The annual carnival has returned to the grounds of St. Bernard’s Elementary School at 254 Summer St. With the carnival comes fun for all ages with an assortment of rides, games and plenty of food. Presented by Fiesta Shows, proceeds from the carnival partially benefit St. Bernard’s. The carnival is open through April 23. For more information visit fiestashows.com/fs/fitchburg-carnival.
Does Great Wolf Lodge live up to the hype?
I aimed to find out on a two-night weekday trip for my daughter’s 10th birthday in late January.
It’s more like three days with being able to start using the waterpark and grounds before check-in and continue using them after checkout until the waterpark closes.
But we made it at check-in time on a Wednesday as the snow began to fall.
The check-in line was incredibly long — and painful, for someone like me with disabilities that didn’t expect to have to stand in a 45-minute line.
I knew from contacting their national customer service that wheelchairs are “first come, first serve.” Unfortunately, they gave me one with no footrests — a painful way to get around — but I was told it was the only one available. They said I would get a text when they could put footrests on, but that text never came. This became an ongoing saga throughout our stay.
The front desk also didn’t manage to record several of our requests (found out a day later when I double-checked and fixed it), but they did put us in a room at the very end of a hallway far away from the lobby and any activities, which as light sleepers, my daughter and I appreciated.
We put on nightclub-like wristbands that allowed us to charge everything to our room.
The first evening, my daughter decided to explore, eat, and relax.
It’s possible to make food cheaper by eating in the quick-service restaurants on-site or by bringing your own food to store in the mini-fridge and heat in the microwave, both of which we did, but we also tried the restaurants.
I’m glad we did. The food and service at the restaurants were fabulous. If there’s one thing Great Wolf Lodge should be known for, it’s attention to dietary restrictions and delicious food. An allergy specialist went over everything with us before we even selected an eatery. Our very flamboyant server didn’t mind at all that my daughter wanted to move from a table to a booth after being seated, and wanted to order a combination completely not on the menu.
She is still raving about how perfectly rare her burger was over a month later. My chicken wings were wonderfully crisp and my partner ate the heck of his can-eat-anything buffet.
The room was well-apportioned, clean, and comfortable. There was plenty of room for our suitcases, boxes of birthday presents, and all our food. Lots of electric outlets. The two queen beds and the couch were soft and comfy. There were nice touches, like the pretty wall lamps and the high-quality branded toiletries.
While I slept in the next morning for our first full day, my partner (her dad) took the birthday girl to a fantastic buffet where she was able to nosh on plenty of scrumptious gluten-free and dairy-free food (which I can confirm was that good because I ate leftovers when I got up).
I was told by someone else at the front desk that maintenance could not ever put footrests on a wheelchair. The only thing they could do was exchange the wheelchair without footrests for one with only a single footrest and wait for a complete one that might never come. So I did it, but it was uncomfortable trying to place both of my feet on one footrest.
My daughter went to Dunkin with her birthday coupon. Because she couldn’t eat the free donut, they let her have a free Coolatta. She was thrilled.
We headed to the water park.
The air and water in the water park weren’t the advertised temperatures at any point in our stay, but I can’t imagine it’s easy to keep that entire facility warm in January, especially with an indoor and outdoor hot tub.
My family and I spent a lot of time in that hot tub. They tried different water slides, and together we played in the wave pool and drifted on the lazy river.
The water park is the crown jewel of GWL and it’s understandable why. It’s clean, fun, and the lines are minimal.
It was hard to find a table to put our stuff. When we did, my partner and daughter had lunch from the counter service inside the water park. They initially gave my daughter gluten-containing chicken fingers, but figured out their error before she ate anything and replaced it with the right one, letting my partner keep the gluten. My daughter said they were some of the best chicken fingers she’s ever had, with the coating tasting “real.”
