Saturday, March 26, 2011

From the Streets of Salem; Working Together to end Domestic Violence

“The field of empty promises grows with each passing year.”
Empty promises were made to me during my first marriage as a young woman in my early 20s. I promise to never verbally attack you again, I promise to never hit you again, I promise we will be a real family again, I promise your daughter will never be in fear of being left alone with me again.
Promises, promises and more promises that became empty and grew more and more frequent as I held to the belief of trying to keep my marriage and my family intact. A belief that eventually would subside as the promises made to me developed into just words that had no meaning to them at all. Promises and words with no meaning have had an impact upon woman throughout history; a history with a long track record.
Victims stay in an abusive relationship because they blame themselves for the abuse, they are afraid to make any type of change in their life, they may not have the financial means or resources to leave the abuser, there is a mixture of good times and hope that things will change, and the victim believes it is a way of life since they themselves witnessed a parent being abused in their own childhood. Also, children of abused parents can also become the future abusers themselves.
On May 1, more than 1,000 people will walk a five-mile trek in order to raise money or awareness for domestic violence in the 19th annual Walk for HAWC. The organization’s name was changed from Help for Abused Woman and Children to Healing Abuse Working for Change. I like the new name and I believe it is a reflection of a society of violence that carries no gender.
As a woman who witnessed abuse as a growing girl, as a sister who had five brothers and witnessed falsification, as a wife who was abused, as a mother who finally left my first husband when his abuse spilled over to my daughter and then to our son — and it is court documented — I pray the “field of empty promises” does not continue to grow for anyone. I pray the possibility of a new life is knowledge that others will achieve through programs such as HAWC.

For more information, visit or search the state’s website, Details about the Walk for HAWC are also on Facebook at

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Home is where the Heart is

The opening lines of John Howard Payne’s 1823 opera Clari, Maid of Milan begins with, “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam/Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness 41% of today’s homeless are families; it is these families that are no longer familiar with the word home and with today’s economy there are more and more families on the edge due to foreclosures, evictions, job loss, and depleted affordable housing. Disruption of the American family is devastating and with the help of a shelter a family’s lives can be put back together; yet home sweet home is really what is needed in order to secure other things such as jobs and education in order to help a family succeed.

In 2006 my own family was living on the financial edge. With no safety net and existing week to week the rent we owed was increasing dramatically due to lack of funds and affordable housing for us. Finally, in February of that year we were evicted and we were forced to leave our home and the city I grew up in. Abandoning everything we had accumulated over a 17 year period we packed one bag per family member and shell shocked walked out the door to a new city and a new life. We were blessed not to be catapulted into the streets like some families, however we hesitantly ventured through the doors of a family shelter. A place that sheltered us, yet it was not our home; our refuge where we contributed domesticated affection to our household and our family. In time we did manage to move back to Salem, MA,  and  I recall my husband painting our daughter’s bedroom her favorite color - pink. It became a place when after a long day we could rest our tired bodies and tired souls, a place where we could sleep at night feeling safe and secure, a place where we could have meals together and with our pets that we loved, and most importantly it was a place we could call ours to decorate with the personal items of our lives; it was home.

Throughout the years we have encountered the bangs and the bumps that life gives to us all. Most of our hardship was caused by financial burden and having our rent at times be one of our main stressors. With no Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program available for us we did manage, yet it was an uphill battle that to this day I wonder how we have survived. My children are now grown and on their own and my husband and I are currently empty nesters that still live on one income, but at least we are housed in an affordable studio; a place that we feel and a place that we still call home. Home is a place both physically and emotionally, yet having a home also creates self actualization through jobs, education, and health services which helps all of us as individuals reach our potential.

