Anti-Bullying Week Kicks Off at Collaborative, CHS

Anti-Bullying Week Kicks Off at Collaborative, CHS

By Seth Daniel

Chelsea Collaborative youth leaders Stephany Villatoro and Ashanti DeCosta look at a picture of Amanda Todd, a teen from another state who ended her life in 2012 due to cyber bullying. The moment was part of a kick-off event at the Collaborative on Tuesday, Jan. 16, for Anti-Bullying Week. A large event at Chelsea High for students, parents and staff will take place Thursday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m.

Chelsea Collaborative youth leaders Stephany Villatoro and Ashanti DeCosta look at a picture of Amanda Todd, a teen from another state who ended her life in 2012 due to cyber bullying. The moment was part of a kick-off event at the Collaborative on Tuesday, Jan. 16, for Anti-Bullying Week. A large event at Chelsea High for students, parents and staff will take place Thursday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m.

The Chelsea Collaborative youth leaders and Chelsea High School are combining their efforts this week to bring unprecedented attention to Anti-Bullying Week.

On Tuesday afternoon, youth leaders kicked off the week with a program at the Chelsea Collaborative designed to educate  youth and adults about how dangerous bullying can be in the 21st Century – a danger that can often lead to death.

Stephany Villatoro and Ashanti DeCosta of the Collaborative Youth Team said they see bullying all the time at the high school, and can definitely understand how

someone might commit suicide.

When asked if they could picture someone at their school going so far as to end their life over  bullying, they replied, “Oh yea.”

That is why the youth displayed personal stories of bullying from kids who live in Chelsea and also one national story about Amanda Todd. The teen had posted something online by mistake, and was attacked  with cyber-bullying that didn’t stop.

Soon, it was more than she could take, and she ended her life.

“I think it is such a necessary topic,” said Villatoro. “It’s something that many of us might have actually experienced ourselves in some form, but we don’t want to talk about it. By being youth leaders at the Collaborative, it gives us an opportunity to spread concerns and solutions about this to other youth our age.”

Said DeCosta, “Something that is very common at Chelsea High is cyber bullying. It’s not much with verbal or physical bullying, but the cyber bullying often leads to that. It all starts with the cyber bullying though. Someone will post something about someone else and they’ll go back and forth on social media. Then it just gets out of control.”

Both said one of the goals they have is to be able to teach students caught up in this about how to address the core issues and conflicts they have face to face. They hope to be able to instill a maturity in the community that allows people to resolve conflicts with one another and not turn to bullying online.

It’s a world that parents often find extremely foreign, as most parents didn’t grow up with social media and have a hard time understanding how an electronic message can hurt so deeply.

But it does, say leaders.

“Cyber bullying has taken on a life of its own and doesn’t necessary exist now in the way that it did even five years ago,” said Sasha Parodi, a youth organizer at the Collaborative. “It’s one thing that’s rapidly developing and there are so many ways for it to surface. It’s really more  of a lack of understand or resources to address it for some parents. It’s very hard because every kid has a phone and it’s hard not to get everything that comes with that phone, such as social media.”

Today, Jan. 18, Chelsea High School will have a major event to help bring the topic even more into the light for students, teachers and parents.

Alfonso Ceciliano, a Chelsea High parent liaison, said they will stage the event at 5 p.m. in the Auditorium.

“We’re going to be addressing all kinds of different topics with Anti-Bullying,” he said.

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Chelsea Collaborative youth leaders Stephany Villatoro and Ashanti DeCosta look at a picture of Amanda Todd, a teen from another state who ended her life in 2012 due to cyber bullying. The moment was part of a kick-off event at the Collaborative on Tuesday, Jan. 16, for Anti-Bullying Week. A large event at Chelsea High for students, parents and staff will take place Thursday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m.

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Heyde and Kaley Vasquez write their thoughts about a bullying story that was posted as part of the kick-off Tuesday night.

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Youth Leaders from the Chelsea Collaborative kicked off Anti-Bullying Week at the Collaborative on Tuesday night.

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Collaborative, Other Groups Make Statement for the Rights of Chelsea Day Laborers

Collaborative, Other Groups Make Statement for the Rights of Chelsea Day Laborers

By Seth Daniel

The group is shown on the steps of the Shawmut Street residence.

