Thelma D. Burns, longtime community activist, advocate and volunteer, will be honored on May 20 at the dedication of the Thelma D. Burns Building in Roxbury. The event, hosted by ABCD Board Chair John P. McGahan and ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew, is the grand-opening of the centerpiece to the newly created ABCD campus at 565-575 Warren St., Roxbury.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano will address the gathering and help cut the celebratory ribbon. Also joining the celebration will Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., President and CEO, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Jonathan Kozol, acclaimed author, educator and activist.
Karen Holmes Ward, Director of Public Affairs & Community Services and Host/Producer of CityLine at WCVB-TV/Channel 5 will emcee the event.
“ABCD is very pleased to have this opportunity to honor Thelma for her significant work for Boston’s people and neighborhoods,” said ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew. “There is no one with a bigger heart and stronger dedication and capability to getting things done.”
Thelma Burns has served on the ABCD Board of Directors for more than 35 years including stints as Board Chair, Vice Chair and Committee Chair. A longtime Dorchester resident, she has headed the ABCD Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center board for more than 15 years. She has also chaired or served on countless other community boards including Central Boston Elder Services, the Mayor’s Senior Advisory Council, Roxbury YMCA and more.
For 28 years she served as METCO director for the Belmont Public Schools, retiring in 2008. Thelma received her Bachelor’s in Education from Boston University and her Master’s of Education in Administration from Harvard University. She is also a Registered Nurse.
Always at the forefront of social justice initiatives, in 1968 she was a Robert F. Kennedy Fellow in Washington, DC.
A two-time cancer survivor, Thelma praises the work of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, volunteers at the hospital and is a member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Faith-based Cancer Disparities Network.
“The Warren Street buildings were unused for years and now they will be a center of neighborhood activity… the social fabric of the neighborhood is being restored,” said Michael Vance, ABCD Vice President, Field Operations.
Built in 1927, the Thelma D. Burns Building was originally named Beth Hamadrath Aperion Plaza and functioned as a synagogue, kosher caterer and social center for the Jewish community in Roxbury. It closed in 1968 and became Skycap Plaza, a nightclub. In 2001 it was sold to Charles Street AME church with plans to convert it into a family life center. Now part of ABCD’s neighborhood network, the building will provide a home for ABCD classrooms and offices as well as community conference space. An ABCD high school program may be housed there in the future.
Next door, the ABCD center provides vital services to low-income neighborhood residents including summer and year-round youth employment, job development opportunities, heating assistance, electronic SNAP (food stamp) applications, food pantry services, utility bill advocacy, free tax preparation, senior computer classes, a senior nutrition program, a “teaching kitchen” where families learn to prepare healthy food, environmental awareness initiatives, youth enrichment programs, clothing assistance, free notary services and more.