For 47 years, the diverse organization of Haley House, which provides food, housing, community events, and job training to the less fortunate has been led by one person – founder Kathe McKenna.
But McKenna is now giving over the reins of the organization to Dorchester resident Bing Broderick, who has managed the café and job training portions of Haley House for eight years. Broderick will be the new executive director.
“I interviewed with Kathe in the summer of 2005 and it was a two-hour interview,” Broderick said at Haley House’s café at 12 Dade Street near Dudley Square. “It was the beginning of a conversation that has never stopped.”
Components of that conversation were present all around him in the crowded café. Roxbury residents who needed help with job skills served the food and took orders, fresh ingredients and freshly baked goods were behind the counter, and local art hung from the walls.
The café began with Broderick’s hiring. Prior to using the space, the organization was mostly located in South End with more than 100 affordable housing units and the soup kitchen that started everything in 1966.
In the same building as the café, Haley House runs a job training program.
“One of our managers spent 15 years in prison and he said we have an epidemic of people not having opportunities out of prison,” Broderick said.
In response, Haley House shifted the focus of its job training program to accommodate former inmates. That program is now in its fourth year, Broderick said.
“My belief is that as a community we need to take care of everyone and I feel that requires a shift of thinking,” Broderick said. “We’re all part of the same community.”
For Broderick, the secret of the café’s success is that Haley House is open to opportunities.
“We were doing our best to keep the door open every day, and while we were keeping the door open, opportunities came through the door,” he said.
A community organizer came through the door with an idea for a gang resistance program centered around culture and food, a curator came through the door and connected the organization with local artists to display on the café walls, a person who used to run a performance series at another venue came into the café and now runs a series there.
The latest opportunity is that Haley House hopes to buy the building at 12 Dade Street. Negotiations are underway, according to Broderick.
Broderick grew up near Haley House’s first location and his sister knew someone who helped with the soup kitchen. In his professional life, Broderick worked for a record label and then for radio station WGBH doing commercial marketing.
Broderick’s first passion was for music, but when the changing industry stopped offering new opportunities, he switched over to WGBH and did not feel the same passion there, he said.
He took a leave of absence and enrolled in a cooking school in Cork, Ireland. There he learned about eating locally and the value of food from Darina Allen, whom he described as a combination of Martha Stewart, Julia Child and Sister Wendy.
A short while after he returned, he saw the opportunity to join Haley House, and thought his feelings on food and community made the job a perfect fit. McKenna agreed, and Broderick began in 2005.
The customer base has grown over time and the business has expanded to include catering. The budget for the café is about $1 million, and 90 percent of that is generated through sales, Broderick said.
Most important for Broderick was that the café was a place where people would come and talk to one another. One of his inspirations was a former Dorchester business called “A Strong Cup of Coffee” – it was only open a handful of years, but it was a place where Broderick met many of his Dorchester neighbors.
“People talked to one another; people talked to strangers,” Broderick said. “That’s not a very common thing in Boston.”
Café customer Settenah Wright said Haley House’s Dade Street café lives up to the comparison. Wright said she brings her 18-year-old daughter to events held at the café frequently and she sees other members of the community with their families.
She also likes that the organization helps the community take care of itself. Local volunteers help their neighbors in need at Haley House, she said.
“It’s crucial to take care of ourselves here,” Wright said. “It is important to find funding for programs from the city, but it is also important for us to take care of ourselves.”
Haley House has always evolved to serve the needs McKenna and her husband and others that have run Haley House have seen in the community, McKenna said. Having Broderick take over as Executive Director is a part of that, she said.
“Forty-seven years ago, South End was Skid Row and he homeless population was exploding,” McKenna said. “We couldn’t see anything more than just taking care of the people who just kept showing up at our door every morning.”
With Broderick, McKenna said the organization has been able to celebrate communities that she called “disregarded” in new ways, and also offer job skills to former inmates who otherwise would not be able to find work.
“Our face has turned toward the community in Dudley, to the people who are coming out of prison and struggling to have jobs that have a semblance of dignity and pride,” McKenna said. “Bing has been a big part of that.”
“I’m excited because I think that Bing is the perfect person to help Haley House continue down this road that we’ve begun,” McKenna said. “He will bring a freshness to that that will be wonderful.”
McKenna will remain helping out the organization prepare for its 50th anniversary.
“My attachment to Haley House won’t change one iota,” she said.