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Leading in Central MA: Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong

Monday, February 24, 2014


Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong.

Lisa Wong is in her fourth two-year term as mayor of the City of Fitchburg - having won her latest re-election last fall. Mayor Wong was first elected to that office in 2007 at the age of 28. She is the first minority mayor in Fitchburg and the first female Asian-American mayor in Massachusetts.

She is also one of Ivy Child International’s board members, chairs the Mindful Kids Yogathon, and is at the forefront of an important movement in child health. Ivy Child is a non-profit organization for teaching children to use their mindfulness, self-regulation and leadership to build their resilience, emotional intelligence and healthy habits for life.

On April 5, Ivy Child, which is based in both Georgia and Worcester, will hold New England’s First Annual Mindful Kids Yogathon. It will take place at the Boys and Girls Club in Worcester.

A Conversation with Mayor Lisa Wong

SW: Ivy Child uses education and positive psychology to inspire leadership and resilience while embracing all cultures. Can you tell us what sets this organization apart from others with a similar mission?

LW: This is the first non-profit to approach child development from a completely different standpoint. Ivy Child says that each and every child has a huge potential within themselves and if we focus on each child and not just programs, we can unlock that potential. This whole idea of mindfulness has moved to the next level recently as a topic of conversation but is far from mainstream. Most programs are measured by testing. These programs are ones that can help children to be mindful 24 hours a day in terms of body, mind, what comes out of their mouth and their interaction with others. It can’t just be a catch phrase on the wall but something that is practiced every day.

SW: Why did you become a member of Ivy Child’s Board?

LW: There are news headlines daily about kids not getting the resources that they need and increasingly in towns that are affluent. As a society we need to really embrace this idea of being mindful and watching out for each other and talking about some of these psychological and sociological issues. In the last few decades, we have made great strides in actually naming and testing for various behavioral issues but I do believe that drugs alone are not the only way to resolve these issues. I think drugs are a short term fix and carry many side effects. Even though mindfulness has been shown to work and more schools are embracing it, funding is far easier to find for a very expensive drug and medicine based approach.

SW: What is it that resonated about this event that challenged you to make the commitment to step forward as chair?

LW: There are some fundamental things that we need to teach our children, as well as our parents, our families and our communities. If you are mindful about mindfulness, you will soon realize that these are simple, free and quick ways to achieve long-term goals that a lot of money and programs can not do. Mindfulness can deal with everything from domestic violence to stress. I consider myself a very healthy person but I had a health issue in my first term where a vein burst due to the stress and I almost bled to death. Now being in my fourth term and being more mindful, I am far more effective. Enter Ivy Child International. I see it as a foundational approach.

SW: Can you talk a little about the mission and the vision for the New England Mindful Kids Yogathon?

LW: We are becoming a society that says there is a pill for this and an app for that. How about we try a different approach. Lets tell a child that there is a way for your body to deal physically and mentally with anything that is going on. We want to teach you some of those practices.

SW: This is a long-term approach. Are there some immediate results as well?

LW: This initiative does have instant gratification. Sometimes the changes take a few years but something like this really speaks to me. Safe Routes to School is something that we have adopted in Fitchburg and on Wednesdays we walk to school with the kids. Just having that time to be mindful causes visits to school nurses to drop dramatically. Just 10 or 15 minutes in the morning is all it takes to keep kids healthier and in school.

SW: There is wonderful description for this event about flexing your child’s superhero muscles. How does Ivy Child’s work brings out one’s inner super hero?

Every child has so much ability and can have limitless confidence and imagination. Some of the health care approaches and learned behaviors limit our kids. Lets take off that cloak of policy, bureaucracy and pills that we put on our kids and figure out what they are made of. Lets build their self-confidence and see what they can do. Yoga is a great tool.

SW: I saw that you are encouraging visionaries, dreamers and change agents to attend. Can you talk about the change you want to see?

LW: We are hoping that we can elevate certain practices that people can take home and immediately change their lives. I would like to see parents go home with something. With these techniques, they can create a joyful family space where they see a big difference happening immediately. Behavioral issues lessening, kids feeling free to be themselves and immediate improvements in self confidence. Parents are able to dream big and not limit success to money, jobs or test results but rather what children actually see and feel about themselves. I think every parent will tell you that is what they want for their kids. That is certainly what I dream of for my community.

SW: You have a platform to deal with the issues around children’s health. What do you hope this will help bring to the drawing board?

The Gateway cities, which include Fitchburg and Worcester, have embraced a new community wide dynamic vision. Communities across the Commonwealth have been working on this vision for over two years. Lets focus on social and emotional wellness for ages 0-8. No where do you hear about focusing on test scores. By focusing on these basic foundational approaches, not only will we see we will see improvement in test scores but also childhood obesity, understanding and preventing teen age suicides, raising per capita income, embracing the diversity in our communities and I could go on and on.

SW: How can the community take action today to join in this movement?

With so many community issues that we are dealing with, if everyone thought of themselves differently, raised their self esteem and self confidence, we could really do anything.


GoLocalWorcester presents Leading in Central Ma, a weekly profile of an outstanding community or business leader. Join us every Monday for an inspiring look at the careers and lifestyles of Central Massachusetts’s most influential citizens. If you have suggestions for a profile, please email [email protected].

Susan D. Wagner is president of Susan Wagner PR, a boutique public relations firm invested in meeting client's goals with integrity and creativity.


Related Slideshow: 7 Questions Worcester Mayor Petty Will Need To Answer

The following are seven big questions facing Worcester Mayor Petty in his secon term in office.  

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1) City Manager's Position May Be Vacant

Michael O'Brien may leave to take a position in the private sector. O'Brien has been the proverbial glue that has held City Hall together.  O'Brien is a competent fiscal manager and keeps the peace among the City Council.
Top-level government pros are NOT likely to line up for the Worcester job. Petty will be on the hot seat to find  talent in the post-O'Brien era.
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2) Economic Development Mixed Reviews

The recent series in the Boston Globe and the overview in GoLocal outlined the lack of success Worcester has had in creating a comprehensive economic development plan.  The results of the new construction has created some hope, but there lacks a comprehensive vision and the building seems to be developed in a vacuum.  Mayor Petty seems to be extraneous except for the ribbon cutting ceremonies. 
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3) New Council

The new City Council will have its own personality, while the old council failed to debate or discuss - and too often voted in block.

A number of the council members just elected have promised to be more proactive. This could be a challenge for Petty -- or an opportunity to drive proactive change leveraging new ideas and new energy.

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4) Telegram Closing?

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This would leave New England's second largest city  without a daily newspaper. What has been deafening is Petty's lack of leadership on this issue.  Can you imagine Tom Menino or Buddy Cianci waiting for a decision to be made on Morrissey Boulevard?
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5) Lack of Diversity in Worcester's Government 

As GoLocal previously reported, more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, but you would not know it by who gets the city jobs. Worcester has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white.
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6) Republican Governor Factor

Worcester may not be as wired to the Patrick Administration since Lt. Governor Murray resigned and returned to Worcester, but the Democratic Mayor can get his phone calls answered in the State House. 
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7) Legacy

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Mayor Petty has yet to define his priorities and the second term is the time to unveil a game plan on why he was the man for the job.

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