Optimism amid the bustle at Boston University


This piece was originally part of an online collection of vignettes from New England about the Inauguration and incoming administration. The print version in The Boston Globe is here

Students settled in front of five televisions in the George Sherman Union at Boston University. The chatter of the nearby food court and groups of students chatting nearly drowned out the inauguration festivities playing.

As Donald Trump placed his hand on the Bible, arms were crossed, brows furrowed, and mouths fell agape.

Raffi Oekasah, 23, who is from Indonesia, was one of a handful of students who watched the ceremony. He leaned toward the screen as Trump began his remarks and used his well-known hand gestures.

Oekasah said hearing Trump speaking negatively about Muslims during the campaign made him afraid to come study in the United States. But he wants to be optimistic about the new president.

“Let’s see what happens next,” he said. “Many people feel that [Trump] is unpredictable, so just be prepared.”

As students shuffled into the GSU to eat or prepare between classes, some glanced up at the screens to see leaders attending the ceremony, but most kept their eyes trained on computers phones, and books.

Nicole Haftel, 18, of Philadelphia, said she checked up on the ceremony on social media but mostly tried to avoid the inauguration.

“I’m very disappointed with the president-elect,” she said. “I hope this is kind of a message to everyone who didn’t vote, that their vote matters.”

Greg Sanders, 18, who is studying business, said that although he does not agree with many of Trump’s policies, he wants to see the president succeed. Sanders, who is from Long Island, N.Y., also voted for Clinton.

“Change is not such a bad thing as long as it’s the right thing,” he said. “As long as [Trump] does a good job, I don’t mind.”


Students repaint school rock defaced with hate speech in Harvard

Published in The Boston Globe November 26, 2016 – Metro B4

Students from the Bromfield School in Harvard gathered at their school Saturday afternoon armed with cans of white paint and rollers to repaint their beloved rock that was defaced with hate speech and offensive symbols.

The rock that sits in front of the school was vandalized Friday with swastikas, anti-Semitic symbols and words, drawings of genitalia, and profanities, Harvard police said in a statement.

Bromfield, which has 700 students in grades six to 12, is one of two public schools in the town located about 45 miles northwest of Boston. The school was not open when the vandalism happened, and students are still on Thanksgiving break.

Superintendent Linda Dwight said it was wonderful to see students rally the community to come together to repaint the rock.

“It felt like a way to minimize the hate that had taken place just the day before,” she said by telephone Saturday night.

The rock usually is a place where seniors express themselves, such as celebrating a school team’s victory, said Emma Franzeim, a Bromfield graduate who worked with students to organize the painting.

“Giving the students the opportunity to make us proud was important to me,” said Franzeim, 34. “It’s something I hoped to channel in helping them organize [and] giving them resources. What happened today and how people came out … that is Harvard.”

About 50 students, teacher, parents, alumni, and town residents gathered to watch students paint the rock white, she said. Some used paint rollers with a long pole to lean over the rock. Others scaled the rock and painted it while perched atop.

Franzeim created a GoFundMe campaign called “Paint the Rock!” Friday to raise $2,000 to pay for the painting materials. As of Saturday afternoon, the campaign had raised $1,245 of its goal.

Students will return Monday to paint a design on the rock, Franzeim said.

Police said the department is working with the superintendent and that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office will help investigate the vandalism.

Dwight said there is an assembly planned for Monday to help students feel safe and celebrate painting the rock. The goal is to foster a feeling of unity, she said.

“It’s a minority that expressed hateful views,” Dwight said. “We want to minimize that voice and expand the voice of inclusion and respect for each other.”

Goodwill workers honored at Thanks-for-giving dinner

Published in The Boston Globe Nov. 24

They fanned out to covered tables, wearing white aprons and carrying plates filled with staples of the annual feast — spoonfuls of sweet potatoes, slices of carved turkey, and, later, pumpkin pie.

But the Thanksgiving servers were some of the city and state’s most powerful leaders, seeking to provide about 250 workers a treat Wednesday at the Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries in Roxbury.

