Women Celebrating Women at Roca

Women Celebrating Women at Roca

Every country has a story about the strength of its women. That was the lesson learned by the 30 or so young mothers who attended Roca Chelsea’s International Women’s Day celebration on March 29.

Roca’s Young Mothers program focuses on helping high risk young moms get out of violence and poverty, go to work, and care for their children. As part of the programming, Roca has built a community among the participating women through a weekly ‘family night,’ where moms and their children gather to take classes, learn, and grow – and also eat and socialize in a safe environment. The International Women’s Day festivity was an add on to this weekly gathering, giving the group a chance to learn about each other’s home countries and the women that helped shape history.

Ahead of the event, each participating young mom was asked to research a woman in history from her home country, and prepare a short presentation for the group. The result was a diverse line up of rock star women from all over, including Honduras, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and the US.

“We asked them to look for women in history that made a difference and acknowledge powerful women in Latin America who have always been there,” explained Roca Chelsea Young Mothers staff member Gina Josette. “We wanted to celebrate these women and ourselves as women in a fun and creative way.”

And celebrate they did. The women also brought traditional dishes from their home country to share with the group making the event a feast!

“It’s important and empowering for our young mothers to celebrate women in their country’s history,” said Josette. “For other events, we celebrate other important parts of our lives—Mother’s Day, graduations, etc. We celebrate any type of success in our group, and we celebrate it together.”

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Chelsea Public Library – Wingmasters Bird Exhibit

Chelsea Public Library – Wingmasters Bird Exhibit

Six birds of prey that are native to Chelsea were presented during the Chelsea Public Library’s Wingmasters Bird Exhibit on April 7. Jim Parks and his partner, Julie Collier, rescue, rehabilitate, and release raptors such as eagles and osprey. The falcons, owls, and hawk displayed were born in the wild, but due to permanent injury are non-releasable; and so Parks and Collier care for them permanently.

“Ninety percent of the time the birds we rescue are releasable. They’re resilient,” said Parks. “Sometimes they are injured in such a way that their injuries can’t be fixed by any doctor.”

Parks and Collier visit 200 schools, museums, and libraries each year to educate the public about these remarkable animals. They work closely with Tufts Wildlife Clinic in North Grafton where veterinarians help Parks and Collier free most birds back into the wild.

“One of the biggest problems these birds deal with is their reputation. They’re often thought of as being dangerous,” explained Parks. “It’s good that we have birds of prey. These birds do us a huge favor by controlling the populations we want nothing to do with.”

Parks presented a four-ounce male, and a six-ounce female American kestrel falcon with cataracts. The female’s larger build is excellent for protecting her young; and her brown-shaded feathers keep her camouflaged.

“Falcons are built for speed because they hunt other birds. This is an incredibly difficult lifestyle,” Parks said. “They get high above the earth, close their wings and drop. They accelerate and capture a bird below. They can outfly every other bird in the world.”

The male falcon was picked up off the ground at three-weeks-old and hand fed. He bonded with a human and will never understand what it is like to be a wild falcon. Male falcons, built for hunting, are considered the most colorful bird of prey in North America.

“Unfortunately, this is a bird about to be added to the government’s endangered species list,” said Parks. “This is a bird running out of a place to live.”

Seven species of hawks live in Massachusetts, with the most common being the red-tailed hawk. The female red-tailed hawk that Parks exhibited was once a mile-high flyer. At 32-years-old, the six and a half-pound bird is the oldest bird that Parks and Collier have ever rescued. Her wing was shattered when she was hit by a car while hunting a rodent on the grassy median of Rt. 128 on Thanksgiving Day 13 years ago.

“A circling hawk is showing off his red tail in the sky as a way of telling other birds to go away,” described Parks. “When they’re hunting they stand in trees, keep their bodies still, and dart out feet first after their prey. Eagles and hawks have the best eyesight.”

