Twenty or so chairs sat in a circle in an open room and about half were filled one by one as the time grew closer to 7:30—the other half were moved so that the circle could be more “intimate.”
Otherwise, only a few bookshelves and a desk with an antiquated computer—accompanied by a sign reading “No FOOD or drink at the computers!!!”—occupied the space.
Held in the Brigham House on Hartford Street, the first quarterly meeting of Newton Village People commenced in the renovated Queen Anne Revival-style cottage last Wednesday. Just two rooms away from the front door—you have to pass the pool table room first—was the meeting spot.
The Village People group was formed last spring to enrich the city, bringing forth different cultural events and community ideas for the residents of Newton. Residents were invited to attend through Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s email update.
The residents chatted, munching on the complimentary Fig Newtons they were given at the door, until Dana Hanson called everyone to attention.
“Let’s get this party started here,” she said.
The attendees’ conversations diminuendoed for a few seconds while Hanson introduced herself as the director of community engagement and inclusion for the City of Newton (“think of us as the warm hug from the mayor’s office,” she said) and asked that everyone introduce themselves with their name, their village, and any events that they are putting on within their community.
From there, as there was no strict schedule, the meeting would build upon the ideas brought up.
Joel Shambs of Auburndale was excited for the busy springtime ahead of his community, including their second PorchFest, an afternoon where local talent performs for free outside of people’s homes. He called last year’s PorchFest a “rousing success,” which drew a few nods and grunts of affirmation from others in the room.
John Rice, representing both Ward 5 as a councilor and the Village of the Newton Highlands as a resident, talked about his role in NewtonSERVES, a day of community service put on by the city.
Terry Sauro, an original member of the Village People, spoke to her plans of community outreach between the city, police, and disadvantaged children, talking specifically about recent efforts to restore a dilapidated park and playground.
“They’re not bad kids, they just have no place to go,” she said. “So what we try to do is have a movie night … and have the kids go and have the police shoot hoops with them, just so we can engage these kids.”
A popular topic of conversation revolved around OurNewton.org, a one-stop website featuring news on events and initiatives from all 11 villages of Newton. The organization operates as a not-for-profit and volunteer-driven organization, where any visitor can request for their event to be listed under a specific calendar on the site—some calendars cover local business, some concern entertainment, and others have content geared specifically toward elders, teens, or parents of small children.
Janet Porcaro, hailing from Newton Corner (though she considers herself a Newtonville resident at heart), used her introduction to explain the site a little further.
“I’m a real estate agent, an adoring grandmother, and I am a secret geek,” she said. “So my thing is for the past nine years I have helped run OurNewton.org.”
She said that the site gets at least 600 hits a month (“easy”) and over 6,000 people receive the newsletter weekly, though she conceded she’s been a little off-schedule as of late.
The discourse delved into a discussion about the logistics of alternate calendar systems—one that could reach a wider audience and could also be more centralized. Ideas ranged from Facebook calendars to Google calendars, to even setting up a mass email list owned by the town—an idea shot down by Rice, who pointed out that the emails would be technically public information and could therefore be accessed by ne’er-do-wells.
The conversation then turned to teen outreach. Rice related a story where the town would hold teen concerts for local talent on Friday and Saturday nights that were consistently well attended. Police officers manned the entrance but could not prevent the kids from consuming alcohol or drugs beforehand, he said.
“Our last concert—three ambulance trips,” Rice said.
“Oh, no sir!” another attendee said.
When almost an hour exactly had passed, Hanson called the meeting to its close—promising to meet some time in the spring, encouraging attendees to grab a Fig Newton on their way out—pun intended or not, an appropriate snack—and reminding all to be active on the email list.
“Our list is only as interesting as the ideas that populate it,” she said.
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / Heights Staff