By Barbara Taormina
For Cathy MacMullin, aka Cathy Mac, it seems like just yesterday that the ribbon was cut during the grand opening of the Malden Teen Enrichment Center (MTEC) on the corner of Salem Street. But that ribbon was snipped back on December 12, 2012, and last week MTEC celebrated its fifth anniversary with a crowd of members, supporters, friends and fans.
“It was a great,” said MacMullin, the MTEC coordinator who organized the party that included student performances on piano and guitar and some impressive footwork by the Malden High School Step Team. Special guests included MTEC Board of Directors President Marie Brown, Mayor Gary Christenson, state Rep. Paul Donato and Philimena Bracket, who received MTEC’s 2017 Unsung Hero award in honor of her generosity to the center and her support for its programs.
MacMullin said the MTEC story started with a group of concerned citizens and parents who wanted to create something for high school students in Malden. A series of special teen nights at the YMCA led to the launch of a teen center task force.
“We wanted to have a free, safe place for kids – with free being a very important word – because we have kids who don’t have the money for clubs and activities,” said MacMullin.
And with a goal like that, it didn’t take long to get the community on board and turn the idea of a teen center into a reality. Now, five years and 6,000 kids later, MacMullin is still providing support, opportunities and sometimes just some friendly conversation to as many teens as possible. Kids can relax, play ping-pong or video games or just gather together without raising any adult eyebrows.
“We are like a drop-in center in a lot of ways. When school is out, I get hit with about 85 kids coming through the door,” said MacMullin.
“The thing I am most proud of is that everyone accepts everyone,” said MacMullin. “There’s no making fun of someone who’s not like you.”
In addition to a warm, safe place, MTEC offers plenty of planned activities and structured programs. There are field trips, games and an afterschool tutoring program organized with Malden High.
“We’re also do-gooders,” said MacMullin, who arranges community service projects and always has plenty of volunteers. “We’re very involved with the Community Garden, and we helped Habitat for Humanity with a house in Dorchester,” said MacMullin, who hinted she might soon have more news about work on a house closer to home.
MacMullin said she gets a lot of kids who are on the tip of getting in trouble. But she lets them know what she expects when they are at the teen center, and they rise to the occasion.
MTEC has some great community partners, like Bread of Life, which drops off snacks every day and makes sure there’s a stash of groceries in the back for kids who want to take something home to their families. The Wynn Boston Harbor resort/casino has already generated some good will with support for the teen center, and MacMullin can’t say enough about Christenson, who has been behind the center since the start. “We have a mayor who really loves this place,” she said.
Anyone who knows teens knows working with them can be tough, and MacMullin admits there have been some difficult moments. But she and her small part-time staff seem to thrive on a challenge. “We never stop trying to reach the kid who doesn’t want to be reached,” she said. “We try to make a difference.”