Parks also showed an eastern screech owl, the most common owl living around us, a barred own, New England’s second largest owl, and the great horned owl, New England’s largest owl. Owls are one of the slowest and most silent flying birds in the world. They hide during the day, and hunt and nap at night; but because of their incredible camouflage often go unseen. Owls can also see eight times better at night than humans can, and use their acute hearing to locate prey.

“They are masters of deception. They know how to blend in,” said Parks. “No other bird looks like this. We stand upright, have round faces, and have eyes on the front, and so do owls.”

Parks explained that most birds are injured in their first year of life while they are still learning. He has been working with birds for 24 years; and prior to that worked at an engineering firm in Boston.

“As a photographer, I was always interested in the natural world,” explained Parks, who grew up in Lynn. “I liked all aspects of nature growing up.”

With decreasing habitats and an increasing human population, Parks hopes that more corporations will develop properties to accommodate wildlife.

“Impact injuries are sad because there are many man-made obstacles now in the world that cause them. Julie and I do what we do to give birds a second chance to live,” said Parks. “If you want to help, donate to an organization that buys land. If you don’t have a place to release a species, they won’t know where to go. Many animals cannot adapt, and that’s when you see animals fall off the map.”

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Ban Plastic Bags

Ban Plastic Bags

There are 61 communities in Massachusetts including the City of Boston that have placed a ban on those horrible plastic shopping bags and the City of Revere is poised to become number 62 after Revere City Council members Steve Morabito and Patrick Keefe sponsored a motion that is set for a public hearing on Feb. 26.

When we think of the litter problem in America, the item that is most ubiquitous and that most readily comes to our mind’s eye is the small plastic shopping bag that is at every checkout counter in every store across the country.

They float in our oceans, get stuck in trees and tall grass, or just blow in the wind, the modern-day equivalent of a prairie tumbleweed. There is not a space anywhere that is spared from their unsightliness.

There is no good reason to have them, given the degree of environmental degradation they cause, and we are pleased that communities in Massachusetts are doing the right thing to ban these bags.

The movement to do so, in our view, highlights what we all know: That preserving our environment is necessary from the bottom-up.

We can make a difference, person-by-person and community-by-community, and a plastic bag ban is a big step in that direction.

Maybe, Everett officials should consider being number 63.

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Local Artist at New England Water Color Society Signature Members Show

Local Artist at New England Water Color Society Signature Members Show

Explore the world of watercolors inside the Guild of Boston Artists gallery on Newbury Street, where the New England Watercolor Society (NEWS) is holding its annual Signature Members Show through March 4.

Paul McMahan from Chelsea with his painting of Preston’s Bridge

Paul McMahan from Chelsea with his painting of Preston’s Bridge

On display are a variety of styles ranging from hyperrealist to abstract, from soulful portraits to detailed images of machinery to sweeping light-struck landscapes.

The exhibit offers an exceptional opportunity for anybody to come in and appreciate the high degree of artistry and technical mastery attainable in this challenging medium.

“Watercolor is an amazingly diverse medium,” said Wendy Hale, president of NEWS and a Back Bay resident. “The palette extends from richly saturated colors to muted tones. Our members’ styles are equally varied, from the traditional Andrew Wyeth to today’s modern-edgy.”

NEWS was founded in 1885 as the Boston Watercolor Society and became the New England Watercolor Society in 1980. It is one of the oldest and most prestigious watercolor societies in America.

Some early members included American art as Thomas Allen, F. Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent and more.

The Society has grown to over 400 members from all six New England states, of which nearly 200 are signature members.

The mission of the Society is to promote the advancement of aqua media arts throughout New England and to bring exceptional paintings using both traditional and innovative techniques to a wider public.

NEWS sponsors two juried shows each year. This show features the work of the Society’s signature members. The other show is open to all water-media artists in New England (in odd-numbered years) and throughout North America (in even-numbered years).

To become a signature member, a New England-based artist must be juried into four NEWS shows within a 10-year period, including at least one North American show.

