By John Lynds
With Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) planning a $1.5 billion expansion over the next several years, they are required by the state to use a portion of their construction costs to help fund children’s health initiatives in and around Boston.
Last Thursday at the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library on Bremen Street, Children’s Hospital’s Executive Director of Community Health Dr. Shari Nethersole, MD held a community workshop and forum to get ideas of what the child health care needs are in the neighborhood.
“The name of this workshop is ‘Talk to Us” because we want to hear from you, the people who live in this neighborhood and get recommendations on how to spend this money in communities,” said Nethersole. “We expect through our new construction and expansion Children’s Hospital will generate $50 million to be spent in local communities. This is an unprecedented amount and we can think very big about ways to improve children’s health and children’s health outcomes in places like East Boston.”
Nethersole said the money could go to support community based initiatives in Eastie that are run by local non-profits and/or the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center.
“We want to begin to know how we at Children’s Hospital should be thinking when spending this money,” said Nethersole. “We want to focus on children’s health in the areas of mental health, physical health and also finding ways to address health disparities in the community.”
Nethersole said the $50 million cannot be used for BCH programs or internal needs, rather the money can only be used to support community organizations and policy initiatives that positively impact children and their families.
More than fifty residents turned out for the workshop, which included a good number of local youth from Eastie (as well as Charlestown), were split up into groups in order to answer questions and work on what makes a ‘healthy community’ for children.
Our group said that a healthy community has strong schools, support groups for parents, affordable infant childcare, youth centers, affordable and healthy housing, accessible healthy foods, strong school based health care, safe green space, has more information and collaboration between community organizations and residents.
The groups were then asked to create ‘Tree Branches’ that make up a healthy community. Each groups’ tree ranged from creating safe green space, feeling of safety and security, affordable housing, more programs for teens and kids, more community engagement, healthy foods, and strong schools.
The goals set forth by the group and submitted to BCH was that all East Boston residents receive timely information in all languages most pertinent to them about health issues and community issues. Residents also wanted more funds for advocacy groups that are currently fighting for affordable/fair housing, There was talk of funding for another middle school in the neighborhood. These goals were what many considered the ‘roots’ of a healthy community.
In the end, most groups at the workshop agreed that a health community starts with access to quality affordable housing, programs from adolescents, better living wage jobs, more out of school programs, increasing community engagement as well as increasing local businesses
Zumix Executive Director Madeleine Steczynski said at the end of the meeting that Zumix is starting a radio station in order to elevate the voices of youths in Eastie. The radio station is currently focusing on youth health issues.
BCH is planning on having four more community meetings throughout the city of Boston. They are currently looking for members of the advisory board who can commit up to five months to help in deciding where the funding should go.
If interested, you can get in touch with the community health department at BCH at http://www.childrenshospital.org/talktous.