Chelsea-Based Roca will Launch New Public-Private Partnership with Baltimore

Chelsea-Based Roca will Launch New Public-Private Partnership with Baltimore

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh announced this month a $17 million public-private partnership with Roca, anchor business institutions and philanthropic organizations to help Baltimore’s highest risk young people disrupt cycles of poverty and incarceration.

Roca is a Massachusetts-based group that has earned national recognition for providing some of the most innovative and effective interventions for young adults most at risk for committing or becoming a victim of violence.

The program currently operates in four sites in Massachusetts (Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Springfield) and will replicate its model in Baltimore City.

“This is a very special announcement for me because we believe the approach to violence reduction is holistic, and we want to be inclusive in our approach to reducing the violence that exists in our city,” said Mayor Pugh. “Roca is not just a program that focuses in on individuals between the ages of 17-24, it is an intense focus that helps young people move beyond violence and into the types of job training, and personal development that leads them to become more productive members of our community.”

The significant new partnership will join other efforts to proactively engage high-risk youth in the City of Baltimore, and to reduce recidivism for those who have already encountered the criminal justice system. It will be funded by a combination of private and public dollars raised by Roca and the City of Baltimore, with a request for State funding still pending.

“We are humbled by the incredible efforts in the city to bring about change,” said Roca founder and CEO, Molly Baldwin. “At Roca, we are painfully aware that we can neither arrest nor program our way out of the violence devastating this city and that we need a different approach. We are so grateful for the invitation to help and we know we have a lot to learn as we initiate our work in Baltimore.”

Currently, Roca serves over 1,000 high-risk young people in 21 communities in Massachusetts and has been preparing to work in Baltimore for the past five years. Roca plans to serve 75 young people in Baltimore during its first year and gradually increase its services to 300 young people annually over the next three years.

Roca will begin operations in Baltimore during Summer 2018. An intensive planning process already is underway.

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Housing Program Helps Families Survive Crisis Without Turning to Shelters

Housing Program Helps Families Survive Crisis Without Turning to Shelters

By Seth Daniel

The Metro Housing Boston organization reported this month that their transition assistance program for families in crisis helped 70 families in Chelsea with a total expenditure of $190,623 locally.

Outside of Boston, Chelsea was the one community where RAFT was utilized more than others. The next closest community was Malden with 47 families helped.

The Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides families with a small amount of cash assistance and provides an option to having to enter emergency shelter. Metro Housing Boston administers RAFT in Boston and 28 surrounding communities. With RAFT, eligible families can apply for up to $4,000 that can be used to help retain housing, get new housing, keep utilities on and to avoid homelessness. To qualify, a family cannot make more than 50 percent of the area median income, which in the 2017 Boston region was $46,550 for a family of three.

“Many families are living paycheck to paycheck,” red the report. “An unplanned expense can put their housing in jeopardy. RAFT provides a safety net for families to have something to fall back on when they are in crisis and need support.”

It is the fourth year that Metro Housing Boston has shared the data about the program, which is funded by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Stating that Boston is one of the top five most expensive cities to live within in the United States, officials from Metro Housing Boston said such funding is extremely important for families with very low incomes to handle things like fires or other catastrophes that they cannot afford to plan for.

“For four years running, our reports continue to show the positive impacts of the RAFT program,” said Metro Housing Executive Director Christopher Norris. “For a relatively small investment, families in our region are able to stay in their communities near their children’s schools, their health providers, and their social networks. This is crucial to helping families maintain stability and achieve economic security.”

Overall, including Chelsea, the program likely saved 1,000 families from turning to a shelter – which also is estimated to have saved the state $31 million in emergency shelter funds. For the $3.8 million RAFT funding, 1,474 families were able to resolve housing crises.

With the continued commitment to funding by the state for RAFT, the program has been able to assist 60 percent more families than it did four years ago. However, this year the average benefit decreased by 3 percent to an average of $2,614 per client.

Also, a pilot program during FY17 expanded RAFT eligibility to include families of all sizes and configurations. Under this program, Metro Housing served 60 households, 31 of whom were individuals and 27 of whose head of household had a disability.

A vast majority of those receiving RAFT (48 percent) use it to pay rent that is in arrears. Some 20 percent use it to pay security deposits for a new apartment, and 11 percent use it for first/last months rent payments on a new apartment.