My daughter decided she wanted to spend her birthday evening at the arcade, which is extraordinarily expensive. It comes out to about $2.50 per game of skeeball. I don’t want to tell you what she blew through in an hour, but Matt at the arcade was the best. He rounded her tickets up, and tried to get her special birthday wolf ears (which they were sadly out of).
Before bed, the gift shop, with something at a price point for everyone. I recommend the magnets for a cheap souvenir, and the basic wolf ears, which are free.
I also was finally given a second usable footrest on the wheelchair by someone who said maintenance could do it, and then got it done, which made all the difference in my comfort the rest of the stay.
On our final day, we checked out and went to see the land options. There was a depressing joke of a mini-golf course and some sad electronic bowling that my daughter declared “overpriced.” If my kid was the type to do the mid-air ropes course or the rock climbing wall, that might have been more value for money.
There was enough to do for another several hours at the water park. My daughter and I enjoyed the kiddie water slides — my first ever water slides, and safe for me. We shot some hoops in water basketball, she did the lilypad course twice and we revisited our favorites from the day before.
Around check-in on Friday it got busy, so we had another meal before heading home, which was again amazing. One of the best gluten-free burger buns I’ve had anywhere.
So is it worth it?
It’s something of a rite of passage for a local family with young children. I think a little of the magic was lost on a jaded tween and two adults, and we should’ve gone when our kids were littler.
It’s the opposite of all-inclusive. It’s an eye-watering $13 for a small cup of penny candy, the lockers in the waterpark are highway robbery, and I basically felt nickel-and-dimed for everything. My daughter lost a favorite sock right before we left, and they wanted $30 to ship it a half hour away. When I had questions, I texted the concierge in the app, but no one ever answered a single query I had that way.
I think they could be a lot more accessible. Wheelchairs could be able to be reserved. While they haven’t done that, GWL management did respond to my concerns by ordering more wheelchairs and training the staff in maintaining them.
But the food was incredible and the water park was loads of fun, enough that my daughter wants to go back just for those, and we probably will (either overnight or with a day pass). Get on their mailing list for 50% off sales (or buy a Groupon), which makes it a lot more cost-effective.
Everyone should go with their family at least once.
Although they are technically 63-years-old as of Tuesday, fraternal twins Judi Parabicoli Barbieri and Joe Parabicoli have celebrated on only 15 actual birthdays. The duo was born in Framingham on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 1960, and raised in Ashland with their two older siblings. According to leapyearday.com the odds of giving birth to twins on Leap Day are about 1 in 50,000. Joe now lives in Leominster and Judi in Framingham and next year will mark a milestone birthday for them — their “Sweet Sixteen.”
LEOMINSTER — Being of French-Canadian descent on both sides of the family, Linda Kinsey grew up with many social gatherings — celebrating birthdays, weddings, special occasions — all grateful to have time together with family.
Kinsey was born in 1945 in one of Massachusetts’ mill towns, Lawrence.
“In those days, extended family members lived close by, and we often visited my relatives on my mother’s side, the Roy family and on my father’s side as well, the Fredette family. My cousins and I were remarkably close and my memere Roy lived in the same projects as we did,” Kinsey said. “I personally think that is one of the reasons family is so important to me.”
Kinsey recalls how her mother, Lillian Roy, had casually talked about another brother of hers, named Henri.
“It was very rare actually,” she said, “But when she did talk about him it was with a deep sadness in her voice because he died so young.”
Kinsey said she had always been interested in finding out if she had another uncle, but it was not until her husband sadly passed away this year that she became more interested.
“My oldest Roy cousin had delved into my parents’ genealogical history many years ago, and shared the Roy family history with me,” said Kinsey. “I love history in general and what she found was eye opening — that one of my grandmother’s (Martineau was her birth name) long-ago relatives had been the apothecary to the Queen of France and that Louis Hebert, my ancestor, came over with Samuel de Champlain to settle new France in 1608. That information was so far from anything I could imagine that it woke up my interest in genealogy.”
Ironically, she said, her cousin’s in-depth research never did find their mutual uncle, maybe because his name was Henri, instead of Henry.
