Fourth-grader Yandeliz Rodriguez-Gonzalez confessed this week before the Berkowitz School Winter Concert that
Berkowitz fourth grader Yandeliz Rodriguez-Gonzalez is shown drumming during Tuesday’s Winter Concert at the school. She is one of about 20 kids from the Berkowitz that are part of the Berkowitz Advanced Drummers – a program that is three years old. She said drumming is just in her blood.
drumming is just in her blood.
Her father is a drummer, often playing the bongos around the house, and the rhythm has rubbed off on her as well.
So when her school began offering the Drum Corps, she signed up immediately two years ago and hasn’t stopped keeping the beat since.
“I love the salsa rhythm; it’s just in my blood,” said Yandy. “I got inspired to play the drums from my dad because he is a drummer. My dad is Puerto Rican and he’s been playing the drums since he was little. He has taught me the salsa rhythm and I have enjoyed playing at school now too. It feels great to play with others. They are with me and understand me and understand why I’m so obsessed with drums.”
Yandy is one of about 15 young people that participate in the Berkowitz Advanced Drummers (or B.A.D. for short) , a program championed by Berkowitz music teacher Richard Romanoff to help bring instrumental music experiences to the children.
Beyond the drumming, kids are able to also play keyboards, violin or ukulele.
“The drumming group has been a very positive experience and has become very popular with the students here,” he said. “I’m just trying to open up opportunities for students and give them as many opportunities as I can to help them make music.”
Romanoff came to the Berkowitz three years ago, and Principal Adam Deleidi said he had been at Somerville High School for 11 years prior. However, he wanted to experience how younger kids seek musical experiences, which drew him to the Berkowitz.
“He’s done a lot with instruments and the drumming group is one example of that,” he said.
Fourth-grader Daniel Booth has been involved only four weeks, but already he has found that drumming is an outlet for his creativity and also a way to better understand math – which is his favorite subject.
“It is like math because you really need to look at the symbols and have to know when to start and end and stop,” he said. “It takes math to know what you’re going to do. My teacher, Mr. V, taught me math is always going to be in your life even when you’re not in school.”
Booth said it has been his first chance to play a musical instrument, and he realized that he probably should have been playing the drums for a long time.
“I’ve learned you can do different tones on a drum and you can really do anything on a drum,” he said. “Drumming has become one of my favorite things of all because I always have been thinking about the beat in my head. Every time I drummed on a desk or on a book, I felt like it had a good beat to it.”
For Yandy, she said being able to drum at school has been a relief in the mornings.
“To me, it’s kind of calming,” she said. “It’s like talking with music.”
If Bellingham Square is going to be fully returned to the community, then let that return be led by dominoes.
Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez checks his dominoes during Game Night on Tuesday, July 31, in Bellingham Square. Game Night is slowly gaining popularity, and the City initiative takes place every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
It was slow going at first for the introduction of an outdoor Game Night on Bellingham Square – which is sponsored by the City’s Chelsea Prospers initiative. A few would trickle in and out, but the hard-scrabble Square had gained a reputation that many Chelsea residents hadn’t yet forgotten.
But now with about a month under the belt, momentum for the simple fun in the Square has begun to form with about 10 or so regulars – and that momentum has everything to do with something as simple as a domino.
“For me, this is the most popular game in Puerto Rico,” said Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez, who moved to Chelsea from Puerto Rico seven years ago. “It makes me feel great because I feel like I’m right at home in my hometown. I’m meeting people in Chelsea and talking to people I don’t know. It makes me feel welcome.”
As the group enjoys their game, salsa music plays in the background and many observers pass by – seemingly wanting to join in, but not entirely certain why people are playing games in Bellingham Square.
“It’s very comfortable here now and that’s surprising,” said Sheila Rohena. “I grew up here, so begin able to come out of my house and sit here in the Square is great. I used to be scared to come out of my house because of all the things that happen here. Now, I’m sitting here and enjoying myself in the Square. That’s pretty amazing because there was a lot of bad stuff happening here. Did I think this would happen? Not for the life of me.”
But certainly it was, and Rohena and others who participate in Game Night found a peacefulness in the Square on a sunny, warm summer night that hasn’t existed there for a long time.
“I really like that it’s right here in this spot,” said Tina Rivera. “I like it being here at City Hall because it’s had a very bad reputation for so long. There used to be game tables here permanently, but they had to take them down. A lot of people were hesitant to bring them back, but we did it in a very low-cost, low-key way. It’s going well. There are now problems. You see from this that we can have nice things. You have to just trust people sometimes.”