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Chelsea Fire to Begin Collecting Toys for Tots, Requests Due by Nov 20

Chelsea Fire to Begin Collecting Toys for Tots, Requests Due by Nov 20

The Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) has begun collecting new, unwrapped, non-violent toys at our Central Station located at

307 Chestnut St., from now until December 15.

Anyone who would like to drop off a toy may come by the station between the hours of 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Last year the CFD collected three large pickup trucks of toys for the Toys for Tots program. After doing some research, CFD organizers found that there are 750 families and more than 1,300 children in the City of Chelsea who are provided Christmas gifts through the Toys for Tots/Globe Santa program.

Sadly this number has nearly doubled since the first year the CFD started up their drive.

“This program is a great opportunity for all of us to help bring a little happiness into the hearts of so many local families that have so little,” said Phil Rogers.

For those who are needy and looking for donations, time is of the essence as the deadline for requests is Nov. 20.

If an individual family needs toys, they should make contact with their social worker, their Pastor, local city or town hall or The Globe Santa for possible help. The cut-off date for toy requests in 2017 is November 20, Midnight. This is due to the high volume of requests.

Globe Santa- toy request info

https://globesanta.org/aboutreq.aspx#request or

contact the Department of Transitional Services at (877) 382-2363.

The Toys for Tots program has been in existence since 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR founded Toys for Tots in Los Angeles. Some 5,000 toys were collected during that campaign before Christmas of 1947.

The mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, non-violent, unwrapped toys each year and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the Greater Boston community. Toys for Tots also wants to assure the less fortunate families throughout the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts that their children will be taken care of throughout the holiday season. There is no better satisfaction than seeing the smile of a child during the holiday season.

“On behalf of all the children made happy and the members of the Chelsea Fire Department, thank you so very much for all of your help,” said Rogers.

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Councilor Vidot Endorsed for At-Large City Council Seat by Mass Alliance

Councilor Vidot Endorsed for At-Large City Council Seat by Mass Alliance

Mass Alliance, a coalition of political organizations dedicated to making Massachusetts more progressive is proud to announce their endorsement for their Rising Stars Program of Damali Vidot for Chelsea City Council.

“We are proud to endorse for our Rising Stars Program, Damali Vidot for Chelsea City Council,” says Mass Alliance Executive Director Jordan Berg Powers.  “We know that Damali is going to continue to put the community first, focusing on what it will take to move Chelsea forward. We are excited to join Chelsea voters in supporting Damali.”

Damali Vidot, current City Council Vice President shared her message of One Chelsea, a vision of a more inclusive and participatory government. Committed to reinvigorating residents in local issues such as development without displacement, supporting Chelsea Youth and maintaining an authentic voice for all residents on the Council.

Councilor Vidot, ran a spirited campaign in the last Municipal Elections. She topped the ticket in the Preliminary and finished in the General with an impressive show of support in one of the highest voter turnouts in a municipal electoral race the city of Chelsea had seen in years.

“I am thankful to Mass Alliance and their members for their continued support. Mass Alliance has an endorsement process that holds candidates and elected officials to a high standard. Their renewed support for me in this second term means a lot, given that I am always working hard to learn more about local and state issues and they have been a rich resource for me and my leadership”. Vidot shared.

From re-establishing the Chelsea Youth Commission, kicking off The Movement with other Chelsea Leaders, as well as advocating against development that does not put residents first, she continues to be an emboldened and fierce advocate that is bringing many disengaged residents back into the many conversations that continue in building a city that is representative of all.

Although Damali is running unopposed, she did open a headquarters where she is making phone calls to voters, along with door knocking with supporters; continuing that same spirited campaign that she insists is essential in continuing to build community and engage with all residents as the general election nears on Tuesday, November 7th.

Mass Alliance is a coalition of political and advocacy groups that fights for a more progressive Massachusetts.  Their member organizations advocate on a wide variety of issues, including civic participation, civil rights, economic justice, education, environmental issues, healthcare, reproductive rights, and worker’s rights.

Mass Alliance provides clear leadership for the progressive community, cultivates and empowers progressive leaders, and assists them in ultimately winning their elections.

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City Considering New Bike Sharing Program with ‘oFo’

City Considering New Bike Sharing Program with ‘oFo’

By Seth Daniel

The City and several community partners are working with Councillor Roy Avellaneda and the bike sharing company oFo to possibly launch the service to Chelsea residents in the coming months – if all goes well.

