1991: Incident Leads to Community Action
On July 29, 1991, 32 youth were arrested in front of Worcester’s Courthouse for loitering, disturbing the peace, and being a public nuisance. An ethnically diverse group, they were from several different Worcester neighborhoods and surrounding towns. This incident motivated Lynne Simonds, chair of the City Manager’s Youth Council, and Anne Moriarity, Director of Program Development at Plumley Village, to start the process of creating the Worcester Youth Center.
Their weekly meetings, which included Youth Council members, arrested youth and others, eventually led to the creation of the Teen Action Group (TAG). This group succeeded in helping members to realize they were not alone and there was a role for youth in Worcester. They moved beyond complaining to their friends in the street to channel their energy into collective action.
1994: Worcester Youth Center Is Founded
On April 29, 1994, TAG held a press conference announcing two things; one, that they would be opening a Youth Center; and two that on May 9th they would hold a Youth Summit at the Center. The Summit was structured to give youth a central voice on issues such as youth violence, stereotyping, the media, police relations, employment opportunities, school quality, recreational, and social activities. Lynne Simonds became the Center’s first executive director. The first location was 508 Main Street in Worcester.
1996: New Director, New Direction
The hiring of Adolfo Arrastia as the Executive Director brought new life and a renewed sense of direction to the Center. Arrastia was 46 years old, Puerto Rican, and had been raised in housing projects in Brooklyn, New York. Involved with a gang as a young person, he later served in the Marines. He understood where the youth in the Center were coming from, and perhaps more importantly, he had the credibility to guide them into a safer, more peaceful existence. Early in his tenure, the Center moved to 27 Chandler Street.
1997: Our Partners Help Us Build a Stronger Foundation
In October 1997, in conjunction with the YMCA, YWCA and UMass Memorial, the Center developed a Youth Collaborative. Given their success in attracting older teens, the Center served as the hub. Other organizations brought their violence reduction, pregnancy prevention, and career readiness programs to the Collaborative. The Center incorporated them into its governance process by establishing designated board seats for them.
2004: Our Own Home
In 2004, the community rallied and contributed $1.9 million to purchase a larger, permanent home for the Center at 326 Chandler Street, next to Worcester’s Beaver Brook Park. The new facility has increased the Center’s capacity to deliver mission-driven programs and provide greater opportunities for youth.
2005: Change in Leadership
Denise Calderwood, former police officer, deputy sheriff and Florida youth center founder, succeeded Adolfo Arrastia as executive director.
2007: Period of Transition
Joseph C. O’Brien, Worcester Youth Center board member, community organizer, School Committee member and district director for Congressman James McGovern, served as interim executive director after Calderwood’s departure.
2008: Hilda Ramirez Named Executive Director
Hilda Ramirez became the Worcester Youth Center’s fifth executive director in February 2008. Founder of a Worcester after-school dance and cultural program, with an extensive corporate background and a Masters in Education from Harvard, Ramirez brought her business and academic skills to the position. Together with the board, she undertook a 360-degree evaluation of the Center, its leadership and its activities. During her tenure, the Center broadened its donor base, expanded its community partnerships and offered more structured programming for both younger and older youth populations.
2008: Tropical Storm Hanna Floods Building
Center closed briefly after three feet of water poured into the building during Tropical Storm Hanna in September 2008, damaging carpets, walls and furniture. Renovations created clean, modern, multi-purpose spaces.
2011: WPI Students Present Options For Warehouse
Possible new uses for space in the Worcester Youth Center and warehouse next door were subject of Interactive Qualifying Project for team of WPI students.
2012: Samuel N. Martin New Executive Director
Named Executive Director in May 2012, Samuel Martin brings extensive experience working with youth in underserved communities. As senior program manager at Commonwealth Corporation, he worked to improve workforce development systems for youth. He also was director of community services of Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury, where he founded a health-focused youth employment program, and he has experience in juvenile justice settings. An inaugural board member for the Massachusetts Foster Care Alumni Network, Martin earned his bachelor’s degree at Hampton University and his master’s degree at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.