“Make sure you don’t tell anyone I have an apron on,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to the hall. “I do it strictly for you.”

The annual Thanks-for-Giving Dinner has become a way to celebrate the holiday and the community, said Joanne Hilferty, president and chief executive of Morgan Memorial Goodwill. “It’s a chance to celebrate what everyone has accomplished,” she said. “It really helps everyone in our program feel valued.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh thanked program participants and officials for coming together for the celebration, praising “everyone at Goodwill and Goodwill for the great work that you do every single day for everyone in the city.”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who served stuffing, said Thanksgiving is about love and compassion.

“We are in a time right now when we need to see one another through the eyes of that other person,” she said, “and that’s what today is all about.”

Governor Charlie Baker thanked guests for their hard work across the city and state.

“They do it when the cameras aren’t on and they do it when nobody is watching,” he said. “They do it because they believe in it and they care about their fellow man.”

After the remarks, people gathered near the live band, dancing to “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Baker twirled a few women around the floor.

After eating a slice of pie, Joshua Olson walked around the hall to watch people dance. Olson said he has been working at Goodwill since 2005 and is thankful for what he has learned on the job.

“I’m really happy here,” said Olson, 38, of Brookline. “It’s the first place that has been really good. I’ve been in other programs, but they’re nothing compared to this. It’s the best of the best.”

Interfaith program teaches students to foster peace, calm conflict

Published in The Boston Globe August 7

NEWTON — Omri, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, has traveled thousands of miles from Jerusalem every summer for the past four years to learn more about his Muslim faith, cope with conflict, and become a leader.

As members of the interfaith group Kids4Peace, Omri and other students met with US government leaders and others in Washington, D.C., to get a clearer picture of how to find solutions to the conflicts in the Middle East before returning to the Boston area to reflect on their experience.

“It’s opened up how to communicate with people from other cultures,” he said.

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students from Boston and the Middle East make up Kids4Peace, a nonprofit that infuses religion with social action.

Peggy Stevens, a founder of Kids4Peace Boston, said the program spans six years. Starting in 6th grade, students head to Camp Merrowvista in New Hampshire each summer to learn how to become peace leaders, she said.

Older students work on service projects and eventually take on roles as counselors to lead and mentor younger students, Stevens said. In all, 22 students participated, she said.

Kids4Peace students gathered at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Sunday afternoon to discuss what they had learned and celebrate with family and friends. The group allowed the students to be interviewed on the condition that only first names were used.

Rabbi Keith Stern introduced the students, saying their advocacy gives him hope.

“Every day I read the news and it breaks my heart,” he said. “I thought of the three main Western religions and how they have a prayer for peace. It’s a beautiful prayer, but peace takes will and commitment. It’s about love and respect.”

Half the students donned turquoise shirts, and the others wore light blue ones. The Arabic, Hebrew, and English words for “Peace” were printed across the front.

Shayan, 15, of Needham told the crowd about a negative experience with racial profiling. His family, who are Muslim, was stopped at the airport while returning from a vacation, and a transportation agent yelled at his father for accusing him of being a racist.

“I want to end that narrative for every 8-year-old who has to learn the definition of racism after a family trip,” he said.

Yasmine, 16, from Lexington, said she also hoped to inspire social change. “I don’t believe in extremism and terrorism,” she said. “Where is that empathy? . . . I am proud of my Muslim identity and my advocacy for peace.”

As the celebration came to an end, about 40 students took the stage together and sang the camp song “We Can See That Peace is Coming,” with verses in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They put their arms around each other and ended with smiles on their faces, singing “Lean on Me.”


N.H. car dealership offers, ‘Buy a car, get an AR’

Published in The Boston Globe June 17, 2016

People who buy a used vehicle can get an AR-15 assault rifle for free, courtesy of a New Hampshire car dealership.

Hagan’s Motor Pool in Rochester, N.H., is offering the promotion for select cars. The promotion, which began in May, features the slogan, “Buy a car, get an AR.”

