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This week's 'Greater Somerville:' exploring the east

April 16, 2014 08:02 AM


Join "Greater Somerville" host KyAnn Anderson as she speaks with Renee Polcaro, president of the board of directors for East Somerville Main Streets. Tune in to find out about the upcoming events, buzzworthy restaurants, artistic opportunities, and how the nearly completed streetscaping project is set to transform this hidden little Somerville gem.

Think "Outside the Square" and visit East Somerville, you won't be disappointed.

For additional episodes, visit the Greater Somerville blog at: www.greatersomerville.wordpress.com.

Panera Cares Community Café feeds all with donation-based model

April 14, 2014 05:46 PM

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Valerie Sizhe Li

The Panera Care Café at Government Center is one of five in the country run by the non-profit Panera Foundation.

Steven Preston walks into Panera Cares Community Café at Government Center every Tuesday at 1 p.m. to volunteer for an hour in return for freshly baked bread.

His job includes busing and cleaning tables in the dining area.

This weekly routine keeps Preston, a veteran, from going hungry when he runs low on money.

“We will feed anyone who comes through our doors with dignity regardless of their means. We do that by offering a donation-based model instead of having prices,” said Kate Antonacci, director of societal impact initiatives for Panera Bread.

“We also tried to change the currency – we will accept your time as well as your money in exchange for a meal,” Antonacci said. “People can volunteer for an hour — help us out in the Café — and earn a voucher for a meal.”

The five Panera Cares Community Cafés across the country are run by the Panera Foundation, a non-profit, according to Antonacci.

The Government Center Panera Cares Community Café opened in January of 2013.

“We look for spots with a range of economic diversity,” Antonacci said. “The primary thing we look for in each location is people who can contribute while also looking for people who are in need.”

Preston said, “I think it’s a really good idea, and I love to participate in working here to contribute a bit of effort.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Brookline’s winter Indoor Play Program ‘safe and free’

April 11, 2014 06:00 PM

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Briana Jennings

The Brookline Recreation Department’s Indoor Play Program includes activities ranging from group art projects, to yoga, music, and age-appropriate playground equipment.

One by one, the children removed their winter jackets and put on big smiles, shedding their inhibitions for the promise of shiny red tricycles, plastic slides, and the undivided attention of their adult companions.

The children transformed an empty cardboard box into a boat, a drum set, and dream house. Foam block cities were raised in mere minutes and then sent tumbling by a passing dinosaur. An unoccupied preschool gym became an indoor playground.

The Brookline Recreation Department’s Indoor Play Program at Soule Early Childhood Center, 652 Hammond St., was created by the Brookline Recreation Department for children ages 6 months to 3 years.

For $5 a child for Brookline residents ($7 for non- residents), caregivers can bring children to Soule on a drop-in basis Tuesdays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The Soule gym offers a safe, warm and dry alternative to outdoor playgrounds for adults to supervise their small children during the colder months of the year. While start dates and times change tentatively from season to season, the program usually runs from October until the end of April.

Program administrator Joan Kibrick, a teacher at Soule, describes the beauty of the program as being the freedom of open play.

“It’s a truly interesting environment that allows kids the freedom to explore. It’s safe, and free, without the interruptions of scheduled snack times, or circle time, or nap times,” said Kibrick.

Kibrick said the program is a beneficial way to socialize young children and for parents to get out of the house and meet other families who have small children in their community.

“Even the littlest kids start to develop relationships at this age,” Kibrick said. “Whether they are fighting over a toy or collaborating on an art project, this is a great opportunity to engage them with children of their own age in a safe and healthy environment to prepare them for later daycare or school environments.”

Mona Perez has been bringing her son Mateo to the Soule program for the past five months. Mateo is 3 years old, and his family moved from Mexico a little over a year and a half ago.

“Indoor play is a good way to prepare him for the transition into preschool and into speaking English,” Perez says. “Vocalizing his feelings and being around so many other children has been a great experience for him.”

