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.
By Seth Daniel
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.
By Seth Daniel
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:
- School Supplies
- Dry and Canned Foods
- baby formula
- baby food
- First Aid kits
- Hygiene items
- feminine products
- face towels
- bath towels
- dryer sheets
- insect repellant
- toilet paper
- paper products (no foam items)
- paper towels
- plastic utensils
Francis ‘Frank’ Turczyn
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.
What would the 4th of July be without fireworks? A little less busy in hospital emergency rooms. The nation’s emergency physicians urge you to celebrate the country’s birthday by using common sense when it comes to the potential dangers of fireworks.
We see many injuries in the ER due to fireworks around the 4th of July,” said Dr. Michael Gerardi, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Many of those ER visits are initiated with the line ‘hey watch this!’”
In 2013, eight people died and more than 11,000 people were injured in the United States because of fireworks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). It’s a significant increase from the year before. Additionally, 65 percent of those injuries occurred in the days surrounding July 4th.
Last year, sparklers and rockets accounted for nearly half of all estimated injuries. Almost half (46 percent) of fireworks injuries are to a person’s hands or fingers. One-third (34 percent) of them are to a person’s eyes, head, face and ears (CPSC).
If fireworks are legal in your community, ACEP strongly suggests that you do not use fireworks at your home. If you do use them, however, these do’s and don’ts will help make it a safer experience.
DO — Have knowledgeable supervision by an experienced adult if you choose to use fireworks.
DO — Buy fireworks from reputable dealers
DO — Read warning labels and follow all instructions
DO — Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher on hand
DO — Light fireworks one at a time
DO — Dispose of all fireworks properly
DON’T — Give any fireworks, including sparklers, to small children; older children should be supervised by a responsible adult
DON’T — Light fireworks indoors or near other objects
DON’T — Place your body over a fireworks device when trying to light the fuse and immediately back up to a safe distance after you light it.
DON’T — Point or throw fireworks at another person, ever
DON’T — Try to re-light or pick up fireworks have not ignited fully
DON’T — Wear loose clothing while using any fireworks
DON’T — Set off fireworks in glass or metal containers — the fragments can cause severe injury.
DON’T — Carry fireworks in a pocket.
DON’T — Try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks
You should only watch a professional fireworks display managed by experts who have proper training and experience handling these explosives,” said Dr. Gerardi. “Have fun and enjoy this great American holiday. As always, we’ll be ready to treat you, but we don’t want to have to see you in the ER.”
ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.