Potential that is necessary for adults and especially for children to grow into adults that will benefit both themselves and society. Physiological needs such as air, water, and food, clothing, and shelter are literal needs for human survival, but until all these physical needs are met including safety, security, financial, and personal which is the next level then and only then will everything else fall into place such as friendship, intimacy, family, and then motivation which is the aspiration for employment, furthering an education, and empowerment. Aspiration that I personally witnessed in my daughter as she grew into a young woman who dreamed of working as a hair stylist. I remember her daily trips from Revere, MA to Salem, MA via the MBTA bus and then from Salem, MA to Middleton, MA via the school bus to attend school at the North Shore Technical High School; somehow my daughter kept the pace of these daily travels for almost a year until we moved back to Salem, MA permanently. It was in her own room that was painted pink with her personal items decorating her shelves and her walls where I know my young daughter developed motivation and succeeded in her dream of working at a salon and attaining her Massachusetts State License because her potential was fulfilled in a place called home.

American families need a place to call home, a permanent place to live so everything else like jobs, education, and health services will follow. When an individuals needs are met then and only then are they able to meet the needs of others. Most importantly, their needs being met leads to success for themselves and for us all. True success will be achieved when homeless families have housing that is affordable and a real home where their hearts reside.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

From the Streets of Salem ; Breast Cancer Awareness and Miss Pink Pageant

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, each year approximately 200,000 women are diagnosed with this disease, which is second to lung cancer as a cause of death to women.

My maternal grandmother was one of these women back in the 1960s. I never had the joy of having a grandmother because breast cancer stole her from me when I was just a toddler. I have often wondered how different things may have been for me if my Grammy was a part of my life. However, I am left to do just that wonder.

Wondering is something that we as humans had done for centuries. The word cancer originated with the father of medicine the Greek physician Hippocrates who initially called cancer “karkinos”; a term used to describe a crab that Hippocrates believed tumors resembled.

One of the most ancient cases of tumors occurring on the breast dates back to Egypt in 1500 BC, when eight cases of tumors were documented on a papyrus. Evidence is also shown through inscriptions by this ancient culture that they knew the difference between malignant and benign tumors. Though centuries ago the ancients were aware of cancer and tumors, it was not until the end of the 19th century that survival rates started to rise.

The mastectomy, which was promoted by William Stewart Halsted, brought long-term subsistence of survival from 10 percent to 50 percent. Attempting to defeat breast cancer in 1882, Dr. Halsted was the first to remove a breast.

This procedure also implemented a campaign geared toward education and early detection. One of the first campaigns was the conception of the American Society for the Control of Cancer during the 1930s and the 1940s called the “Women’s Field Army.” Utilizing a military metaphor, prompt detection and prompt medical intervention was every woman’s duty in the war on cancer.

Feeling beautiful is the message that the Miss Pink Pageant evokes. Originally organized by Ashley Herron Shultz the first Miss Pink Pageant was held last year in Salem. Shultz herself has competed in pageants and believed that survivors of breast cancer have been through so much that a pageant would make them feel bewitching. The pageant provided an outlet for the women to share their stories while also increasing awareness of this disease and raising money to benefit breast cancer research and patient support programs.

The first crowned Miss Pink is Trisha Grzela, owner of Radiance Aveda, a non-tipping hair salon in Salem and Marblehead. Grzela’s story is a story of determination to survive.As Grzela said, “I wasn’t going to choose cancer over a breast,” and it is this type of perseverance that will allow her to pass the title of Miss Pink on to a successor in the 2011 Miss Pink Pageant. which will be held on April 16 at the Danversport Yacht Club. Trish Grzela is a “pink warrior” and she is also among the increasing group of breast cancer survivors due to modern research and public awareness.

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From the Streets of Salem ; Guard Support and Salem's Armory

On a cold day in February 1982 I was holding my firstborn daughter in my arms as I watched with great sadness on the news images of the Salem Armory burning — a building that was a symbol and a home to the Second Corps of Cadets and Company H Salem’s Eighth Infantry since it was built between 1890 and 1908.

Too many lives and too many families that lost forever sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors who will no longer come home. So it is fitting that we stay united and either attend this benefit or donate to the benefit to assist Guard Support’s Emergency Financial Relief program that helps Guard members and their families facing financial difficulties which are often caused by deployment.

The great hall of the armory also hosted charity balls, graduations, political events, Chamber of Commerce dinners and even allowed the former Drum and Bugle Corp “The Arbellas” to practice their music and their drills under the great roof.