Rodriguez has even brought in some converts like Jen Matheson, who is new to downtown Chelsea and was taught how to play dominoes. Now she’s a regular.
“I live right here and it’s so great to be able to come out here and meet new people,” she said. “They taught me how to play dominoes. I didn’t even know, and now I’m winning a lot of the time.”
Rivera said she has hoped for community building events like a Game Night for a long time because it promotes stability and familiarity. Without that, there is no community, she said, and that makes the people vulnerable.
“If we don’t get back to being a community, it makes it even easier for another community to replace us without us knowing,” she said.
There is no end date in sight for the Game Night, and organizer Mimi Graney said they will likely go until it gets too cold.
For now, the goal is not to get the ‘Chiva’ – which is Spanish for ‘female goat’ and is slang for getting no points in a game of dominoes.
But for the future, the goal is to have several more tables full of people from the community functioning normally and having fun together.
Certainly in Chelsea, if anything, a domino game is good first step.
Roberto ‘Tito’ Rodriguez checks his dominoes during Game Night on Tuesday, July 31, in Bellingham Square. Game Night is slowly gaining popularity, and the City initiative takes place every Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.
William Molino celebrates a win in a game of dominoes during the Chelsea Prospers Game Night on Tuesday. Watching him enviously are Raul Melendez, Alex Garcia and Mike Vega.
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.”
Six months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many areas of the country outside the tourist hot spots are still in crumbling disrepair – some without electricity since the first storm, Hurricane Irma – and residents of the island nation that is closely tied to Chelsea continue to suffer.
Record photographer Keiko Hiromi traveled to Puerto Rico in late March to survey the damage, having followed the story last fall when Chelsea galvanized to provide thousands of pounds and multiple truckloads of donations to help relieve the situation.
Residents of Chelsea are closely tied to Puerto Rico, with thousands here having been born there or having had relatives emigrate here from the island.
Hiromi reported that upon landing at the airport, things looked normal, but upon leaving the population centers, she discovered homes in much the same shape as the day after the devastation.
“When I landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on March 21, everything looked normal as if nothing had ever happened,” she said. “As I spent five days travelling through Puerto Rico, sometimes away from the functioning tourist areas, I witnessed Puerto Rico in recovery. Many raw scars were still unmended: debris on roads, houses without roofs. Yet, at the same time, I encountered the faces of resilient, strong, patient people, compassionate for each other.”
At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega and Program Manager Sylvia Ramirez were not surprised at what Hiromi found. Both said they are worried that too many have forgotten about the disaster despite the fact that little has improved for many there.
“I knew that the island was going to be devastated, and at the same time I am shocked how citizens of the United States are so ignored,” she said. “In the next few months, the hurricane season is going to be starting again, and Puerto Rico is nowhere near able to take their normal storm season. One thing I was extremely sad about is we are not getting any help. The news has forgotten about Puerto Rico and moved on to other things. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is still in devastation. People are suffering, they have no housing and they’re hungry.”
Ramirez said she feels the same way.
After the devastation, she headed up the Collaborative’s efforts to provide aid to those in Puerto Rico, and also to welcome families coming to Chelsea from the island for refuge.
She said much remains the same there, but that story isn’t getting out.
“I think the lack of coverage in the news doesn’t really portray the reality of what’s happening there,” she said. “People go on with their lives and they focus on their kids, they go to work, Christmas came and went. It’s no longer a priority because it’s not in the news. Our plan here in Chelsea is to do another call for action in June or July to bring attention to the situation. The worry for everyone is that nothing is being done to prepare for this year’s hurricane season.
“People go on with their lives, but there are still parts of the island absolutely devastated and nobody is talking about that,” she continued.
That is exactly what Hiromi reported firsthand.
In Toa Baja, just outside of San Juan Hiromi found Miguel Anjel Mericado at his home. His home still had a collapsed roof that had not been fixed and was open to the elements. Beams rested on the floor and electricity was spotty. He collected items that he could find in order to continue the efforts of fixing the home.
Hiromi also visited Yabucoa, where Maria first made landfall.
In Vega Alta, a rural community in the mountains, she visited a family that had no electricity since Hurricane Irma – the first storm to hit Puerto Rico last year even before Hurricane Maria.
Herberto Rivera, a school bus driver there, had been powering the family home with a generator they purchased months ago. They hoped that power would come back to the community before the next hurricane season.
