All Things Eastie

Giving voice to the people who live and work in East Boston

April 23, 2015
by Alexandra Prim
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Unregistered sex offenders worry Eastie parents

By Alexandra Prim and Christina Zolnierowicz

Alexandra Prim and Christina Zolnierowicz speak with East Boston residents about Massachusetts House Bill 1490, which contains language entitling sex offenders to proceedings that could result in their names being removed from the state’s registry. Parents in the community who check the online registry are worried for their children’s safety in light of this finding. Another concerned East Bostonian is newly elected State Representative Adrian Madaro, who voices his unease about H.B. 1490 from the State House.

 

Jillian Gore stands with her family in Maverick Square, East Boston. Photo by Christina Zolnierowicz

Jillian Gore stands with her family in Maverick Square, East Boston. Photo by Christina Zolnierowicz

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April 23, 2015
by Jason Savio
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Animal Care and Adoption Center on Cape Cod Looks to Rebuild

By Jason Savio

The Animal Care and Adoption Center (ACAC) located in Centerville has been the go-to center for surrendering and adopting animals on Cape Cod for close to fifty years. But as the Cape grows, so does its animal population, and the tight quarters in the ACAC that house up to 125 animals at a time have become problematic for its inhabitants. As part of the MSPCA, the ACAC on Cape Cod is lacking the quality and comfort that MSPCA locations in Boston and Methuen offer. In an effort to improve their facility, Cape Cod ACAC director Mary Sarah Fairweather is spearheading a fundraiser with fundraising director Laura Hay to tear down the current location in Centerville and build a brand new facility in its place.

The Animal Care and Adoption facility in Centerville is looking to rebuild. Photo by Jason Savio

The Animal Care and Adoption Center in Centerville is looking to rebuild. Photo by Jason Savio

April 17, 2015
by Miranda Bethune
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Undocumented Immigrants Advocate for Right to Drive

By Emily Tadlock and Miranda Bethune

Miranda Bethune and Emily Tadlock report on efforts to garner support for the Safe Driving Bill, legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. While the bill’s advocates argue that the proposed changes could lead to safer roads and better drivers, those who oppose the bill cite potential threats to national security. Single mom and Guatemalan immigrant Zoila Lopez pushes for policy reform, and shares the struggles she faces without a license.

An undocumented immigrant campaigned for driver's licenses at the Massachusetts State House for Immigrants' Day on April 14, 2015. Photo by Miranda Bethune.

An undocumented immigrant campaigned for driver’s licenses at the Massachusetts State House for Immigrants’ Day on April 14, 2015. Photo by Miranda Bethune.

 

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April 16, 2015
by Yining Chen
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Volunteers are the Backbone of Watershed Protection

By Yining Chen and Rachael Peart

The Mystic River Watershed Association has worked since 1972 to maintain the waters and adjacent lands in its territory, which stretches from Woburn to East Boston. Over a half million people and more than 20 communities are included in this watershed. Many of the feats they have accomplished would not have been possible if not for volunteer work. Volunteers work to eliminate threats to the watershed as well as protecting the aspects that help the area thrive.

6-26 New Street Construction Site, photo by Siyi Huo

April 16, 2015
by Siyi Huo
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East Boston Waterfront Developent Facing Controversial Housing Problem

By Siyi Huo and Xinxin Yang

Waterfront development providing thousands of new housing units in East Boston is also triggering the increasing rents, which has made the housing a more serious problem in this neighborhood. According to Economic Justice Research Hub,nearly half of East Boston  renters are “housing-burdened”, which means a household has to pay more than 30 percent of its income on housing.

Local residents are worried about the inevitable gentrification and displacement. However, there are different voices on if there is a direct connection between the existed displacement and the development.

On the one hand, some people think the development is creating new housing instead of converting existing housing. On the other hand, some people say there are already people pressed out.