“The one thing that is unique about the Signature Members Show is that it is always held in Boston every year and is always in February,” said Hale. “People can count on it.”

This year’s exhibition judge is Frederick C. Graff, a distinguished member of the American Watercolor Society. Graff had the hard job of determining the top 10 winners out of 79 pieces. He said he determined the winners based on their impact, composition and originality.

“With watercolor you’re not going to have a perfect painting,” said Graff. “So you take the best and see what they did with the composition and with their artistic ability.”

But what it really comes down to, Graff said, “Is what is the first thing that sticks out to you when you first walk into the room? For me, I usually know right away if I think something is on the top of the awards list.”

In connection with the exhibitions, the Society sponsors receptions and award presentations, gallery talks, demonstrations, and workshops led by nationally recognized water media experts.

Community artists and other interested supporters of NEWS can join as associate members. Signature and associate members are eligible for reduced fees for workshops for the regional and North American shows.

The Signature Members Show reception will be held on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 2 – 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public. All of the artwork on display is for sale.

New England Watercolor Society Signature Members Show, Guild of Boston Artists, 162 Newbury Street, Boston, through March 4, Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sundays 12-4 p.m. Painting demonstrations Sundays 1-3 p.m. Feb. 11, 18, and 25, and gallery talks Saturdays 1p.m. February 17 and 24 and March 3.

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The Protesting Football Players are Not Disrespecting the Military

The Protesting Football Players are Not Disrespecting the Military

The silent protest that was begun last season by former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in which Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem before football games, exemplifies what freedom of speech and freedom of expression mean in our country.

Kaepernick, and his fellow players who have joined him this year, have been very clear from the outset that their sole motive behind their protest is to express their view that racism is alive and well in America at all levels of our society and that this problem needs to be addressed immediately.

Although no one can doubt the truth of that assertion, we realize there are many who believe that a football game is not the place for political protests and who are upset that the players are kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.

That’s their opinion and they, like Kapaernick, are entitled to express what they believe.

However, those (such as President Trump) who are attempting to discredit the protesters by asserting that the protesters are disrespecting those who have served in the military are off-base for two reasons.

First and foremost, the protesters never have made any negative statement about anybody in the military or that their protest is aimed at the military. Rather, it is clear that Trump and others are making this claim solely to discredit the protesters as a means of ignoring the serious issue of racism that the protest is all about.

Second however, the playing of the National Anthem before a game never has had anything to do with honoring the military. Rather, the tradition of playing the Anthem prior to the start of  a sporting event has been to show our unity as a nation — every single American — and not limited only to past and present members of the military.

The Anthem before a game makes us realize that although we may be cheering for rival teams on the playing field, at the end of the day, we still are one people, one nation.

Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem — which has resulted in his career being ended (at least for now) — truly was an act of courage and stands as a shining example to all Americans, especially our young people, of their right to protest peacefully in our country.

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CHS Volleyball Team Takes a Knee at National Anthem:Players say they Kneel for a Fair and Equal Society for All

CHS Volleyball Team Takes a Knee at National Anthem:Players say they Kneel for a Fair and Equal Society for All

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea High Volleyball team takes a knee during the National Anthem on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 3, in a game at home against Notre Dame, who chose to stand and salute the flag. The girls, including (L-R) Arianna Pryor, Xiana Herasme, Masireh Ceesay and Guidairys Castro, plan to continue taking the knee all season to highlight inequities the lives of minority youth and immigrants. One school in Methuen has asked that they do not come and take a knee at their venue, choosing to forfeit the game instead.

The Chelsea High Volleyball team takes a knee during the National Anthem on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 3, in a game at home against Notre Dame, who chose to stand and salute the flag. The girls, including (L-R) Arianna Pryor, Xiana Herasme, Masireh Ceesay and Guidairys Castro, plan to continue taking the knee all season to highlight inequities the lives of minority youth and immigrants. One school in Methuen has asked that they do not come and take a knee at their venue, choosing to forfeit the game instead.

