For a few hours last Wednesday night, the City Hall Council Chambers was transformed into a social hall of sorts for a meeting held by the Revere Office of New Residents.
Prior to 6 p.m., people streaming into the chamber were encouraged to mingle freely with one another and, after going to the left back wall of the room, place stickers indicating their birthplace and favorite destinations on a large world map.
Through it all, syncopated dance music—samba, reggae, and other styles of music commonly known on the market as world beat—boomed from a CD player.
The signs placed along the chamber’s rear wall captured the mood of the meeting and the Office of New Residents in general: “Open”, “Welcoming”.
“You are part of something that is the most exciting thing that has happened in Revere,” New Residents Coordinator Laurie Holmes said to those attending.
Since its inception only a few months ago, the Office of New Residents, presently an all-volunteer organization, continues to reach out to Revere’s growing immigrant community.
With a working committee of about nine people, the office has expanded to include over thirty volunteers. “It keeps growing,” Holmes said in a separate telephone call. “It is still expanding and is always open.”
Mayor Rizzo, who campaigned on the issue, said that the office “gives us a chance to strengthen our neighborhood.” The mayor also stated that the city is currently seeking grant money to fund the office.
Wednesday night’s meeting, which was also part potluck dinner, provided an opportunity for those attending to share their ideas on how the new office and, indeed, city government in general, can assist them.
Sitting at four round tables at the chamber’s front, residents were asked to discuss their ideas and write them down on large sheets of white paper using colored markers. Prompts for the exercise included “What information would help new residents feel welcome?”, “What indoor/outdoor activities promote an open and welcoming city?”, and “What help can volunteers provide newcomers at a city hall Office of New Residents?”.
After fifteen minutes or so, people were asked to shuffle to another table so that, by meeting’s end, all had a chance to pen and share their ideas to the proposed questions.
Some of the results generated from the exercise included the need for more ESL classes, an information center, neighborhood gathering spots, access to girls’ sports, a multi-cultural festival, and even a swimming pool.
Other residents asked for donations of books for the Revere Public Library’s summer reading program, as there is presently a lack of multiple copies of popular titles. Due to high demand, the library currently allows one book per day for the program. And some books are outdated or damaged.
Translation services remain a high priority for many in the immigrant community, and the Office of New Residents provides a helping hand. One table at the meeting contained paperwork and voting information in multiple languages, including Spanish, Italian, and Arabic.
The committee is also planning to hold a multi-cultural festival sometime this summer, Holmes noted. She went on to say that, in the future, the Office of New Residents may be able to hold classes in citizenship and on how to start your own business.
“This is a great opportunity for the city,” Grants Manager Cate Blackford said of the event. “Community capital—that’s what this is all about: polling the community on what they need, then getting the information back to them,” she said.
All attendees, including leaders in the new office, had a chance to share a little of their background and hometown pride. “I love Revere; this is my favorite place,” one resident said.
State Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who boasted in a previous meeting that she is a “proud townie,” told the attendees that “I tell people at the State House that Revere is the center of the universe.”
“I’m very interested in what happens in my home town,” said Bob Upton, First Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce. “I think it’s great for Revere and I look forward to learning more.”
And after joking that he was probably the oldest, longest-living Revere resident at the meeting, Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky said: “There’s so much going on, not just in Ward 2, but in the whole city.”
And as the city continues to evolve, the Office of New Residents hopes to play a key role. “We’re about getting involved [so that] every city department can get what they need to make an open, welcoming environment,” Holmes said.
Those interested in volunteering with the Office of New Residents or who want more information can contact Laurie Holmes at 617-291-5855 or e-mail LEHolmes@gmail.com.