Chelsea 2021 on the Road

On-the-ground knowledge will drive effective change

November 11, 2021

By: Vetto Casado, Assistant Director, Programs/Social Justice Ecology, and Tim Smith, Senior Director, Philanthropy

Gladys Vega inside Chelsea Collaborative headquarters, speaking and standing.
Gladys Vega of La Colaborativa provides tour  members key insights on the organization's COVID-19 initiatives and food pantry services. 

On a fine October evening, a group of Chelsea community leaders and Boston Foundation donors and staff got together for a walking tour in Chelsea with site visits and presentations from three nonprofits. The participants are all part of a place-based initiative the Boston Foundation has been facilitating this year called Chelsea 2021. It is a unique donor and community journey focused on supporting the City of Chelsea and its residents as they work toward a just and equitable recovery from COVID-19 and related issues—with community voice and lived experience driving the work. Chelsea is the Greater Boston community most hard hit by the health and economic ills of our time. 
We visited three nonprofits working on issues from reducing food insecurity to advancing arts and culture. First stop: La Colaborativa's food pantry, an important initiative serving mostly Latinx residents of Chelsea and surrounding communities.

We then walked to the Apollinaire Theater, learning about how the local arts scene has been affected by COVID and the last year-plus of economic and social turmoil. Led by local leaders Danielle Jacques, Allison McCarthy and Armando Rivera, donors and community residents engaged in a lively discussion regarding the future of Chelsea’s vibrant arts and culture scene. The theater has become an emerging cultural focal point for the city’s youth, collaborating with other Chelsea nonprofits to create spaces of creative expression and community inclusion. 

Finally, we made our way to Phoenix Charter Academy to hear about its education innovation for Chelsea’s families through the pandemic. We were warmly greeted by Phoenix leaders Beth Anderson and Stella Dubish, as well as Phoenix Board Chair and Chelsea 2021 donor member John Connors, who shared their love of this community and commitment to provide access to quality education, postsecondary success, and opportunities for upward economic mobility to youth from all backgrounds.

Inside the Apollinaire Theater, Armando Rivera of Teatro Chelsea talks with donors and community members from the Chelsea 2021 intiative.

Throughout the visit, donors learned about issues through discussions around local experiences. Community members appreciated being seen and heard more genuinely than can happen in a grant RFP. While Boston Foundation staff have been helping guide this collaborative process among donors, staff, Chelsea residents and local leaders all year, the group has now zoomed in on three core issues to fund and support: jobs and entrepreneurship, housing, and food insecurity. 

Roberto Jimenez, Caroline Ellenbird, Beth Anderson, Stella Dubsih walking across a crosswalk in Chelsea.
Walking back from Phoenix Charter Academy at the golden hour are Chelsea residents Roberto Jimenez (rear) and Caroline Ellenbird as well as Phoenix Academy Executive Director Beth Anderson and Chelsea Head of School Stella Dubsih.

Over the coming month, Chelsea community members will be helping to lead groups of donors and residents through a decision-making process about grants to be made, along with how to share key insights about the initiative for others in our sector to consider. We are also partnering with City Manager Tom Ambrosino along the way, exploring how our resources can best be leveraged for long-term impact. 

To learn more about Chelsea 2021, contact Vetto Casado at the Boston Foundation.