Texting not allowed — senior and fourth grade pen pals keep alive the old fashioned tradition of writing letters

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

Hadley fourth grader Paul Calsimitto and his senior pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

To the casual observer, last Wednesday looked like just another noontime at the Swampscott Senior. The lunch tables were set, the bingo spinning wheel was in place, and the alluring aroma of pizza wafted from the kitchen.

 

But at 12 o’clock sharp, the Senior Center van pulled up to the front door with a surprise. When its doors opened, out poured a throng of excited and agile Hadley fourth grade students, ready to meet their senior pen pals for the first time.

 

Since last October, Julie O’Brien’s class has corresponded with volunteer seniors from Swampscott the old fashioned way: by writing letters. “This experience was wonderful. I wish the seniors had a chance to see the look on the kids’ faces when they opened their letters. It was amazing to see the joy as they discovered new things about their new friends,” O’Brien said.

 

The intergenerational program was started 6 years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young children. Gina Bush, whose son William is in O’Brien’s class, chaired the program this year.

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

“The best part is the connection the seniors made with the class,” she said as she looked around the dining room. “It’s fun to see how well some of them are getting along and to see them meet face-to-face for the first time.”

 

The exercise is not just for fun, however; there is also a pedagogic and life skills component. The students learned to write a formal letter, how to address an envelope and how to share personal information with someone they had never met.

 

When the class received mail from the senior center, all the students would open their letters and read them at their desks. Then they would all meet “on the rug” to share something new they had learned about their new friend, O’Brien said.

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

Some pen pals were uncannily well matched. Student Paul Calsimitto’s father is a fireman in Revere. His pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr. was a Swampscott fireman for over two decades, including a period as Fire Chief. “My dad was very surprised,” Calsimitto said. “He thought it was kind of funny.”

 

For Hyde, who has been part of the program since its first year and has kept in contact with several of his former pen pals, it’s not just about getting to know a fourth grader. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their parents, their brothers, sisters. It’s almost like I have another family,” he said.

 

First time pen pal Rick Pierro, who retired from his advertising agency, Designer’s Eye, has always wanted to be a big brother, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Although he has lots of nieces and nephews, he has no children and loved having a pen this year. “My only complaint is it takes too long between letters,” he said with a chuckle.

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

His pen pal, Noah Murphy, really liked learning about Pierro through their correspondence. What amazed him the most? “I was surprised he wants to be a champion chef and enter in the Julia Child competition,” Murphy said as Pierro grinned.

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders teamed up to play four rounds of bingo, bonding even more in lessons of frustration, good sportsmanship and gracious winning.

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

Norma Freedman, who chaired the program last year, was happy to just relax this year. She enjoyed her Italian ice with her pen pal, Talia Pagliaro, who was surprised to learn Freedman’s children attended Hadley and said she couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal. “Whenever she talked about something, she put a lot of thought into it,” Pagliaro said with a big smile.

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

Last but hardly least, each pen pal received a card and envelope. They addressed the envelope to themselves and exchanged them, with the intent of keeping the correspondence going over the summer. After all, as Caden Ross enthusiastically put it, “It’s fun!”

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Swampscott celebrates little known Harold King Forest on May 6

Troop 53 at Harold King Forest-1

Members of Troop 53 proudly pose beside the kiosk they built at the entrance to Harold A. King Forest. Pictured from left to right: Mr. Jessie Davis, Duncan’s Volunteer Eagle Rank Coach; Ethan Grant, Boy Scout; Mr. Charlie Page, (brother of Duncan); Duncan Page, Life Scout, working towards his Eagle Rank; Mr. Chuck Page, Scoutmaster and Harris Havlicek, Boy Scout.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

About a year ago, 16-year-old Eagle Scout candidate Duncan Page was thinking about what he might want to do for his Eagle project requirement. As the culmination of the Scout’s leadership training, Page knew the project has to demonstrate leadership while performing a project for the benefit of the scout’s community. He also knew he had to have all his Eagle Scout requirements completed before his 18th birthday.

