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Posts Tagged ‘lawrence’

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Photo: William Raynard/Essex County Sheriff’s Department
From left, Sheriff Kevin Coppinger and department director of food services Kathy Lawrence meet with program director Kate Benashski, Carlos Zagada, and Josiel Cabrera from Haven From Hunger on the farm at the Essex County Pre-Release Center in Lawrence.

Most of my posts about people helping people must seem like a drop in the bucket to readers: the problems of this world are so enormous. But I like to think about what can be accomplished by, say, one person whose better nature is released by a program like the one for ex-offenders described here. And I like to think of the way many such efforts can accumulate to improve the world.

Morgan Hughes writes at the Boston Globe, “Drive around the back of the Essex County Pre-release and Re-Entry center in Lawrence, and you’ll find 6 acres of pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and gourds.

“Inmates at the center run the farm, which yields about 50,000 pounds of produce each season to feed others who are incarcerated and the wider community. Located just behind Interstate 495, the farm is fertile ground for personal growth.

“ ‘We’re giving jobs to the inmates, we use the crops, but it’s also an opportunity to give back to the community,’ Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger said.

“At the moment, the farm has about seven inmates who volunteer to plant, maintain, and harvest the produce. They feed not only the roughly 200 inmates at the pre-release center, but those at the Middleton House of Correction and Women in Transition, a women’s pre-release center in Salisbury.

“The facility purchases meals from a third-party food vendor, but the kitchen incorporates the fresh produce into the menu whenever possible.

“ ‘They live there, so they can really see the fruits of their labor,’ Coppinger said.

“About 30,000 pounds go to food pantries and homeless shelters in the Merrimack Valley and throughout the North Shore, said Kathy Lawrence, director of food services for the sheriff’s department. …

“She said, ‘What we can do sometimes is either incorporate [our produce] into the menu and serve it in addition to what’s being prepared, or we can substitute in ratatouille instead of giving them frozen green beans.’

“But even when the harvest is over and the ground begins to freeze, these hyperlocal vegetables are used throughout the year, Lawrence said. Bell and Italian peppers are frozen to use in casserole dishes. The butternut squash is also kept in the freezer and saved for special holiday meals.

“Heather Bonanno-Baker is manager of both Pleasant Valley Gardens in Methuen and the farm at the pre-release center. She took over duties from her father, who helped inmates run the farm for at least 15 years.

“She said she teaches inmates how to plant and water the crops, manage pests, and harvest at the end of the season. She shows them what a vegetable looks like when it’s ready to be picked, and how to wash it before it goes to a kitchen.

“ ‘I’m big into teaching the public about agriculture, growing your own food, and where it comes from,’ Bonanno-Baker said. …

“When Lawrence collected some feedback from the farm workers, she said some common themes were ‘a sense of pride in what they’ve grown’ and feeling rewarded to be able to give back to the community. One told her: ‘Hard work leads to positive results.’

“Lawrence teaches ServSafe to inmates working in the kitchen, a certification in food safety necessary for many jobs in the food industry. Coppinger said working on the farm provides another skill they could use to find a job when they are released.

“ ‘From the minute you arrive at intake in Middleton, to when you are about to be released at the pre-release center is trying to get them in better shape to get out of here and not come back,’ he said.

‘I always like to say, “Thanks for coming, but don’t come back.” ‘

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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After work yesterday, I went with a colleague to observe a parent-engagement program organized by Lawrence Community Works (LCW) at the Oliver Partnership School, in Lawrence, Mass. I had long been interested in LCW’s use of circles to build a sense of community among strangers of very different backgrounds.

Lawrence is what is sometimes called a Gateway City, meaning it’s always been a gateway to the U.S. culture and experience for new waves of immigrants. It currently has a large Spanish-speaking Dominican population and foreign-born and native-born residents from all over.

The parent night was the third in a series. In the first two, facilitators had helped the participants to come up with agreed-upon ground rules (come on time, no cellphones, respectful attention to one another) and to choose an “obstacle” that they would like to address related to their children’s life at the school. They had selected recess, which is only 10 minutes. (Lunch is 15 minutes.)

Everything was conducted in both Spanish and English.

As the evening was getting going, Tony told me his children love school. He believes a good education is vital. He wishes he had more. He did learn Spanish and English in addition to his native Portuguese. The languages help him in his job working with troubled youth, a job he loves to go to every day.

In a warm-up exercise, we stood in a circle and stated our name, followed by our favorite fruit and the name and favorite fruit of everyone who spoke previously. It was fun and a great equalizing experience as anyone can be good at that and anyone can struggle with it. The people who went last had about 20 names and fruits to report and did really well despite language differences.

To discuss the recess issue, we separated into two groups — those who felt comfortable speaking English (which included the two teachers in attendance) and those who felt comfortable speaking Spanish. At the end we came together with the results of our investigation of three questions: why having a longer recess is important, why it might have been set up that way, and what parents themselves could do about it. (Asking the administration’s help was to wait for a joint meeting in June.)

I won’t make this post much longer, but I do want to say that I thought the way this was handled was very good. Parents appeared to feel that their opinions were welcome and that they could accomplish something. Continued engagement with them will be important as the work is a piece of a much bigger project by LCW that aims to help parents get skills for jobs. Unemployment is a serious issue in a city where many of the people are poor, have not had good educational opportunities, and are still learning English.

Photo: Family literacy night at the Oliver Partnership School in Lawrence, Mass.

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