Miriam Pappas is a mother of three. She brings her youngest daughter to the program because it is flexible and works well with her family’s busy schedule.

“I love the drop-in aspect of the program. Unlike classes, which parents pay for and feel pressured to attend on time, I like that we can pay as we go and arrive and leave on a time schedule that we choose,” Pappas said. “I also like that the area is contained, so there’s no stress of losing your child in a crowd or of children wandering too far.”

The program includes activities ranging from group art projects to yoga, music, slides, age-appropriate playground equipment, and much more. There is a designated snack area, books, and puzzles for different levels of supervised play. Children are encouraged to move freely from activity to activity. All the children are encouraged to help during the clean up and break down process of the indoor park. With the collaborative effort the total process takes no more than 20 minutes.

Kibrick said this initiative began as a service project and has never been intended as a source of profit. Kibrick, a Brookline resident herself, can remember bringing her own children many years ago when the program was un-administered. There was only a $2 trust box left for people to make donations to use the free space and few balls and toys donated to Brookline Recreation.

While the program has grown since then, its foundations have remained the same.

“Its all about the families and giving them a place to be together. From the start of the season we average about 14 or 15 families per day. At our busiest we’ve had maybe over 25,” Kilbrick said.

The indoor play season will continue until April 30 this year, its doors open to anyone who embraces the spirit of free and unstructured playtime.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

South End’s Snap Top Market becomes a neighborhood fixture

April 9, 2014 05:53 PM

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Catherine Pears

Snap Top Market owner Steve Napoli opened his South End shop a year and a half ago. “I really appreciate the neighborhood. It has some great people, some interesting people,” Napoli said. “It’s so cool. The city has brought some fascinating people to me.”

Nestled among condominiums and office buildings, Snap Top Market at 330 Columbus Ave. has become a familiar feature of the South End and Back Bay since it opened in fall 2012.

Owner Steve Napoli said he started the shop because of a void in the neighborhood for fresh, tasty produce.

“The idea started with my buddy saying, ‘I can’t get fruit anywhere,’ ” Napoli said. “Good fruit. People were selling fruit but he couldn’t get anything he was excited to eat.”

Since its founding the store has transformed from a simple shop with stacks of produce lining the walls into a competitor to Foodie’s Urban Market at 1421 Washington St. and Whole Foods on Westland Avenue.

“In the beginning it was very different in here. It was just fruit in the middle. I had barely filled this place out because I was just a one-man show,” said Napoli. “I could barely keep my eyes open. It didn’t look like this. But we have a great following in the neighborhood and I was finally able to make some renovations that I’ve been dying to make. We just added a menu that includes about 90 percent raw vegetables and fruits.”

That new takeout menu consists of collard green wraps, kale salad, and what Napoli calls raw pasta — freshly cut strips of cucumber, zucchini, sweet potato, and green papaya. They serve the “pasta” with seven dressings that customers can choose from, such as apricot ginger, that are made in-house.

The store, originally a conference room before Napoli transformed it, is lined with shelves made of apple crates he built himself. There are familiar products like Siracha and bags of Tate’s cookies, but what attracts the eye most are the vibrant colors — green baskets filled with raspberries, blocks of cheese stacked beneath glass jars of olives and containers of nuts. It feels more like a country store that has been family-owned for years than a newly-opened metropolitan grocer.

Napoli, who grew up on a farm in Acton, knows produce and likes talking about the colors, the taste, and texture of fruits and vegetables. But he seems more interested in the people he meets and gets to know along the way.

“I really appreciate the neighborhood. It has some great people, some interesting people,” Napoli said. “It’s so cool. And that was the part I didn’t expect. That was the surprise — the amount of people I met that are just interesting and it was really cool to talk to them. The city has brought some fascinating people to me.”

Snap Top’s location, bridging the South End and Back Bay, brings the store a cross-section of people, something that he’s come to appreciate over the past year and a half.

“Yes, it’s good for business, but I like that I can bond with people and I can know their story,” Napoli said. “We’ve met so many babies. I like how it’s got two worlds, and that’s very unique in the city.”