Owner Mike Hagan, who served as a combat medic in Afghanistan, said the promotion has been well-received by the community. So far four AR-15s and one 9mm handgun, an alternative selection, have been given out, he said.

The process of getting the gun is the same one a normal buyer would use, Hagan said, except he gets the bill. All the transactions are in compliance with the law, he said.

Despite an AR-15-style rifle being used in the mass terror shooting in Orlando on June 12 that left 49 people dead, Hagan said the dealership is committed to continuing the promotion. The act of one individual has not shaken his commitment to the Second Amendment, he said.

He emphasized that the promotion had begun before the Orlando attack.

“We’ve gotten feedback from people who think we’ve done this as a response to the events in Florida,” Hagan said. “It would be absolutely reprehensible to exploit a terrorist attack to generate revenue.”

Renaissance Firearms, a licensed gun dealer in Rochester, has partnered with Hagan’s Motor Pool for the promotion deal, Hagan said. The firearms dealer runs background checks on the customers, he said.

Sergeant Jeremy Aucoin of the Rochester police said as long as the sale is going through a licensed firearm dealer and the vendor is following the same rules, the promotion is legal.

Hagan said that some customers have declined the promotional guns because they already own some. He also offers a discount for those who do not want guns.

According to Hagan, he would not offer the deal to someone suspicious.

“If I encounter someone who I thought had bad intentions, I would decline the sale,” he said.

Hagan said the promotion would continue until Aug. 31.

If customers give it a good reception, he said, the dealership will change its offer to a different firearm “to keep it fresh.”

Tennis clinics teach game, life skills to students with autism

Published in The Boston Globe June 7, 2016 – Metro B3

A new tennis program at Boston Community Leadership Academy is helping students with autism hone their athletic and life skills.

In the two months since the tennis clinics began, 35 students at the Hyde Park school have learned about patience, self control, and attentiveness to directions through sport, said Toni Wiley, executive director of the Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center in Dorchester. The club has partnered with BCLA to coach students.

“Tennis is kind of a unique sport in that there is a lot you can use off the court,” Wiley said. “It’s a great sport to begin as a way of encouraging the type of behavior you want kids to see in their everyday life.”

BCLA headmaster Brett Dickens said that in addition to cultivating social skills, the program will help instill students with an appreciation for the sport and a healthy lifestyle.

About 5 percent of BCLA students have autism, Dickens said. The tennis program is one of the largest of its kind for students with autism at the high school level, she said.

The clinics run twice a week for one hour, Dickens said.

“We start teaching them the basics of tennis,” said Mark-Anthony Kenney, 21, a Sportsmen’s coach who teaches the Thursday program. “How to hold the racket, how to swing the racket, what to do with your feet when the ball is coming, just simple things.”

Kenney, who graduated from BCLA in 2013, said the program helps children with autism adapt to social environments outside of their comfort zones and learn to respect each other’s space.

While matches can sometimes get competitive, the atmosphere at the program is usually relaxed and light-hearted, he said.

“The kids are usually laughing, smiling, running around, talking to each other,” Kenney said. “It’s a very fun environment.”

The idea to launch the program started in October 2015 when students got a chance to participate in a clinic, according to Dickens. BCLA later applied for a $2,500 grant from the US Tennis Association to buy equipment.

“It is an enriching sport that builds self-confidence,” Dickens said. “It’s good that it’s not a contact sport. You learn the skills on your own, and with students with disabilities this is a good way to learn.”

In February, the school was approved for the grant and by April, students began coming to the clinics, Dickens said.

Looking ahead, she said BCLA may apply for the same grant or look to introduce the program schoolwide.

“It’s a lifelong sport,” she said. “It’s great that the USTA isn’t just about building college athletes and champions.”

Elusive moose still on the loose

Published in The Boston Globe June 3

A moose that pranced down sidewalks in Belmont and Watertown on Wednesday and took the Internet by storm may still be in Belmont, wildlife officials said.

The juvenile moose was spotted Friday on Robinwood Road close to the Lexington border at around 10:30 a.m., officials said.

