Friendly House to honor WPI faculty, staff, students Dec. 8

Community center, university officially kick-off new RoboKids after-school activity
December 04, 2006

WORCESTER, Mass. -  Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will celebrate its long mentoring and technological partnership with the Friendly House community center at a reception at Friendly House (36 Wall St., Worcester) from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8. Eight WPI faculty and staff members and students will be recognized for their contributions to the center’s children and operations.

In particular, the ceremony will spotlight three WPI-sponsored programs: Exploradreams (formerly Hoop Dreams), a mentoring program for youth at Friendly House; the Friendly House computer labs; and RoboKids, a new mentoring program in which Friendly House youth work with WPI students to design and build robots. The program will include a robotics demonstration by WPI faculty and students.

Friendly House is a multi-service community center, founded in 1920 to fill the educational, recreational, and social service needs of Worcester’s Grafton Hill neighborhood. Today, it offers a variety of programs for low- to moderate-income residents of Worcester County. Local government officials expected to attend the ceremony include Worcester city councilors Philip Palmieri and Barbara Haller, and School Committee member John Monfredo.

WPI students, faculty, and staff have been involved with Friendly House for close to 40 years, providing volunteer services, running student mentoring programs, and organizing food drives (the annual "Spirit of Giving" drive will culminate with a delivery of gifts to Friendly House just before the Dec. 8 ceremony).  More recently, WPI student project teams, led by faculty advisors, have assisted with the design and plans for a new energy-efficient building, and recommendations for parking, developed efficiency-based space and work-flow plans, and managed the installation of a new computer system.  The computer project saved Friendly House thousands of dollars while providing WPI students with a rigorous academic experience.    

For nearly a decade, Exploradreams has offered Friendly House youth ages 8-13 with mentoring, tutoring, and early exposure to college life. WPI students have the opportunity to share their exceptional math and science skills with children, and bond with them through learning and recreational activities. At weekly sessions on campus, WPI students tutor Friendly House kids, play math or spelling games with them, or help them with their homework. Exploradreams and the newly developed RoboKids program give Friendly House students the chance to explore educational activities outside of the classroom. RoboKids, which launched Nov. 2, meets every Thursday when WPI is in session. The weekly sessions will lead to an informal competition between three or four Friendly House teams on campus in April 2007. In December 2007, the teams will compete against middle school teams from across New England in WPI’s annual RoboNautica event.

"WPI’s partnership with Friendly House is extremely valuable," says Gordon Hargrove, who has been Friendly House’s executive director since 1969. "So many of our children look forward to attending the Exploradreams program. Often, they are not exposed to university or college life, but when they connect with WPI students, new life options are opened to them."

The following WPI faculty and staff members and students will be recognized at the ceremony for their individual service to Friendly House:

* Emily Perlow, director of student activities, Christina Mezzone, a senior biomedical engineering major who is president of Exploradreams and co-founder of RoboKids, and other Exploradreams mentors, for their dedication to the Exploradreams and for helping expand the program to include RoboKids.

* Ross Tsantoulis, a senior civil engineering major, and his brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, for refurbishing Friendly House’s computers and computer room, and providing computer maintenance.

* James Schementi ’06 and Tom Fox ’06, along with computer science professors Gary Pollice and Stanley Selkow, for their efforts to upgrade Friendly House’s computer hardware and software systems.

* Kenneth Stafford, director of WPI’s robotics program and professor of mechanical engineering, for helping develop the RoboKids program, and for overseeing the construction of the robots by four teams of Friendly House students and their WPI mentors.

* William Baller, WPI adjunct assistant professor of history and a longtime Friendly House volunteer and board member for being an advocate for the community center and its relationship with WPI for 15 years.

"Bill is someone I consider an ideal Friendly House board member, committing himself to the organization and its mission, and constantly involving WPI students with Friendly House" Hargrove says. "He’s not only an advocate for Friendly House and the children who benefit from the program, but also for WPI students. He’s one of the main reasons the relationship between the two groups is the way it is."