“So earlier this year I contacted a family friend and his wife who were genealogists to do a search specifically for Henri Roy,” Kinsey said. “That was five months ago, with no news in between then. Until I received a text from them on Dec. 19 at 4 p.m.”
Kinsey said she cried when she received the text with a photocopy of his death record.
“Tears of joy,” Kinsey said. “I kept reading his name repeatedly, sometimes aloud because it seemed so … well I don’t know the word to use about how I felt when I saw that name — Henri Roy, born April 6, 1919, died of pneumonia March 6, 1920. What a joy!”
Kinsey said her mother was born on May 17, 1920, just a few months after Henri died of pneumonia, possibly since there was no penicillin at that time, and Kinsey said she cannot help but wonder if he may have died from the Spanish flu.
She said she immediately called her cousins to tell them the news, “and now I have a new goal, to go to Manchester, New Hampshire and find where he is buried.”
“I always appreciated having eight Roy aunts and uncles, and knew them well,” Kinsey said. “Knowing they grew up during the [Great] Depression and that they were very poor made their lives even more precious to me, so I was committed to find out for sure if I had an Uncle Henri Roy.”
Kinsey said that she has always been interested in vintage and antique items and finding out the history behind them, “It’s like solving a mystery,” she said. “But when you find out about a member of your family whom you never knew really existed, that’s incredible.”
“There are so many sites and services online,” she said. “I would encourage people to be persistent in pursuing their family’s roots because it is so rewarding.
Sharing that you never know what you might find out, Kinsey said that in her case, at age 77, with no living aunts and uncles or grandparents, she discovered her Uncle Henri.
“Perhaps it had something to do with my husband’s death this year, in the sense that I realized so deeply that life is so precious, every life,” Kinsey said. “I am hopeful that my story will bring joy and hope to others who at this time really need it.”
FITCHBURG — The passion the four women behind Empower Children for Success have for the community focused nonprofit organization they formed together is evident.
Adela Cintron, Angelica Lacourse, Marites MacLean, and Gretchen Rodriguez, all graduates of the Public Education, Children with Special Needs, Mental Health, Childcare, and Financial Stewards programs of NewVue Communities, were inspired to launch ECFS in November with the mission to create more equitable childcare, workforce development, and behavioral health systems in Fitchburg, Worcester County, and the North Central region.
According to a press release, these four minority women business entrepreneurs saw the need to create an organization that will meet the comprehensive needs of the children and families that they serve. They met several times with Francisco Ramos, director of Community Organizing at NewVue Communities, Inc., for help with the creation of Fitchburg Loves the Children in 2021, now known as ECFS.
They were granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for ECFS in October and MacLean said they “appreciate” the organizational and development grant funds received from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts that allowed them to hire an accountant and lawyer who worked closely with the ECFS Board of Directors to apply for the application to obtains its nonprofit status.
“We are grateful to the Greater Worcester Community Foundation for awarding us the community grant for general operating support this year,” MacLean added about additional funding.
NewVue Communities and Highland Baptist Church acted as the corporation’s fiscal sponsors in 2021 and 2022, respectively, which enabled MacLean to write grants “to advance its mission of promoting the overall healthy development of children.”
She said ECFS is “creating a more equitable mental health system by implementing its Calming Kit project.” The kits include books, art and drawing supplies, fidget toys, and more.
Recipients of the 2021 calming kits, which included materials donated by the Fitchburg chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, were family resource centers, family engagement agencies, childcare centers including family childcare programs, and parents. Last year they gifted kits to LUK, Inc. to be distributed to its clinicians in its various programs “to use as a preventive tool to support the social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health of the children and the families that they serve.”
“ECFS strongly believes that obtaining training and having the Calming Kit as a resource should be an essential part of an adult’s everyday tool when dealing with children’s social-emotional needs to promote and or improve health outcomes,” MacLean shared.