 

 

 

 

Eastie Food Pantry

April 16, 2015
by Jue Hou
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Shortages of Eastie Food Pantries Affect Community

By Daniela Jusino and Lucas Hou

For a community with thousands of residents unable to afford meals, East Boston food pantries are a necessity for so many in the neighborhood. With neighboring areas like Cambridge having up for twenty food pantries, many are questioning why the plethora of resources from the Greater Boston Food Bank aren’t going further in East Boston.

Local food donations are always accepted at the Greater Boston Food Bank. Photo by Lucas Hou

Local food donations are always accepted at the Greater Boston Food Bank. Photo by Lucas Hou

April 8, 2015
by Shahrzad Sajadi
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Amgen Harvard Program Comes to East Boston

By Kelly Thomas and Shaz Sajadi

Kevin Rivas, Salam Hasaba and Amanda Dillingham working in East Boston High School Lab. Photo by Kelly Thomas

Kevin Rivas, Salam Hasaba and Amanda Dillingham working in East Boston High School Lab. Photo by Kelly Thomas

Amanda Dillingham’s students gather round gleaming black countertops taking lab equipments out of the cupboards and arranging them carefully on the table. “Gloves, goggles!” shouts Dillingham clapping her hands. The students run hurriedly to the desk in the corner and return seconds later all wearing bright purple gloves and lab goggles.

Dillingham’s students are in the biology Advanced Placement (AP) program at East Boston High School. They are working in a brand new lab that cost 70,000 dollars to equip.
Salam Hasaba, a slender young Syrian girl, is wearing a black and purple head scarf that matches the lab equipment. She is one of the best students in the Dillingham’s AP class. Hasaba said she has always been interested in science, but didn’t think she would see a real pipet until college.

“The most I thought we would do in high school, is to dissect a pig,” said Hasaba.

For many years Dillingham’s science projects in her classes were limited to buying some salt from Stop and Shop and experimenting with that, but now for the first time in her career with the help of the Amgen Harvard Outreach program she has the chance to teach her students in a well equipped lab.

The Amgen Harvard program trains biology teachers on methods to implement biotech research programs into their classrooms.
The program allows teachers to borrow a fully equipped mobile lab for their projects as well as providing all consumable materials for their labs.

The program was introduced to Dillingham through a former East Boston High School student, Alia Qatarneh. Qatarneh is now a research assistant at Amgen Harvard program.

“Connecting with East Boston High School, specifically Ms. Dillingham allowed me to give back to a community which I call home,” said Qatarneh.

In order for Dillingham’s students to become familiar with the biotech industry, they visited Vertex Pharmaceuticals for a possible internship opportunity over the holidays. The students isolated their DNA from their cheek cells and got a tour of the facilities.

“They got to see that the training they get in their AP class is very close to the kind of work that is being done in big companies in the real world,” Dillingham said.

Hasaba even remembers the details, “We put on lab coats. They fed us fancy food and they had this cool green chairs that twisted everywhere.”

Another student of Dillingham, Kevin Rivas moved to the US two years ago from El Salvador. Rivas, 19, has bushy eyebrows and a ready smile. He joined Dillingham’s AP class a year ago and although he sometimes struggles with English he says he has no regrets.

“I wanted to become a computer engineer before I joined the program one year ago. Now I’m thinking maybe I can become a biotech teacher,” Rivas says.

East Boston High School’s total minority enrollment is 84 percent. Dillingham hopes to extend the program to 10th graders and she encourages other East Boston High School teachers to get involved.

She says Boston is becoming a hub for science and there’s a great population of students who need to be taught these hands-on skills early.
Dillingham said that she has taught Hasaba’s older brothers in the same class when they moved from Damascus, Syria.

“She comes from good genes,” said Dillingham about Hasaba. Hasaba’s cheeks have turned a little red.
“I like to work in a lab, but I prefer working with people. Ms Dillingham wants me to think about teaching. I have been told I will make a pretty decent teacher,” Hasaba said.

Hasaba has been awarded a full scholarship from Boston University and is still looking into other universities in Boston.