The Chelsea High School girls’ volleyball team – a team loaded with seven seniors – has been together for several years and so it is that they’ve developed a family-like bond and a chemistry that sometimes helps them to act in unison.

It’s almost telepathic, they say.

In fact, when they first decided to take a knee during the National Anthem to make a statement on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Whittier Tech, it was something they didn’t rehearse or plan in advance.

It just happened, and now it has happened two other times and – like other National Anthem protests – is sparking a robust conversation in Chelsea High, outside in Chelsea and even into the other cities and towns where they play.

All 11 players on the team are now taking the knee and did so as recently as this past Tuesday afternoon at Chelsea High.

“When it happened first, it wasn’t planned and it was just spontaneous and we all went down,” said Arianna Pryor, who pointed out that they took the knee before it became something much greater with the NFL protest on Sept. 24. “We gave each other the look and then it happened. It was just a natural thing. We had talked about it, but never planned on doing it. It was almost like mental telepathy.”

Leaders of the team say they are all taking the knee for several different reasons – whether it be for immigration issues, discrimination, economic opportunity, or better resources – but in general they seem to want to draw attention to the fact that they don’t see the country as being “free” or all of created “equal.”

“For me, a majority of us have immigrant parents and they came to the country to provide a better future for us,” said Rym El Mahid, a first-year player. “. What kind of American Dream is there if things are working against our parents all the time?”

Ruchellie Jimenez said she also takes the knee because she has seen how others are treated, how people treat her. She wants that to change, and this was one way to draw attention to her cause.

“I don’t think it’s fair how we have systematic forces against us and are always in the backseat of America,” she said. “We struggle and get the scraps of everyone else. My parents were immigrants and I see the way they are treated and the way I am treated. That’s why I take the knee. It isn’t fair.”

She added, as an example, that she recently wanted to improve her SAT score and went to a counselor outside Chelsea for help.

“I was sitting with the counselor and they looked at my score and said I was a minority and from a low-income area, so I was all set; there was not need for me to try to get better,” she said. “That’s not how I want to be treated. I just want to do better on my SAT.”

Pryor said others have been taking a knee to make a difference, and she saw that and brought it up to the rest of her team. They had talked about it, but made no plans. As time went on, she said she wanted to be one to make things known, to let people know that things are not right.

“I take a knee because I want to be there with the others that are trying to make a difference,” she said. “I take a knee because things need to change.”

All agreed that they don’t mean disrespect to any soldiers, and are grateful for the service of veterans – those who have died and who have returned injured. They said, however, they picked the National Anthem because it was a non-violent and because it was one of the few outlets they had as high school athletes.

“Our team is very ethnically diverse and culturally diverse,” said Capt. Jessica Martinez. “We feel strongly about how our country has been going, and we wanted to make our point in a way that wouldn’t seem violent or aggressive, but rather intelligent. We wanted to do something that showed we took a lot of time thinking out our actions.”

She added that if they had made their protest at City Hall or another public venue, it could have taken a violent course – which they didn’t want.

Added Jimenez, “We’re very grateful for what the veterans have done and they have given us freedom of speech to take the knee. I don’t think there is any other way for us to do this publicly. Everyone knows what taking a knee is.”

At school, it’s been a mixed reaction.

A lot of students don’t agree with it, they said, while others are wholeheartedly behind them.

Already, last Friday, the Chelsea High cheerleaders took a knee before the home football game.

Coach Serena Wadsworth said when it became obvious how her girls felt about taking the knee, and that they planned to do so the rest of the year, she sent out a letter to other schools. Most, she said, understood, but one school in Methuen preferred that the girls not come to their school and take a knee. The school indicated it didn’t feel it respected its school values. They were willing to forfeit the game, and also were willing to play at Chelsea.

Interestingly, the girls said their message isn’t really for those in Chelsea as much as it is for the other schools they play, many of which aren’t as diverse or understand the life that they lead.

