The Boston Foundation recognizes class of Boston Neighborhood Fellows at Annual Meeting

Long-running program awards $30,000 cash and technical support grants to local community leaders, who will play a key role in the Foundation’s Collaborate Boston competition

November 21, 2017

Boston – The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, recognized its newest class of Boston Neighborhood Fellows in a special tribute at the Foundation’s Annual Meeting Thursday night.

“Over 26 years, The Boston Neighborhood Fellows Program has recognized more than 150 grassroots leaders—people doing the hard, quiet, on-the-ground work that helps lift our communities and all of us,” said Orlando Watkins, Vice President for Program to a capacity crowd at the Edgerley Center for Civic Leadership. “Today the Boston Neighborhood Fellows Program recognizes a group of creative, visionary people who are helping to build our entire community from the bottom up.”

The new class was nominated by past fellows, civic leaders, and key partners selected earlier this year by the Foundation for a two-year program designed to recognize and empower some of those making change happen across Greater Boston, but often without fanfare or acclaim.

The program was created by an anonymous donor in partnership with The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) in 1990, and has been folded into the Boston Foundation’s Grassroots strategy, headed by Natanja Craig, who said, “Once again, this is a powerful group of people, from varied backgrounds, in a variety of roles, who have one remarkable thing in common – a commitment to make their community – our community – a better, safer, more equitable place.”

The Fellows receive a two-year grant, along with leadership and other training. They play an ambassador role too, and will help the Boston Foundation surface its next class of Fellows. The 2017 Fellows are integral in designing and leading our next round of Collaborate Boston, a $100,000 prize competition that encourages new forms of collaboration to solve key problems.

The Neighborhood Fellows helped select the theme for this year’s Collaborate Boston—intergenerational partnerships—and will play a critical role in publicizing the opportunity, evaluating applications and selecting the winning collaborations.

Details for Collaborate Boston can be found on the Boston Foundation website at The deadline for applications is December 14.

A class photo of the Boston Neighborhood Fellows 2017 is available upon request.

The Boston Neighborhood Fellows for 2017 are:

Susan Chinsen
Managing Director, Chinese Historical Society of New England

Susan Chinsen is a community connector who focuses on the Asian Pacific Islander American community—using arts and culture for community building. In 2013, she began serving as the Managing Director of the Chinese Historical Society of New England, based in Boston’s Chinatown. She established the annual Boston Asian American Film Festival in 2008, where she continues to serve as the Festival Director, uplifting diverse community stories and experiences. Additionally, building upon her community work and past experience at WGBH, she has been working with the Center for Asian American Media as an engagement consultant for the upcoming PBS documentary The Chinese Exclusion Act, She is on the board of directors at MASSCreative and South Cove Community Health Center, and is an ArtsEmerson Community Curator. She’s been recognized by YW Boston’s 150 Women of Influence, Get Konnected!’s GK100 and profiled in Tufts Magazine and Angry Asian Man's Angry Reader of the Week. She is an alum of Tufts University and the mother of a 1st and 2nd grader.

Mason Dunn
Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

Mason Dunn serves as Executive Director of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and co-chair of the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign. An educator and activist, Mason has worked around the country for 13 years on trans rights and advocacy. Mason is also an adjunct faculty member at UNH Manchester, teaching on LGBTQ media and perspectives, and serves on the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth. Prior to joining MTPC, Mason worked in New Hampshire, Oregon and California on trans rights and education. Mason is a member of the New Hampshire Bar Association, and a 2012 graduate of the Daniel Webster Honors Scholars Program at the University of New Hampshire, School of Law.

Benjamin Echevarria
Executive Director, The Welcome Project

Benjamin Echevarria is the Executive Director of The Welcome Project, an organization dedicated to building the collective power of immigrants to shape community decisions. A pastor and a longtime leader in the Latino community, Ben’s work in the social justice movement has led him to organizing and advocating for those whose voices are not being heard. Ben now leads fights for affordable housing, educational policies that are equitable, and leadership development. Ben is a member of the Massachusetts Latino Democratic Caucus.

Fabienne Eliacin
Environmental Services Coordinator, InterContinental Boston

Fabienne Eliacin is an active volunteer, serving as a board member and co-chair for the Sustainable Development Committee at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), as a board member for St. Stephen’s Church, and as Director of Communication for the volunteer group Boston Mothers Care—among her many efforts. As Environment Services Coordinator for the InterContinental Boston, Fabienne works to promote sustainability both inside the hotel and in partnerships with the community, educating employees on the impact of climate change and need for sustainable practices. For her work at DSNI and elsewhere, Fabienne was the recipient of the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award in 2017 and was recognized as a Parent Leader for Parochial Schools for CPLAN, the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, in 2017.

Bwanda Gerome
Founder/Executive Director, the Institute for Pan African Cultural Education Inc. (P.A.C.E.)