April 6, 2015
by Jason Savio
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Cape Cod Prepares for another Summer with the Sharks

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The location of a great white shark sighting in 2012 in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. Photo by Jason Savio

 

By Jason Savio 

CAPE COD — Chris Myers is bodysurfing with his son at a crowded beach during the height of the summer season when, suddenly, he is attacked by a shark. Screams pierce through the sound of the soothing surf as scared onlookers panic at the sight of Myers fighting for his life in the water.

This may sound like a scene out of Jaws, but it’s not. This is real life.

In the summer of 2012, a great white shark off the coast of Cape Cod attacked Myers, sending him to the hospital and inevitably sending headlines of a shark-infested tourist destination to media outlets across the country.

The shark incident with Myers on Ballston Beach in Truro is one of many shark sightings in the waters of Cape Cod in recent years. In what has become a growing trend, sharks are appearing more and more frequently than usual, causing many swimmers and beach-goers to worry about their safety. With summer on the horizon, that concern is likely to follow again, but Cape Cod officials have learned how to properly deal with the emerging shark presence and are ready.

Chatham Harbormaster Stuart Smith says that the increased shark activity has resulted in temporary beach closures each summer for the past six years. He is confident, however, with the town’s ability to respond and handle such situations should any arise this summer.

“(We have) a beach patrol that is more vigilant in looking for any presence of sharks,” said Smith. “We work more closely with the Division of Marine Fisheries and spotter planes, so we’ve heightened the public awareness of sharks and that’s helped.”

That awareness is critical, especially for a town like Chatham, which is a hotspot for shark activity due to the growing seal population there.

The main culprit for the surging presence of great white sharks on Cape Cod, seals are high on the shark dinner menu and are drastically increasing in number themselves.  Where they go, sharks will follow. And because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972–an act that protects marine mammals from being captured and killed–there is only so much Stuart and other officials can do to keep sharks at bay.

John Chisholm, a Marine Fisheries Biologist for the Division of Marine Fisheries on the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, explained that since the protection act, seals “have been recolonizing their old stomping grounds and now that’s what we’re seeing down here. They have really been growing in great numbers.”

Where officials’ power ends, the public must take it upon themselves to know when and when not to enter the water.

Shelley Dawicki, who works in research communications at the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA Fisheries, stresses for people to use common sense and simply stay out of waters where seals are located.

“Sharks like seals, they’re not after people,” said Dawicki. “If there are seals in the area, you should not go swimming. In other areas where there are no seals around, it’s as safe as it’s always been.”

Come this summer, the arrival of great white sharks on the shores of Cape Cod is almost a promise. But officials are ready, and if you don’t go swimming with the seals, you won’t have to worry about going swimming with the sharks.

April 5, 2015
by Yining Chen
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Residents work (and swim) for cleaner waters

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The snow is melting. Soon, Constitution Beach will be ready for swimmers. Photo by Jeremy Lindgren.

By Yining Chen and Rachael Peart

In his bright orange swimming cap Adam Homaki, an East Boston resident, ran to the shore, to the finish and to victory in the men’s division of the one-mile swim. Although Homaki was tired, he was happy doing something he loves: swimming.

As an open-water swimmer, Homaki loves the Boston harbor, but he has concerns about the water quality, especially at Constitution Beach. It is one of the hottest summer places for Eastie locals. In summer, beachgoers would take their beach chairs, umbrellas and a good book to spend a whole day at the beach. Children would build sandcastles and giggle as they are knocked over by two-foot high waves.

Constitution Beach was a true summer heaven until a few years ago. Due to the development of the city, Constitution Beach is not as joyful place anymore.

“Just a few years ago even a small summer rain would have forced us to cancel this event due to pollution from storm water,” Bruce Berman, a spokesperson from Save the Harbor, said to the East Boston Times.

The water surrounding Boston is not as beautiful on the inside as it may look on the outside. Local water has a plethora of problems, some of which are unknown to residents.

The Mystic River Watershed Association, a volunteer-run organization, removed 3500 baskets of the invasive water chesnut from the Mystic River in 2011. When a water chestnuts decomposes, it releases a chemical that leads to low levels of oxygen in the water and the killing off of different aquatic species in the waters. This poses another problem for those who fish for a living or simply for recreation. When water chestnuts spread, it makes other activities such as boating or canoeing near impossible. In 2014, the association cleared 90 percent of the invasive water chestnut from the Mystic River.

