(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
Nearly 50 residents filled the community room at the Mattapan Library to share their hopes and dreams for Mattapan and how the community can be strengthened from within.
“What is your dream for Mattapan?”
“How will you obtain that dream?”
Those questions were just a few of those asked of those in attendance at Mattapan United’s “Visioning Meeting” Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s meeting marked a major point for Mattapan United, as the Local Initiatives Support Corporation funded group, finds its legs, and works to form a steering committee.
“We get to do something we don’t get to do often, which is dream,” said Elena Letona, a consultant with LISC who facilitated Tuesday’s meeting. “If we can build strong ties among us that is going to radiate out into Mattapan.”
Residents who attended the evening meeting represented a broad cross-section of the neighborhood of more than 36,000. Both the young and the old, business owners and renters, shared their visions for the community.
Suggestions included more trees in the neighborhood, stronger connections with local schools, and a community center for the arts.
“Mattapan United started a year ago to get the community dreaming again,” said Milly Arbaje-Thomas, the executive director of the Action for Boston Community Development Inc.’s Mattapan Family Service Center, the parent organization of Mattapan United.
While some suggestions for the community that came out of the meeting were at times farfetched many of the suggestions revolved around smaller issues in the neighborhood and how the community as a whole could work to solve them.
“What I would like to see in five-years is healthier residents from young to old,” said Bobby Jenkins, a Mattapan United member and area resident. “I’d like to see Almont Park get tennis courts and a running track and see all our youth out there with their families.”
“I envision more trees and greenway,” said Debora Burke, an area resident. “We need to make Mattapan a place we are proud to bring our children and families.”
Suggestions varied, but the one message that was constant through the night was that many wanted to make Mattapan a destination and shake off the neighborhood’s stigma as a place beset by street violence.
Many suggested a “Mattapan Pride Day” as a way to let the rest of the city know that Mattapan is the place to be. Others asked about ways to breathe life back into Mattapan Square and make the square, currently populated with dollar stores and nail salons, a destination for dining and shopping.
But while the group and its members were excited about talking about their dreams, accomplishing those dreams will prove the most difficult part of the journey.
“The people are excited to get this process started,” said Karleen Porcena, the operations manager of Mattapan United and employee with ABCD. “It’s clear that people don’t think these tasks are impossible.”
Tuesday’s meeting in some sense was still a kickoff for a group that was created out of tragedy. Formed by community members and neighborhood advocates on the heels of a grizzly 2010 quadruple homicide in Mattapan, the group at times has struggled to find its bearing and connect with the neighborhood.
To better familiarize itself with the neighborhood the group has been conduction community surveys to find out what is important to the community and how those within it would like to accomplish those goals.
Those surveys and the information gathered by the group are slated to be released in June at the group’s “Give Back Meeting”, but while the group organizes and comes up with ways to change Mattapan, murders in the city and Mattapan continue to rise and surpass the murder rate this time last year.
“We have a ways to go but we are working towards it,” said Jenkins.