Fields Corner Civic features new faces

The Fields Corner Civic Group welcomed a new team of officers earlier this month, with neighborhood resident and community activist Hiep Chu taking over as the group’s leader from longtime president and co-founder Tom Gannon.

“In the last 20 years Tom did a great job running the organization,” said Chu, the first Vietnamese-American officer in the group’s history. He will preside over his first meeting as president when the Civic Group meets with its new officers for the first time on March 30 at Dorchester House at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m thankful that they are willing to commit the additional time to continue to make Fields Corner a better place to live for their fellow residents,” Gannon said of the new team.

“The number one challenge for the past many years is two-fold,” said Chu who wants to increase resident participation and bring more local businesses into the fold of the group’s meetings and processes.

A balance between the business and residential sides of the group is key. “It would be a challenge to figure out what would be the balance,” said Chu, who agrees with the group’s traditional role as a resident-driven organization, but wants to find ways for more meaningful relationships with businesses.

“I believe that Fields Corner is interesting in the way that is very unlike many other civic groups … they don’t have a lot of businesses around them,” Chu said, “but Fields Corner has a lot of businesses on Dorchester Ave. and Adams St. and up and down Clayton and Hancock.”

Though his hopes are high, Chu notes that “it clearly takes two to tango,” and that businesses need to come to the group’s meetings and respond to outreach efforts before a coalition can be built. “Hopefully, when I take the position this will give us a new beginning,” with portions of the Vietnamese community that “have not been heard from,” he added. “The civic idea is very new to the Vietnamese community because of their previous experience with communist government. Back in Vietnam, their definition of ‘civic group’ is very different.”

Chu thinks that his challenge in reaching out to fellow Vietnamese will be in educating them on what the civic group does and how it can benefit their community, but that all Fields Corner residents share the same basic community goals. “I don’t think it’s very different between the Vietnamese and the non-Vietnamese,” he said, “cleaner streets, better services from the city.”

Tom Gannon and his brother Jim founded the Fields Corner Civic Association over 20 years ago. For the past 15 years, Tom served as the group’s president. As a former officer, he will remain on the association’s executive board.

Gannon sees Chu as a member of the community stepping up to fill a need in the community. “Hiep Chu has been living here for 20 years,” he said. “As people have moved in they’ve become involved, only if they’ve wanted to get involved.” 

The incoming president has a varied background. After coming to the US from Vietnam in 1980, Chu settled in Amherst where he graduated from high school in 1984. He studied civil engineering at Northeastern University and has lived in or around Dorchester since the mid-eighties.

After graduation, he was, from 1990 to 1994, the executive director of the Vietnamese-American Civic Group, a social services organization that serves Boston’s Vietnamese community. He served as the executive director of Vietnamese American Initiative for Development from January 2006 until being fired by the group’s board of directors in July of 2008. His termination spurred outrage in the Dorchester Vietnamese community and caused many residents to rally to his support in opposition to the board’s decision. Today, Chu operates his own construction and real estate development company.

The new set of officers is not devoid of veterans, however. Former association president Ed Crowley has returned to an active role as treasurer. “I’ve known Hiep for a long time. Hiep’s committed and doesn’t want to see the group fall apart, so he stepped up,” Crowley said.

Gretchen Carney is the group’s new secretary; the vice president’s seat is currently vacant.

The agenda of the March 30 meeting includes a presentation from Dorchester House on a proposed new wing project and a discussion of the potential closings of neighborhood library branches.