Bike sharing services have become increasingly popular, and in the Boston area the market is dominated by HubWay. However, the company requires extensive funding from municipalities to build out stations – stations that take up valuable parking spaces in key downtown areas.

Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he has realized that bicycle ridership in Chelsea has really begun to boom. So, promoting it has become one of his platforms on the Council. For some time, he said he and City Manager Tom Ambrosino tried to get HubWay into Chelsea, but that kind of fell apart recently – and might not have been the best fit for Chelsea anyhow.

Then, out of the blue, a former co-worker introduced him to the bike sharing company oFo – which is launching its service in Revere next week and already operates in Worcester – along with 16 other countries in the world.

The oFo system seemed to be the perfect fit, he said.

“While there has been an attempt to bring HubWay to Chelsea, they haven’t been overly excited to come,” he said. “This just made perfect sense. To find an alternative to HubWay was very appealing.”

oFo – which is not so much a name as a picture (the name is to resemble a picture of someone riding a bike 🙂 – has been in and around Chelsea for the last few weeks now.

At the annual Ride for REACH, they provided several signature yellow bikes for participants to ride. They have been doing other promotions as well.

The service is unique because it doesn’t require any stations. Bikes are simply locked up to racks or other legal spots and left when a user is done. Using a phone app, those signed up for oFo can locate a bike via a GPS map. Once they locate a nearby bike, they can scan the QR code on the bike with a cell phone, and then go on their way. Every bike is GPS monitored by the company, and the rates are far better than HubWay.

A typical HubWay is $5 per hour, while an oFo rental is $1 per hour.

“The biggest plus for me is we can get this off the ground fast,” said Avellaneda. “We have high ridership of bikes now and we can offer a product like this to the residents that is easy and very affordable. It looks like a no-brainer.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they are meeting with the company today, and he said it does seem interesting on its face.

GreenRoots has also had meetings with them, and Director Roseann Bongiovanni said it’s an intriguing idea.

“oFo came to meet with GreenRoots a few weeks back,” she said. “The members were all impressed and pleased with the company. Generally we’re supportive of a greater bicycle presence in the community, but what made this program more attractive was the affordable pricing and the lack of a docking station which could impacting parking in a city that struggles with that challenge.”

She said they do see some holes in the program, but things GreenRoots thinks can be overcome.

“We’d like to work with the City and oFo to overcome two obstacles: bike access for youth and those who don’t have credit cards,” she said, noting that payment is through an app connected to a credit card.

The program is made that much more attractive due to Revere launching the program next week. With that neighboring City on board, it would allow Chelsea riders an even greater network of bicycles to find and use.

The company does provide a physical presence in the area, and said they quickly respond to any issues such as broken bikes or improperly stored bikes.

“People don’t realize how many people are now riding bikes in Chelsea,” said Avellaneda. “If you get up at 5 a.m. in the morning, you will see so many people riding bikes to Market Basket or the Produce Center.”

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CAPIC to Celebrate 50th Year at Gala Celebration Sept 26

CAPIC to Celebrate 50th Year at Gala Celebration Sept 26

By Seth Daniel

There’s no better preparation for the future than one’s history.

And there’s no better thing to celebrate than a 50th Anniversary.

The CAPIC human services organization will accomplish both things at it’s 50th anniversary celebration of the corporation on Sept. 26 at the Homewood Suites in Chelsea on Beech Street.

CAPIC provides a range of anti-poverty human services for Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop – from Head Start to Fuel Assistance to Wrap Around Services for the Opiate Epidemic.

“Most people think about CAPIC, and they think of fuel assistance and HEAD Start, but there are other things that go on here,” said Executive Director Bob Repucci. “So many people participated in building up things like CAPIC that exist today and they get forgotten. I consider it part of my job to resurrect them and give them a second life here.

“These are the people that really, really did the work that bore the fruit,” he continued. “My job here has become in the last few years to piece together the history and let it be known to the people doing the work today who it was that came before them…This is a very, very, important part of history. We want to not only honor the hard work, but also see the problems before they happen and be pro-active from knowing our history.”

The keynote speaker will be Speaker Bob DeLeo, and Repucci said they will honor long-time Board President Richelle Cromwell and Chelsea Council President Leo Robinson (a former employee of CAPIC).

“Leo worked here from 1972 to 1988 and Leo goes by the book,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people know that. Leo knows there’s a process for change to occur and he’s good at that. He does his research and he knows how government works.”

