Salem’s Root celebrates three years of helping at-risk youth

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Peter Endicott, the owner of Salem’s Cheese Shop and Root graduate Henrique Corminas prepare the hors d’oeuvre that they created especially for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. [All photos by Alyse Gause Photography

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last Wednesday evening, over 200 people filled Root’s elegant HarborPoint event space overlooking the harbor at Shetland Park, enjoying fine food, stylish table settings and festive lights. The well-heeled patrons were not gathered for just another holiday party. Rather, they were attending a third birthday party fundraiser for Root, a non-profit culinary-based training program for at-risk youth. They also celebrated honoree Deborah Jeffers, Root advisory council member and school nutrition director for Salem Public Schools, who received the 2018 Root Community Leadership Award.

 

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Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient, parent of Root graduate Leticia Carrasco, Root graduate Cassandra Bartolo of Beverly, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Root Executive Director M. Scott Knox were all speakers during the program at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration.

 

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll hosted the Third Annual Gala and presented the award to Jeffers. “Who doesn’t like an organization that helps kids?” Mayor Driscoll asked rhetorically as she kicked off the formal program.

 

The Mayor spoke of Salem’s relationship with Jeffers, who eleven years ago proposed a food program in the public schools to provide fresh, wholesome, scratched-cooked meals with locally sourced ingredients. Today, this initiative has gained national attention and provides more than 900,000 nourishing meals a year. Every Salem school student gets free breakfast and lunch, regardless of need.

 

 

Jeffers also connected early on with Root founder and chairman of the board Jennifer Eddy to offer advice about setting a program that could both serve Salem Public School kids and be successful. “She is an exceptional partner and it is a pleasure to honor her,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Jeffers spoke briefly about the importance of food growing, preparation and sharing as a community to help lift us all up. “I don’t usually speak in front of a group. I’m more of a back room kind of person,” she admitted.

 

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Table of hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration includes Root’s own pickled vegetables and “Oat-eez” along with other catering items that are sold at the Root Café in Shetland Park. [Photo by Alyse Gause Photography]

Root is a social enterprise that focuses on the food industry as a training tool for at-risk youth ages 16 to 24 who have significant barriers to employment. Through a rigorous 12-week, 200-hour, work-force training program, students (called Program Partners) learn career and life skills through hands-on experience. “Root is the on ramp for youth in Essex County with an obstacle to success,” said M. Scott Knox, Root executive director.

 

Proceeds from the event will help support Root’s Essex County job skills training program.

 

It all started when Eddy had an idea she wanted to pursue to give at risk youth an opportunity to build a better life and break the cycle of poverty. She had visited and was impressed with D.C. Central in Washington, D.C. and Liberties Kitchen in New Orleans, two successful programs that use the culinary arts to train motivated young adults to access employment and education, and develop their skills as leaders and mentors.

 

When she returned, she put together a group of people, including her friend Elisabeth Massey, who serves on the Root board as community volunteer. They used the same structure and training program model Eddy encountered in D.C. and New Orleans. “She took the best of those two organizations and tailored it to our needs in Salem,” Massey said.

 

The result is Root, which operates a training program as well as several lines of food service-based businesses out of its Shetland Park facilities. These provide a training environment for the students and also generate revenue to support the mission. They include: The Root Café, which offers breakfast and lunch items; Catering By Root, and HarborPoint at Root, a new 2,200 square foot special event site. “Kids in the program learn by working in a real business,” Massey said.

 

Training is an intensive curriculum that runs Monday-Friday with four-hour morning and afternoon shifts. Program Partners attend life skills workshops, one-on-one career readiness coaching, and culinary training in Root’s on-site full catering kitchen. Root graduates are equipped with industry-certified credentials and direct skills that give them a sense of accomplishment and an advantage in seeking employment. “They leave Root with the skills not just to get a job, but to keep a job,” said Knox.

