Anyone who has attended an Age Strong event at the Knights of Columbus or the Golden Age Center – or anywhere else citywide – prior to COVID-19 couldn’t miss the buzz and energy of Mary Beth Kelly working the room to welcome senior citizens, deliver plates of food or provide a hug to a friend.
To say she was committed to the City’s and Town’s senior citizen population would be an understatement.
That commitment over the past 23 years is probably plenty good reason for why Mary Beth Kelly, outreach and engagement specialist for the Age Strong Commission, was chosen for a Public Service Award in the prestigious 2020 Shattuck Awards – which was held online this year rather than with the glitzy gala usually reserved for the winners.
“I was surprised because I got picked out of all these really good people this award,” said Kelly this week. “No, I never thought I would win. Absolutely not. I’ve been working there for 23 years and I always thought there was someone bigger and better than me to get this kind of award.
“I love what I do,” she said. “After an event it’s a complete high knowing you did a good job…that’s something I was made for.”
The 35th Annual Shattuck Awards are an annual award ceremony held by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau in honor of their first leader. The annual ceremony has become a coveted, top-of-the-hill designation for City employees and community leaders. Particularly for City employees, the Public Service Awards are a special commendation as it shines a light on workers like Kelly who devote heart and soul to serving in their own way.
Kelly started out as an administrative assistant and worked her way up to an event coordinator with the former Elderly Commission, now the Age Strong Commission. Some 22 years ago, she staged her first even in the Navy Yard – the Mayor’s Walk. Late Mayor Tom Menino joined the group and started off the walk that zig-zagged through the Yard and ended with lunch and music at the Captain’s House.
“We had about 200 people participate and it was a great success,” she recalled.
Now, the Commission – prior to COVID-19 restrictions – does about 90 events every year and works a lot with other Departments in the City as well, such as collaborations with the Parks Department and Mayor’s Office. The coordinate Senior events for First Night, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Spring Fling and numerous summer events like picnics and boat rides citywide.
“My favorite event is Halloween because they would come out and be all dressed up in costumes and we would be in costumes too,” she said. “It was a thrill. What’s really been exciting for me, though, is First Night with the 2,300 seniors coming in to see it.”
Now, however, such events are on pause to keep everyone safe in the COVID-19 era and to adhere to the state protocols. Since that time, Kelly and others have been very busy delivering meals to seniors in need, and working from home to provide online exercise and programming to seniors that can access it. However, Kelly said it has been sad to not be able to serve the seniors in Charlestown and Boston over the last seven months.
“We were constantly going,” she said. “We also went into buildings and did little events too. It was constant. I can’t wait to get back there and have fun again with the seniors. I’m so sad for them that we can’t get them out now. They’re feeling it too…It’s so hard to serve the elderly during COVID-19. We’re trying to do virtual events, but some seniors don’t have computers and we can’t gather them together. It’s been very hard for us too. We’re on the 3-1-1 calls and it’s very hard to listen to our seniors call in with problems and frustrations.”
Right now, they have staged a successful drive-in movie event for the seniors that can drive with the Parks Department back in July, and there will be another one in October for Halloween. There is also a lot of Tai Chi and continued learning opportunities online that scores of older adults are benefitting from, Kelly said.
Kelly has also had the pleasure of working closely with her daughter, Meaghan Murray, who is the director at the Golden Age Center on Main Street.
“That’s been awesome,” she said. “I didn’t think she’d get her first job here because we’re mother and daughter, but she did and it worked out great. When the opportunity came up in Charlestown, I wanted her to try and she got it. She’s doing a great job.”
Kelly said she thanks Mayor Martin Walsh, Age Strong Commissioner Emily Shea and all of the former commissioners she served under as well. She also said the award was part of a team effort, and she didn’t consider hers alone. She also said she wanted to thank her family for being there for her all the time over the last 23 years.