At the East Boston Social Centers (EBSC) annual community awards event that was held last week at Suffolk Downs, longtime board chair Debra Cave knew something was up. Last year Cave told the board she’d be stepping down as board chair after two decades of service, so the board had a little something extra planned for the community awards event.
“It’s usually a very small intimate event and when I walked in I saw my friend Patty (Daly) who used to serve on the board,” said Cave. “When I saw her I knew something was up and sure enough they planned something special for me. It was so sweet that they did that and very touching.”
At the event the EBSC board and staff paid tribute to Cave for her decades of service. Cave originally joined the board in the mid 1980s and served as the board’s chair since the early 2000s.
Cave first got involved with the Social Centers when she was the Executive Director of City Roots, an alternative high school for Boston’s at-risk youth.
“It was in the early 1980s and John Kelly just came in as the new executive director of the Social Centers,” said Cave. “I was looking for a place to house the first City Roots High School in Boston. After I went to several different agencies John said he’d be happy to give us space at the Social Centers and that’s how City Roots started–it began on the second floor of the Social Centers.”
City Roots was anchored at the Social Centers for a few years and later moved to another Boston location as the program grew.
“When City Roots was moving John asked if I’d consider joining the board and I accepted,” said Cave. “At the time there was a lot of tension on the board as the Social Centers was reinventing itself as a child care agency and moving away from youth recreation and adult enrichment.”
After years on the board Cave decided to take a shot at serving as chair. Kelly felt she could calm the tension on the board and bring harmony to the group. The board unanimously vote to make Cave the chair.
Over the years, starting first as a board member and later as chair, Cave saw the transformation of the Social Centers into a formative childcare agency.
“It had to be done because the buildings needed repairs and there were other costs that youth recreation and adult enrichment wasn’t going to be able to fund,” said Cave. “At the time foundations giving out grants and federal dollars were going more towards Early Childhood Development and daycare and not youth sports or adult activities. John (Kelly) really helped EBSC change with the times and, with the help of the board, took us out of the red and into the black. He was a great Executive Director.”
While Cave served during a transitional period in the Social Centers history and was chair during major decisions like the closing of the East Boston Camps in Westford she looks back fondly on her tenure.
“I feel like we built a strong bond among the board members,” said Cave. “We created and expanded on that “family feeling” that you get at the Social Centers, which is welcoming to everybody. I really feel I always kept things kind of positive and, together, we were able to overcome any crisis that would arise.”
When Kelly retired in 2017 Cave asked all the board members to remain for the transition from Kelly to the newly hired executive director, Justin Pasquariello.
“That could have been a tumultuous time for the EBSC,” said Cave. “We were replacing someone for the first time in over 30 years so I asked the board members if any of them were planning on stepping down to remain for at least one more year while we give Justin the support he needs. I thought it was really important that the board remained consistent and everybody agreed and stayed on. While I’m still remaining on the board I wanted to know that when I leave completely that the Social Centers are in good hands. I think we really found an excellent Executive Director in Justin and he’s amazing.”
Cave said her decision to step down as chair was influenced by the recent birth of her first grandson, Matteo who was born to Rep. Adrian Madaro his wife Ariel in May.
“I just wanted to have more time to be a Nonni,” Cave said proudly. “Even before Matteo was born I told the board I would be stepping back so I’d have more time with my family and grandson. But I’m not going anywhere and will still be part of the board.”
EBSC Executive director Justin Pasquariello said Cave is a true community hero who has given so much to too many organizations to name–in addition to being an outstanding mom, new grandma, family member and friend.
“We at the East Boston Social Centers can never thank her enough for her more than 20 years leading our board,” he said. “She has built our board into a diverse, committed, hardworking, talented, positive leadership group that has had a transformative impact for the organization. Debra has led by example–serving on every board committee and volunteering beyond that–on projects including documenting our more than 100 years of history and much more. For me personally, Debra has been a mentor–meeting with me monthly for the first several years when I joined the Social Centers. Her close partnership has been critical for our work. We are so grateful to continue to have Debra on our board. With her relentless and infectious positivity and dedication to our community, she is a light for all of us.”