Other guests include Housing Secretary Jay Ash, as possibly Gov. Charlie Baker or Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

CAPIC got its start under late President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. As part of that effort, his Legislation included the Office of Economic Opportunity and that federal office offered grants to municipalities.

Chelsea and Revere banded together and got a $150,000 grant to share in 1965, with the group banding together in 1967 to form CAPIC. Winthrop was always part of partnership, but wasn’t confirmed until 1992 by the state.

Dick Incerto was the first director, and offices were in Chelsea and another was in Revere on Revere Street.

“The emphasis from 1967 was alcohol and drug us, housing, and tenants rights,” he said. “They focused on breaking barriers people had from achieving self-sufficiency.”

The Board was a unique format as well, he said. It was and still is comprised of a business leader, a low-income person and an elected official from each community. There are 21 board members.

“The integration of these three sectors onto one Board ensured that the agency would receive proper information,” he said. “That’s been the glue all these years – that tripartite glue of people on the Board.”

After Incerto, other directors included Walter Brown, Bob Mahoney and Pete Tata. Repucci came on board in 1972 to work on health care access and issues – something CAPIC still focuses on heavily.

Many of the programs in the area have been spin offs from CAPIC, including the model Upward Bound program that became Choice Through Education, or the Alcohol Outreach Program, which became Chelsea ASAP.

“If I were not here, the history of this organization I’m afraid would not be communicated,” he said. “So, I want to bring the people who started here back to meet the new generation. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”

The event is invitation only and guests of an invited person are $25. It is not a fundraiser, but donations are welcome. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the program starts at 6 p.m.

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Momentum Starting in Remaking Downtown District, Chelsea Lunch to Kick off July 12

Momentum Starting in Remaking Downtown District, Chelsea Lunch to Kick off July 12

By Seth Daniel

While wholesale infrastructure changes aren’t expected for another couple of years on Broadway, momentum is already building for major change to the downtown Broadway Business District this summer.

On Wednesday, June 28, the musician Kali gave a sneak peak on Chelsea City Hall Lawn just what will come with the new Chelsea Lunch initiative, which starts next Weds., July 12.

According to Downtown Coordinator Mimi Graney, Chelsea Lunch Marketplace will take place every Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m. on City Hall Lawn through the end of September. The event is presented by Chelsea Prospers in partnership with Healthy Chelsea and will have musicians and community information tables.

The effort is meant to enliven the district during the day, but there will also be action in the evenings in Chelsea Square. Graney envisions having daytime activities in Bellingham Square throughout the summer and evening activities in Chelsea Square.

To kick off that effort, Summer Nights in Chelsea Square will kick off in one month on Aug. 3 with music and dancing by Los Sugar Kings.

Other concerts include:

  • August 10, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in Smell-O-Vision
  • August 17, Tarbox Ramblers backwoods blues music
  • Aug. 24 will be a unique experience where concert-goers can be the star. the live Karaoke band, The Cover Story will play and audience members are invited to sing.

Additionally, late last week Graney announced small placemaking grants available for the district. The mini-grants are between $200 and $750 for small projects like parklets, pop up events or temporary art installations – or whatever creative idea one may have for the district. An info session has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 11, at 6 p.m. in the Chelsea Public Library. The deadline for applications is Aug. 18.

To enhance the mini-grants, Chelsea will be celebrating National Parking Day on Sept. 15. All across America, cities, towns and organizations transform parking spaces in downtown districts into small parks for the day. That was done last year for the first time by GreenRoots on Broadway – an effort that was a smash hit and likely will become even more intriguing this year, Graney said.

On the infrastructure and design front, the Re-Imagining Broadway effort will present its findings after many months of study on July 13, 6 p.m., in the Chelsea Senior Center, 10 Riley Way. The consultant Nelson Nygaard has been studying everything from sidewalks and streetlights to making Broadway a two-way street again. The findings will be suggestions for implementation to the City, which contracted the consultants late last year and has conducted several public meetings since then.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he is encouraged by the work of the Downtown Task Force over the past few months – an effort that include four Chelsea Police Officers dedicated to patrolling the Broadway Business Corridor and meeting in a roundtable on a weekly basis.

He said that between that effort, the Human Service Navigators, good deal is getting done on the Corridor.

However, he said that spending the large sum of money approved by the City Council for infrastructure repairs and improvements would likely not take place for a little while. Right now, he said about $500,000 of that sum has been on design and planning. The bulk of the monies, some $5 million, will be allocated in a few years, he said.