“Our message isn’t really to be taken to only those who are doing the discrimination,” said El Mahid. “People who aren’t minority – the white and well off – don’t know the discrimination we face. It’s a way to get the discrimination out there.”

When the 2017  Chelsea High volleyball team is remembered, all of them agreed that it will probably be for their stand. They hope that it helps people think about what they did, and perhaps is something that’s continued.

“There are other teams and other seasons,” said Masireh Ceesay. “They will see what we did and see it as an example, I hope, and carry it on and find ways to go forward with our statement.”

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Some Feel CHS Volleyball Team Should Have Picked Another Venue for Protest

Some Feel CHS Volleyball Team Should Have Picked Another Venue for Protest

By Seth Daniel

Just as there have been no shortage of supporters of the Chelsea High girls volleyball team taking a knee at the National Anthem this month, there is similarly no shortage of people who are bothered by the statement.

Veterans are particularly bothered by the choice of high schoolers using the National Anthem to protest injustice, as it is historically a time to remember American soldiers who are deployed, dead or disabled. In a City where the primary state veterans care facility – the Soldiers’ Home – is located, that rings even more true than the average locale.

Members of the Soldiers’ Home said they could not comment on the matter, but many who spend considerable time there were hurt by the choice.

Bruce Dobson, who is the vice president of the East region of the Vietnam Veterans of America Massachusetts State Council, said he would like to meet with the girls. He said they are simply being followers, and not leading for the change they want.

Instead, they are hurting people who have lost life and limb to protect them.

“Protesting is acceptable in our country,” Dobson, who lives in Winthrop, said. “But to take a knee during the National Anthem is not. The National Anthem is to show respect to the Veterans who gave you the opportunity to be able to protest. If the volleyball team wants to protest, go to the steps of City Hall and take a knee. That will get a reaction without being disrespectful to veterans. The volleyball team members are being followers; be leaders and do something in your community. I would be willing to engage the volleyball at any time.”

School Committeeman Richard Maronski said he doesn’t agree with their stance and doesn’t believe the schools should allow it. For him, not only is it disrespectful, but shows that the youth aren’t being guided correctly.

“One problem is the kid seem to be leading the way in what should be allowed; we have the tail wagging the dog,” he said. “We are in a soft school system. The standards are lessened. The sports program seems to be getting worse. On the issue, I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think they know exactly what they are doing…I  don’t think it’s right they get to take a knee wearing a Chelsea uniform. They can protest on their own time…I support the kids on what’s happening to them and what’s said to them, but I don’t support how they are going about it.”

Maronski said he attends St. Michael’s Church next to the Soldiers’ Home every Sunday, and Father Healey reads a list of the soldiers who have passed every week. He said he would like the volleyball team to attend that sad ceremony, and to also become acquainted with the many wounded soldiers living in the Home – soldiers who hold the Anthem as dear to them as their own lives.

Chelsea Veterans Agent Francisco Toro said he had no official position, but as the City’s chief advocate and service provider, he’s already heard a lot of opinions. Interestingly, not all are against – yet not all are for either.

“I provide services to the veterans and am an advocate and a voice for the veterans in this community,” he said. “There are some veterans who think that taking a knee is disrespectful and some that don’t think it is. If you were to go and speak to a group of 100 veterans in Chelsea, I would say that there would be no one group on one particular side or the other…I’ve heard both sides from the veterans on this.”

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MS-13 Member Sentenced for Assaulting Gang Members

MS-13 Member Sentenced for Assaulting Gang Members

A member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha clique in Chelsea was sentenced Aug. 2 in federal court in Boston for RICO conspiracy involving the assault of two rival gang members.

Kevin Ayala, a/k/a “Gallito,” 23, a Salvadoran national residing in Chelsea, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor to 42 months in prison and will be subject to deportation after completion of his sentence. In February 2017, Ayala pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as a RICO conspiracy.

Ayala was identified as a member of MS-13’s Enfermos Criminales Salvatrucha clique operating in Chelsea. Ayala admitted that in April 2014, he engaged in an aggravated assault upon two members of the rival 18th Street gang in Chelsea.