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View of the Atlantic from East Boston. Photo by Yining Chen

These efforts would not be as successful if it were not for the volunteers of these and similar organizations. “We engage thousands of volunteers each year through our various environmental restoration programs, to promote local environmental advocacy and to advance successful climate change adaptation strategies,” EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association said, “it’s individual’s voice to help MRWA have significant impact in the environment. ”

Homaki has also participated in clean up actions in the past few years. In 2013, Homaki and other competitors raised more than $5,000 to benefit Save the Harbor / Save the Bay and the Massachusetts Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Then in 2014, he and 209 swimmers dove into outer New Bedford Harbor to show their support for a clean and healthy Buzzards Bay, raising more than $100,000 to support the Coalition’s education, conservation, and advocacy work.

Due to a massive cleanup effort in the last 20 years and participation by organizations and individuals, Boston Harbor went from one of the most polluted to one of the cleanest harbors in the nation. Constitution Beach was ranked in the top 10 cleanest beaches in the metro Boston area.

Water clean up is a long-term process, and the efforts will continue on. Charles River Watershed Association, another local organization, will be hosting an annual cleanup on April 25 in celebration of Earth Day. This clean up is a part of American Rivers’ National River Cleanup, which has removed over 4 million pounds of waste from America’s waterways, according to the association website.

Elisabeth Cianciola, the Aquatic Scientist for the Charles River Watershed Association says, the best thing that anyone can do for their local water is to “use environmentally-friendly property management techniques, actively participate in local and state government processes to ensure that elected officials and local planning boards and conservation commissions make environmentally-friendly decisions, and, of course, support the work of local non-profit organizations.”

The snow and ice may be turning into water and running down the street, but if residents continue to mishandle their waste, some might not be able to enjoy the simple beauty of sitting at local beaches — like Constitution Beach — in the near future.

April 2, 2015
by Alexandra Prim
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Street harassment is more than just catcalls

 

Brandie Alexander poses next to her personalized Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Brandie Alexander poses next to her personalized Tatyana Fazlalizadeh “Stop Telling Women to Smile” portrait. Photo by Christina Zolnierowicz

By Alexandra Prim and Christina Zolnierowicz

“Hey, baby, I like that ass.” Nine-year-old Brandie Alexander quickened her pace as she headed to the corner store, penny candy on her mind. The man continued. “Why don’t you suck my (expletive)? Ten minutes later, Alexander emerged from the store, clutching her Snicker’s bar. Her catcaller was waiting for her.

As she walked home, he followed her, peppering her with comments both derogatory and sexual in nature. This was Alexander’s first experience with street harassment. It would leave a life-long mark.

“I’ve personally been harassed over 30 times last year,” said Alexander, now a 28-year-old East Boston resident.

As any woman can attest, street harassment has always existed. However, in recent years, it has demanded the public’s attention thanks to survivors who are increasingly willing to share their stories. As is the case with any urban area, East Boston provides a prime environment for such abuse.

“Nine point five times out of ten, it’s not a compliment,” Alexander said. “More often than not, a ‘you’re beautiful’ turns into a feeling of entitlement.”

Safe Hub Collective, an organization devoted to creating public spaces that are secure for all people, conducted a harassment survey in 2013. Out of the more than 500 participants, 88 percent said they had experienced street harassment in Boston.

“We believe that any infringement on personal space, or unwarranted comment, is harassment,” said Stacey Lantz of Safe Hub. And it’s not just women who face this type of abuse.

“LGTBQ folks, people of color, and people with disabilities [also] experience increased incidents of harassment,” said Lantz.

Additionally, street harassment isn’t technically confined to the street.

Safe Hub’s 2013 survey found that, while 97 percent of its harassed respondents were accosted on the street, 63 percent experienced harassment on public transportation. The bar scene, school campuses, and public parks were also ripe with abuse reports.