But when it comes down to business, Napoli is focused on providing fresh produce to his customers and devoted to knowing where, exactly, everything that he puts on the shelves or in baskets is coming from.

“That’s always my satisfaction, when someone says ‘Where the hell did you get this?’ That’s the cool part for me is to kind of control where I source, which I think a lot of people don’t do in this day and age,” Napoli said. “It’s a reckless buying situation in a lot of cases. And I think it’s cool to make my mark on my own terms.”

Napoli will be making an even greater mark soon with plans to expand his takeout menu and open a second location in Boston.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Somerville artist’s portraits on display at City Hall

April 8, 2014 11:22 AM

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Courtesy of Nancy Hall Brooks

Jim’s fixed gaze looks out from a wall on the first floor of Somerville City Hall, captured eloquently in a hand-drawn pastel portrait.

Jim, along with eight other members of Somerville’s various senior centers, is featured in an exhibition by local artist Nancy Hall Brooks. The exhibition was funded by the Somerville Arts Council as part of a program to support artists and their involvement in the community.

The project, titled “Reflections: Portraits of seniors in images and words,” is made up of nine pastel portraits, each with short bios and anecdotes next to each of the nine works.

“He said he was a child of the sixties,” Hall Brooks said of Jim, a Somerville resident and veteran of the Korean War. “He talked about how he used to get drunk and stoned all the time.”

The last line of Jim’s bio reads: “Thank God, never had an addictive personality.”

The idea to feature senior citizens came from grant recipient Hall Brooks, who said each drawing took about 15 hours to complete.

“I wanted to honor some people in the community who don’t have much interface with arts,” said Hall Brooks, a Somerville resident. “Part of the Somerville Art Council’s mission is to create liaisoning between artists and the rest of the city.”

Hall Brooks, originally from Chicago, studied history at Washington University in St. Louis before earning a master’s degree in drawing at the University of Arizona. She and her husband first came to Somerville in 1971, then moved around Massachusetts until settling back in the city in 1994. Her efforts in this exhibition are part of an involvement in the city’s thriving art scene that dates back to the 1980s.

Hall Brooks said the portraits were met with positive reaction, despite a few remarks that the drawings made them look too old.

The Council on Aging, which runs the city’s senior centers, invited the artist back to teach various art activities.

“Hopefully, it will be a nice alternative to afternoon bingo,” Hall Brooks said.

The exhibition will be on display on the first floor of City Hall until Apr. 21.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Brighton’s Gifford Cat Shelter cares for cats one by one

April 8, 2014 11:13 AM

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Adam Virnelson

Shelley stands atop one of the few shelter at the Gifford Cat Shelter. Cats at the shelter are left free to roam to reduce stress and allow them to stay healthier and happier, which in turn makes them more readily adoptable.

For a cat in need, the Gifford Cat Shelter is a safe haven unlike any other. The Gifford Shelter, which bills itself as the oldest cageless, no-kill shelter in the country, offers a home for any feline, no matter how infirm or unfriendly.

Take Amber, the cat born with undersized eyelids that required reconstructive surgery and medicated eye drops three times per day. Or Barney, the cat with feline immunodeficiency virus, who has needed repeated medical procedures to treat a chronic ear infection.

“That, I think, is what makes us a lot different than other shelters,” says Stacy Price, the shelter’s development manager. “We treat each cat that comes in for whatever they need.”

Founded in 1884 by Ellen M. Gifford, a local philanthropist, the shelter was opened as a refuge for any abandoned or unwanted animal, and it is part of the Brighton-Allston Women's Heritage Trail.

After World War II, the Gifford Shelter was forced to limit its housing to one type of animal.

“People make fun of herding cats,” says Debbie Schreiber, the shelter director, “but they’re easier to wrangle than other animals.”

Today the herd is substantial. In 2013, the shelter took in 310 cats, 248 of which were from the street. Of the cats there now, 68 of the 78 were once strays.