After a three-year, multi-agency investigation, Ayala was one of 61 individuals charged in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 in Massachusetts. In documents previously filed with the Court, MS-13 was identified as a violent transnational criminal organization whose branches or “cliques” operate throughout the United States, including Massachusetts, as well as in Central America. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence to maintain membership and discipline within the group, such as attacking and murdering gang rivals and individuals believed to be cooperating with law enforcement.

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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren Tours EBNHC

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren Tours EBNHC

By John Lynds

EBNHC CMO Dr. Jackie Fantes and EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes present U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren with a gift.

EBNHC CMO Dr. Jackie Fantes and EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes present U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren with a gift.

Last week the Democrats had a huge victory as the U.S. Senate failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obama Care. While there was much to celebrate as several Republicans, like Senator John McCain, cast votes against the Senate bill to repeal Obama Care, Senate Democrats like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren say the fight is ongoing and Obama Care is still under attack by many Republicans in the House and Senate.

Warren was back in Massachusetts Monday and toured the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, a place that long before Obama Care offered quality health care to people of all ages, races and backgrounds regardless of their ability to pay.

Warren toured both the Health Center’s Gove Street and Maverick Square facilities and ended her tour with a roundtable discussion where she heard from health care providers, patients and partners of EBNHC.

“I want to thank Senator Warren and her team for visiting the Health Center today,” said EBNHC CEO Manny Lopes. “We are so happy about the work she has done to help the lives of individuals that don’t have a voice but also her work to protect the Affordable Care Act and making sure people living in this country not only have access to coverage but access to high quality health care. On our door it says ‘All Are Welcome’ and we continue to provide service to anybody who walks through our doors regardless of their ability to pay and we have stayed true to that statement.”

Warren heard testimony from EBNHC different departments and programs that have helped improve the lives of countless residents in Eastie and the surrounding communities. Whether its the Health Center’s PACE program that helps seniors live at home independently, EBNHC highly successful pediatrics department and school based health care program to cutting edge metal health and substance abuse programs, Warren said she was beyond impressed with the team at the Health Center and the services they have been able to provide to thousands of low-income residents that would otherwise be left without stable health care.

Warren also heard from patients who have benefitted from EBNHC’s quality care and programs with one patient saying she passed up the chance to purchase a nice house for a good price north of Eastie because she feared her and her family would not get the same quality health care outside of the neighborhood.

For her part, Warren thanked the Health Center staff and board for being on the front lines and being a shinning example of everything that is right with quality affordable health care.

“I just wanted to come by today (Monday) and thank all of you,” said Warren. “An amazing thing happen last week. We were able to save health care for millions of Americans across the country. I just want to be clear that this has been a hard fight and we’ve been in this fight for a very very long time.”

Warren said the fight really began following Obama Care’s passage and then having to defend expanded health care coverage to millions of Americans day after day.

“When this year started we didn’t have the votes to stop the repeal but what we did have is people from all over this country that got into the fight including people like you from our Community Health Center,” said Warren. “You got into the fight in different ways. One of those ways was just by doing what you do every day and showing America that this is the way we can provide high quality health care to all of our people.”

When arguing on the Senate floor, Warren said she points to Community Health Centers as the shining stars of what works in the the health care industry.

“Every time I hear the arguments that costs are rising or things are not working I say ‘take a look at our Community Health Centers’,” said Warren. “EBNHC is one of the best examples of how affordable quality health care can be delivered to thousands of people every day.”

Warren said the Senate Republican’s failure to repeal Obama Care was a triumph for democracy.

“Enough people from across America said ‘health care is a basic human right, and we will stand up and fight for basic human rights’,” said Warren. “This is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue and I think that is powerfully important to realize.”

Over the national debate of whether or not to repeal Obama Care, Warren said something magical happened across America.

