"MTA honors Boston Gay Men's Chorus, Nantucket theraputic program"

MTA members gathered on the eve of the Annual Meeting to honor the efforts of  those who have made a difference in the fight to advance the civil rights of both Massachusetts students and educators.

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus, a 26-year-old Boston tradition, and the Nantucket Sports Therapeutic/Assistive Recreation (S.T.A.R.) Program, a relatively new program founded to give special needs students opportunities to participate in sports and recreational activities, were recognized at a banquet hosted by MTA's Human Relations Committee. The Massachusetts Child presented an award to Edward Sullivan, the MTA's longtime executive director who retired earlier this year.

Steven Smith, executive director of the Boston Gay Men's Chorus, accepted the HRC award on behalf of the chorus. Through its High School Concert Outreach Project, the chorus reaches out to gay and lesbian high school students, who are often vulnerable and in need of positive role models. The outreach effort began in 2004 after chorus members performed at Belmont High School  -- the first time in their history they performed at a high school.

"This was not just a one-time concert," Smith said. "We realized we had a role to play and we were going to continue to do this work."

Kristen Worgess, the executive director of the S.T.A.R. program, accepted the second HRC award. Accepting it on behalf of herself and two co-founders, Renee Gamberoni and Max Goode, Worgess talked about the importance of giving students with special needs an opportunity to grow and succeed through sports.

"These children are capable of learning anything that any other child is capable of, they just get overstimulated in some situations and an extra set of hands is needed to help them along," Worgess said.

Sullivan spoke about the MTA's efforts to ensure school funding for all public school students and the need for members to continue to advocate for fair funding.

"MTA members need to take their involvement to a new level," Sullivan said. "That new level of involvement is the only hope for a poor child in this state. We have what it takes to advance this issue."

Human Relations Committee members are Gladys Durant, chair, Russell Brandwein, Erik Champy, Allyson Dand, Donia Gobar, Viktor Gonzalez, Stephen Gorrie, George Sowpel, Ann Sullivan, Janice Von Herzen and Deanna White-Hebert.

The following citations are taken from the awards program:

Creative Leadership in Human Rights Award
Boston Gay Men's Chorus
Steven Smith, Executive Director

In its 26 seasons, the Boston Gay Men's Chorus has done  much to earn its reputation as one of Boston's top performing arts organizations. The chorus performs for over 12,000 people each season, has toured Central Europe and has recorded nine compact discs. The group has appeared on the Esplanade for the July 4th concert, with James Taylor at the Fleet Center and in other prestigious venues across the country.

But perhaps more important than its artistic success, BGMC has a rich history of collaboration and outreach in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered (GLBT) youth, HIV awareness, and civil rights, raising over $250,000 to assist various groups. As an organization working to create positive social change, the chorus uses the power of music to encourage understanding and to connect with audiences in a unique way, breaking down stereotypes and reconciling differences.

The BGMC's High School Concert Outreach Project is a creative and ground-breaking effort that supports gay-straight alliances in high schools across Massachusetts. Centered around a carefully planned collaborative concert, the project allows the members of the BGMC to serve as role models, providing an affirming image of the GLBT community. The impact of the project has been significant. Communities that have been fortunate enough to host BGMC high school concerts offer numerous testimonials as to their value for students and the community. For example, "For individual students, the audience, the community, the BGMC reinforces that tolerance is part of what this community values and that their school is a supportive and safe place for all."

The most important comment from a participant, however, may be the shortest: "The evening changed the minds of many."

Creative Leadership in Human Rights Award
Nantucket S.T.A.R. Program
Kristen Worgess, Executive Director
Renee Gamberoni, Co-Founder
Max Goode, Co-Founder

The Nantucket Sports Therapeutic/Assistive Recreation (S.T.A.R.) Program was founded by a parent of a special needs child and an occupational therapist who saw a community need and decided to do something about it. In the era of test-based education reform, the social and emotional needs of children are often "left behind." For special needs children especially, opportunities to gather with peers and interact around recreational activities can be rare.

The S.T.A.R. program developed from the belief that children with a wide range of disabilities should have the opportunity to play with their friends and interact constructively and safely. The program develops adaptive programs for children with special needs so they can participate in dance, martial arts, gymnastics, sports and art and can receive one-on-one attention and coaching.

As a result of the S.T.A.R. program, children on Nantucket with special needs have access to sports, after-school programs and play groups alongside their peers. All programs include children with and without disabilities, allowing each to learn from the other. This program has changed the lives of a great many families and touched the lives of many people. New opportunities for social, emotional, physical and mental development are blossoming in the community because this group has increased the awareness of the needs of children with unique and challenging circumstances. The children of Nantucket are blossoming and growing, some by participating in the program and some by volunteering their time.

A parent whose child participates in S.T.A.R. summarized the program as follows: "Families are accessing the services provided by S.T.A.R., teachers are creating and running programs, and children are thriving and smiling. The gap in community services has been filled by the wonderful programs that S.T.A.R. has offered."