There is a nearby sanctuary that has wetlands and swamps that moose like, said Major William Bilotta Jr. of the Massachusetts Environmental Police.

Environmental Police spent Thursdaysearching for the moose with the help of a State Police helicopter, Bilotta said. They will continue to search the Belmont area.

“Public safety is the main issue,” Bilotta said. “In that area you have Route 128 and Route 2. We don’t want to see anything happen to the motorists and animal, too.”

The goal is to tranquilize the moose and bring it to the western part of the state where it will have more room to roam, he said.

Bilotta said Environmental Police do not know what direction the moose is heading.

UMass official killed in crash ‘was always there for you’

This is the third of three articles about the Oxford car crash and fatalities. 

Published in The Boston Globe June 2, 2016 – Metro B3

To the University of Massachusetts Boston, Gina Cappello was the vice chancellor who led successful fund-raising efforts. To her family, she was a selfless mother who had taken up golfing and had a smile that radiated optimism.

“She was always there for you,” said Nanette Campo, her older sister. “She’d take charge when she needed to. We have a very close family. Family was everything to her.”

Cappello died Tuesday from injuries sustained in a multicar crash in Oxford. Her partner, Daniel Sullivan, a 53-year-old truck driver for Transgas Inc. from Oxford, was pronounced dead at the scene on Memorial Day. The two were walking when struck by one of the vehicles involved in the crash.

The two were just getting to know each other, Campo said. She thought he was a nice and sweet man.

Born in Somerville, Cappello was the youngest of four siblings. She had two older brothers, Pasquale and Frank, along with her sister.

Campo said she was her best friend and confidante.

Cappello went to Northeastern University for undergraduate studies and earned an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, Campo said.

She was married to Charles Cappello for 26 years and raised two daughters — Kristina and Gabrielle — in Andover, her sister said.

“First and foremost, she was the most dedicated mother to her children. That was her first ambition . . . to always be there for them,” Campo said. “Her girls were her best friends. They did everything together.”

While raising her family, Cappello worked at UMass Boston and used her fund-raising expertise, Campo said.

Cappello started at the university in 2007 as assistant vice chancellor for major gifts and was appointed vice chancellor for university advancement in 2012.

“She was very, very involved and definitely enjoyed the work, the people she worked with, and the recognition of UMass,” Campo said.

Kristina and Gabrielle both recently graduated from college, Campo said. Kristina earned her master’s in social work from Boston College and Gabrielle studied criminal justice at SNHU, the school her mother attended.

A graduation party for them was one of the last times the family was together, Campo said.

“Her unconditional love will be missed,” she said. “We’re all going to miss her.”

UMass official hurt in Memorial Day crash dies

This is the second of three articles about the Oxford car crash and fatalities. 

Published in The Boston Globe June 1, 2016 – Metro Front B1

A University of Massachusetts Boston official who was seriously injured when she was struck by a vehicle while walking on Memorial Day has died, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Gina Cappello, 52, of Andover, was vice chancellor for university advancement at UMass Boston.

She died on Tuesday, the Worcester district attorney’s office said.

“The staff members who worked with Gina every day, and indeed the entire campus community, looked to Gina as a kind and capable leader who helped our university build positive relationships with our alumni, the corporate community, and many other friends,” said Chancellor J. Keith Motley in a message to the UMass Boston community.

Cappello was struck by a car in Oxford and rushed to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. The man she was walking with, 53-year-old Daniel Sullivan of Oxford, was pronounced dead at the scene on Monday.

The events unfolded when a vehicle exiting Interstate 395 onto Sutton Avenue started a chain reaction crash that involved the car that hit Sullivan and Cappello, as well as three other cars. Seven other people were taken to the hospital. State and local police are investigating.

Cappello was appointed vice chancellor in 2012, Motley said.

She started at the university in 2007 as assistant vice chancellor for major gifts.

She led UMass Boston’s largest fund-raising campaign, Just Imagine, which has a $100 million goal, Motley said.