 

Referrals to the program come through the school system, the Department of Children & Families, social workers and word-of-mouth. Candidates who demonstrate a “barrier to success”, such as socio-economic level, housing status, or learning disability, go through an application and interview process. The average age is between 18 and 19 and Root just graduated its fifth cohort, marking almost 100 graduates in three years. “We really try to do whatever we can to be successful,” Massey said.

 

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Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Root graduate Arianna Couturier from Salem, Root Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Jayla Bryant from Salem, Root graduate Nevada Winter from Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient gather at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. 

 

Recent graduates Nicky LeBron and Cassandra Bartholow praised the program. “For the first time, I felt like I was able to accomplish something for myself. I learned to be more proactive. I learned what I’m good at is working with people,” said Bartholow, whose mother works in Shetland Park and heard about Root.

 

LeBron is a 2018 Salem High School alum. On the last day of school, his class took a field trip to Root, and he knew immediately Root was for him. “What I loved about Root is — everything!” he exclaimed. “My mentors also felt like my friends. I could go to them about anything, not just cooking.”

 

 

Root is located in Shetland Park, 35 Congress Street, Building 2, Third Floor. For more information or to volunteer or make a donation, visit rootns.org or call 978-616-7615.

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SalemRecycles celebrates a decade of making Salem greener

 

Salem Recycles

SalemRecycles committee members received special commendations for the committee’s ten years of helping to make Salem one the North Shore’s greenest cities. Pictured from back row: Sharon Kishida, DEP; Rep. Tucker; Hannah, from Sen. Lovely’s office; Shelby Hypes (new member); Liz Vago; Penny Neal (Emeritus); Carol Hautau; Julie Rose; Susan Yochelson and Mayor Kim Driscoll. Front row: Jennifer Percy (Emeritus); Nancy Gilberg; Melynn Nuite; Erin Huggard and Lynn Murray. Current members missing from photo: Tony Keck, John Roberts and Beth Gillette. (Emeritus-members who have been active for over 5 years and who now choose to staff events, etc. and are not obligated to come to meetings.)

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

In 2008, Julie Rose had been at her job in the Salem City Engineering Department for about a year when Mayor Kim Driscoll decided that her department would manage the city’s recently negotiated trash contract, which included new recycling guidelines.

 

Rose realized the engineering department had a lot of work ahead of it to educate the community about the importance of recycling. “We didn’t have a lot of staff, but I had heard about volunteer recycling committees in other communities,” said Rose, currently Business Manager of the City of Salem Engineering Department. She wanted to start one in Salem.

 

She worked with Jason Silva, then Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, and Sharon Kashida, the Northeast District 2 Regional and Solid Waste Coordinator for the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. They looked at various recycling committees throughout the North Shore.

 

By talking to other communities, they learned they would need volunteers from various fields such as graphic design, communications, the law, and others. “We needed a committee with strong and diverse skill sets to help us pull off what we wanted to do,” Rose said.

 

Collaboratively, Rose, Silva and Kashida came up with the structure for Salem’s recycling committee. SalemRecycles would be a 12-member committee that is charged with developing ways to increase recycling throughout the city and promote other green efforts. Members’ backgrounds would include environmental studies, graphic and fine arts, business, law, public health, communications and education.

 

Mayor Driscoll appointed the inaugural SalemRecycles committee in 2008 and ten years later, Rose, the committee’s only paid employee, proudly points out that of the current 12 members, 3 have been involved since the beginning and 3 more have served for 8 years or more.

 

Last month, SalemRecycles celebrated its 10th birthday, and Mayor Driscoll presented its members with special commendations for a decade of work.

 

“The Salem Recycling Committee has been such a wonderful driver of positive change in our community. Their dedication and passion for sustainability has been instrumental in so many highly successful projects, events, and initiatives in Salem over the last decade, making our city more green and more livable for all. The volunteers who devote their time to the committee and its many efforts are committed to Salem and to our planet,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Since 2008, Salem has become a recycling leader on the North Shore, improving recycling rates by 3 times, holding 20 events per year and pioneering many initiatives. The recipient of many grants, awards and special recognition, SalemRecycles was the winner of the 2017 Mass Municipal Award for Innovation.