“There’s still a lot of planning to do,” he said. “We We probably won’t start the infrastructure work for another year or more, but we are looking at what we want to do now. Most likely, all of that work will start in calendar year 2019, maybe 2018. We’re at least one year away from that work…This is a marathon and not a spring. It’s a five to 10 year effort to re-invent this downtown.”

Other efforts under way or already planned include:

  • Retail Best Practices Program presented by City of Chelsea’s Chelsea Prospers with the Chamber of Commerce – July 18 at 8:30 a.m. at the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. Half-day workshop for all downtown businesses on issues like effective displays, marketing, customer service. Businesses can then apply to be one of the six businesses that will receive a half day of one-on-one consulting on their specific needs and to receive a mini-grant to implement one of the recommendations. http://www.chelseachamber.org/
  • FDA Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards – Chelsea Prospers in partnership with the Board of Health to increase food safety, build business and workforce expertise, and boost consumer confidence. The first activity under this multiyear effort is a training and certification food safety program for Chelsea businesses. Through the Chelsea Community Schools we’re presenting on July 27 a full day of training in English and Spanish, plus the certification exam at a deeply discounted rate. The program is exclusively for Chelsea businesses and workers. Registration required at https://register.communitypass.net/Chelsea
  • MassSave Business Grants – In August, at the behest of Chelsea Prospers and the Chelsea’s Energy Manager to increase environmental sustainability, a team from EverSource is coming to the downtown the week of August 7 to conduct free energy assessments for area businesses. Through the assessments they’ll be able to determine eligibility for a variety of new equipment like lighting, thermostats, refrigerator motors, etc. Discounts for the installed equipment start at 70 percent and 0 percent financing is available for the co-pay. Many businesses are eligible for thousands of dollars in new equipment and able to dramatically reduce their utility bills. All Massachusetts utility customers pay into the fund that supports this program – take advantage of these significant savings. https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/business-rebates/facility-assessments/
  • Chelsea’s First Paw-Raid – Walk and celebration for dogs and their friends on September 9 to check out the dog park under construction at Mystic Overlook Park. Starting at City Hall Lawn at 11 a.m. and finishing up at Mystic Overlook Park.
  • Interise is the “Street-wise MBA”, a training program for established businesses. For the first time ever they’ll be hosting their training program in East Boston and focusing on the needs of businesses in Chelsea, Everett, East Boston and Winthrop. Get your business to the next level or be prepared to steer it ably through a time of transition. https://www.interise.org/
  • Cultural Assets Survey in partnership with the Cultural Council and The Neighborhood Developers – This fall we’re gathering information on Chelsea’s creative assets — both the people and the infrastructure – who make related to the cultural economy of the City. The first part of this effort is the Artist Survey, open now at https://tinyurl.com/chelseaartistsurvey and at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/S7TRRLK.

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First Order of Broadway Business:Butt Out!

By Seth Daniel

Inventor Mike Roylos attaches one of the Butt-lers to a pole in the Square.

Inventor Mike Roylos attaches one of the Butt-lers to a pole in the Square.

Over the years, there’s been a shortage of just about everything in Bellingham Square, but there has never been a shortage of cigarette butts lining the brick pathways in and around City Hall.

Now, as one of the first orders of business in the re-shaping of the downtown business district, the City, The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and the Community Enhancement Team (CET) have banded together to purchase five Sidewalk Butt-lers to provide a receptacle for used cigarette butts and a way to recycle those butts into something useful.

In a gathering at the tip of the Square on Tuesday morning, the new Butt-lers were installed by their inventor, Mike Roylos, as many members of the various groups looked on.

“This is part of our efforts to improve the Square and Broadway,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “Our efforts involve things we want to do in the long-term and some things we can do right now. This is something we can do immediately. Many people will see this and see we are trying to do something here. We hope the people who frequent this Square will use them. This is step one in a long-term effort to improve the Square.”

As members of the CET like Mike Sandoval clipped around the little Square picking up cigarette butts and depositing them in their new home, TND’s Sharon Fosbury explained that the program will take things a step further by recycling all of the butts and creating no new trash.

“This is an extremely good option because it’s getting the butts off the sidewalk and taking the next step by recycling them,” she said. “It’s one thing to collect butts and throwing them away, but this is generating no new trash. It’s all being recycled.”

