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Mattapan United looks toward group's future

Posted by Patrick Rosso  January 7, 2013 01:53 PM

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After two years in the community, Mattapan United is defining a place for itself and in conversations about economic development, community fabric, and the future for the Boston neighborhood.

The grassroots community group, which has been working to generate a “community contract”, part of its Local Initiatives Support Corporation funded plan, has been organizing to release the document and show the community that although its close relationship and funding from LISC will end in a year, the group isn’t going anywhere.

“Everything we are doing is driven by the community,” said Bobby Jenkins, a 52-year-old Mattapan resident and co-chair of the group’s Steering Committee.

Started by a group of residents in the fall of 2010 and launched in February 2011, the group seeks to promote the community and work from within to build strong connections for residents, businesses, and stakeholders.

The group received a financial commitment from LISC, as part of its Resilient Communities Resilient Families program, in December that provides $100,000 every year, over three-years, plus another $100,000 to support activities and initiatives for the community.

That funding, however, runs out.

Jenkins and Karleen Porcena, the lead organizer of the group, both said the group will continue to search for ways to sustain its work.

“We’re following the timeline [set-up by LISC] and now is the time for action,” Jenkins said. “To me the sky is the limit."

“A lot of our strategies go past the three-year limit, but we’ll continue to look for ways to continue funding,” added Porcena.

Through a lengthy community process to engage the neighborhood, the group and its 14-member Steering Committee identified seven areas that the community felt was a priority: Health, community fabric, housing, workforce development, business development, open and clean spaces, and public safety.

The group have since used $25,000 in "early-action grants" to support those areas.

From a foreclosure prevention billboard to a back to school jamboree, organizers said they have worked to engage the community and provide it with the tools to understand itself.

A survey, completed by the group in June 2012, also laid out the demographics of the neighborhood, showing members where services were need and who needed them.

“There have been ups and downs,” acknowledged Porcena. “But we’re consistently meeting and working towards our next steps and our relationships with the community have gotten stronger.”

The group also has been working with other neighborhood organizations. It recently contributed $9,000 to the Mattapan Square Main Streets to help that organization reach its funding target.

With future goals in site, the “community contract,” slated to roll out in March, will present the future of the group and how it and its members, local residents and business owners, will obtain those goals.

“We took all the community input and we looked at what issues rose to the top, such as housing, community fabric, and safety,” said Cassandra Cato-Louis, a 42-year-old Mattapan resident and co-chair of the group’s Steering Committee. “Once people have seen the contract and what we are trying to do, they will become active and engaged.”

Engagement has been the biggest challenge for the group. Although the Steering Committee meetings are always well attended, general meetings tend to bring the same faces, something the group would like to change.

“In 2013 we really need to continue to build on our strong networks in Mattapan and reach out to the other people and areas, we’re not strong in,” said Porcena, who highlighted the launch of the group’s new website as a way to grow membership.

The group will hold monthly community meetings throughout the year to garner feedback about community issues, provide a forum for community discussion, and present resources for residents.

The meetings will be held on the first Thursday of the month from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the ABCD Mattapan Family Service Center at 535 River St. Because of the New Year, however, January’s monthly meeting will be held Thurs., Jan. 10.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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