The group is shown on the steps of the Shawmut Street residence.

The Chelsea Collaborative joined with two other human service agencies this month to begin several “actions” to put employers engaging in wage theft on notice that they will not let it go – even if employers manipulate a so-called loophole in the City’s pioneering Wage Theft Ordinance.

On Nov. 30, about 20 activists and one man who said he was owed nearly $3,000 in unpaid wages from a flooring company, marched up Shawmut Street to the home address of the owner – who has registered the construction business from his home.

“This is something we are doing to let employers know we will not stand by and watch the struggle of workers due to non-payment of wages,” said Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez, of the Collaborative, while standing on the stoop of the purported wage violator. “At this time, we want to send a message and that’s why we’ve come out here. This is one of the parts of the law where we believe there is a loophole. That is with businesses that register from their homes. It’s very hard to track them.”

Jose Becerra was one of three workers owned money from the construction company. In total, all three are suspected to be owned $9,000 from the Chelsea company.

He was there with about 19 other activists who were prepared to deliver a letter directly to the owner of the company. The owner didn’t answer the door, and activists yelled up to he and his wife to no avail.

“Right now, it’s the loophole that is the problem,” said Sylvia Ramirez of the Collaborative. “Businesses don’t register. They are not in compliance, but the City isn’t aware of them. They have to find a way to investigate and cure this condition.”

The action is part of an overall effort to fight for workers rights, which was bolstered this week on Tuesday when the Collaborative launched its new ‘Journaleros’ project at its existing Workers Center. That Center has been around for 15 years, but now graduates from the Center are looking to empower other workers – primarily day laborers on the fringes who frequently have wages stolen.

Those workers are often recognized by the fact that they wait on certain corners in Chelsea, where construction companies will drive by and pick them up to work for the day.

Many of those corners are in the Shawmut Street and Central Avenue areas, while another major place is at the Home Depot in the Parkway Plaza.

“The project consists in organizing workers in the corners,” read a release from the Collaborative. “This project will allow us to educate these workers to prevent wage theft. The workers will acquire the right tools to defend and protect their rights as day labor workers.”

The project kick-off included canvassing many local businesses and also going to the major “corners” where workers are picked up.

As for the loophole, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he isn’t clear about what the City could do. He said the City is only able to penalize someone for wage theft by not giving them a City contract or not giving them a municipally-required license.

He said the only fix would be to deny business certificates to those violating the Wage Ordinance. However, he said what would likely happen is small companies operating out of homes would simply not get a certificate, which is required only every four years.

“I suppose we could add a section that says the City Clerk can’t issue a Business Certificate…if a company has similar wage violations,” he said. “But, honestly, that statute is impossible to enforce, and we generally rely upon the goodwill of folks to come in and register. It is not as though this municipality or any municipality has a way of keeping track of every business operating from a home address.”

He said if there are licenses, such as liquor licenses, issued by the License Commission, they could have a better handle on it, but for private companies not needing such a license, it would be difficult.

“What is likely to happen if we added such a provision to our Wage Theft Ordinance is that someone who couldn’t secure a Business Certificate from the City Clerk because of Wage Violations would simply avoid getting one,” he said.

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Helping Puerto Rico

Helping Puerto Rico

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Carmen Cruz prays for friends and family in Puerto Rico during the vigil and donation drive on Thursday, Sept. 28, to aid in the relief effort for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Chelsea Collaborative and Teamsters Local 25 organized the event, with many community partners. Teamsters Local 25 is donating trucks and drivers to transport the relief items Hurricane Maria has devastated the island, with an overwhelming majority of the 3.4 million residents still without power as of last week, and officials struggling to get food, water, fuel and needed supplies to everyone in need.

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Many Puerto Ricans in Chelsea Stay Busy to Keep Positive

Many Puerto Ricans in Chelsea Stay Busy to Keep Positive

By Seth Daniel

On Monday morning, Margarita Nievez kept busy folding a sheet and some clothing that was set to be trucked out to New Jersey – and later to Puerto Rico.

The day before, she and her friends helped load rice onto pallets.

Last Thursday evening, they participated in a vigil at City Hall, and then helped collect more food that was loaded onto trucks provided by the Teamsters Local 25. That collection was also being shipped to Puerto Rico.

