The Kennedy Center Working to Keep Charlestown Strong

By Thara Fuller, Director of the Kennedy Center

For more than 54 years, and long before the COVID pandemic hit, the Kennedy Center has faced the pandemic of poverty. The needs and challenges faced by the poorest of the poor were here before COVID and unfortunately, they won’t go away with the vaccine. Our clients who are homebound seniors and vulnerable residents of public housing struggle just to meet basic needs and now they struggle to get the vaccine.

I could not be more proud of the staff and volunteers of the Kennedy Center who never stopped during shutdowns and lockdowns.  As we always have done, we jumped in to meet people where they are and get them what they need. This has always been the Kennedy Center’s mission and we have always been Charlestown strong.

The Kennedy Center is not only a school, we are a whole support center for children, families, and seniors. So when COVID came, we refused to shut down. We not only set up a food distribution site with Project Bread and the YMCA but also coordinated the delivery of food and supplies to those who could not come to us. Our JFK Home Care team has bravely continued in-home visits and personal care for elders in need. We are using our deep relationships in the neighborhood to reach those eligible for the vaccine and offer help with transportation or navigating the appointment system. Fortunately, we have NEW Health, which has been an amazing resource with its user-friendly vaccination system.

Our school staff is highly trained in the impacts of trauma on children and families. During school closures, last spring, our teachers and family advocates ramped up a remote support network with check-in calls, supply deliveries, and weekly online postings of materials to help ease the stress on caregivers, children, and families.  Last July, way ahead of public schools in the state of emergency,  JFK reopened for both in-person and remote learning. Teachers learned to run sessions by Zoom and we sent home “school-in-a-bag” supplies for the remote families. We opened a classroom for BPS students who needed a place to do their schoolwork remotely.

Like most nonprofits, we have been through furloughs and layoffs, and personal losses.  Our operations have been displaced multiple times.  Rising costs for COVID compliance and dropping revenues have forced childcare and social service centers like ours to walk a financial tightrope.   But in the Charlestown spirit, we fight on.  And we don’t do it alone. On Tuesday, April 6th, we will hold a virtual to salute those whose advocacy and support kept us afloat this far.  We thank the City of Boston’s Resiliency Fund, Councilor Lydia Edwards, Senator Sal DiDomenico, and Representative Dan Ryan. We thank local businesses such as Mockingbird and the Warren Tavern,  The Charlestown Mothers Association, and the Cross Street Cares neighborhood group. And of course, the many individuals who have quietly opened their checkbooks to make sure children, families, and seniors were supported.

We owe a very special thanks to RSM, International and their team of volunteers who have been steadfast in their donations of supplies and funding – from the Toy Drive to the anti-isolation kits for children and seniors.  We are incredibly honored and excited to announce that the RSM Birdies Fore Love fundraising campaign chose the Kennedy Center as a beneficiary. The funds will sponsor health experts from the MGH Institute for Health Professions to provide comprehensive screenings and follow-up therapies for Kennedy Center children.  This partnership, “Strong from the Start,” is based on the research showing how critical it is to intervene as early as possible when children show signs of developmental delays. This project sets the stage for a broad effort to expand early intervention services and family supports to as many as possible in Charlestown.

Last year was about surviving.  This year we are adapting and re-imagining our work to ensure that our community thrives.  We have an incredible opportunity with the Bunker Hill Redevelopment project to create a vibrant, inclusive and equitable, and healthier community.  While housing, air quality, and open space all impact the quality of life for our neighbors, the pandemic has given us a new awareness of what we must do to strengthen our safety net of services for people of all backgrounds. 

The safety net starts with care for our very youngest.  We need to expand affordable toddler and preschool slots to ensure that all children have a strong start and all parents have the reliable childcare they need to work and further their education. But this is just the beginning.  We have work to do to keep building  the chain of care from birth right through the senior years.  We are all linked together and that makes us Charlestown Strong.

 JFK Donor Appreciation Event

A  virtual tour to show how your support is changing lives

April 6, 6:30pm

RSVP to get Zoom link   [email protected]

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