In Chelsea, Ramirez said they are currently working with 55 families who came to the city after the hurricane for refuge, with 18 of them still in FEMA hotels. Statewide, she said, there are nearly 700 families in hotels who arrived after the storm, and 530 are in FEMA hotel rooms. The dire need is that FEMA will stop paying for those rooms on April 20. Already 123 families have used up the FEMA payments and are being paid for by the Red Cross.
She said they are still collecting furniture for those refugees moving into apartments, and they are still trying to secure more stable living conditions.
At the same time, the identical fight continues on the island of Puerto Rico.
“There are still a lot of people without electricity and with blue tarps on their roofs,” said Ramirez. “That’s the reality.”
On Jan. 22, 2018, City Council unanimously adopted an order introduced by Councilor Leo Robinson requesting a Sub-Committee meeting. The meeting was to discuss a proposal by John Ruiz requesting a grant of $475,000 from the city to establish a youth center at the CCC (Old YMCA building). The three-year pilot proposal suggested project activities included boxing, basketball, volleyball, dance/aerobics, STEM-Focused Lewis Latimer Society Exhibitions, and drop-in programs as necessary.
The process of selecting non-profit recipients for grants is a function of the City Manager’s office. When a need in the community arises that the City is unable to meet, the City Manager’s office solicits proposals from non-profits and makes a final decision. Once a grantee is chosen, the City Manager requests funds from the City Council to cover the cost. This is otherwise known as the RFP process (Request for Proposal).
During the Sub-Committee meeting last week, I referenced the process of soliciting proposals, as the involvement of City Council so early was uncommon. If there was a pool of money available to grant for a potential teen center, then all non-profits should be allowed the opportunity to apply. Procedurally, the only time the Council has a say is when it is time to appropriate the funds for the chosen non-profit, after the City Manager has concluded his decision. With the understanding that the burden of decision-making rested with the City Manager, I saw no point as to why this was before us.
However, for the sake of open and honest debate around investments in our youth, I welcomed the dialogue.
Mr. John Ruiz gave an impassioned speech about wanting to give back to the community and councilors did their due diligence in asking questions to gain clarity around this proposed project. Balancing the needs of our youth and where to invest taxpayer dollars is a delicate situation. Yet, as representatives of the community, it is our duty to ask the proper questions to settle concerns.
My personal comments commended the former heavyweight-boxing champ in wanting to give back to the city. I made clear that all proposals were subject to a formal RFP process and encouraged Mr. Ruiz to have conversations with stakeholders (youth, youth organizations) to familiarize himself with the community again and better assess the popularity of boxing. I also suggested that if the champ wanted to give back to the community, he should consider investing in the Explorer Post 109 (which is currently housed in the CCC building). Ruiz’s contribution as a former member of the Post 109 could go a long way for the struggling, 62-year-old youth organization.
Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal.
That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager.
The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am one out of 11 votes. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz allegedly chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.
As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world. However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant. It is imperative that we continue to secure a fair and transparent process in the allocation of taxpayer dollars. As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.
Moving forward, I have made it clear to the City Manager that future efforts must remain in his office as it is outside of the scope of Council’s responsibilities. As representatives of our community, we are always available to provide input. However, before anything comes before the City Council a system of checks and balances must be well outlined (budget, zoning, permitting and/or compliancy).
As I look back at where we are, I am proud to see the amazing work we’ve accomplished in the past couple of years. Reestablishing the Youth Commission, reviving our Recreational Dept., increase in youth programming across the city, and creating mentorship for our youth is a testament of our commitment to our future leaders.
This is what’s right about Chelsea.
The mere fact that we are discussing the empowerment of our youth and their need for services speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come. There will be minor setbacks as we strive toward a government that is transparent and inclusive of all. The true test is in how we learn from these experiences and rise above it all. I have the utmost faith in this community and feel confident that we will stand stronger as a result of these conversations.
With virtually nothing left in Puerto Rico after two devastating hurricanes this fall, many from the island are flocking to family in the mainland United States to try to put their lives together – and with a huge Puerto Rican population in Chelsea, many are arriving here with questions and needs.
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega and a team of stakeholders from the City have been meeting to try to solve the many issues that are coming up or likely will come up as more and more arrive in the City.
Vega said the situation has now turned from sending aid to the island, to focusing resources in the City.