For Nievez, it’s all about staying busy and keeping her mind off her home island, which has been wiped out by two hurricanes this month, most recently Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.

“It feels good to help here and not think about it,” said Nievez on Monday while  folding a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative. “They are suffering down there from not having food and water. They could be dying now.”

She began to tear up, and then went back to her work.

Nievez said she has family in Ponce and Comerio – among other remote places that were hit directly.

“I haven’t heard anything from any of them,” she said. “I don’t know where they are.”

Maria Figueroa has a sister in Mayaguez, and she said it has been encouraging to see the community in Chelsea band together so quickly to help.

Indeed, Chelsea historically has one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast per capita, and so such a devastating impact on many in the City.

On Monday, Chelsea Police officers and Public Works crews were stationed in the Collaborative racing against the clock to load everything up before the tractor trailer arrived at 3 p.m.

Thousands of pounds of food waited in a hallway.

“I’ve been here doing something from last week until now,” said Figueroa. “Thank God everyone is helping each other. Different cultures and different races are all coming together.”

As they worked, David Rodas came through the doors to bring a variety of rice bags, water and canned goods.

“I’m not even Puerto Rican,” he said. “I’m from El Salvador, but we’re all humans and I see people in need. This is what you do.”

Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said keeping busy has helped her, and helped many like Nievez and Figueroa.

“It’s a way of them coping with what they see on TV,” she said. “They don’t want to sit around the house and not do anything and not know what’s happening. So, I’ve had a lot of people who have showed up and wanted to help since last week. They fold clothes, organize food, or whatever they can do.”

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Margarita Nievez folds a sheet at the Chelsea Collaborative on Monday while Leanna Cruz organizes clothing in the background. Many Chelsea residents who have family in Puerto Rico haven’t heard any news of their whereabouts since the devastating Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20. To cope, they keep busy.

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Chelsea Police National Night Out

Chelsea Police National Night Out

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The Chelsea Police Department held its annual National Night Out event Tuesday at Mary O’Malley. The event raises community awareness about policing efforts and helps build partnerships between the department and residents. Several local organizations participated in the festivities. Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes is pictured with young residents, some representing the Chelsea Collaborative, who attended the event.

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Chelsea Collaborative Wins Constitutional Case On Voting Registration

Chelsea Collaborative Wins Constitutional Case On Voting Registration

By Seth Daniel

Last fall, when Chelsea’s Edma Ortiz began to get increasingly concerned about the presidential election and what was at stake for immigrants and the Latino community, she finally found the time to get to Chelsea City Hall to register to vote in the election.

However, an irregular work schedule that required her to work odd hours during weekdays, and the death of her mother that took her to Puerto Rico for nearly a month in October, delayed her trip to City Hall.

Getting on a plane Oct. 19 to go back to Boston, she remembered thinking that she needed to go register for the election.

On Oct. 20, she went to the Chelsea Collaborative to get the details on how to fill out the documents.

However, she found out she was one day late – the cutoff for registrations was on Oct. 19, many weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

With that news, the life-long U.S. Citizen was disqualified to cast her vote in what was one of the most important elections in modern history.

That and many other similar stories led the Collaborative to file a lawsuit last year challenging the voter registration cutoff – and this week the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in their favor.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled this week that the voter registration law in Massachusetts – which calls for a cutoff for voting registration several weeks before any election – infringes on the rights of voters and should be reconsidered.

The case was brought by the Chelsea Collaborative and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

“We are extremely happy with the outcome on this case,” said Gladys Vega of the Collaborative. “We strongly feel that this law has to change and we are not saying this should have anything to do with same-day voter registration. What it should have everything to do with is U.S. Citizens being able to have their vote.”

The ACLU said it was a victory for democracy in the state.

“This is a major victory for democracy in Massachusetts, as the court agreed that the arbitrary 20-day voter registration cutoff law is unconstitutional and disenfranchises thousands of potential voters throughout the Commonwealth every election,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU Massachusetts. “As the Trump administration is seeking to limit access to the ballot, Massachusetts should lead nationwide efforts to ensure that everyone has a right to vote. As champions for freedom, the ACLU of Massachusetts is committed to working together with other advocates and the Massachusetts Legislature to protect and expand access to the ballot.”