“America believes in health care coverage, maybe not everyone, but I think there has been a huge shift and people are seeing health care as a basic human right,” said Warren. “Also, in the first time in its 52 year existence we talked openly about Medicare. We put a human face on Medicare and talk about who gets Medicare and why they get Medicare and why Medicare is so important. People are realizing that Medicare is not about ‘some others’ but about all of us as human beings and it was important to talk about the faces of Medicare and the people that are touched by Medicare. I think now much of America has a better understanding not only of how health insurance affects our health care system but how Medicare and Medicaid are an equally important component of that system.”

In the end Warren said the fight to preserve Obama Care is not over.

“This fight is not over and it can come back at any moment,” said Warren. “There are still those across the country that want to fight to roll back health care coverage. We have to be vigilant and we can not move backwards or lose focus in this fight. People like Manny (Lopes), Senator (Joseph) Boncore and people from across Massachusetts have been in this fight and standing shoulder to shoulder by showing up at rallies, sending emails and texts and making calls. You’ve done everything to say I want my voice heard in this big national health care debate.”

“I came here today to just say it has been an honor to work alongside all of you,” she added.

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Returning Home:Phunk Phenomenon Dance Seeks New Home in Chelsea

Returning Home:Phunk Phenomenon Dance Seeks New Home in Chelsea

By Cary Shuman

Reia Briggs-Connor

Reia Briggs-Connor

Chelsea native Reia Briggs-Connor, who has built the Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex in to the No. 1 name in hip-hop dance in Greater Boston, is looking for another home.

Briggs-Connor, a former New England Patriots cheerleader, learned in April that the building on Revere Beach Parkway in Everett that housed her dance studio would be demolished. The studio started on Ferry Street in Everett before moving to the old Harley Davidson building on Route 16.

“We received notice in April and my end-of-the-year recital was in May,” related Briggs-Connor.

The former Chelsea High School cheerleader and Miss Chelsea pageant winner has turned her attention to her hometown and has begun talks with developers about a site in Chelsea close to the Everett border.

“I’d really love to be back in Chelsea where I came from,” said Briggs-Connor, daughter of Barbara Casino Casino of Chelsea. “I’m looking for a new location and have a specific spot in mind and I’m going through the process of signing a lease.”

Briggs-Connor’s ascension to the top of the local hip hop scene took hard work, talent, vision, and a supportive family that includes her husband, Everett Police officer Rick Connor, and their two children, Jared Connor, 12, who suffers from a rare disease, San Filippo Syndrome (the family conducts an annual fundraising event, Jared’s Run, each year), and Aaron, 7, who is a rising dancer and Pop Warner and Little League player.

Phunk Phenomeon has grown steadily to a current enrollment of 450 students of all ages. Phunk has gained considerable recognition for creating the Boston Celtics Junior Dance Team that performs in front of 18,000 fans at Celtics’ home games.

 Phunk showcased its national credentials by earning a spot on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” show that was videotaped in California. Phunk dancers also appeared on “America’s Got Talent” and were a finalist for Jennifer Lopez’s new show, “World of Dance.”

“My dancers and I have been blessed enough to meet a lot of celebrities such as Busta Rhymes and Salt-N-Pepa and a lot of old-school rappers and hip hop artists. They love it that we keep hip hop alive from the foundation and all its high energy.”

A graduate of Wheelock College, Briggs-Connor is proud of her studio’s legacy and looking forward to building on its stature as the hub of youth hip-hop dancing – at a new location in Chelsea.

“I think the popularity of our studio, aside from the opportunities that our students get, is the family-oriented space that we offer and staying true to hip hop dance and its foundations. Basically it’s the love and care that goes in to the kids and we accept kids of all levels of dance ability. We build their confidence.”

 Briggs-Connor said her goal as a studio owner and professional instructor hasn’t changed since opening in Everett in 2001.

“Hopefully I can help more kids in Chelsea and all the surrounding communities. That’s always been my goal. I want to help these kids learn and appreciate the joys of dance and teamwork and have a positive outlook on life.”

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