“There are no schools and no electricity and there are a lot of problems there, so many are coming here,” said Vega at a recent meeting in Chelsea High School with about a dozen stakeholders. “We are extremely certain that folks will continue to come because Chelsea has a Puerto Rican community that is very established. Already, some of them are coming to the Collaborative, the Housing Authority, CAPIC and the School Department…We are really at this moment turning our efforts. Before, we were all about collecting donations and sending them to Puerto Rico. Now we are realizing that we need to use some of those same resources and donations right here in Chelsea because people are starting to come here and they have tremendous needs.”
Some of the situations that have been brought up at the state level surround housing in public housing.
Juan Vega, a Chelsea resident who is the Undersecretary of Housing for the state, said there is a team trying to work out situations that will certainly arise.
Those include family members who show up at a public housing complex with nowhere else to go.
Juan said they cannot stay for more than a week as a visitor, but at the same time, they have nowhere else to go. He said the state is aware of it and is working with the federal government to secure some sort of emergency waiver program.
Gladys Vega said one family has already experienced this, with relatives coming to an elderly housing apartment.
“Now they are here in an elderly housing apartment,” she said. “They are told they can stay 10 days and then they have to leave. They’re here now. If they stay past the 10 days, the tenant could be kicked out. We don’t want our established members of the community to lose their housing or their jobs trying to deal with these situations.”
Meanwhile, some that are coming are elderly and in need of medical accommodations, such as handicap ramps built onto homes. Rich Pedi of the Carpenter’s Union has volunteered workers to build such ramps on an emergency basis.
In the schools, Supt. Mary Bourque said they are working to be creative in registering new arrivals for school. In many cases, they don’t have a birth certificate or any documents. All of them were lost in the hurricane for the most part.
Bourque said everyone should come to the Parent Information Center (PIC) to enroll children, even without any documents.
“That’s the first message to get out there,” she said. “If you’re coming to Chelsea and need to enroll students, come to the PIC. We will work with you. The second thing we’re worried about is the trauma once they are enrolled. They have been through a traumatic situation and they will need to see social workers.”
Meanwhile, with November now here, the other thing that will soon be necessary is winter clothing. Many are from an island where a coat is rarely necessary. Now, in Chelsea, they’ll need far more than what they have.
“We’re coming into winter and they don’t have the supplies one needs for a New England winter,” said Bourque. “We need volunteers to donate coats, pants, shoes and warm clothes in all sizes.”
The Collaborative is setting up a welcome center and brochure to help people who are arriving.
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.
In the wake of the horrific storms in the Caribbean, particularly in Puerto Rico, many members of the Puerto Rican community in Chelsea have banded together to collect donations for the hurting island territory.
The collection will be highlighted by a candlelight vigil on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m. on the City Hall Lawn.
The Collaborative began accepting donations to be sent to Puerto Rico this past Monday, and they will continue taking donations until Friday, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. Donations can be dropped at their office in Chelsea at 318 Broadway.
The drive is in collaboration with the City of Chelsea, the Chelsea Firefighters Local 937, Chelsea Police, the Chelsea Schools, the City Council and the School Committee.
The following items are things that are need for donation:
Polka fan – died unexpectedly on Christmas Day – his favorite holiday
Francis H. ‘Frank’ Turczyn of Chelsea passed away unexpectedly in his Chelsea home on Christmas morning. He was 81 years old.
Born and raised in Chelsea, the beloved son of the late Wladyslaw and Mary Turczyn, Frank attended St. Stanislaus Parochial School and graduated from Everett Vocational High School. He enlisted in the US Army in the late 50’s and served and was discharged between conflicts. He worked as a cemetery laborer with Fuller Services in Everett providing duties at the Fuller Street, Jewish Cemeteries.
Frank enjoyed Polish Music and Polkas, frequently attending Saturday night polka dances at the PAV in Chelsea. He was a devoted fan of the Litwin Polka variety radio program and was a former member of the Polish Political Club in Chelsea. Christmas was his favorite holiday and annually he would richly decorate his home to the enjoyment of all who would pass by. His holiday decorations garnered him several awards as the Best Decorated Chelsea Home.
In addition to his parents, Frank was also preceded in death by his three brothers; Walter, Albert and Eugene Turczyn. He was the devoted father to Doreen Turczyn of Michigan, Francis Turczyn and his wife, Antonia of Tewksbury, Gene Turczyn, Glen Turczyn and his wife, Kristen, all of Chelsea; cherished grandfather to Evan Turczyn and dear brother to Stella Niedzielski of Michigan.
Visiting Hours were held at the Frank A. Welsh & Sons Funeral Home Chelsea on Wednesday and interment will be private.To send expressions of sympathy, please visit
Julio Torres, Jr.