Vega said the cutoff limits force people to focus on the election in October and September – times when people aren’t paying as much attention.

However, she said when people really want to vote, they find that they no longer can do so.

“I’ve had people come down with the card to register well before the election and we had to turn them away,” she said. “It was too late. One man tore the card up in front of me and said, ‘Why do I even bother.’ That shouldn’t happen…We have to register voters at a time when no one cares about it rather that at a peak time when people start caring about voting and can no longer participate.”

She said one witness in their case before the SJC testified that more than 6,500 voters had been turned away after the cutoff.

She also said technology has come to a point where a cutoff so many days ahead of time is not needed.

“Enough was enough,” she said. “We felt that this was against the Constitutional right to vote. They don’t need the processing time and documentation time any more. Things are done so much quicker that shouldn’t be a problem now.”

The Court has instructed the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Bill Galvin, to craft a law that will be more accommodating.

It will then have to be passed by the State Legislature.

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Summer Youth Employment Going Full Speed Ahead

Summer Youth Employment Going Full Speed Ahead

Chelsea Collaborative is happy to announce that 160 out of 480 youth that have applied to work during the summer are placed in jobs and working.

Karla Garcia is shown here last week weed whipping an area on Fourth Street under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge by the ‘Welcome to Chelsea’ sign. Garcia is a summer employee of the Chelsea DPW under the Summer Youth Employment Initiative.

Karla Garcia is shown here last week weed whipping an area on Fourth Street under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge by the ‘Welcome to Chelsea’ sign. Garcia is a summer employee of the Chelsea DPW under the Summer Youth Employment Initiative.

However, that currently makes a waiting list of 320.

The Collaborative thanks all of the worksites, and funders for making possible the most recent hired of a total of a 160 youth.

“Most of these youth began their training on June 2, every Friday during the month of June; however everyone else began with orientation and training on July 5 and at their worksites,” said Sylvia Ramirez, director of youth and families department at the Collaborative. “There are 39 site in total for 2017 and work started at those as of July 10. Most of these youth will be ending their work on August 18.”

Furthermore, under the Summer Youth Initiative, there is a series of activities coordinated through the City of Chelsea.

“We encourage our community to take full advantage of all of these great activities and to join us in having a healthy 2017 summer,” said Ramirez.

For additional questions please reach out at 617-889-6080.

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Greenroots Spins Off from Chelsea Collaborative to Focus on Environment

By Seth Daniel

The new GreenRoots team, L to R, Associate Executive Director Maria Belen Power, Nelson Martinez, Sequoyah Williams, Qamar Sabtow, Cristian Corchado, Juan Vasquez and Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni.

The new GreenRoots team, L to R, Associate Executive Director Maria Belen Power, Nelson Martinez, Sequoyah Williams, Qamar Sabtow, Cristian Corchado, Juan Vasquez and Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni.

A new non-profit from a very familiar group of folks has begun operations this month to advocate for environmental issues on the Chelsea Creek and throughout the city at its headquarters on Marginal Street.

GreenRoots has spun off from the Chelsea Collaborative, formerly being Chelsea GreenSpace, and will operate in cooperation with the Collaborative, but as it’s own group. The leader of the new environmental group is Roseann Bongiovanni – a long-time fixture at the Collaborative. She will be assisted by another long-time Collaborative leader, Maria Belen Power.

The two filed the papers for GreenRoots on May 27- the day of the Battle of Chelsea Creek – and have been working towards complete operation since then.

There has been no split, though, in personalities or missions for the two groups, but really just a reality of the growth at the Collaborative spurred by the mounting immigration issues and by the closure of Centro Latino.

“We will be two separate entities that are working on two different missions, but in cases where we can, we will work on projects of mutual interest,” said Bongiovanni. “An example of that was the Boston Hides and Furs case where that was an environmental issue and a worker’s rights issue too.”

The main reason for the spin-off is the fact that, due to critical issues around immigration and family survival, environmental issues and public transportation were getting pushed to the wayside. Though they had great victories against the Ethanol trains and defeating the power plant on Eastern Avenue, those victories were getting fewer and fewer as all hands were on deck to help people solve important immigration issues and to absorb the large numbers of people looking for a new service-provider home after the closure of Centro Latino last summer.