The cats can spend anywhere from days to years at the shelter, located at 30 Undine Road in Brighton, before being adopted, according to Price. Most stay for a few months.

To cover medical expenses, the shelter sometimes turns to online crowd funding sources. Barney’s last surgery was paid for with contributions made through FundAnything.com.

“People really responded,” said Diane Toomey, the assistant shelter manager. “People love to get behind a specific cause for a cat.”

The shelter also holds events to bring in funds. In March, the shelter held an event called A Feline Affair, a silent auction that raised over $30,000—about half the year’s medical costs. They will hold another event in the fall.

The shelter includes a feral cat enclosure that houses a small colony of about a dozen cats, most of which will probably never be adopted. According to Price, a cat that spends more than about six months on the streets will likely avoid human contact for the rest of their lives. These cats are largely left to their own devices, though they are spayed and neutered.

In an effort to cut back on the feral population on the streets, Schreiber works to TNR —trap, neuter, and release — feral cat colonies in the local stray hotspots, such as Dorchester or Mattapan. The traps, made of wire mesh and baited with food, are a newer take on an old trapping method.

“It’s the old-fashioned box, stick and string,” says Schreiber. “You wait for them to go under, then you pull the string and the thing drops.”

The work they do to control the population is vital; cats can get pregnant at six months old, and the pregnancy only lasts eight weeks. The mothers nurse the kittens for eight weeks, and then they can get pregnant again. That means a single female stray can produce a litter every four months.

Schreiber attributes part of the problem to college students who get a cat for a year then release it, expecting it to fend for itself. She is working to educate students on the responsibilities of owning a cat in the hopes that they will refrain from adoption if unable to properly care for a pet.

Abandonment — illegal under Massachusetts law — translates to a lot of work for the shelter’s employees and a lot of new residents at the shelter.

Volunteers are encouraged to go and help out by working with cats that may be wary of people, cleaning up the facilities, giving tours to families, and serving as adoption ambassadors when the shelter is open to the public.

The shelter logged about 8,000 volunteer hours in 2013, by about 100 volunteers. The shelter has no age limit on volunteers, either; families can come in, children and all, to work with the cats.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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Adam Virnelson

Abby and Grady stand in the outdoor feral cat enclosure at the Gifford Cat Shelter. About a dozen feral cats, most of which will probably never be adopted, live in the enclosure. A cat that spends more than about six months on the streets will likely avoid human contact for the rest of their lives. These cats are largely left to their own devices, though they are spayed and neutered.

Not everyone impressed by Jamaica Plain resident’s front lawn art display

April 2, 2014 05:02 PM

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Beth Treffeisen

Jonathan Handy of Amory Street in Jamaica Plain uses his front lawn to display art he creates from trash he finds on his morning dog walks.

Smiley-faced planks scatter the front lawn as a mannequin stares down at passers-by from the front window. Various put-together objects line the trees and are placed on top of trash cans.

Jonathan Handy, a systems analyst for the City of Boston, makes a hobby out of turning found trash and stickers in to art, which he displays outside his house at 225 Amory St.
“He’s one-of-kind and it’s an eye-opener,” said Ronald Yee, who frequently visits Handy’s neighbor Suemay Tam. “It looks good if you take a closer look.”

Hardy’s front-yard art project evolves throughout the year as things go missing after a few days and the weather changes.

“I feel absolutely no regrets when things disappear because that means I can put more stuff out,” Handy said.

The artwork on Handy’s front lawn draws the attention of passers-by on their way to the Samuel Adams Brewery. It has also caught the attention of city inspectors, who have ticketed him in the past because much of the artwork borders the sidewalk.

“I have taken tickets from the City of Boston because they thought it was mine,” said Suemay Tam, his neighbor. She said she mails them back, explaining that the artwork is not in her yard.

Tam said she doesn’t have a problem with Hardy’s art — which others see an eyesore — because she doesn’t really notice it anymore when she goes to and from her house.

