Foundation Trust Spotlight: Chelsea Community Connections
The Foundation Trust Spotlight showcases our staff and partners and highlights the important work they are doing to advance resources and services in our programming areas of focus.
Chelsea, MA a Priority Community for the Foundation Trust
Chelsea was selected by the trustees of the Foundation Trust as one of our priority communities for 2020. While this selection was made prior to the pandemic, the choice proved significant as Chelsea was hit particularly hard by the health and economic impacts of COVID.
Chelsea is among the Massachusetts cities with the highest population density, and is home to many newly-arrived immigrants, undocumented families, and essential workers. Over 45 percent of Chelsea residents are foreign born, with more than 65 percent of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latinx, many of whom hail from El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Since many Chelsea families are newly arrived in the United States or may be undocumented or asylum-seeking, options for jobs, healthcare, and public assistance can be limited. Navigating a new country and new systems, often in a non-native language, can be daunting; that’s where organizations such as Chelsea Community Connections come in.
Chelsea Community Connections
Chelsea Community Connections (CCC) is a neighborhood-based, resident-driven coalition. Built upon the existing strengths of families and the community, CCC facilitates partnerships with supportive resources and services for the purposes of strengthening families, eliminating child abuse and neglect, and building a healthier community. What is unique about CCC is that anyone may receive services. “We are often the only program able to support this vulnerable population because we have no eligibility criteria. This population cannot access food stamps, cash benefits, food pantries that require documentation, or housing assistance,” said Cara Cogliano, Director of Chelsea Community Connections. Between 2019 and 2021, the office has supported more than 400 marginalized families.
The mission of the Chelsea Community Connections really resonated with the leadership of the Foundation Trust. Dr. Joseph Spinazzola, the Executive Director of the Foundation Trust, shared that “a century ago, my great-grandparents immigrated from Italy to Chelsea with their young children in tow. They arrived in this country with only the determination to work hard and forge a better life for their family. Today, it is my honor and privilege to support Chelsea Community Connections and the Family Nurturing Center in their vital work to ensure that new families arriving to the great city of Chelsea feel welcomed and get off to a bright start.”
Community and trust are key features of the organization, with many families learning about CCC through word of mouth referrals. The program relies on flyers in their storefront office windows, Facebook, and collaborating agencies to help get the word out to local families. As local trust in the program grows, the greater the impact CCC is able to have. The hope, Cogliano notes, is to “entice them to come back as they get more established to seek out more supportive services like mental health services, education and literacy programs, and workforce development opportunities.”
Basic Needs Support Project
Working with organizations like CCC who are addressing trauma and life adversity and who are elevating vulnerable communities continues to be central to the Foundation Trust’s mission. We have been pleased to support the critical work of CCC in reaching some of Chelsea’s most diverse and vulnerable families through the Basic Needs Support Project. While there are several food pantries serving Chelsea, other basic needs such as diapers, cleaning supplies, masks, or clothing can be expensive or difficult to obtain. CCC recognized this gap, and began distributing gift cards for household items to Chelsea families who were identified by staff as being in need of immediate basic necessities. The pandemic has increased the number of families needing the extra support.
The Foundation Trust grant to CCC will provide gift cards for 200 families in need, with half of the cards already distributed in just the first few months of the partnership. “Thanks to the Foundation Trust, Chelsea Community Connections will be able to continue to help families in Chelsea meet their needs during this difficult time,” said Cogliano. “It’s particularly exciting to be able to offer this additional support to undocumented families, who want to provide for their families and be self-sufficient. We are a small operation in the city helping one family at a time access what they need most. And our resources to help others relies on people like the Foundation Trust to think about small grassroots programs.”
“Household items can be overlooked when thinking about what people need to get by. By providing gift cards to places such as Market Basket and Dollar General, Chelsea Community Connections is giving the recipients more than just extra money. They provide dignity, choice, and independence,” commented Foundation Trust Manager Lauren Liecau.
A Difference in the Lives of Chelsea Families
Through Chelsea Community Connections, we were able to connect with some of the families who received gift cards. We asked about their backgrounds, how they learned about CCC, and what receiving the cards meant to their families. Since some of our recipients may be undocumented, names below have been changed to protect their privacy.
Maria shared that she has been in Chelsea for approximately six years, and that Chelsea Community Connections has played an important role in her life in the community. “I am Salvadoreña and a homemaker taking care of my three babies. I heard about Chelsea Community Connections because of my friend Stacy, because I am a member of the community. We walk on Wednesdays and she talks a lot about them. Thanks to God I have received so much help from them. I am very grateful because there is always help for my kids and we have clothes for them. I am also grateful that I have received a gift card to Market Basket now due to the pandemic. I was very happy because when I received it, I went straight back to Market Basket to use it, because it is not easy with three kids.”
Providing for family is a common thread among the recipients we spoke to. Luciana, a self-described Hispanic Salvadoreña, has lived in Chelsea for seven years, and is currently home after losing her job due to COVID. She first learned about Chelsea Community Connections when she was going to get food and was told about the program. “They have helped my family with diapers, wipes, and clothes,” she explained. The gift card she received recently was a welcome surprise. “I was happy to get the gift card,” she said. “I used it to but things for the family.”
CCC supports families at any point in their journeys. Alba, for example, is a newer Chelsea resident who is working for a cleaning company. “I came from Honduras,” she shared, “and when I passed by the [CCC] office, it was the first time I received help when I arrived in the country.” When asked how she reacted to the unexpected gift card, she said “well, I was very happy because it can be $20 or $25 for anything, and it helped me to buy things for my daughter. Anything helps.”
Cara Cogliano summarized the program, noting that “the ability to give monetary supplement to the concrete basic needs we supply enhances families’ connection to community and resources. The staff and volunteers at CCC are well aware of the trauma, adversity, and hardships this population faces in their community. Our intent is to engage our clients in services that are appropriate for their families.”
We at the Foundation Trust are proud to be a small part of the big difference that CCC is making in the lives of Chelsea residents. By leveraging the strengths of community and family, CCC has created a valuable support network for vulnerable families. We thank them for their commitment and perseverance!