I have done a lot at City Year this year. I have stepped into many roles and have stepped out of my previous comfort zone more times than I can count, but nothing compares to the scope and the results of what my team and I were able to do on Saturday, May 22nd.
To sum up the day quickly, it was fantastic. Completely, totally, unrelentingly fantastic. That is not my highlight however… my highlight took place after the volunteers had left, after my team had left, while I was sitting on a bench in the park that we just transformed. Sitting there, all alone, I had the experience that made my year, and the experience that quite possibly put my entire life into a new perspective.
My site contained a wall with the letters M.A.D. painted onto it, covered by about three decades of wear, decay, and graffiti. We wanted to mural the site, so on the first day of prep we went out to survey the area. An East Boston local came over and basically warned us not to mess with M.A.D.; it was a memorial to Michael Anthony D’avella, who was murdered years before. We decided right there that we had to leave it… or did we? We would make it better, we would redo it! So we set out scraping and priming. Multiple people came over, worried that we were erasing a hero from their history, but we assured all of them that it would be fine, that we were going to do it justice.
So it went on, three weeks of prep, over 150 man hours of work, then it was the big day, Serve-a-thon 2010. The mural came to life. Michael’s full name, previously just ambiguous initials to an outsider, finally came to life. Shane Quigley, the mural’s designer, beautifully weaved the name into the river along the Boston skyline, rendering most onlookers speechless. We had many community members come out and observe and compliment, but none like one man, after everyone else had left.
He was an East Boston native, born and raised. He walked into the park as I was sitting there, and his jaw just dropped. It was like in a comic book; it literally dropped and he just stood there, staring all around. He turned to me and said “This couldn’t be more beautiful…” He started walking around just taking it all in, then he walked towards the court. He stopped suddenly, turned to me and started walking back. As he got closer, I could see tears on his face. The man was a childhood friend of Michael Anthony D’Avella. He was crying to me, a complete stranger, thanking me for making the M.A.D. memory live on so beautifully. He choked through numerous ‘thank yous’ but then he couldn’t speak anymore… he shook my hand, and he walked out of the park, taken over by emotions and his memories that we helped to preserve. With the man gone, I sat there, put my hands behind my head, and I felt the power of what had just taken place. Whether it was the emotion of what I just experienced, or realizing the weeks of work had actually finally paid off, or maybe it was realizing that my year was coming to an end, whatever it was, it was beautiful, and I savor the memory of how I felt right then. I never want to forget that moment.
This shows what an incredible thing that we at City Year Boston did this past weekend. I can guarantee that stories like this happened all throughout the city, and that they are happening right now. What we accomplished on Saturday is nothing short of breathtaking, and the sentiments that he made to me were echoed by the smiles and laughter of the families that came out to the park, enjoying an area that was long neglected and misused.
East Boston will remember us, and they thank us. As well do I. I want to personally thank everyone that came out with so much for their time, their effort, and their commitment to making beautiful positive change.
This is City Year, this is what we do.