Bwanda Gerome has more than a decade of experience in community engagement, education, cultural diversity and youth advocacy. Born and raised in Roxbury, she attended Boston Public Schools and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston. At the age of 21, Bwanda co-founded Peers Reaching Out for a Positive Society (P.R.O.P.S.), providing cultural awareness and social change through arts in Boston. She is a founding educator of the Social Justice Academy, a former Boston Public School, where she developed the Social Justice through the Arts extended learning program. After receiving her master’s degree in education, Bwanda continued to pursue her interest in cultural education, traveling and working throughout Africa on literacy and education initiatives. This is where she formed a partnership to support the Kate Orphanage School for children without families in Kampala, Uganda. She lived and studied in Kingston, Jamaica, at the University of West Indies in addition to volunteering and working directly with teachers in Dominican Republic. She received the International Service Award from the Boston Advisory Council for International Education; the Community Works Recognition Award for People, Justice and Social Change; and Outstanding Community and Family Engagement Recognition Award for Social Integrity. In 2010 she founded the Institute for Pan African Cultural Education Inc., a nonprofit 501(c) (3) that teaches cultural education through literacy and arts, where she continues to serve as Executive Director. Bwanda is a doctoral student at American International College, pursuing her doctorate in education with a focus on individualized and institutional development.

Darrin Howell
Union Organizer/Youth Mentor 

Darrin Howell draws from his own experience as a young man from an urban neighborhood—and the discrimination he faced finding and keeping work because of a CORI record—in his work as a mentor for at-risk youth, helping steer them away from crime and toward positive activities. He has become an expert on violence prevention, leading a number of initiatives to reduce crime and recidivism, including serving as the lead author on a report examining homicides throughout the city, and spearheading programs to bring together victims and perpetrators of violence to create “ambassadors of peace.” As a union organizer with SEIU1199, he represents thousands of healthcare workers, and as one who knows the challenges facing children of incarcerated parents, he collects thousands of toys each holiday season for distribution.

Torli Krua
Founder, Universal Human Rights International

A pastor and human rights activist, Torli Krua, a refugee of the Liberian Civil War, settled in Boston in 1990. He was instrumental in lobbying with members of Congress and policy makers to increase the quota of refugees from Africa being allowed into the United States. He has also worked tirelessly in the New England region and beyond to champion the rights of refugees and immigrants and participatory democracy in Africa. Torli founded the Universal Human Rights International (UHRI), worked with thousands of immigrants from 38 different countries over the span of 20 years. Sustainable global peace, UHRI equips and supports refugees to bring systemic change to their war-ravaged homelands once it is safe to return. Torli’s work has gained recognition from members of Congress, the cities of Boston and Baltimore, Md. He was honored by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the National Peace Corps Association, the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the African Cultural Association of Massachusetts. Torli is the Founding Director of Greater Boston Refugee Ministry and pastor of the Ziah Mission Baptist Church in Allston, Massachusetts. 

Manny Monteiro
Success Boston Coach, Freedom House

Manny Monteiro learned of the benefits of the Success Boston program first-hand, as a student at UMass Boston. He grew up in Roxbury, and found a home of sorts in Freedom House, which provides programs to help students develop the skills, strategies and support networks necessary to ensure they can graduate from high school, access higher education and graduate from college with the skills that enable them to participate and succeed in a global economy. Having been supported by a Success Boston coach as a student, Manny decided to return the favor as a Success Boston coach with Freedom House, a role he holds today—part of a program that has nearly doubled the number of Boston Public Schools graduating from higher education each year over the past decade.

Catherine T. Morris
Founder & Executive Director, Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest

With more than 15 years of special event production and civic engagement, Catherine T. Morris has decided to combine both of her passions to start Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest. This is a nonprofit organization that aims to break down racial and social barriers to arts, music and culture for underserved communities of color across Greater Boston. Since 2015, the organization has produced and curated a traveling live arts and music series called “The Prelude.” This program “edutains” and helps audiences of color experience the arts in underutilized spaces across local neighborhoods. As a result, the organization has presented 80+ local and independent musicians and artists, curated in 10+ local venues and has attracted 2,500+ attendees. It is Catherine’s hope that BAMS Fest becomes a pipeline to Boston’s arts and culture ecosystem in a manner that gives hope, changes individual and collective perception, and positively impacts the livelihoods of our creatives and future generations.

Ronald Odom, Sr.
The Steven P. Odom Training (S.P.O.T.) for Life Foundation

Ronald Odom, Sr. was born and raised in Boston and attended Boston Public Schools. He graduated from Dorchester High in 1976. Ronald worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service and recently retired after 35 years of dedicated service. Ronald pursued theological studies through Bethel Bible Institute and Boston Christian Academy. Ronald founded True Vine Church in 2006 in Dorchester and is a community organizer and spokesperson for the neighborhood organization, ROC (Redefining Our Community). The tragic death by gun violence of his beloved 13-year-old son, Steven, on October 4, 2007, brought Pastor Ron and his wife to the work of violence prevention and intervention. Pastor Ron and his family are in the process of launching the Steven P. Odom Training (S.P.O.T.) for Life Foundation in 2018, on Steven’s birthday, January 26.

Bio information provided by Fellows and edited by the Boston Foundation for consistency.


About the Boston Foundation
The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the largest community foundations in the nation, with net assets of some $1 billion. In 2016, the Foundation and its donors made $100 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of more than $107 million. In celebration of its Centennial in 2015, the Boston Foundation launched the Campaign for Boston to strengthen the Permanent Fund for Boston, the principal endowment fund focused on the most pressing needs of Greater Boston. The Foundation is proud to be a partner in philanthropy, with more than 1,000 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, think tank and advocacy organization, commissioning research into the most critical issues of our time and helping to shape public policy designed to advance opportunity for everyone in Greater Boston. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a distinct operating unit of the Foundation, designs and implements customized philanthropic strategies for families, foundations and corporations around the globe. For more information about the Boston Foundation and TPI, visit or call 617-338-1700.