeoliveira@cobma.us

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vigil Supports Overdose Victims, Families

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—Family and friends of young men and women who have died of drug overdoses held a remembrance vigil last Friday to support one another and offer words of hope to others struggling everyday with heroin, Oxycontin and other drug addictions.
“As long as they’re alive there’s hope,” said Paula Hendricks, whose son Curtis—a star football player at Dennis-Yarmouth High School—died nearly three years ago when he relapsed and shot heroin with a friend, but the euphoria turned to an overdose and Curtis died after four days in a coma.
“He had been struggling for years,” Hendricks (Pictured above) said of her 26-year-old son. “We thought he was going to make it. We kept saying, he’s going to make it—and then one day after being clean he went back,” she said as her blue eyes filled with tears.
Hendricks, who lives in Dennis-Yarmouth and works in Brockton, joined nearly two dozen family, friends and caregivers of opioid drug addicts for a candlelight vigil Friday night at Brockton City Hall.
The vigil was sponsored by Learn to Cope, a Brockton area drug abuse support group, BAMSI’s C.O.P.E. Center, and the Mayor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition.
Several parents whose children have died from drug overdoses spoke to the gathering and recounted the stories of how their children turned from star athletes, reliable students and employees-- good people--to pained and uncaring drug-addicts—some of whom turned to crime to pay the bill for their drug habit.
Jackie Shea, of N. Easton, held a tissue in one hand and a picture of her son David Semenza in the other as she told how her son's addiction led him to an unarmed bank robbery when Semenza was shot and killed by Mansfield Police in 2008 when he was 20-years-old.
Shea said her son was not a thug and that it was the drugs that drove him to steal to pay for the addiction.
“He was a good boy with a bright future,” Shea said. “All of these bank and convenience store robberies are drug addicts—it’s the drugs,” she said.
As she held a picture of her son, Shea said Davey was with her trying to help others with the same problems—problems that permeate every walk of life.
“Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up. Tell them you love them. Give them your unconditional love,” Shea said.
Mayor Linda Balzotti said while there is a long road ahead, there is some good news in the battle against drug addiction.
In 2009 there were 46 reported fatal overdoses in the city.
Balzotti said following a community awareness effort that included families, city agencies, police and medical professionals, so far in 2010 there have only been 8 fatal overdoses.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go, but there has been progress,” Balzotti said.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Huntington School Uniforms First in 20+ years

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—When students at the Huntington School in Brockton return to classes in September there will be at least two noticeable differences.
The first is students will begin class one hour earlier at 8 a.m. and the second is some of their classmates will be wearing a uniform--changes which are a part of a redesign plan aimed at improving the underperforming school.
“This is one of a kind in the city,” said School Committee member Richard Bath about the uniform initiative. “The Huntington is a test case, an experiment on improving an underperforming school and I think it’s a really great idea,” he said.
Students will have the option of wearing school uniforms when classes begin Sept. 2—a reform that hasn’t been in effect in Brockton for more than 20 years.
School Deputy Superintendent John Jerome said in the early 1980s students and teachers at the Arnone Elementary School participated in a uniform option for several years, but the initiative faded with time.
“Like the Arnone, uniforms are optional. It’s up to the parents--and the students,” Jerome said.
Huntington’s uniform colors are khaki, blue and white and students may wear collared shirts and sweaters with khaki pants, shorts or skirts.
Jerome said a letter from Principal June Saba to Huntington School parents that outlines the changes were sent via mail Wednesday and should already be in residents’ mailboxes.
An open house for questions and more on the plan's initiatives is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Jerome said last Septmember when Saba took over as principal she worked with teachers and parents to come up with ideas to increase student performance overall and on MCAS scores and the redesign plan is the result of that year-long process.
Jerome said during hearings about the new plan in June and July parents voiced overwhelming support for uniforms—especially from parents of an estimated 350 of the school’s nearly 550 students who are of Cape Verde descent and accustomed to wearing uniforms to school.
He said new parents moving into the district will be made aware of the changes as they register.
“It’s up to the parents—we’ll see how it goes,” Jerome said, noting Huntington’s K-5 population are more likely to embrace a uniform option than their middle school and high school counterparts.
“It might be more difficult for parents to get the older students to wear a uniform,” Jerome said.
The new uniform option was approved by the school committee in mid-June and is part of a larger plan to improve MCAS scores and instruction at Huntington and stave off potential negative state and federal education department designation that could force an overhaul of the Huntington under revamped federal No Child Left Behind regulations.
“The Huntington is a Level 3 school,” Jerome said. "All sorts of things happen if we become a Level 4 school under the new designations—this is a way to show that we are not waiting until we reach Level 4 to do something,” he said.
He said Huntington is not the only Brockton school with a Level 3 designation, but it has been struggling longer to improve than some of the others.
Drastic Level 4 steps could include replacing principals and teachers similar to the firings and upheaval at a Central Falls Rhode Island high school earlier this year.
One of the primary steps toward improving MCAS scores--which have not improved over the last two to three years putting the school at Level 3—is to begin classes at 8 a.m. instead of 9.
School officials said the teacher’s union has agreed to the new start time and the additional 60 minutes will be spent improving and enhancing instruction in core subjects like math and science and especially English.
The estimated $185,000 to $225,000 cost for the extra hour was mostly paid by cuts in other areas, Jerome said and was part of budget discussions in July when the 2010-2011 budget was approved.
Tim Sullivan, head of the Brockton Education Association, said teachers worked alongside administrators and parents to make the plan work and negotiate compensation for the 8 a.m. opening, which was agreed upon months ago.
"There were obvious signs like the MCAS scores that indicated something new had to be done at the school," Sullivan said. "You have to commend the teachers, administrators--everyone for trying to do something new," he said.
Jerome said the extra hour will help teachers concentrate on English and comprehension skills because more than half of the school’s students do not speak English as a first language.
MCAS scores, Jerome said, show the mostly Cape Verde students are having a difficult time with short answer questions and more instruction will improve those skills.
“All the studies say extended day is the way to go,” Jerome said.
As part of the redesign plan, Jerome said, non-English speaking students will be “looped” together with teachers for two or three years to foster a more productive and effective learning climate.
For more information about uniforms, the new start time and Huntington's overall redesign plan visit the Brockton Schools' website.
(Photos courtesy Brockton Public Schools)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Drug Overdose Candlelight Vigil Friday