 

Kashida, as municipal recycling coordinator for 39 communities north and northwest of Boston — including Salem — is in a position to compare SalemRecycles to other communities she serves, and she gives Salem high marks. “I have been able to see how Salem Recycles has enabled the City to accomplish so much more. This is not your standard volunteer committee,” she said.

 

“Under Mayor Driscoll’s continued support and Julie Rose’s aegis, the committee is empowered to work with the City to help it achieve its waste reduction and recycling goals and be on the cutting edge,” she added.

 

Among the Salem programs Kashida cites are: trash limits; dual stream recycling education campaign with the former Newark industries; E-waste collections; book swaps; an annual textile drive; an annual swap and drop; a newsletter and blog, and the recently enacted plastic bag ban.

 

Two initiatives, the food waste collection pilot and the twice-yearly Repair Café, are firsts in her district. “SalemRecycles has served as a role model for other communities to replicate, so its impact goes beyond Salem,” Kashida said. “The SalemRecycles Facebook page is considered the “go-to” source for up-to-date vetted information.”

 

Seven or eight years ago, when she first joined SalemRecycles, Nancy Gilberg took on the primary administrative role for the Facebook page. She grew it from several hundred followers to about 1,850.

 

“I enjoy writing, editing, and building positive community. I create and promote the FB events, and draw from dozens of other recycling pages and everyday life experiences to create and share content,” she said. While the committee’s primary goal is to educate and to provide recycling and diversion opportunities, “we also want it to be fun and easy.”

 

Lynn Murray has been a member since the committee’s inception and served as its Chair for a year and a half. She remembers how its initial emphasis was to educate Salem residents about the then new recycling initiative. While education remains a prime focus, social media now makes the job easier and more far reaching.

 

SalemRecycles has a Trash and Recycling page on the City website (Salem.com/trashandrecycling), the GreenSalem website (GreenSalem.com), the SalemRecycles Facebook site, videos, an e-newsletter, occasional articles in local newspapers, appearances on SATV, door hangers, flyers and more.

 

The committee’s efforts to help residents think more broadly about recycling efforts make Murray especially proud. A twice yearly book swap (attended by up to 850 people at each event), an annual Textile Drive (where 7 tons of textiles were collected last November), and the Spring Swap and Drop are examples of recycling’s reach beyond just curbside collection.

 

Murray has loved her decade serving on SalemRecycles. “The committee is made up of volunteers who represent nearly all wards of the City, are passionate about what they do, yet have a lot of fun carrying out the various initiatives. Because the volunteers are from all over the City, we serve as emissaries to neighborhood groups encouraging participation in events and answering questions,” she said.

 

Murray credits the Mayor and Rose for the committee members’ commitment and longevity. “The Mayor has given us a lot of latitude, which has allowed for the expression of creativity and the development of initiatives beyond the scope of the City-mandated recycling programs,” she explained.

 

Rose’s management style and leadership have also been crucial to SalemRecycles’ success. “She delegates work effectively, empowers committee members to come up with new initiatives and always gives credit to and focuses on the accomplishments of committee members,” Murray added.

 

Past chair and current committee member Anthony Keck is no less passionate about SalemRecycles and its mission. He pointed out how Salem’s status as a tourist destination is a mixed blessing. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the city each year. They bring tourist dollars with them, and they also bring and create trash from their single use items,” he said. SalemRecycles is attacking this problem on several fronts.

 

Visible recycling bins are now placed throughout the City. SalemRecycles became involved with charitable walk and run sponsors and found ways to reduce trash and to recycle, “saving the City by reducing trash tonnage.” The committee introduced cigarette butt recycling bins and placed them around the city.

 

“Feedback from visitors has been encouraging and many have commented with gratitude for encouraging and providing recycling collection to them,” Keck said.

