Any first encounter between two residents of Dorchester is as likely to begin with, “What’s your parish?” as it is with “What street do you live on.” While the neighborhood’s much-celebrated patchwork of Catholic parishes has yielded prominence to include other points of reference over the years, its relevance lives on.
Now comes a major fundraiser scheduled for Thanksgiving week: A “What Parish Are You From?” event to benefit the city-owned Leahy-Holloran Community Center fundraiser will be held next Friday, Nov. 26, at the Victory Road Armory. The evening will include cocktails, a cash bar, disc jockey and, of course, a major lure, in this case a $10,000 drawing.
A wall of fame, plastered with old report cards and school memorabilia, will be on display. And organizers are asking folks to bring along their own collections of neighborhood nostalgia. All funds raised will go to support the popular pre-school program at the community center, which has just been fully renovated and officially re-opened in a Saturday ceremony two weeks ago.
“The fundraiser ... is pretty particular here to the Greater Neponset area. It drives a lot a pride,” says Craig Galvin, vice president of the Leahy-Holloran Community Center Council, which is sponsoring the event. “We’ve had people that care, want to participate and volunteer,” Galvin says. “We’ve been very, very lucky, and there’s always room for more. There’s something for everybody there.”
Galvin says the event is targeting the parishes of St. Ambrose, St. Ann, St. Brendan, St. Peter, St. Mark, St. Gregory — and South Boston neighbors from Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid, and other now-defunct former parishes.
Organizers say that local businesses have sprung at the chance to support the Center. Blasi’s, Pat’s of Lower Mills, Sonny’s, The Currach, Lambert’s, and Greenhills Irish Bakery will supply appetizers and goodies.
The preschool program’s budget has taken a hit from the economic recession and funds have dried up— threatening deep cuts to the popular staff there. The neighborhood responded strongly and has become one of the city’s most robust community center site councils.
“Funding would drive programming, programming would drive funding. It’s our job now to step up to get the funds ourselves,” says Galvin.
LHCC Administrative Coordinator Jill LaMonica is grateful for all the help. “I couldn’t do it without the partnerships, council, community members,” she says. “These people have really stepped in and supported not only me but the [Boston Centers for Youth & Families] in general. I’m amazed at the hours they have put in.”
Says Galvin: “Jill has been diligently and tirelessly working down there to keep things moving forward. She has worked very hard to include every age group, everybody who wants to participate to get that center the most use and we’ve been thrilled with that.”
The hours and energy necessary to keep things moving forward are a community-wide effort involving the 25 volunteer members of the LHCC Council, staff members, program participants and enthusiastic parents.
“Our whole goal is how can we reach out to people who are right in our backyard?,” LaMonica says of the center’s focus.
“I’m new and the board’s new; we’re always talking new, new, new,” she says, “but the community center has been here for something like 30 years. We want to celebrate that history and traditions as well.”
Formerly known as the Murphy Community Center, the LHCC is one of 46 facilities that remain under the umbrella of Boston’s Center for Youth and Families office. Opened in 1973, the Neponset center currently offers programs such as swimming lessons, ceramics, aerobics, kids’ drawing classes, adult computer classes, line dancing, and sewing lessons. Pre-school and K1 are offered during the academic year. Adult classes, a teen center and after-school activities are open to the community as well. It has been re-named in memory of two well-known figures in the Neponset community — Joe Holloran and Brian Leahy.
Community learning partners such as the Adams Street Library, Project D.E.E.P. and the Murphy School, which houses the LHCC, extend the center’s programming further.
Last year, the newly re-named center began a substaintial renovation project. Updated electrical work, a new gym floor and bleachers, gym wall lockers, collapsible basketball rims, weight room and paint jobs of the gym walls and adjacent lobby walls have given LHCC members and Murphy School students a rejuvenated place to play.
Next week’s fundraiser will be a chance to reconnect, remember and see how the LHCC and the community is moving forward, bearing in mind that “We’re keep things Dorchester,” as LaMonica says.
General admission is $25. A $100 donation admits two people to the event and enters one name for the $10,000 drawing. All tickets are on sale in advance and at the door, but $100 tickets are selling quickly. For more information, visit leahyhollorancommunitycenter.com.