A sneak peek at Aspire

Touring the building, from left, are David Solimine Sr., Solimine Funeral Homes; capital campaign committee member Diane Edgett; Aspire Assistant Program Director Christine Brown; board members Mary Louise Daly and Marianne Britton; Tom Demakes, Old Neighborhood Foods; campaign member Debby Regan and Nick Meninno of Meninno Construction; and Aspire Executive Director Lori Russell.

LYNN — Lori Russell, executive director of Aspire Developmental Services, offered a sneak peek to board members, committee members, and donors of progress inside their new headquarters on Franklin Street. The building will open in September.

When the renovation of the former O’Keefe Alternative School is finished, the nonprofit will have 15,000 square feet of space, triple its home on Johnson Street.

The new building will allow Aspire to provide twice as many play groups for children receiving early intervention services, and space for parent training, according to a previous Item report.

Aspire has been serving children with developmental needs and their families since 1951. Last year, the organization provided services to nearly 2,000 children.

Its mission is to provide early intervention services to children up to age 3. Children served are eligible for a variety of reasons, including Down syndrome, autism, hearing and vision loss, speech and motor delays, and mental health issues.

Lynn artist inspired by inspiring others

Lynn artist Michael Aghahowa speaks about what inspires his art.


LYNN — A Lynn artist with a knack for giving back to the community delivered the student commencement speech at his graduation from Montserrat College of Art Friday.

Michael Aghahowa, 23, and the first male in his family to graduate college, was chosen by his peers to deliver the speech during the commencement ceremonies.

Montserrat, located in Beverly, is a nonprofit, independent art school accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc.

When he started school, he quickly found the lonely artist stereotype to be true, he said. His classmates kept to themselves and he found it difficult to form relationships. In an effort to get people together, he created flyers inviting everyone to his apartment for pancakes.

“I figured if people won’t come out for each other, they’ll definitely come out for breakfast. So I invited everyone to my house,” he said.

The pancake feast was well attended and quickly became a weekly tradition. Even as he crossed the stage at graduation, freshmen he had never met knew him as the pancake man, he said.

“I’ve always been about getting people together,” he said. “Everyone has differences. We’re all different. But as long as we can understand each other we can respect each other.”

The philosophy is what drives much of his work.

The paintings featured in his senior show included a portrait of his family sitting around the dinner table. He’s depicted as a younger child to express that time can change. Before the internet, he said his family would more commonly sit down and have a conversation. As someone who values a sense of community, family dinners are something he wishes he could get back.

Another piece is a self-portrait inspired by Jim Crow propaganda with large red lips.

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“These pieces — I feel like if I make them about me and you can get an understanding for how I feel, you can respect me,” he said.

In the midst of pursuing a degree in illustration and painting, Aghahowa, who grew up on Sachem Street, volunteers at Raw Art Works and Gregg Neighborhood House.

A RAW alumnus, he was first exposed to the program in middle school, but remembers its annual block party from long before.

“Art therapy is an interest of mine,” he said. “I really like working with children. I can walk down the street and see a green car against a red building and get excited about it. Kids look at things like that and they get excited too. They have that creative perspective. Plus I can just be goofy and it’s fun. It’s a break from hanging out with adults.”

Aghahowa was partly inspired to create art by cartoons. He said he wanted to create something that made people happy the same way that cartoons made him happy as a child.

Working with children in kindergarten through grade 8 at the Gregg House, Aghahowa said it feels good to be a positive male influence.

“A lot of these kids are thinking about college and they have so many hopes and dreams,” he said. “For them to see me doing something so nontraditional — I just keep telling them that if there’s something they want to do, if they want to go to school, they should do it.”

Montserrat, though a scholarship fund provided by New England Biolabs, provides scholarships each year to students from RAW.

A volunteer in more than seven of RAW’s programs, he most recently played a part in creating the HOME exhibit, which was unveiled Thursday. His piece, a key with the word zesty printed on its side and a crown as the tooth, is representative of his mother and grandmother because he was raised by queens with zesty attitudes, he said.

Aghahowa said as he and his classmates move on with their lives, he hopes they’ll take the values of respecting people for their differences and keeping an open mind, and spread them throughout their communities.

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Malden mayor looks to the future

Pictured is Malden Mayor Gary Christenson.


MALDEN — Mayor Gary Christenson opened his sixth “State of the City” address Tuesday morning declaring Malden is “on the move.”

Christenson greeted an audience of 300 gathered at Anthony’s by holding up a set of keys to symbolize city action to pass ownership of the former City Hall to developer Jefferson Apartment Group. With city government temporarily relocated to new quarters, the 1970s-era building has been sold to Jefferson and will be demolished this spring to make way for residential-commercial and retail mix development.

“Malden is strong, vibrant and on the move,” the mayor asserted.

Relocating City Hall and the Malden Police Station, redeveloping the City Hall site and reopening Pleasant Street to traffic after 43 years has been a major focus of Christenson’s mayorship.

