Glass-blowing class is mind-blowing

Elizabeth Murray, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 9, 2012

Bird Street Glass-blowers: Dany Melo, 15, makes glass beads as part of a glass-blowing program for boys through the Bird Street Community Center. Photo by Elizabeth MurrayBird Street Glass-blowers: Dany Melo, 15, makes glass beads as part of a glass-blowing program for boys through the Bird Street Community Center. Photo by Elizabeth Murray

A program for a group of 13 boys at the Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester marries glass-blowing and business lessons for a unique summer learning experience.

This is the sixth year that the BSCC has partnered with Diablo Glass School in Roxbury, and the center’s executive director, Andrea Kaiser, said the glass-blowing work done by the boys has become quite well-known in the community.

“The kids have created centerpieces for the Great Cities Conference held last October,” Kaiser said. “They’ve done pieces for weddings. We have people calling to order things in a certain color.”

The program is a male-only endeavor at BSCC, which also offers a dancing program for girls and a co-ed social media program. The program is kept small – one instructor to three students – and gender-specific to ensure the safety of those involved, according to Kaiser. The minimum age for participation is 13. “When you’re working with fire, and when you’re working with this train of intensity, you can’t be flirting,” she said. “It’s absolutely no-nonsense.”

During the morning, the boys attend a business class taught by Edson Cardoso, a certified entrepreneur instructor who teaches at Charlestown High School. They also work on business projects, and twice a week either attend Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) preparation or spend time on chess, poetry, or computers. After lunch, the boys have art class and then travel to Diablo from 2 to 5 p.m. to work on their glass-blowing, which continues into the school year when classes are held once a week for the boys.

The finished glass works are sold at several events throughout the year, and Kaiser said many people call the center to have glass items custom-made. The boys, who make everything from glass flowers and swans to bowls, vases, and jewelry, receive a 70 percent commission on all their sales, and 30 percent of the money goes back to the center.

This Saturday, the youth at the center will be participating in the DSNI Multi Cultural Festival at Mary Hannon Park on Dudley Street from noon to 5 p.m. This will be the first blown-glass sale for some of the boys.

“I’m hoping to sell a lot, and I hope [customers] will like my product,” said first-year glass-blower Willman Orival, 15, of Hyde Park. “I think that it teaches you how to be committed to something and it teaches you a lot about life and challenges,” he added. “I like it because it can be a good use for other people.”

The biggest sale for the boys will take place at the End of Summer Gala on Aug. 17 at the Strand Theatre at 6 p.m., a celebration of the BSCC’s youth employees and the achievements of the center’s members. The event is free, and tickets are available at the community center. A 5:30 exhibition in the lobby with punch and cookies will precede the show, which will feature dance performances, a fashion show, skits, a stepping exhibition, and the premiere of the center’s new video.

Naeem Miles, 15, of Franklin Hill has been part of the program the longest – three years. He said the best part about the glass-blowing is being in the “hot shop,” where the boys heat the glass in kilns, and have the chance to be creative. “I like to work in different types of environments,” Miles said. “I like to challenge myself. I’m originally an instrument player, so I felt that I needed to challenge myself and better myself to see what my abilities are.”

Orival and Miles say the favorite product they have made is a wavy bowl, and both intend to continue on a business pathway as they start their careers.

“My two dreams are to be a glass blower, and if I don’t achieve that goal, I want to be an instrument player and own my own band,” Miles said. “I have to learn how to do business classes anyways. This beginning entrepreneurship business class helps me a lot.” He added that the business class has helped him learn money management and other valuable skills for the business world and beyond. “Before, I’d just get money and blow it in like two seconds,” he said.

Megan Mowins, of Salem, is one of five teachers who work with the boys. She has been a glass blower since about 2005, and has been working with BSCC for the last several years. Since the boys work in very high heat conditions, she stresses safety over everything. And communication is the key to safety, she said.

“This is not an individual sport really,” Mowins said. “I always start the year out with telling them, we’re a team. We work as a team. There’s no individual person that’s better. We’re all helping one another be better.”

Program manager and former BSCC member Delmiro Cardoso said that working with the heat is one of the most challenging things for the boys, noting that one member quit on the first day because he couldn’t take it. But, Cardoso said, the boys eventually get used to the heat and start to enjoy the craftwork.

“I’m trying to keep them motivated,” said Cardoso, who acts as a mentor for the boys. “The first day was hard for them because it was hot and I was trying to keep them motivated and make them understand that . . . it’s not only about the pay, but it’s about what you can put on your resume.”

Cardoso said that even though glass blowing and business classes were not offered when he was a BSCC member, Kaiser helped him with his resume and cover letter when he was applying for jobs. He kept coming back to BSCC because he said the staff really cares about their members.

Fellow glass-blowing teacher Peter Zimmerman, of Lowell, has worked with glass for 20 years. This is his second year with the Diablo Glass School and his first with the BSCC boys. He said this has been one of his favorite classes thus far.

“Over the seven weeks I’ve been able to find out each of these guys have very specific ways that their minds work, and different ways of working with the materials,” Zimmerman said. “They interact with each other in ways that they help each other more than other classes that I’ve seen. I hope I get to do this again and again.”

Kaiser said the program as a whole will benefit the boys in the future, not only because they gain business skills, but also because they gain the communication skills necessary for any job as well. Zimmerman added that this kind of program instills confidence in the boys that they can take with them throughout their careers.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” he said. “You’re gaining a mastery over something that you develop a relationship with. The glass itself, it’s responsive. You’re telling the glass to do this, and once you learn the language, you’re never going to lose that.”