Brockton Post
BROCKTON--A coalition of drug addiction prevention and drug treatment agencies will host a candlelight vigil to remember those who have lost their lives and the families who have suffered from drug overdoses at Brockton City Hall, Friday, Aug. 6 beginning at 7 p.m.
City officials in a statement said all are welcome to attend the vigil. City hall is located at 45 School St.
The remembrance is sponsored by Learn To Cope, in conjunction with Mayor Linda M. Balzotti's Office, BAMSI's C.O.P.E.Center, High Point Treatment Center, and the Brockton Mayor's Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Balizinha Soccer Tourney Hits Brockton

Brockton Post
BROCKTON—In an effort to take back Ash Street Park, Self Help Inc. is seeking men, women and teenagers to play in a modified tournament of soccer called “Balizinha,” a 14-minute scoring and skills frenzy played on tennis courts or basketball courts around the world.
“It’s a form of street soccer,” said Fredson Gomes, community and outreach coordinator for Self Help’s community development division. “And we’re offering cash prizes for the adult winners,” he said.
Because the modified game does not allow the usual shoulder charges and slide tackles of field soccer, men and women will play in the same division, or may have coed teams.
“Whoever has the A game—bring it on,” Gomes said.
The Balizinha (pronounced Baliz-eeenya) tournament will be held Saturday, Aug. 28 from 9:30 to 3:30 p.m. Teams should arrive at 9 a.m.
The cost for adult teams is $75. Teenagers between 14 and 16 are also invited to play in the tournament. There is no registration fee for teenagers who will earn medals for first, second and third place.
The rules of this Balizinha tournament—rules vary from country to country, city to city and pick-up game to pick-up game-- allow for each team to have a total of five players: four on the field at a time and one substitution.
Substitutions are unlimited and can be made on the “fly.”
Neither team plays with a goalie and there is no offside rule. With the elimination of shoulder charges and slide tackles, Gomes said the games are fast and usually high scoring.
“It’s about speed and skill,” Gomes said.
Preliminary matches will have 7-minute halves. The finals will have 10 minutes halves.
(Complete rules can be found by clicking on the brochures above)
First place adult finishers win $250, second $150, and third, $100.
The name Balizinha, Gomes said, comes from the Portuguese root word “small goals” and is played all over the world—usually in cities where there is little space and few, if any, soccer fields.
He said the tournament is a way to reuse and reinvent the so-called Ash Street Park tennis courts located at 143 Belmont Ave. that have seen little use except for surreptitious activity for 20 years.
“The formal name is Harold D. Bent Park, but everyone calls it Ash Street Park,” said Gomes, a Cape Verde native who has lived in Brockton since he was six years old. He is now 27. “It’s a rough park and has been given a bad name—rightly or wrongly,” Gomes said.
He said his father, Jacinto “Djessa” Gomes, 51, played Balizinha pickup games with his friends when Gomes was a young boy.
Gomes said it is time for Balizinha to be resurrected and hopefully so will the park.
“We would love to see something come out of this, whether it is leagues or something else remains to be seen,” Fredson Gomes said.
To register for the tournament, contact Gomes at Self Help at 508-588-4049 x118 or by email at fgomes@selfhelpinc.org or at www.facebook.com/selfhelpinc. The deadline to enter is Tuesday, Aug. 24. Space is limited.