Julio Torres, Jr. of Chelsea passed away unexpectedly in his home on December 26. He was 46 years old.
He was the devoted husband of Tina (McKoy) Torres; beloved son of Julio Torres Sr. of Chelsea and Gloria Camacho of Puerto Rico; loving step father to Quentin Mina and Terrance McKoy; dear brother to Marysol and her husband, Enrique Garcia, both of Chelsea and Janet Torres of Kissimmee, Florida; loving uncle to Sabrina Williams, Jordenn White, Brianna Toro, Jarred Frizzell, Sariana Toro and Deanalee Romero and is also survived by many loving aunts, uncles and cousins.
Family and friends will honor Julio by gathering on Friday, January 1 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home, 971 Saratoga Street, (Orient Heights) East Boston with a memorial service in our Serenity Chapel at 7 p.m. For more information, please visit: www.ruggieromh.com
While enrollment has slowed down some this year, and the numbers coming to Chelsea from Central America aren’t at a breakneck pace, the schools are seeing some upticks from new places such as Puerto Rico – where a plunging economy has seen folks head to the mainland.
“We are a mirror of the world economy; we really are,” said Supt. Mary Bourque. “That makes it a fascinating place to work and serve. We serve the people in the country and the world that are the most underserved and disenfranchised …We find a great deal of fulfillment in that. That’s not a bad place to hand your hat as a professional.”
Enrollment in the Chelsea schools and in area schools has been a key number to watch for the last several years. In Chelsea, an influx of immigrants – also called unaccompanied minors – starting trickling into the district from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador three years ago. The numbers hit a zenith in January 2014 and into the summer when things got to a crisis level in Chelsea and nationwide.
Bourque said that has seemed to slow down.
“In some grade levels that has slowed down,” she said. “Our kindergarten numbers are down. It has slowed down from Central America – from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras too. We think there are some changes with the requirements at the border and that has resulted in this slow down.”
However, there has been an uptick in those coming from Puerto Rico – which is an American territory and make the students American Citizens and not immigrants.
“We are seeing an increase of families coming in from Puerto Rico,” she said. “Naturally, those are not immigrant families. There certainly is a connection to the economy in that. Their economy has changed in Puerto Rico. Families coming from there have told us at the Parent Information Center that there is an increase there in violent crime too.”
Many, she said, have fled to the mainland to get away from such things – and with Chelsea having a long-standing Puerto Rican community – the city was a natural landing spot.
Overall, enrollments are increasing mostly in the upper grades, she said.
“Definitely, that is still happening in the upper grades,” she said. “A couple of years ago we had that very large kindergarten and those kids are in second grade now, so we have a bubble there.”
Full enrollment numbers will be clearer after the 15th day of school passes, which is the legal day for enrollment numbers to be solidified.
In other district news:
Bourque said they are excited to implement a standard ‘Six District Instructional Practices’ that will standardize classrooms across the district.
“That will allow us to have more consistency from classroom to classroom across the district,” she said.
Also, the district is preparing to start meeting this year to form a new five-year vision.
In 2011, the district rallied around the ‘Bridge to Success’ model, and that will expire at the end of this school year. Bourque said they will begin this year in having meetings to form what the new model will be.
“We are entering the fifth year of a five-year plan and we are excited about the changes we’ve made – both to the culture and the structure,” she said. “The community really believes in us. However, we really need to start discussing our next five-year vision and we’re excited to start that.”
She said they would likely begin focus groups consisting of all types of stakeholders in January or February.
Bourque also said a major accreditation process has started at Chelsea High School, where the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASAC) evaluation and accreditation process has started.
This year will be the self-study year at Chelsea High and next fall, in 2016, NEASAC evaluators will be on site to review the school and its practices. A school must pass that evaluation to keep its accreditation with the organization.
“That is a really huge thing that is coming up for us,” she said.
The MCAS test will remain in place at Chelsea High School this year and next year until the state indicates exactly what direction they are going. However, the new national PARCC test has been implemented at the lower grades, grades 3-8.
The district received a review by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in June, and some of the comments were challenging. Six of the nine schools are at a Level 3 status and the state review suggested that some students are succeeding, but not all. It has caused Bourque to issue a challenge to all teachers to “accelerate learning,” something that will likely be heard a lot this year. Bourque has issued a One-Year plan that contains six identified instructional practices. She said she would like to have at least two of those six deeply implemented at every school by the end of this year.