Grant funding secured through UMass Memorial HealthAlliance Clinton-Hospital, Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, and NewVue Communities in 2021 and from Community Health Network of North Central Massachusetts (CHNA9), the Fitchburg Cultural Council, and NewVue Communities in 2022 enabled ECFS to launch and maintain is Calming Kit project to provide a free, “preventive tool to programs and families to help children self-regulate to support their social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health.”
MacLean and the other women partnered with several medical and mental health personnel in the area to provide training for parents and caregivers on how to use the Calming Kits and distribute them in the region. They are also working to address “the need to find a solution to decrease the uptick of children’s and youth’s mental health cases in childcare programs and schools” in the greater region by providing support to a variety of people who work with young people.
“Counselors, teachers, childcare providers, and family resource and engagement counselors report an increase in youth depression, sadness, suicide ideation, bullying and despair,” MacLean said. “There is a wait for an appointment for students to see a mental health professional and many institutions lack a mental health professional in the buildings.”
In addition, ECFS is “increasing access to culturally responsive quality early childhood and out of school programs” through its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program.
“There is an urgent need in Fitchburg and other parts of the North Central region and Worcester County,” MacLean said of the idea behind the program created to increase admission to childcare for the Latino community.
She secured grant funding last year from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, United Way of North Central Massachusetts, and the Greater Worcester Foundation to fund and launch its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program “to help women especially in the minority groups to open a family child care business.”
“The participants are trained to promote children’s healthy overall development in a more culturally and linguistically appropriate ways,” MacLean said of the child care training program.
ECFS has been able to successfully expand its reach and enroll 46 minority-women participants in its Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program in the first three cohorts, 32 educators in its Trauma Informed Care Training program, and distribute more than 250 Calming Kits to children and families.
MacLean teamed up with Liz Murphy, Executive Director of Community Development & Planning in the city, secure $40,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds to provide a $3,500 grant to the each of the graduates of the Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program who live in Fitchburg and obtained their family child care license from the Department of Early Education and Care.
Estefania German is one of the recipients of the grant from the city and Nicole Young of Ashburnham is the recipient of a $3,500 grant from United Way, which will assist them in paying for the startup cost of running their family childcare businesses.
MacLean said graduates of the program are referred to Ray Belanger, Director of Small Business Assistance at NewVue Communities, “to get access to small business assistance programs to grow and maintain their businesses to become part of the small business ecosystem and to be recognized for their importance in building and boosting the local economies.”
“Empower Children for Success plans on scaling up the Child Care Entrepreneur Stewards Training Program statewide to increase the supply of culturally responsive high-quality childcare programs, especially family childcare programs to ensure that our children are being taken care of by caregivers who represent their cultural and linguistic background,” she said.
MacLean said she and her partners are determined to do what they can to serve children and families in the area and beyond with their programs.
“ECFS applies a community voice approach by amplifying the voice of the children and the families who are enrolled in the Head Start programs, childcare programs that receive state subsidies, and family resource centers and other agencies that serve the target population in the area,” she said. “ECFS includes the voices of the community most affected by the problem by asking families and stakeholders to get involved in the planning process like creating goals or defining the problem. We actively solicit their support to volunteer in the implementation of our projects, fundraising efforts, attend public events, and serve on our committees that focus on promoting health and wellbeing, family support, increase family’s wealth, and establishment of high-quality early childhood and out of school care.”
She said that it has truly been a collaborative community effort and wants to “extend gratitude” to Highland Baptist Church, Leominster United Methodist Church, IC Federal Credit Union, Enterprise Bank, Workers Credit Union, Rivers Brothers, Bin There Dump That, the ECFS Board of Directors, “and all the individuals that donated money to support and advance the important work of the organization.”
Empower Children for Success is looking for partners from financial institutions, local businesses, and other organizations that are community-minded helping to advance its mission to make greater impacts on the lives of the people it serves. Those interested can email Marites MacLean at email@example.com or call her at 978-348-2416, and for more information follow Empower Children for Success on Facebook and visit empowerchildrenforsuccess.org.
