What she does speaks volumes

On March 28, the Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) presented five local community leaders with their Boston Community Fellows Award. Among the recipients is Mattapan’s very own Mrs. Myrtle Huggins.

The Fellows are publicly recognized as “quiet leaders and giv[ing] them the chance to share their stories.” Those who know Mrs. Huggins would not likely use the word “quiet” to describe the outspoken 70-year old, who has been a common sight in the community service scene for the better part of 40 years.

A native of Morven, North Carolina, where she was born and raised, Huggins had relocated to Lower Mills and found work in the Boston Public School System in 1965. She began as a reading teacher at the Lucy Stone School in Dorchester until transferring to the Oliver Wendell Holmes school. She later taught special needs students at the William E. Carter school in Boston starting in 1983.

“I wanted to teach because it is one of the ways that I could connect to children,” said Huggins. “It’s one of the positions that kids will look up to and can learn from.”

Her experience with children is reflected through several of the community events that she helps to organize, such as annual children’s Christmas and Halloween parties often held at the Mildred Ave. Community Center.

It was in 1971 that Huggins got her first solid community service experience. Shortly after moving to Mattapan, she founded district B-3’s first neighborhood watch program, called Apple Growth Communities. To this day, Mrs. Huggins continues to hold some of the strongest ties with the local police station, often seen advocating communication between local residents and the station’s community service department as well as helping to coordinate several activities, such as the citizens’ police academy that was held last November.

Having outlasted several administrations at B-3, Huggins names current officers—Sgt. Timothy Torigian in particular—as great inspirations.

“One of my greatest feelings of accomplishment is being able to walk into the police station and be listened to on a face-to-face level,” said Huggins. “I really appreciate Sergeant Torigian and all the community service officers for staying with me and keeping me going.”

Huggins pushes toinclude a wide range of people in community activities. The first neighborhood watch grew from a desire to connect several families that were moving into Mattapan at the time. It was this same inclusive sentiment that prompted she and five colleagues to create the Mattapan/Dorchester Neighborhood council, where she serves as president. The position has connected her to projects involving the elder citizens of Mattapan and Dorchester, notably the Senior Boat ride held by the B-3 police station every summer. She hopes to reconcile her work with the elderly and children in the future, by inviting seniors to read and interact with students at local schools.

“It was important to me to include the elders because they are the ones that came before us,” she said. “There are a lot of things that they have for us to learn.”

Though she is retired, she continues to volunteer at the Lee School where she works with students with behavioral issues. The proud mother of two children in the military labels herself as a disciplinarian, but she shows a soft spot for animals, especially her golden Labrador Retriever, Chase. She donates money and supplies throughout the year to Boston’s Animal Rescue League, as well.

Huiggins has obtained Masters degrees in Elementary Education and Special education, and is fluent in American Sign Language. She studied music education at Northeastern University in her first years in Boston and participates in the choir the Charles St. Church.

“My motto is ‘Let your actions speak for you,’” she said. “So that’s what I’m trying to do. The fact that I’ve been doing it for so long and feeling so good about it shows that I’m doing some good, I hope.”

Two other activists with local ties were also honored as neighborhood fellows by TPI next week. College Bound Dorchester’s Ismail Abdurrashid, who works as a teacher at the Log School. Lewis Finfer, a Lower Mills resident who runs the Dorchester-based Massachusetts Communities Action Network
was also honored as a fellow. Finfer has worked in the Boston area as a community organizer for 40 years.

During the past 21 years, almost $6 million has been given to 127 outstanding Bostonians through the fellows program.  For more information see tpi.org.