The cigarette butts are to be collected by the Department of Public Works and then stored at the City Yard. Once there are enough, the CET volunteers will ship the butts to a company called TerraCycle. The company separates the cigarette butts into several parts. On the whole, a cigarette butt is not recyclable. However, once the filter is removed, it is made out of plastic and can be melted down and recycled. The excess leftover tobacco is used for compost. Any remaining paper is also recycled. Over the long run, any money generated from selling the recycled materials is used for grant opportunities for community organizations around the country.

“It only costs us man hours and we’re volunteers,” said Fosbury.

Roylos invented the Sidewalk Butt-ler when he got tired of seeing and picking up cigarette butts outside his Maine restaurant every day. To solve the problem, he invented the little tubes that are locked at the bottom and instituted the recycling initiative as part of the plan too.

He told City officials that he believes it will make a difference, but it could take time.

The pilot program includes Butt-lers in front of Dr. Dental on Washington Avenue, in front of Bunker Hill Community College, at the Gazebo, in front of City Hall and at the Bellingham Square location.

The goal is to expand the program even further if the program finds enough success.

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Chelsea Couple Devoted to Healing,Bringing Change,With the Arts

By Seth Daniel

Chelsea residents Jay Paris and Anna Myer watch their art come to life in a recent performance of ‘Invisible: Imprints of Racism,’ at Ramsay Park in the South End near the Lenox Housing Development.

Chelsea residents Jay Paris and Anna Myer watch their art come to life in a recent performance of ‘Invisible: Imprints of Racism,’ at Ramsay Park in the South End near the Lenox Housing Development.

When audiences leave the most recent performance by the BeHeard.World dancers, they don’t usually leave with a smile on their faces, but rather, this summer, they typically leave thinking very hard about serious issues involving race.

Anna Myer and Jay Paris, who live in the Spencer Lofts in Chelsea, have been touring all over Boston this summer performing on lighted basketball courts their newest dance and poetry work called, ‘Invisible: Imprints of Racism,’ on basketball courts and next to gritty housing developments.

“It’s a challenging piece because no one wants to address it, it being race,” said Paris this week. “You find people leaving who are ashamed about it and some are angry about it. It comes down to confronting it and getting past the sense of being deprived or the sense of being privileged…As two middle-aged white people, Anna and I didn’t want to put this piece together alone.”

Added Myer, “The company is very mixed and we discussed this within the group for about a year. We all like each other a lot so it makes it a safe environment to talk about race…It’s really come full circle for me with this piece. I have always, always, always been interested in racial issues since I was a kid in Cambridge. It’s really come full circle in the sense that my work in the performing arts and social justice and equity have all come together.”

Paris and Myer moved to Chelsea about one year ago from Cambridge and continued their work in Boston, mostly at the housing developments in Franklin Field (Dorchester) and Lenox (South End). Most recently, last month, they performed the piece on the basketball court at Ramsay Park near the Lenox development, a park long in need of a makeover and, at times, quite dangerous for young people. It’s the kind of place they want to be, though.

“I’ve been working with the North American Family Institute for a number of years and I didn’t want to work with kids already in the court system, but rather to do prevention work with kids by developing programs for them before they get there,” Paris said. “Those programs were primarily in Franklin Field and Lenox. Prior to that, I had a career as a writer and photojournalist in the magazine world. I was always interested in the arts, though, and creating opportunities for kids in the arts. I kept hearing of this woman, Anna Myers, who had a renowned dance company. She had been going to the inner cities and getting rap and hip-hop performers and putting them into her company to perform. We finally met and began collaborating a lot. Then we fell in love and eventually got married.”

Myer has a dance and poetry company that performs the works like ‘Invisible,’ using nine dancers and four poets.

Meanwhile, Paris works another program that brings youth into the program and helps them to discover their voice in the arts. He has been filming that experience and expects to release a documentary on it in January. The film focuses on the first 19 kids that they took into the program and the changes that came about after they were immersed into the arts programming.

“It’s about using the arts to give these kids a voice so they can say what they want to say,” said Myers. “It’s very empowering. In 2014, we had 19 kids participating from the Lenox Housing Development and Jay filmed the whole program. The film is really about what art does for human beings and for kids. It changes them and gives them a voice. Those same kids were interviewed one year later and it’s incredible the changes that happened to them. Their confidence is up, they’re trying new things they wouldn’t have done like debate team. We need arts in the world.”

Myer came to meet Paris through a tragedy in her life that changed her direction totally.