 

He considers launching the Repair Café, which teaches how items can be repaired and reused rather instead of being tossed in the trash and replaced, one of SalemRecycle’s most significant initiatives.

 

“Raising the consciousness of all residents and stakeholders to the importance of reducing trash continues to influence how people purchase products,” Keck said. “Everyone can find ways to reduce, repurpose, reuse, repair and lastly recycle.”

 

SalemRecycles holds regular meetings, open to the public, the first Tuesday of the month on the 1st floor of 90 Washington Street at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit salem.com/recycling-and-trash, greensalem.com or Salem Ma Recycles on Facebook.

 

 

Salem ‘Bring Your Own Bag’ ordinance rings in the New Year

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Shelley A. Sackett

On Jan. 1, Salem residents will have more to remember than just writing the correct year on the checks they write that week. They will also have to remember to bring their own bags with them to the grocery store, or be prepared to buy one.

That is because single-use plastic checkout bags — those provided at the point of sale by retail and food establishments — will no longer be legal in any Salem business after Jan. 1, when a “Bring Your Own Bag” ordinance goes into effect. The new initiative promotes the use of reusable bags in all forms, such as paper, heavy plastic, canvas, and net mesh.

Plastic bags of four millimeters thickness or less create problems for the city and for the environment, clogging storm drains, getting caught in trees, and finding their way into waterways, according to a Dec. 20 press release form Mayor Kimberley Driscoll’s office.

A group of Salem High School students working with Salem Sound Coastwatch spearheaded the initiative, and the Salem City Council passed the plastic bag ordinance in the Fall 2016 with a Jan. 1, 2018 start date. Salem will join 60 other towns and cities in Massachusetts in restricting use of these bags. Boston recently announced approval of a similar ordinance to go into effect in 2019, the press release reads.

The city has collaborated with many local organizations to educate the public and reach out to the business community. Salem Main Street, the Salem Farmers Market and the Salem Chamber of Commerce distributed free recycle bags to shoppers. SalemRecycles started educational outreach in early 2017 to provide resources to Salem businesses and to help residents make the transition. They too distributed free reusable bags at their events around the community.

Impact on stores

Grocery stores expect to bear the biggest impact of the new rules. “People have gotten used to taking a plastic bag even if they really don’t need it,” Salem Sound Coastwatch outreach coordinator Susan Yochelson stated in the press release.

Dawn Stanley has been a clerk at Steve’s Quality Market on Margin Street for only two weeks, but she has heard plenty of comments about the new bag rules. “The elderly are mad because they’re going to have to remember to bring bags or buy them,” she said.

Patty Harkness, who has worked at Steve’s for 10 years, is more optimistic. “It’s good for the environment, and if they’re really smart, they can use the recyclables inside the big cloth bags so they don’t have to use a lot of water to wash out the big bags. So it’s a win-win situation,” said Harkness, who describes her position as “multi-tasker, everywhere and when needed.”

Less than one mile away, at Crosby’s Marketplace on Canal Street, Judy LeDuc agrees that the plastic bag ban will be an adjustment. “A lot of people walk here and are used to carrying their groceries home, two bags in each hand,” she said. The 30-year veteran Crosby’s cashier noted that some people use the bags to pick up after their dogs.

One Crosby’s customer is all in favor of the ordinance. “I think it’s a good thing and I think it will save time for the stores and help reduce the trash in the area from all the plastic bags,” said Salem resident Steve Hodge.

Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, believes the ordinance will help Salem businesses stay at the forefront of a larger consumer awareness initiative.

“It will also give the smaller downtown business a way to generate goodwill with consumers, using the conversation as an opportunity to show Salem as unique and customer friendly,” he said.

Oosthoek recently conducted an outreach initiative to the big box stores on Highland Avenue.

“Almost all of them will start using paper bags, and they already have recyclable/reusable bags for sale near the registers,” he said.

While most agree the new ordinance will take some getting used to for both employees and customers, he added: “It seems as if everyone agrees the time is right for this initiative.”