During his speech sponsored by the Malden Chamber of Commerce, Christenson stressed Malden’s diversity and the ways in which he and his staff strive to reach and include all in the fabric of the city.

“One of Malden’s greatest strengths is our concern for each other. In this city we care about each other,” the mayor said, adding “with the divisiveness around the country it has become even more important for us to consistently let it be known we value all members of our community. We in Malden have been on the path of inclusiveness long before it has become a goal of other communities and for that we are very proud.”

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Christenson spiced up his speech by using a digital assistant “bot” named “Tornado” to present his video-enhanced address. “Tornado,” named after the Malden High School athletic teams’ mascot, introduced the mayor.

In addition to detailing city government’s relocation over the past year and the construction and opening of the new police station on the lower Eastern Avenue corridor, Christenson announced a downward trend in crime and said the city will introduce a Citizens Police Academy this year.

He highlighted the swearing-in of new Fire Chief Kevin Finn this year and, in the context of last month’s fatal fire on Perkins Street, explained city efforts to distribute free smoke detectors. Christenson reviewed Malden public school successes from the past year, including leadership changes with Dr. Charles Grandson as interim Superintendent and Ted Lombardi as Malden High School principal.

The mayor praised the accomplishments by students and staff in all of the schools and said the School Committee endorses promotion of these achievements.

Other speech highlights included:

— Grants obtained by the Board of Health to partner with other agencies and groups to help fight opioid and substance addiction

— Gold Medal status from the state for the City Clerk’s office and retiring Clerk Karen Anderson for their successful introduction of early voting in the city this year.

— Improvements to several parks including Coytemore Lea (an all-inclusive, fully accessible playground to those with disabilities); Pearl Street tot lot and basketball court; and Forestdale Park.

— Malden’s designation as a “Green Community” and its subsequent $330,000 state grant which will lead to making all 3,400 streetlights in the city LED as well as a complete, energy savings-guaranteed energy audit of all city buildings.

— The addition of many new businesses to the community including a first-in-the-city brewery and taproom (Idle Hands on Commercial Street) and the designation of Malden, on equal footing with Boston and Cambridge as “platinum certified” in siting biotechnology companies.

President Obama says goodbye in tearful speech

President Barack Obama wipes away tears while speaking during his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago.


CHICAGO — President Barack Obama bid farewell to the nation Tuesday night in an emotional speech that sought to comfort and encourage a country on edge over economic changes, persistent security threats and the election of Donald Trump.

Obama’s valedictory speech in his hometown of Chicago was a public meditation on the trials and triumphs, promises kept and promises broken that made up his eight years in the White House. Arguing his faith in America had been confirmed, Obama said he ends his tenure inspired by America’s “boundless capacity” for reinvention, and he declared: “The future should be ours.”

His delivery was forceful for the most part, but by the end he was wiping away tears as the crowd embraced him one last time. He and wife Malia hugged former aides and other audience members long after the speech ended.

Reflecting on the corrosive recent political campaign, Obama said America’s great “potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

He made only passing reference to Republican Donald Trump, who will replace him in just 10 days. But when he noted the imminence of that change and the crowd began booing, he responded, “No, no, no, no, no.” One of the nation’s great strengths, he said, “is the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.”

Earlier, as the crowd of thousands chanted, “Four more years,” he simply smiled and said, “I can’t do that.”

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Soon Obama and his family will exit the national stage, to be replaced by Trump, a man Obama had stridently argued poses a dire threat to the nation’s future. His near-apocalyptic warnings throughout the campaign have cast a continuing shadow over his post-election efforts to reassure Americans anxious about the future.

Indeed, much of what Obama accomplished over the past eight years — from health care overhaul and environmental regulations to his nuclear deal with Iran — could potentially be upended by Trump. So even as Obama seeks to define what his presidency meant for America, his legacy remains in question.

Even as Obama said farewell to the nation — in a televised speech of just under an hour — the anxiety felt by many Americans about the future was palpable, and not only in the Chicago convention center where he stood in front of a giant presidential seal. The political world was reeling from new revelations about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about Trump.

Steeped in nostalgia, Obama’s return to Chicago was less a triumphant homecoming and more a bittersweet reunion bringing together Obama loyalists and loyal staffers, many of whom have long since left Obama’s service, moved on to new careers and started families. They came from across the country — some on Air Force One, others on their own — to be present for the last major moment of Obama’s presidency.

Seeking inspiration, Obama’s speechwriters spent weeks poring over Obama’s other momentous speeches, including his 2004 keynote at the Democratic National Convention and his 2008 speech after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton. They also revisited his 2015 address in Selma, Alabama, that both honored America’s exceptionalism and acknowledged its painful history on civil rights.

After returning to Washington, Obama will have less than two weeks before he accompanies Trump in the presidential limousine to the Capitol for the new president’s swearing-in. After nearly a decade in the spotlight, Obama will become a private citizen, an elder statesman at 55. He plans to take some time off, write a book — and immerse himself in a Democratic redistricting campaign.