(By FayFoto/Boston, courtesy of the Philanthropic Initiative.)
Myrtle Huggins has bridged gaps between the elderly community and police, and between the neighborhoods of Mattapan and Dorchester.
She has merged social and civic concerns under one umbrella with the Mattapan/Dorchester Neighborhood Council. She was honored for her efforts earlier this week, when she was presented with a Boston Neighborhood Fellow award by the Philanthropic Initiative.
And she said it all started with a boat ride.
"We took 350 seniors on a senior boat ride. When we returned back, we were walking down the street on Rowe's Wharf, and decided that we wanted to organize a group that would be able to assist the Boston Police Department with these events and anything else that comes up in the community."
That was 2003, and since then, the group has grown exponentially, from about 75 seniors to 250 members. Huggins said their monthly meetings regularly break 100 attendees, and that the sheer volume of membership is what she's most proud of to date.
The group is an amalgamation of senior social group and neighborhood association. Huggins said they organize luncheons, an annual senior ball, and various holiday activities for Mattapan's sizeable elderly population. But Huggins, a Mattapan resident, didn't want to limit the group's scope.
"Mattapan and Dorchester are just across the line from each other. We have to actively work together. They attend our meetings and we attend their meetings," she said. "The doors are open. We don't say, 'This is my group and you can't come.'"
In the future, she hopes to expand the programming for seniors to more involved projects like ceramic and cooking classes.
The council is also civically involved; the next meeting, in April, will host Boston City Councilor At-Large John Connolly, who will speak about the campaign he's waging on expired school lunches, and Huggins says the group partners closely with police for the senior events, and has also claimed partial credit for the return of the department's Citizen Police Academy, which shows residents the inner-workings of the department through simulations and open dialogue.
"They need us and we need them," Huggins said. "The police department can't do everything. We're the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. We know what goes on, we see what goes on."
E-mail Cara Bayles at firstname.lastname@example.org.