Forry’s Breakfast Series lauds ‘renaissance’ in Mattapan

State and city officials, community leaders and residents gathered at the Mattapan branch of the Boston Public Library for the fifth in a series of Mattapan Breakfast Series meetings on Tuesday morning. Hosted by state Rep. Linda Forry, the meeting focused on the recent rejuvenation of one of the city’s most misunderstood neighborhoods.

“We hear all of this stuff about Mattapan, that it’s this or it’s that,” said Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president of Wheelock College, one of the featured speakers. “But I will say that Mattapan is a community with fantastic people who care deeply about the neighborhood.”

Jenkins-Scott was speaking from personal experience. When the city of Boston closed a dozen community centers in 2010, Wheelock was asked if it wanted to collaborate with one of the centers to keep it open. After looking at all 12 centers, the college chose the Mattahunt on Hebron Street in Mattapan.

“We felt that the Mattahunt Community Center was a very, very special place,” Jenkins-Scott said. “It’s just a jewel, a gem.” She also said Wheelock never planned to come in and take things over, but that the community knew better than the college what it needed, and the two worked best when they worked together.

Wheelock spent eight months working with the community in a joint assessment of what was needed from the Mattahunt. Feedback included making the building and the outdoor area more welcoming, and reopening the pool that had been closed for several years.

Before Wheelock and the Mattahunt’s partnership, the center was only being used by 50 children a day. Since it reopened in 2011, that number has tripled. The college will remain a partner until 2014, after which it hopes the city will step up and take some responsibility for the center. Councillor Charles Yancey applauded Wheelock’s collaboration with the community center.

“I think it’s fantastic that we can have a college express this type of interest in our community,” he said. “It sets a fine example for other academic institutions in our city, that they should be doing more.”

The renovation and reopening of the Mattahunt is just one part of efforts being made to revamp Mattapan. The new Mattapan Community Health Center, which held its grand opening last Monday, created 600 construction jobs and its fellow tenants, Citizens Bank and CVS, will also create new jobs.
“Never again shall we say that nobody cares about Mattapan,” Dr. Azzie Young, president of the health center, said.

Referencing the Mattahunt and Mattapan Community Health Center, Rep. Forry said, “By having amazing facilities really shows people that you want to come here… That makes a difference because that makes us see the future potential and makes us demand more of our government, whether it’s city or state, saying that we are going to settle for nothing less.”

Rep. Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.

Councillor Ayanna Pressley added new details about funding for the Mattapan ABCD Family Service Center. In June, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education cut all of the funding to Mattapan ABCD for adult-based education and ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) classes. Just three months later, Pressley said, “We stood up, united, and made sure it got that funding back.”

Milly Arbaje-Thomas, director of ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center, said not only did the center get its funding back, but it got a $175,000 grant that is renewable every year for five years.

Councillor Pressley emphasized the importance of recognizing the positive changes happening in Mattapan.

“As someone who represents the entire city, I am often in rooms where people are referencing the renaissance that is happening in Dudley,” she said. “And I have to remind people that there is one happening in Mattapan as well. So let’s make sure that story is being told.”