Mike Szkolka was elected president of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association in an election held virtually last November where the result was never in question.
“I was the only person who ran. So, I won and then here we are,” the 41-year-old Szkolka said in an interview with the Reporter.
Other than a ten-year stretch of time when he lived in New York City, Szkolka has lived in Dorchester since 1981. “We moved into the [James] Blake House in 1981 when I was two years old, lived there for about four years, then moved to a three-decker on Pearl Street. We bought another house on Savin Hill Ave., where I live now,” he said.
He has been an active member of the civic association since moving back to Boston in 2016. “At the start of the pandemic, I started volunteering at the McCormack School, handing out food, and eventually volunteered to deliver food to families who had reached out,” said Szkolka, who had worked as a special education coordinator for Boston Public Schools before taking some time off prior to the pandemic. He is currently looking for an administrative position.
The challenge for the civic association, he said, is engaging more people. “Everything else stems from that. I really want Columbia Savin Hill to more closely represent the actual area that is covered,” he said. “At this point, Savin Hill ‘over-the-bridge’ is very represented and the other parts aren’t as much. I looked at census data and found that the area is essentially 55 percent white, but probably 95 percent or more of civic association members are white.
“I don’t know what the cause of that is, but it seems like a good opportunity to get the entirety of the area more involved,” he said.
One tool he’s using to do that is creating a variety of committees to boost interest, including a new environmental panel. Szkolka is also exploring new, fun ways to build community, including “porch-fest” events.
“People could host events, or bands and live performers on their porches – something loosely organized that could encourage neighbors to travel around and listen in,” he said. “We could look into doing this maybe by mid-September. I want to try to put as much time in between people being vaccinated and enjoying something of that nature.”
Szkolka is also looking at how to engage more people in the association’s committee review process.
“Nothing was broken before, I just think it could be better. We need to do a better job of directly being in touch with each other,” he said, “mainly by including more people in the process, in abutters’ meetings, and advertising projects that come before the committee.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome and supportive the Columbia-Savin Hill veterans have been,” he added, “Especially Des Rohan and Eileen Boyle, who have been just really generous with their time and really immensely valuable input.”
Szkolka said he will be encouraging residents to be active in the civic and run for leadership positions. “If someone has a concern, wants something changed - people need to speak up. If we work together, we can do good things. Never suffer in silence; it’s unhealthy personally, and unhealthy for the community, too,” he said.
Szkolka said he’d like to continue making use of the technology that has kept people in touch throughout the pandemic by hosting both in-person and virtual meetings.
“I also want to make sure that we don’t act like each neighborhood of Dorchester or Roxbury or Mattapan are islands. We’re not. We’re all extremely connected,” he said.
For more on the civic group, contact email@example.com or 857-288-8748.