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Half of the time I commute to work, I take the T to Haymarket train station and then catch the 111 bus to the Chelsea City Hall. It is about a 35-minute commute; as opposed to the 5 minute walk to the central Boston office of Raising a Reader MA. This may not seem like a big difference, but in Boston it is proving to be. For a major U.S. city, Boston is pretty small. The Greater Boston area encompasses a lot of different neighborhoods and suburbs, but the city of Boston is itself only about 90 square miles (that is about 5x smaller than NYC). So our 35 minute commute lands us in a city in the Greater Boston area called Chelsea, with a completely different atmosphere and at least on the surface different demographics. My fellow RAR MA interns, Chole, Esther, and I really got a taste of this when we took a walking tour around the community with one of the RAR MA staff member’s, Guadalupe. Guadalupe’s children went through the Raising a Reader program, during which she became involved as a parent, and she is now working full time for the organization as an organizer for parent volunteers.


One of my tasks this summer at RAR MA is to help build relationships with local businesses and try to solicit support and donations for Raising a Reader MA’s events and programming. Guadalupe thought that the best way for me, Chloe, and Esther to learn about the community we are working in was to go out and see it for ourselves. She took us up Broadway, the main street of Chelsea, peeking into all of the local businesses and telling us about the owners-where they came from and the ties they have to the greater Chelsea community. She pointed out the new housing developments popping up around the center of the town, and explained how these new building projects were beginning to gentrifying the area, and within the next few years many Chelsea residents would no longer be able to afford to live in there. As we passed one of the many El Salvadoran restaurants that lined the side streets, Guadalupe asked if any of us had tried pupusas before. Neither Chloe, Esther, nor I had tried this traditional El Salvadoran dish, so Guadalupe immediately led us inside and informed us that we would be eating pupusas for lunch today. We listened to Guadalupe’s stories of her home in El Salvador as we waited for our 8 pupusas (she ordered one of every kind of pupusa on the menu for us, plus a few extras).  She grew up in El Salvador, studied computer engineering, and began working in the field. Her husband came to the U.S. and she followed him shortly after. Guadalupe gushed about her son and daughter, who both had great experiences in RAR MA, and I could see her maternal instincts switch on as she divided up the pupusas among the three of us and made sure we were drinking our horchatas to wash them down.


This afternoon with Guadalupe was a starting point. I have just begun to scratch the surface of Chelsea, and I know I haven’t even started to do so in the area of Boston in which we are living. But I learned that it is important to go out into the community, walk around, explore, ask questions, be genuinely interested in another person’s life, and listen to what they have to say. That’s how I’m really going to learn about Boston.