“The environmental justice work at the Collaborative was always important, but got to the point where it wasn’t the most important priority on a day-to-day basis because of all the pressing issues we faced,” said Bongiovanni. “It had become all hands on deck to help people who were in dire need of housing or food or immigration or even day to day survival. That work took away from environmental justice and administration and fund-raising. It was the right time and just made sense. GreenSpace had a meeting of its members and we talked about the good work we’ve done, and people felt it made sense to spin off now and see what other achievements could be made – especially when waterfront development is a big issue right now.”

GreenRoots has established a small Board of Directors that includes Madeline Scannell of Chelsea, Yahya Noor of Chelsea, Bob Boulrice of Chelsea and Neris Amaya of Chelsea. More Board members are expected to be added in the coming months.

Additionally, they have hired Juan Vasquez full time to work on an indoor air quality study project in Chelsea that is being done in conjunction with local hospitals.

GreenRoots will now have oversight of the Community Gardens program, and they will look to hire a part-time coordinator as well.

Additionally, all of the GreenSpace functions and the ECOYouth group are now under the GreenRoots umbrella.

Power will be working on public transportation issues as well, which was her specialty at the Collaborative.

“We’re happy to have started off small and have GreenRoots up and running,” said Bongiovanni. “We believe we have achieved many good things over the last 20 years as GreenSpace, but there is so much more we can do and we’re ready to tackle that – whether it’s water quality, land uses, environmental justice or transportation justice.”

A grand opening is scheduled for September.

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The new GreenRoots team, L to R, Associate Executive Director Maria Belen Power, Nelson Martinez, Sequoyah Williams, Qamar Sabtow, Cristian Corchado, Juan Vasquez and Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni.

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Chelsea Collaborative Celebrates Unveiling of Workers Rights Mural

On May 31st, members of the Chelsea Collaborative, Chelsea city councilors, workers rights activists and Chelsea Community members gathered for the unveiling of the Chelsea Collaborative’s new workers rights mural. The mural creator, artist Nancy Guevara met with members of the Chelsea Latino Immigrant Committee an Environmental Chelsea Organizers a several times over the past few months to create the design for the mural.

The mural is part of a statewide education campaign to bring more awareness to the worker’s rights violations that immigrant workers face throughout Massachusetts. Organizations like the Collaborative, have long been fighting issues of wage theft, especially in industries with a high level of subcontracting, where cleaning, construction and

Artist Nancy Guevara speaks during the unveiling of the Worker’s Rights mural at the Collaborative on May 31.

Artist Nancy Guevara speaks during the unveiling
of the Worker’s Rights mural at the Collaborative on May 31.

painting workers often see their wages and overtime stolen by predatory subcontractors.

Currently, a coalition made up of local unions, workers centers like the Collaborative, and the Boston-based organization Community Labor United is pushing a bill that would further protect sub-contracted immigrant workers. Representative Dan Ryan and Senator Sal DiDomenico, who is the co-sponsor of the bill, both attended the mural unveiling and spoke about the importance of continuing to fight for the rights of immigrant workers. At noon on Thursday June 23rd, workers, union members and other supporters of the bill will gather for a Wage Theft Speakout on the steps of the State House to call on their Senators and Representatives to pass the bill. For more information and the action and the problem of wage theft, check out www.StopMassWageTheft.org.

The mural also seeks to highlight the strength workers find through culture, community unity and organizing and features figures modeled after active members of the Chelsea Latino Immigrant Committee and Somali Bantu Girls Group. As artist Nancy Guevara wrote in the inscription accompanying the mural, “This mural celebrates the different cultures found in this city and our shared commitment to hard work and a passion for justice. Together, we weave our future, our battle giving us the strength to fight and move on. We need fairly paid and dignified work in order to realize and inherit our dreams. We came to this country to live the American dream, but we have realized it was not for us, but with the strands of our battle, our collective voices amplified and the power of our love and effort, we continue to demand the right to dream.”

Anyone interested in taking a look at the worker’s rights mural, should feel free to visit the Collaborative anytime between 10 and 5pm. The mural is meant to be an inspiration for all in our community to keep on fighting for a more just and equitable city where all workers and community members are treated with respect and dignity.

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