In the past, an neighbor of Handy brought this issue to the city’s Inspectional Services Department and Handy had to go to court. Handy said that the attorney from ISD accepted that he had a constitutional right to display art on his own property, and Handy said he was able to get the complaint dismissed.

Handy started his artwork gradually and placed it outside as a way for people to view it.

He doesn’t expect to make money or a career out of it but enjoys doing it in his spare time.

Every morning he takes his dog Buddy on a walk and picks up trash, which he brings home and rearranges. He said he gets his inspiration from all the trash he thinks should serve some purpose.

Lately his work has become more primitive and child like.

“I like to think that 8-year-olds would relate to it better than adults,” said Handy.

Handy also gathers inspiration from the sculptures located at the nearby Stonybrook Fine Arts Center.

“I think I started before they did, so I like to think that I inspired them,” said Handy.

His past work includes printed out pictures of local houses that he would put up on the wall and later a collection of 28 old non-working TV sets that he put up in a pyramid shape with a large drawn-on smiley face. Many of the TV sets are no longer there because people would take the valuable parts.

“Thank goodness he got rid of those dangerous TVs,” said Yee. “But the rest is safe.”

Tam said that many of her friends said that Hardy should get his own gallery, but she thinks it’s just his way of expressing himself.

Yee said, “So many people walk by. Everybody notices and they think ‘Hey that’s funny looking’.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Somerville mayor announces $50,000 reward to find Deanna Cremin's killer

March 31, 2014 08:30 AM


As friends and family gathered in Somerville Saturday to mark the 19th anniversary of Deanna Cremin's murder, Mayor Joseph Curtatone pledged a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of her killer.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan also pledged to pursue the investigation until the crime is solved.

Nightingale Community Garden in Dorchester opens first week April

March 28, 2014 07:24 PM

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Trudy Cox, the garden’s naturalist, inspects a water barrel and begins to plan for the upcoming season.

Elnora Thompson reaches down into her seemingly empty garden bed and picks her
chamomile herbs. She rubs a few pieces in her hand and brings it to her nose.

“Doesn’t that just smell great?” Thompson exclaims as she hands it around so everyone can smell it. She takes a bundle of the herb in her hand to bring home to make tea.

Thompson is the head manager at Nightingale Community Garden, located at 512 Park St. in Dorchester, and has been growing there for about 25 years. The garden is about two acres and holds 131 plots. It officially opens for the season the first week of April.

The community garden has plots from local residents of various ethnicities, including Portuguese, Haitian, Vietnamese, Spanish, African American. There are about seven languages spoken and everybody grows things from their different cultural traditions, creating both human diversity and biodiversity.

“It’s about friendship, sharing and community,” said Thompson.

Bob Follansbee, a fourth-year community gardener and part of the Dorchester Food Co-op Community, said, “We learned five to six different things to grow that we never considered to grow. My wife used to hate okra, but if you learn how to grow and cook it correctly, it can be really good. We’ve been growing it for three years.”

The garden also has a small orchard with blueberries, strawberries, apples and huckleberries. The vines of the berries encircle the garden, bordering the fences.

“The guys are afraid to pick them because they have thorns on them,” said Thompson. “But us girls aren’t afraid.”

The berries also help prevent people from stealing, which has happened in the past.

Thompson loves to have children helping her in garden. Last summer kids helped her grow sweet potatoes and watermelon. Children come from the kindergarten class from the church across the street. An ABCD Head Start kindergarten class has its own plot.

“They run around inside of it and they trample it,” said Sharon Higgins, an ABCD kindergarten teacher who owns her own plot next to her kindergarteners. Higgins said the garden helps her children get in the dirt and learn about growing food.

There are also young people who are hired by the city of Boston who are part of a program that employs them to work in the gardens during the summer if they can’t find work elsewhere.

There are three garden plots dedicated to food that will be donated to a local food pantry. Thompson said that growing food for the pantry allows people to learn how to take care of themselves and it also serves as an outlet to help the community. Thompson said that her garden could feed up to four families.