Penalties and enforcement

The ordinance specifically addresses what happens if a business violates the new rules. Sec. 14-503 Penalties and enforcement provides for a series of warnings, notices and fines for violations.

It states, “The warning notice issued for the first offense shall provide at least 14 days to correct the violation. No fine for the second offense shall be issued until at least 14 days after the warning is issued. This article may be enforced by any police officer, enforcement officer or agent of the board of health or licensing department.”

Police Capt. Conrad Prosniewski said the ordinance would be treated like any other ordinance the Salem Police Department has the responsibility for enforcing.

Driscoll said she feels Salem is in a great position as the new restriction goes into effect, after a year’s worth of public education and outreach to the business community.

“We’ve all seen stray plastic bags caught in tree branches or blowing down the street,” she said. “I’m hopeful this new change will bring about a noticeable improvement in Salem, while also taking another step forward in keeping Salem a sustainable and attractive community in which to live and do business.”

Israeli Innovations Energize Mayor Driscoll

 

 

 

Israel had long been on Mayor Kim Driscoll’s bucket list. So when she was invited to participate in the American Israel Education Foundation’s (AIEF) educational seminar to Israel for members of Congress and other politically influential people last February, she jumped at the chance.

 

“We think Salem, which is almost 400 years old, has an embarrassment of riches, from the birthplace of the National Guard to the Witch Trials to the great age of sail. We’re a babe in the woods compared to what’s over there,” she said.

 

Although she is a practicing Catholic, she was more drawn into the history of the sites she visited than the bible stories. “I really value the role history plays in the character of a place. The commitment to never lose sight of that, whether it’s good history or history that’s more tragic, like the Witch Trials — that’s definitely moving,” she said.

Western Wall

At the Kotel (Western Wall)

At the Kotel, or The Western Wall (an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem), she also felt the weight of the region’s history and the thousands of years during which there have been sometimes violent disagreements. She came away with an even stronger commitment towards peace. “It is so complicated and so hard to achieve, yet so necessary,” she said.

 

She was also on the look out for Israeli ideas she could bring back to Salem, and she found more than she expected. “I was struck by the drive for ingenuity and innovation in Israel,” she said more than once during the hour-long conversation.

 

In particular, she marveled at Israel’s ability to recycle 80 percent of its water in a sustainable, thoughtful way. “It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Water scarcity is a big issue in the Middle East. They don’t have a choice,” she said.

 

Israeli engineering firms that have developed ways of monitoring water leaks to help with water loss also caught her attention. “When you think about a water system as old as ours, well theirs is a thousand times older. I think there could be some shared alignment,” she said.

Granot Desalination Plant visit

At the Granot Desalination Plant

 

Urban agriculture, also tied to water, is another area of potential transferability. “I think we’re all going to need to think about that as more folks move into cities. There’s already a farm-to-table sustainability food industry here. I think there’s a lot we could learn,” she said.

 

She also sees potential applicability for Salem to adapt the way Israeli law enforcement communicates with residents. In Jerusalem, for example, a system of colored lights signal the current level of concern about potential attacks from Israel’s enemies. Although Salem doesn’t fear that kind of attack, Mayor Driscoll came away with ideas about how to expand the system already in place that flashes a blue light when there is a snow-parking ban.

 

“I’m talking more about if trash is delayed a day, or if there is other information we want to get out,” she said. “Right now we rely on phone calls or web sites. Their simple lighting system communicated a universal message to a city where people were from many different backgrounds and spoke many different languages. It was very clear to everyone what was going on.”

 

According to 2015 Census Bureau information, 23.3 percent of Salem citizens speak a language other than English. That is higher than the national average of 21%.

 

The February itinerary included briefings at the Gaza Strip and Lebanese and Syrian borders, and visits to the Granot desalination plant and the Knesset as well as to top tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Capernaum.