 

Page went to the Swampscott Town Hall, and looked through a list of projects the town had requested. The Harold King Forest caught his eye.

 

“It was a green space and resource I didn’t even know our town had, so I went for a hike though the trail and I saw the potential and the amount of work it would take to have the trail reach it’s potential,” he said.

 

Duncan Page and kiosk

Duncan Page with the Harold A. King Forest kiosk that was part of his Eagle Scout project.

 

Wedged in the northern-most corner of Swampscott, between Lynn on one side and the quarry on the other, the forest is about the size of Tedesco Country Club.

 

Many years ago, boy scouts marked the trail, but it was only rarely used and is not currently maintained. It is also marked in only one direction. “There was no way of retracing your steps if you wanted to turn around and go back,” said Danielle Strauss, Swampscott Recreation Director.

 

Page went to see Strauss to ask if he could do his project at Harold King Forest. Part of his proposal was to mark the trail in the opposite direction, clean up the trail and build a kiosk at the end of Nichols Street, where the forest’s entrance lies. “There wasn’t even a sign that said Harold King Forest,” Strauss said.

 

Little known even by families that have called Swampscott home for several generations, Harold King Forest (also known as the Oscar Short Conservation Land) is 47 acres of wild and rugged forested land that has been dedicated as public conservation land and is managed by the Conservation Commission. Primary access is down an uneven slope from a small, paved parking is at the end of Nichols Street. It serves as habitat for both birds and mammals. Passive outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, on-leash dog walking, and wildlife observation is permitted, along with educational and nature study.

 

Strauss was delighted when Page approached her. “Harold King Forest has always been on our radar, ever since we did the Open Space and Recreation Master Plan [in 1983],” she said, adding, “Most of the people who live in Swampscott don’t even know it exists.”

 

Once he got the Town’s approval and the Recreation Department’s sponsorship, Page set to work. He solicited friends, family, scouts and other interested organizations. To demonstrate the leadership component of project, he organized teams and made sure they had the materials and direction they needed, and organized their scheduled breaks.

 

“As you can imagine, there’s no rehearsal, so there were a lot of questions,” said Troop 53 Committee Member Paul Rizk, a “scouter,” or registered adult scout. Over two full weekends, he and other adults and scouts worked directly on the project. Non-adults cleared the one marked trail with hand tools and marked trees with standardized markings. Adults operated power tools when necessary.

 

Once the trail was cleared and the kiosk was up, Strauss knew she wanted to create some kind of event with the Boy Scouts that would shine a light on the forest. “We wanted to raise awareness of this community asset. Part of living in Swampscott for a lot of people is about getting out and doing things,” she said.

 

“Celebrating the Harold King Forest” will take place on Sunday, May 6 from 1 to 3p.m.. The Boy Scouts from Troop 53 will give guided tours and answer questions. The Health Department will give out information about ticks and Strauss will provide information about invasive insect species.

 

“The event is strictly about information and the environment,” Strauss said. She also enlisted the Conservation Commission, which will hand out information about their new “Friends of Conservation” group, and Colleen Hitchcock and her Girl Scout will acquaint attendees with the iNaturalist app and the Swampscott Biodiversity Project.

 

Page, who was elected Troop 53 Senior Patrol Leader by his fellow scouts, has received positive feedback on the quality of the trail and the kiosk. His biggest hope for the May 6 event is just that people realize the Harold King Forest trail exists. “It is a hidden gem our town has that very few people know about,” he said.

 

Strauss agrees. “Everyone knows Swampscott has beaches, but not many people know that on the other side of town, we also have a forest,” she said.