After growing up trained as a ballet dancer and dancing at Boston Ballet and others for a time, she established several smaller and successful companies.

“I started everything over and part of that was choreography and I got into modern dance,” she said. “I had a company for a long time and I began including the inner city artists and dancers in my work. That opened up a whole new way of choreographing and working.”

That, of course, also led her to Paris, and the both of them to Chelsea one year ago this week.

“I feel like there’s great potential for arts here,” said Myers. “I love that it is it’s own city. It’s like stepping back in time and it’s diverse and has its own unique character.

Said Paris, “We love Chelsea and there is so much about it to love. We love the diversity of it. We know it’s challenging sometimes, but we like that. We love the interest in the arts here and the interest in community betterment. Ultimately, we’d like to bring BeHeard here with offices and studio space and keep going.”

The ‘going’ part could very well be sooner than later, as both said they feel the ‘Invisible’ piece could be something that tours the country on basketball courts and fields all over America – taking the temperature of the nation on race.

“We’d love to have an organization that gets people thinking and have a movement where change happens,” said Myer.

Added Paris, “Instead of putting out fires, we’d love to prevent the fires at some point.”

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Ambrosino Proposes Ambitious Initiative,Parking Changes for Downtown Corridor

By Seth Daniel

City Manager Tom Ambrosino is putting his money where his mouth has been in talking up his hopes for the downtown Broadway area – requesting the Council approve nearly $300,000 from Free Cash to dive into a major organizational and marketing effort for the area.

That request followed a call for major money to be delivered in the City Budget this spring, money the Council did approve within its Capital Improvement plan.

For the Downtown Urban Initiative, first, he is calling for the creation of a downtown coordinator job position to be funded, a position that would coordinate all of the construction projects, infrastructure upgrades and business opportunities in the district. The position would be similar to what Boston calls a Main Streets director, he said.

“The position is critical to the program,” he said. “This new municipal employee would be responsible for coordination of all the City’s downtown efforts. The coordinator will be expected to organize all programming for the area, oversee all municipal services in the area and work with the property and business owners to implement efforts to enhance and enliven the streetscape.”

A second part of the proposed program is a $100,000 plan to institute a one-year storefront improvement program for the corridor, which stretches from City Hall to Williams Street.

“Maybe we can do three or four storefronts to get a start this year,” he said. “We would do it as a matching grant program where we would pay half the cost and the owner would pay the other half. We would probably only require that if you participate in the program, we would ask businesses to take down the grates and have some faith that we can effectively police the downtown area.”

He said the initiative also calls for a little bit of “seed money” for festivals and events to be held on the corridor, possibly closing down the street.

To begin things, he has asked that the Council do a marketing study of the district for around $80,000.

Already, a consultant paid for within the recently passed City Budget, Nygaart, is preparing to start studying the corridor on July 1 for infrastructure improvements and traffic calming measures. That consultant was part of a budget allocation for the downtown within the Capital Improvements plan that asked for several million dollars to fund downtown infrastructure improvements only. The first part of that plan is the contracting of Nygaart. They will study potential improvements to the “bones” of the district for one year, with implementation of their suggestions and the public’s input next fiscal year.

The $300,000 Downtown Urban Initiative request is seemingly separate, but related to the overall effort – with it mostly focusing on marketing studies and storefront programs. In essence, it would be the creation of what in Boston is called a Main Streets District.

On top of all of those changes for the downtown district, Ambrosino has submitted a zoning change package scheduled for a public hearing on Monday, June 27, at Council that – among many, many things – asks for a relaxing of the parking requirements in the downtown area.

Ambrosino said the current parking requirements basically make the downtown buildings unreachable for residential developers as they were mostly built before cars appeared on the streets.

He said he firmly believes that the final piece of the overall puzzle is getting residents living in quality units above the businesses.

“My opinion is very straightforward that if we want this vibrant downtown, we have to build good residential units above the storefronts,” he said. “There’s no parking there and so you have to relax the parking requirements. If you want to improve the downtown, you have to substantially relax the parking requirements for residences above storefronts. If you don’t want to improve the downtown and leave it the way it is, then don’t relax the parking requirements and nothing will be developed because the parking requirements cannot be met.”

He also said the time is now to develop the downtown for residences and businesses – just as 10 years ago the time was perfect for Everett Avenue.

“I think it’s an interesting corridor that’s very close to downtown Boston,” he said. “People are being priced out of East Boston and this is the time to really build this downtown.”

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