“When street harassment is allowed, it creates an environment for sexual assault to happen,” said Gina Scaramella, the executive director of Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). “[If] we eliminate street harassment, we can potentially eliminate sexual assault in general.”

Residents of East Boston are currently working to rid their neighborhood of this epidemic.

In 2014, street artist Tatayna Fazlalizadeh created an anti-street harassment mural in Eastie as part of her Stop Telling Women to Smile project — a movement she’s spread across the United States and Mexico. The mural depicts some of the women of East Boston, along with their responses to harassment. One portrait’s caption reads, “My name is not baby.” Another says, “My outfit is not an invitation.”

While Alexander is vocal in her condemnation of harassment, she thinks anti-criminalization is the right approach for perpetrators.

“I don’t want to see people policed more,” she said. “Especially within communities of color. Community accountability and awareness is important, as well as being an active bystander.”

Alexander, who walks through East Boston daily, hopes to see a decrease in harassment. Until then, she still worries on a daily basis.

“I’m dreading the spring, because I’ll be wearing skirts and [getting] hollered at, followed, and objectified almost every day,” said Alexander.

“It’s horrible because it’s always there,” she said. “And, when we least expect it, it shows its face and intimidates us. It makes us feel small. Helpless. Alone.”

April 2, 2015
by Natasha Abellard
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East Boston Struggling to Meet Need for Affordable ESL Classes

ESL Coordination, Laura Sevigny teaching an English class . Photo by Natasha Sara Abellard

ESL Coordinatior Laura Sevigny teaching an English class. Photo by Natasha Sara Abellard

By Natasha Sara Abellard

In unison, the students repeated the English words with thick Spanish tongues as they sat in ESL classes that once seemed far from reach. All women, most were either mothers or just in their early 20s striving to blaze trails of opportunities for a more secure future. After waiting for months, they were granted the ability to sit in East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC) and finally learn the language that would open doors into their new world.

The Spanish-speaking community in East Boston makes up over half of the population and is also one of the poorest, increasing the need for more free and lower-cost ESL classes. While there may be other available programs in the area, crippling costs make waitlists for free classes so long that it could take up to a year for students to be accepted into the programs.

“I have a friend that has been waiting for over a month to get into this program,” says student Tatiana Arango Perez. The 23-year-old says she was fortunate enough to not get placed on an extensive wait list because she tested at a slightly higher level than some of her peers, who place in the early beginner’s level.

After arriving from Columbia two years ago, Perez is a waitress living with her aunt. Free programs like those available at EBECC makes Perez’s of having her “own profession” much easier to obtain.

According to statistics by Neighborhood United For A Better East Boston, in 2009 the median income in East Boston around heavily Latino populated areas was about $16,445 and has risen very little since then.

East Boston’s YMCA facilities also host ESL classes, but they are not free. “The regular class is $600 and the intensive is $800 and is for 8 weeks with no additional fee,” says YMCA employee Ana Cano. She  added that the classes range from basic to advanced depending upon where the student places after taking an assessment test.

The waitlist for those classes, Cano says, includes “maybe four students.” In comparison, the organization also has a free program that starts in September and ends in June. The Department of Education entirely funds the free program, according to Cano.

For this program, Cano says that there is “more than 100 applications.” Out of the growing number of applications, only 16 students per level will be admitted to the classes, leaving the rest having to find other options or remain on the waitlist for long periods.

At organizations like the EBECC, where classes are free, teacher Marcella Robinson says that price and income definitely play a role in why some schools have more students. “It could be that our program is free,” says Robinson. “We have a large waiting list, we have a lot students trying to get in,” she continues. During the year,  the EBECC’s wait list can grow to as many as 400.

Robinson addresses the fact that while the large waitlist and that EBECC suggests that more funding would be necessary in order to accommodate high high demand. “We need more funding for classes because if they are not funded and if you have to pay, it’s very difficult for people to pay,” she stated.

In addition to this, Robinson states that once more funding is made available, more advertising should be in place to make sure that Spanish speakers are aware of the various opportunities. With those factors taken care of, Robinson says “more students will come.”