Millennial Jews finding ways to connect on the North Shore

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Alex Powell and Toby Jacobson discuss the Six13 North program. Photo by Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last November, a group of young Jewish professionals gathered at the home of Congregation Shirat Hayam Rabbi Michael Ragozin to brainstorm ways to engage their fellow North Shore millennials. Ranging in age from 22 to 45, few of them   had met before and most knew the rabbi only minimally.

Yet all shared the same longing to create a vibrant local community of Jewish friends. They quickly focused on their purpose: To maximize the number they would connect with over the next six months.

They decided to apply for a $2,500 Combined Jewish Philanthropies Young Adult Community Grant to start the group. Named Six13 North after the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, it defines itself as “an open community of young professional Jews and friends with the stated mission to design environments to create, grow, and deepen connections on the North Shore.”

Within two days, recent college graduates Alex Powell and Axi Berman delivered a draft business plan. The group collaboratively revised it and on Dec. 21, CJP awarded the grant and Six13 North was officially launched.

Its first event, Hometown & Homeland, will feature a tasting of local spirits and Israeli wines paired with light snacks at the Bit Bar in Salem at 8 p.m. on March 8.

“We wanted to create a fun, low-barrier social gathering for young, professional Jews and their friends,” Rabbi Ragozin said. 

Subsequent plans include a cooking class, a networking event, and an outdoor recreation get-together.

“Many millennials have the view that temple doesn’t have to be a weekly trip for them to have faith,” Powell said. “My hope is to create a social experience in which participants take the lead and decide what they want to get out of it.”

The Swampscott native attended Temple Israel and Shirat Hayam and grew up in a religious family where Shabbat dinners were frequent and family and friends always gathered to observe Jewish holidays. As a recent Franklin Pierce University graduate, he thinks traditional temple affiliations are more appealing to young families than to “a post-grad still strapped with student loans. There are other means to feel connected.” 

Elliot Adler-Gordon attended the inaugural Six13 North meeting with his wife, Jenna. “People choose to be involved with religion when they find it to be meaningful, and I think that the synagogue-oriented Judaism that many people have grown up with over the past 40 years can be difficult to relate to,” he said. “This is why there needs to be a focus on creating alternative opportunities.” 

Adler-Gordon grew up as an “involved Conservative Jew on Long Island,” attending Jewish day school through high school and Jewish summer camp. He was very active in Jewish life at the University of Pennsylvania and met his wife during a junior year abroad in Haifa.

A product marketing manager at GCP Applied Technologies in Cambridge, Adler-Gordon moved to the North Shore a few months ago from the Brookline/Brighton area after Jenna was hired as the second-grade teacher at Epstein Hillel School. They left behind a strong group of Jewish friends.

“We knew, moving to the North Shore, that there is not much of an involved Jewish young professionals community, so I was glad to hear Rabbi Ragozin was looking for a group to create such a community,” he said.

In addition to sponsoring large events, Adler-Gordon hopes Six13 North helps people meet friends who share interests such as hiking in the mountains or sharing Shabbat dinners. “I am optimistic there are people who live on the North Shore who are looking to be part of a Jewish community,” he said.

Rabbi Ragozin’s plans go far beyond that. By empowering organic leadership within the group, he hopes this self-organized leadership team will design experiences that “create such a buzz that there’s a natural flow of millennials from Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, and Jamaica Plain into the North Shore.

“I’m speaking with as many millennials as possible. They’re hungry for spirituality and meaning. They’re looking to their faith tradition – Judaism – but not finding models from their childhoods that excite them today. They want the spirituality of social connections, Shabbat dinners, service projects, etc. Their first point of exploration is within Judaism, but up to now, they haven’t found it within existing North Shore Jewish institutions.

“Six13 North flips the script. We say, ‘You are the institution. You make it happen.’” 

To buy tickets ($10) for the Hometown & Homeland event March 8, visit bit.ly/Six13North01.