“It feeds my family, my sisters and their families,” said Thompson. In the summer she can make a salad of lettuce and cucumbers straight out of her garden. Thompson said that having the garden helps because there isn’t a major supermarket around that isn’t a bus ride away.

Follansbee said the garden and Dorchester’s Winter Farmer’s Market serve as educational tools to teach people that they don’t always have to buy “cheap crappy food.”

“It’s an issue in our community,” said Follansbee. “People have to drive all the way to Jamaica Plain to go to Whole Foods.”

The community garden helps buffer that gap.

“It builds a bridge in food deserts in areas that wouldn’t normally have greater food access in a neighborhood,” said Dana Staley, the Boston Natural Areas Network garden outreach and engagement coordinator.

The Nightingale Community Garden is part of the Boston Natural Areas Network, which preserves and protects open space in Boston. Out of the 174 gardens in Boston they own the land for one third of them. The network helps maintain and protect the gardens and provides resources for the gardeners.

For each garden, there is a council or a group of people that help manage it. Each garden chooses what they want to grow. It can range from ornamentals to cultural food such as Vietnamese winter melons.

“We don’t tell people what to do,” said Staley. “They can do what they want as long as it’s not illegal.”

There are lots of benefits to having a community garden, Staley said. One of them is that they can bring a community together that wouldn’t normally get to know each other.

“Gardens offer a space where it’s safe, where you can get to know each other,” said Staley. “It brings a lot of pride to a neighborhood that might be dangerous or struggling.”

The gardens help people get behind it and are a tool of empowerment along with getting people to eat healthy and to exercise.

The Boston Natural Areas Network also provides compost from the city of Boston to gardeners and can provide an intensive soil study through local universities and labs.

Thompson said that the Nightingale Community Garden tested its soil at a UMass-Dartmouth for a cost $20, and while they were renovating the garden they had Boston University students make a class project out of it. That saved the community garden about $20,000. There used to be an old school where the garden is located which left a lot of lead and other heavy metals behind.

“In an urban setting, the main thing is to make sure your soil is safe,” said Follansbee. He also said that last year they refused compost from the city because it had concentrations of lead that was below the federal Food and Drug Administration safety regulation standard but higher than what they wanted.

The last Dorchester Winter Farmers Market will take place this Sunday from 12-4 p.m. at The Great Hall of the Codman Square Health Center, located at 6 Norfolk St. The Boston Natural Areas Network will be holding it’s 39th Annual Gardeners Gathering this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Northeastern Universit’s Egan Center and Shillman Hall., located at 115 Forsyth St. The Gardeners Gathering will include a speech from the mayor, educational lectures and tools to help prepare your garden for the spring.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Friends, family to mark 19th anniversary of Deanna Cremin's death

March 28, 2014 05:48 PM

The following was submitted by the Friends of Deanna Cremin:

Family and friends of Deanna Cremin will gather together this weekend in Somerville to mark the 19th anniversary of her murder, which remains unsolved.

The group will unveil a memorial wreath her father has arranged every year since her death. The gathering will be held at 2:30 p.m. at Deanna Cremin Square, at the corner of Temple and Jacques streets.

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“This event is meant as a time to reflect on who Deanna was and sadly who she may have become,” said Deanna’s father, Albert Rogers. “Deanna is never far from our thoughts and the outpouring of support and love from the community has been amazing. We still hold out hope that justice will finally be served for Deanna.”

The event includes a brief speaking program and a moment of silence as well as a release of 19 balloons, each signifying a year without her. Following this event there will be a 4 p.m. Mass at St. Ann's in the lower church.

The Friends of Deanna Cremin also announced the Somerville Board of Alderman passed a resolution requesting an update from the Middlesex district attorney's office on the status of the investigation of the murder of Deanna Cremin for this anniversary and for every anniversary until this murder is solved.

Deanna Cremin had just turned 17 when she was strangled on her way home in March 1995.

For more information, go to deannacremin.org.

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