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African Community Education in Worcester receives $3M for renovation, moves to Gage Street

African Community Education in Worcester receives M for renovation, moves to Gage Street

When African Community Education Founded 16 years ago, the nonprofit was registered in co-founder Dr. Olga Waldmann’s apartment and laughed at what looked like a potential building.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit debuted its programming at its new home at 51 Gage St. — the former home of Seven Hills Charter School, and on Friday U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern announced that he secured $3 million in federal funding to renovate the facility.

“It really is a dream come true,” Waldman said on Friday’s program. She said she is excited about the opportunities for the nonprofit to provide more programs and expand the number of youth and families it is able to serve.

African Community Education Building Tour 51 Gage Street, Worcester

African Community Education recently moved to 51 Gage Street, Worcester. Program director JP Perkins describes the classroom as being used for STEM and art programs. (Kiernan Dunlap/MassLive.com)

The nonprofit expanded beyond Waldman’s apartment over the past decade, however, with its offices located in the Denholm Building and after-school programming for students and ESL classes held in a local church basement or the Claremont Academy. The facilities were spread over.

“It allows us to get everyone in one place,” JP Perkins, ACE’s program director, said while touring the facility on Friday.

Even before the renovation, the facility already has a lot to offer compared to the nonprofit’s previous locations. Perkins said art and STEM classrooms now have a room with access to a sink, making instruction easier for staff.

Renovations to the facility will include installing new floors, making it ADA accessible, bringing in state-of-the-art flexible furniture, developing a steam classroom with the potential for a robotics lab, and working to unify the building, according to Perkins.

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African Community Education Building at 51 Gage Street Worcester

A classroom in the African Community Education Building at 51 Gage Street in Worcester. (Kiernan Dunlap/MassLive.com)

The building was constructed in the late 1800s and is actually three buildings joined together.

There are also plans to have prayer rooms and rest rooms for nursing mothers.

According to Tim O’Neill, ACE’s marketing and fundraising manager, the renovations are expected to be a multi-year project with the first wave of repairs set to begin in the summer.

According to ACE co-founder Casca Yavo, as the nonprofit completes its renovation, it will become the place new immigrants to the city go to get information and services.

If ACE does not offer the services they are looking for, it will refer them to another agency that will.

Yawo said, “It’s all about community building and then strengthening a community and bringing people together.”

African Community Education Building at 51 Gage Street, Worcester

A classroom in the African Community Education Building at 51 Gage Street, Worcester (Kiernan Dunlap/MassLive.com)

According to Yawo, the new building is for all new immigrants and refugees coming to Central Massachusetts, not just those from Africa.

Having the building will help reduce the number of thousands of students on the waiting list for ESL classes.

Yawo said that in addition to his own services, a resettlement agency plans to move into the building around September.

In addition to helping refugees obtain green cards, ACE will also host career development activities for immigrants in their new building.

According to McGovern, ACE already serves more than 1,800 people, but there are more than 4,000 other African immigrants and refugees living near the poverty line in Worcester who could directly benefit from their services.

“And we begin to close that gap today,” McGovern said during his funding announcement.

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McGovern said he secured funding from a federal omnibus spending package at the end of the year. He said he funded a total of $18 million for projects in his congressional district.

African Community Education Building at 51 Gage Street in Worcester

African Community Education moved into the former Seven Hill Charter Public School building at 51 Gage Street in Worcester. (Kiernan Dunlap/MassLive.com)

“I’ve always been a fan of ACE’s work,” McGovern said. “You make a second home for so many families. Including helping more than 280 children graduate from Worcester Public Schools.

One of the students who graduated from Worcester Public Schools after working with ACE is St. Cyr Dimanche, who came to Worcester from the Central African Republic.

Now Dimanche, who is nearing completion of her master’s degree in international studies after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis, is working as a career development program coordinator for ACE. Prior to this he worked as an intern for McGovern and through him was able to meet President Barack Obama.

Dimanche said, “I am talking to you today as an example of how when you support a refugee and when you invest in us we will be able to do something beyond ourselves.”

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