Israelsohn and Noss to receive social action award

By Shelley A. Sackett

JANUARY 11, 2018 – BEVERLY – When Eve Israelsohn Noss was a child, her mother, Elaine Israelsohn, and a friend started the Ipswich League of Women Voters (LWV). The two women held planning meetings at each other’s homes, usually in the kitchen. Eve recalls sitting under the table, coloring and “listening to them talk about voter education and water resources.”

Elaine’s dedication to social issues and activism extended to the family supper table. “We encouraged our kids to participate and be knowledgeable of what was going on around them politically,” she said by email.

Her mother’s community involvement and growing up in Ipswich, where she and her brothers were the only Jewish kids in the entire school district, shaped Noss’ career choices and her commitment to social justice and interfaith community building issues. “Ipswich has always been ethnically and economically diverse,” Noss said.

When the educator and mediator returned to the area years later, she followed in her mother’s footsteps, joining the Beverly LWV, co-chairing two local studies on domestic violence and child abuse, and serving as its co-president.

Mother and daughter remain dedicated to tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly and throughout the North Shore and Essex County, their multi-generational commitment spanning half the temple’s history.

On January 12 at 7 p.m., the TBA Social Action Committee will acknowledge them at its Social Action Shabbat with the third annual Leah Shriro Social Action Honor, which pays tribute to members who represent the best of TBA through their community involvement.

“Eve and her mother represent two generations of compassionate, caring, engaged members who are also active in the larger community,” Rabbi Alison Adler wrote by email. “It became clear that honoring Eve and her mother, Elaine, had special significance on MLK weekend, as we remember all who were engaged in the Civil Rights Movement together across religious boundaries.”

The inclusive Shabbat service includes a speaker and reflections from Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and other sources that fit with themes of social justice and interfaith activism.

The social action award was created in 2016 in memory of Leah Shriro, a longtime temple volunteer and founder of the Social Action Committee who died in 2015 at the early age of 62. The award brings into focus and salutes the passionate dedication of members who have been working for social justice and creating caring community both within TBA and in the world at large.

In addition to her work with the local and state-level LWV, Israelsohn also served on the board of Bridging the Generations, a Beverly coalition that dealt with social issues and city-wide preventative programs, and represented TBA on the Beverly Interfaith Council.

She served on the temple’s board for many years, including as vice president, and created its historic archive collection. “Preserving the history of our community is so important and she has done so with great love,” Rabbi Adler said.

The seed for Noss’ work embracing interfaith marriage and community relationships was planted when she moved back to the North Shore in 1985 and started attending temple programs as a young interfaith family. “It became clear at High Holiday and regular services that in a Conservative congregation, the Jewish spouse was expected to convert the non-Jewish spouse to Judaism,” she said by email.

She met many other couples that were grappling with similar issues, including Leah Shriro, who became one of her closest friends. In response, she helped develop an interfaith family group for couples with and without children and parents whose young adult children were dating non-Jews. These families celebrated holidays together and discussed what it meant to raise children together. “Eve really helped change TBA into a more welcoming place for interfaith families,” Rabbi Adler said of the TBA past president.

Salem reinvests in Artists’ Row with its first Artist in Residence

By Shelley A. Sackett, Salem Gazette correspondent

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Last Thursday, Artists’ Row was a beehive of activity. Alexis Batakis, a UMass Amherst art major from Peabody, donned short overalls and wielded a drill as she hovered over a pile of wood in a corner that was destined to become a 24-foot community table, the latest example of Salem’s commitment to public art.

 

Kids and parents, teens and grandmas sat down together and created mosaics from buckets of natural and upcycled materials that ranged from mussel shells to pieces of fabric during the first of six weekly Public Art Salons.

 

The mosaics will eventually become the top a 24-foot long table that will remain in Artists’ Row and become a gathering place for conversation, creativity and community.

 

This Community Table is the latest brainchild of Salem’s first Artist in Residence, Claudia Paraschiv. She is a Salem architect and owner of Studioful – Architecture, Community Art and Neighborhood Design, and founder of Salem Public Space Project.

