Just a few years ago, Maverick Square was not a place people were eager to visit. Despite the steady presence of a blue line station and some businesses, it lacked vitality. At the heart of Maverick Square was a gaping hole: an old, worn parking lot where commuters, who would drive in from the suburbs, would leave their cars and take the subway downtown.
Today, Maverick Square has been transformed. A new, environmentally sustainable, four story, 49,000 square foot ambulatory care facility operated by our health center sits on that former empty lot. With the addition of a new MBTA station and the return of more businesses, along with a diverse group of young and older individuals, and all ages in between, you could even say that Maverick Square is hip and happening.
It is particularly important to reflect on Maverick’s re-birth this week, as we say farewell to our beloved, five term former mayor, Thomas M. Menino. It was Mayor Menino who frequently visited East Boston and who had a vision for a better neighborhood, one that began with the return of parks on former Massport land and that culminated with the completion of two things that brought him immense pride: a new library branch for East Boston and a revived Maverick Square.
He proudly tossed the first spade of earth at the groundbreaking of 20 Maverick Square in 2010. And then he came back again in February of last year to tour the building and cut a symbolic “ribbon,” a ten-foot veggie submarine sandwich that marked the opening of a café operated by Meridian Market in the lobby of our new building.
The success we have had of late in East Boston is but one of many success stories. All across our city, neighborhoods that had seen loss of residents, erosion of civic life, and shuttered businesses, are seeing re-emergence and in some cases renaissance.
Codman Square, Uphams Corner, Dudley Square, East Boston, the list goes on. The Mayor made these neighborhoods a priority. He visited often and took a personal interest in their restoration. He understood that these neighborhoods needed investment, jobs, public resources, and yes, the presence of strong, growing health centers to recover from years of disinvestment and decline.
The Mayor took a strong interest in East Boston Neighborhood Health Center because he knew that most children and adults living in East Boston get their care at our Center. He understood that health centers were vital to these neighborhoods and could play an important role in reviving them.
Mayor Menino’s mark, as it pertains to East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, goes beyond Maverick Square, however. He championed farmers markets, which are an essential tool in our battle against child obesity. He understood that giving kids a chance meant making sure they have access to more fruits and vegetables and less of the processed food and its empty calories.
He understood that reading and literacy were critical tools for Boston’s school children and led the way for ReadBoston’s Storymobile to roll into Airport Stadium Park in the summer time, encouraging children to read books.
At East Boston Neighborhood Health Center we are indeed fortunate to have a mayor that believed in and supported our mission for 20 years. The health center movement has surged as of late, in part due to the new demand for primary care as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Boston has led the way for this health center resurgence. Our health centers are considered national models and our health center leaders are regularly singled out for their efforts by our national association.
There is simply no doubt that Mayor Menino was key to the success of the city’s health centers. Our staff and our patients owe him a debt of gratitude for all that he did, we greatly mourn his passing, and we keep his beloved Angela and the rest of his family in our thoughts.
Manny Lopes is CEO of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.