The story of Jesus Christ’s birth is one of the most well-known in the world, but few have heard it from the perspective of a piece of hay in the manger.
“Herbie the Hay” was written by Catt B. Aubuchon, a Westminster resident who was born in Gardner and moved to Fitchburg at a young age. She attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
The children’s book “Herbie the Hay” was a long time coming — Aubuchon came up with it in middle school.
“In seventh grade, my assignment was to write about a non-living thing during the Great Happening of Jesus’s birth,” she said. “I pictured the manger in my mind while I was writing and decided on a piece of hay to come to life and take us through this storybook journey.”
The reading of Aubuchon’s story became a family Christmas tradition for her parents, Norman and Carol Boudreau, and her two older sisters, Jacqueline and Nancy.
Aubuchon’s dad was “a big fan of the book” and showed it to a local Catholic priest, the Rev. Rich Lewandowski. She said “he was enamored by it” and had it printed locally, asking her in 1999 to do a guest reading at Christmas Eve Mass in St. Camillus Church in Fitchburg.
Her Catholic community and extended family’s enduring love for her story made her want to have it published in modern times for new generations, leading to “Herbie the Hay” coming out as a half storybook, half coloring book hardcover in August.
The story goes that Herbie the Hay was placed in a manger, sad and alone, because all the other hay made fun of him. However, deep down he knew he had an extremely important job to do. Three days later, a very special baby was born in his stables and placed in the manger for Herbie to keep safe and warm. Herbie traveled with Mary and Joseph, continuing to be attached to Jesus’s blanket, until his love for the child causes him to become part of the family home.
Ultimately, the message of the book is that all believers in Jesus are special and important, and that Christ is the savior, which Aubuchon said is a great Christmas message for children of all ages and the young at heart.
Aubuchon is a wife, mother of two, and grandmother of three. All of her children also attended Catholic schools, and so do her grandchildren.
Her faith in Christianity is a huge part of her life. “At such a young age I was taught the values of morals, discipline, respect, and being accountable for my actions which gave me a solid foundation,” Aubuchon said.
She has high hopes for the future of “Herbie the Hay.”
Aubuchon said, “I have realized that being a published author is a tough but rewarding feat. This is the first but maybe not the last book about Herbie and his adventures. Herbie The Hay could someday become a franchise and even a movie!” She plans to write a sequel or “another adventure for Herbie the Hay” soon.
“My dream is that Herbie turns into a New York Times bestseller but reality tells me to just have fun promoting it locally,” she added.
After interviewing a few publishers, Aubuchon settled on Dorrance Publishing of Pittsburgh. Authors pay Dorrance Publishing to produce, print, promote, and distribute.
Her brother-in-law Jeff B. Aubuchon, a professional artist, drew the illustrations and the publisher added the color — in the first half of the book which is the story.
The second half of the pages is a coloring book of the illustrations in the first half. Aubuchon said that she made that choice for “Herbie the Hay” to be unique and interactive.
Aubuchon believes art, and writing, are important.
She does paintings and portraits “for my own pleasure”, although she said that people have asked to purchase some of them.
“I truly believe and want to inspire that anyone can be an author and artist,” she said.
Aubuchon moved her young family from their “hometown of Fitchburg” to Westminster in 1999 because they outgrew their home and had a lot of extended family there. “It’s a quaint little town; we love it here”, she said.
But she’s still in Fitchburg on an almost daily basis — her day job is as a preschool paraprofessional in the Fitchburg public school system.
Aubuchon recently did a book signing at Notown Gifts in Sterling and will be doing one soon at The Velvet Goose in Gardner. “Herbie the Hay” can be purchased at both and can also be bought at the St. Joseph Parish Christmas Fair in Fitchburg, MA on Dec. 3, on Amazon, and directly from Dorrance Publishing.