 

She was as busy as a bee, organizing volunteers, like her husband Michael Jaros, who teaches English at Salem State University, and was having a blast brandishing a hammer instead of a piece of chalk. “I love doing this. It is liberating and fun,” he said, obviously meaning it.

 

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The Community Table will be built over five weeks by “anyone who would like to contribute time, artistry, ideas, help, materials or conversations,” Paraschiv said. She likes to imagine people sitting at the table and finding their artistic contribution and sharing that memory with new friends.

 

Her mission, as Artist in Residence, is to transform Artists’ Row into a local destination rather than a transitional, walk-through space. She intends to accomplish that through a series of creative placemaking events, called Public Art Salons, that will take place every Thursday, July 13 through August 17, from 3-7pm.

 

Located at 24 Derby Street in historic downtown Salem across from Old Town Hall and Derby Square at 24 New Derby Street, Artists’ Row occupies land that originally functioned as the City’s market place. Today, the space has five buildings that range in size from 370 to 1,000 square feet. Four function as working and gallery space for artist tenants, and a fifth is a restaurant, the Lobster Shanty.

 

Salem Public Art Planner Deborah Greel, who manages Artists Row and refers to its stalls as “art incubators”, wants to take the Row to the next level.

 

“It’s a place of challenged space. It’s wide. People don’t know where it is or how to get there,” she said, adding it is seen more as a cut through than a destination.

 

“We want Artists’ Row to be a creative space, a place that people are curious to stop at and see what’s going on there.”

 

To that end, the Public Art Commission and Greel launched the Artist in Residence Pilot Program (AIRPP) as an ongoing public art initiative to benefit the community by cultivating Artists’ Row’s potential. “Knowing the skill level Claudia has in creative placemaking, we asked her for a proposal,” Greel said.

 

Paraschiv was the first Artist in Residence in Dorchester’s Four Corners and recently facilitated the 289 Derby Community Design placemaking events.

 

Coined in 2010, the term placemaking describes a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region by inspiring people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of their community. Typically, placemaking involves a series of collaborative, inclusive meetings among stakeholders, municipal and professional representatives, and facilitators.

 

After she was hired, Paraschiv’s first step was to meet with the Artists’ Row tenants over a six week period for listening sessions where she asked them their priorities and needs, and how the AIRPP could help. “The consensus was to transform the Row into a destination rather than a traditional, walk-through space,” she said.

 

To accomplish that, she developed the concept of a Community Table with each artist tenant contributing materials that will be applied to the table directly and through use in the mosaics.

 

The Community Table will be designed and built during a series of five creative placemaking events, named Public Art Salons. These are also opportunities for people to cultivate local talent and build productive and meaningful relationships.

 

The 24-foot long table will be constructed in six parts that people can separate to sit at and lunch separately, or combine together into one long communal table. “The table will also integrate small gardens and spread knowledge about native plants,” Paraschiv said, noting that one thought is to have a birdbath right in the middle of the table.

 

To facilitate the cross pollination of ideas, she has engaged three professionals to help her host the Salons: ecological landscape designer Annie Scott (thrivedesign.studio); artist Lexiee Batakis (@ayyyitslexayyy); face painter Alison Troy (@AlisonTroy) and reading nook architect David Rabkin (@WentworthArchitecture).

 

She envisions the Salons as engaging the entire space of Artists’ Row in ways that will evolve over time with community feedback, ideas and participation. Reading areas, gardens and other possible are under discussion.

 

In the meantime, Paraschiv is very much in the moment, and her enthusiasm for the Community Table she is shepherding into being is contagious. A passerby she engages in conversation happily joins the table to create her own mosaic contribution.

 

“When Claudia was doing all those different projects each week at 289 Derby, it was just wonderful to go down there and eat and play,” Greel said with a wide smile. “Building community is actually the most important piece of the placemaking process.”