Turning Towards Turners Falls: Local Collaboration Serves Underserved Families in Massachusetts USA

Planting in Unity Park, Turners Falls

Turning Towards Turners Falls

Local Collaboration For Underserved Families in Massachusetts USA

with gallery below

This summer, Zen Peacemakers and members of Green River Zen Center have joined the Montague Catholic Social Ministries group and the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement Programs (CFCE) Playgroup of Gill, Montague and Turners Falls to provide outings for underprivileged families of mixed-origins in the Turners Falls area of Massachusetts, USA.

On the Farm

Roshi Eve Marko, head teacher of Green River Zen Center, and Rami Efal, executive director of Zen Peacemakers, reached out to MCSM. They met at their store-front location at the town’s main avenue. The space, which is also an indoor playground, is decorated by finger-painted artwork and toys. They asked Mary King and Lilliana Moresco, the two women leading MCSM’s care and social services, what unmet needs they saw most in the communities they serve.  The two women responded: With the current politics, they observed the Latin-American population’s rising needs of legal representation, work, safety, and being able to freely drive without the risk of being pulled-over. “But the children. They need — ” Lilliana, paused, took a long breath and said, “– Joy.”

In response, in June we had our first day-trip of the summer with the kids of Turners’ Falls, as part of a volunteer-led summer camp. The children were romping with the ducks, horses, pigs large and small, and lunched on pizza and watermelons, on a stunning sunny day at Zen Peacemakers member Suzanne Webber’s Brook’s Bend Farm in Montague MA. Some of the kids have never left town their whole lives, and were laughing and playing like never before.  Most of the families who joined had emigrated from South and Central America. According to US census data, the number of people in Franklin County who identify as Hispanic has seen a modest increase between 2010 and 2015, despite the prevalence of anti-immigrant rhetoric in politics.  It was wonderful to give these families a chance to let their guard down for an afternoon.  And on July 13 we went out again, this time to Unity Park in Turners Falls to plant strawberries and tomatoes together.

History of Turners Falls

Turner’s Falls is named after William Turner, a Captain of English colonial soldiers who fought in King Phillip’s War, a war between the mainly Wampanoag natives of the area and English colonists and their native allies. In proportion to population killed and settlements destroyed, King Phillip’s War is considered by many to be the most devastating event in the European settlement of North America.  In the 1676 Battle of Turner’s Falls, also called the Peskeompscut massacre, Turner and his soldiers attacked a sleeping village, killing between 100-200 inhabitants, mainly women, children and elderly.  According to research done by the Nolumbeka Project, the massacre site had for thousands of years been a peace village called Wissatinnewag, “Shining Hill,” where native people from all over the Northeast gathered to meet and enjoy the abundance of salmon.

In 1868 the town of Turners Falls was officially established by statesman Alvah Crocker, who saw industrial potential in the falls and the possibility of cheap hydropower.  But, as soon as the early 20th century US industry began changing as manufacturing moved to areas with lower labor costs, and automation of industry led to job losses.  Cities that suffered from the loss of industry are sometimes called Rust Belt towns, and tend to share difficulties like population loss, lack of education, high unemployment, crime, and drug abuse problems. Today 22% of the population of Turners Falls lives below the poverty line.  However, inexpensive housing has made Turners Falls and other rust belt towns attractive to immigrant populations looking to get on their feet in a new place.

 

Thank you to Zen Peacemakers and Green River Zen Center Sangha members for your work and support: Suzanne Webber, Donna Rae Cook, Petriana Monize & Tony Saracino.

About our Ally Organizations

Montague Catholic Social Ministries was founded in 1994 to learn and respond to the needs of underprivileged community members, and now offers free playgroups for children (one Spanish Language Playgroup), a Women’s Resource Center, job-readiness programs, a bi-monthly Father’s Support Group, and other services.  Learn more on their website.

CFCE Playgroup of Gill, Montague and Turners Falls is a free playgroup for families in Western Massachusetts, promoting early literacy and school readiness. Learn more on their Facebook page.

Join us!  These families face significant challenges presented by poverty and emigration, and we are still looking for volunteers through August 2017.  If you’re in Northwestern Massachusetts area and would like to get involved, contact [email protected]

 

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