 

Group photo at Visit to Sea of Galilee- Mt. of Beatitudes

Group photo at Mt. of Beatitudes- Sea of Gallilee

 

“I really felt like I was on a journey to better understand history and also how people interact in a time when there is trauma, stress and threats all around them. There is a real perseverance in Israel that you can see everyday,” she said in an interview soon after her return.

 

“We had immense opportunities to speak with everyone we met. We were told, ‘There is nothing you can’t ask. There is nothing out of bounds.’ That was very worthwhile,” she said.

 

The group was diverse, with members of state government, many of whom had been active in political campaigns and within different policymaking levels of government. “The discussions were really hearty. I appreciated being in a discussion with folks who had different lenses. I brought a lot of the local flavor, I would say,” she said.

 

What most impressed her, however, were two qualities she circled back to again and again: political consensus building and the perseverance of a people at perpetual risk.

 

“Israel has 26 different parties. It is very much a parliamentary form of government with lots of coalition building. Yet they can adopt a uniform policy that covers the whole country and it can have meaningful impact,” she said.

 

Although consensus building is harder in Israel than in the U.S., its power and effectiveness is greater. At the Knesset (Israel’s legislative body), she witnessed lots of party members expressing lots of opinions. “Yet I was struck by their ability to move something forward,” she said in reference to Israel’s policies of universal health insurance and national water conservation policy.

 

She contrasted that to the situation in the U.S. with our city, county, state and federal levels of government. “We get almost nothing done with two parties, yet with six parties influencing policies and legislation, they manage to get consensus,” she said, shaking her head.

 

On a more personal note, Mayor Driscoll described her visit to a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip where she met families who live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, yet would never consider living anywhere else.

 

“Seeing the bomb shelters, seeing the Egyptian border, and hearing first hand from individuals who lived there was very moving for me. The situation was normalized for them. It was normalized for their kids. If you heard the alarm, you had 19 seconds to get into a bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The impact that governmental actions can have on families’ everyday lives “hit me in the face. A peace process can be mind-boggling, trying to figure out who’s responsible for what and the role we Americans play in it. But the difficulties and complexities involved in that discussion didn’t matter to the kids sitting at the bus stop next to the bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The geography and diversity of the Israeli landscape, “mountains to coastline and everything in between” surprised Mayor Driscoll. So did the fact that she never felt unsafe for one minute. “I would encourage anyone who is remotely worried about safety to just go,” she said, pointing out that many Israelis she spoke to said they wouldn’t feel safe traveling to the U.S. with news reports of gun violence and school shootings. “We put into perspective the awful things that have happened here, normalizing them. We still haven’t passed gun control,” she added.

 

The AIEF trip was not all work and no play, and Mayor Driscoll thoroughly enjoyed getting better acquainted with Israel’s “awesome” food. “Shakshouka!” she exclaimed with a broad smile. “My new favorite, and they have it at Adea’s on Sunday right here in Salem!”

 

“I guess I had never thought of Middle Eastern food as the culmination of different places. It’s a little Syrian, a little Israeli, a little of everything. We were served small plates…but they just kept on coming,” she said with a laugh, adding, “we tried to walk as much as we ate.”

 

She was also surprised by the visit to a winery in the Golan Heights. “Who thought I’d be in a terrific winery in the Golan Heights? When I think Golan Heights, I think of ‘Duck for cover!’’ she said.

 

If invited back to Israel for a follow up trip, Mayor Driscoll would suggest the itinerary include digging deeper into Israel’s schooling and education. The February tour incorporated brief visits to schools that are trying to bridge Muslim and Arab and Jewish differences by bringing students and their families together in ways she found “smart and thoughtful”.

 

“We saw kids from different backgrounds being educated together and celebrating all holidays. This is sometimes under really difficult circumstances in neighborhoods where there may be a history of trauma or tragedy that exists between those with long-held beliefs or differences of opinion.

 

If they can figure that out, that younger generation might be the real key to achieving peace in the Middle East,” she said.

 

AIEF is the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, and was created in 1990. For more information visit aiefdn.org.