I remember being a young girl and practicing over and over with my big bass drum, which was almost as big as me, in that same huge hall. A gem in our city destroyed by the hunger of the fire that cold February day. However, though an edifice was destroyed the spirit of our Massachusetts National Guard lived on and still lives on to this day; a spirit that has survived since the days of the militia in 1636.

In August 2010 Gov. Deval Patrick officially designated Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard. So it is fitting that our city will host a charity for National Guardsmen and their families that face deployment on Saturday, Feb. 12, from 5-10 p.m., at Murphy’s Restaurant & Pub.

The price of freedom is a sacrificial price for the families left behind because their loved ones have been deployed; a deployment that has evolved from stateside to overseas since post-911. In his February 2010 report, according to the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, Major General Joseph C. Carter: There has been deployment of over 7,500 soldiers and airmen to Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other locations worldwide to support the president’s global war on terror; a global terror that has certainly taken many of our soldiers over the years.

So as a teenager I sat in my warm home in February 1982 with my baby girl watching the Salem Armory burning out of control and I never realized how the security of our nation and our lives would also rage out of control when the term “terror” developed a new meaning with the conception of terrorists and terrorism; a word that will continue to have far reaching consequences not only for our nation, but for the world.

Read More:  Salem Armory Fire, 1982 via YouTube

Abandoned Property Abandoned Souls

I remember growing up and always loved the crucifix with our savior that overlooks the entrance to the church. It has been a comfort to me as well as others over the years. I remember my two nephews being christened as infants within the walls of the church and also when my brother renewed his vows with his bride there. Now, I enjoy the same comfort that I felt as a young girl when I look out my window and watch the sun rise and the sun set upon the structure. It is a building that should be renovated instead of torn down so the sun may continue to shine upon it.

I remember growing up and always loved the crucifix with our savior that overlooks the entrance to the church. It has been a comfort to me as well as others over the years. I remember my two nephews being christened as infants within the walls of the church and also when my brother renewed his vows with his bride there. Now, I enjoy the same comfort that I felt as a young girl when I look out my window and watch the sun rise and the sun set upon the structure. It is a building that should be renovated instead of torn down so the sun may continue to shine upon it. Even the Committee on Divine Worship through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000 agrees that church architecture does embody the Gospel and if razing an old church is to take place then special care is needed in the treatment of the building which is “dignified and beautiful.” My question is then if Catholic bishops believe a church building to house the embodiment of the Gospel then why would a church that has been on the same property for over a 100 years be destroyed? My perception which I am sure is shared by many others can be defined in one word - sacrilegious.

Renovation of churches into living spaces is something that would be a perfect solution. Retaining most of the original architecture while at the same time utilizing the abandoned building into a place where people can reside is the answer, yet it is an answer that needs to be viewed with respect to the building. Renovations happen globally of former churches and having the artistry to convert a church into a home takes someone who is creative. Perhaps the planning board, the architects, and the developers that are designing the renovations for lower Lafayette Street need some ingenuity added to the ingredients to improve an entrance to downtown which is considered a key entrance. And the key to handling St. Joseph’s Church is to have a new outlook on the building instead of just tearing it down.

The Historical Commission will begin a review next month concerning the church building and attempting to offset its total loss. A local lawyer John Carr is working pro bono as well as Emily Udy, preservation project manager for Historical Salem to save the architectural integrity of the building. Since 2004, St. Joseph’s Church has been on a list of the city’s most endangered historical places; a list that should be taken notice of by those involved in this project such as the politicians, architects, developers, and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. Decisions need to made based on the people who live in the area and though the church building is abandoned, the souls of constituents should not be abandoned. The souls of Salemites should be considered and together we can make the destiny of the building that use to house St. Joseph’s Church remain intact.

From the Streets of Salem ; Social Security Failing Seniors

I remember as a young girl growing up in Salem my mother working and at times even working two jobs if necessary to take care of her family.

The clothes my brothers and I wore, the food we ate, the heat that kept us warm during the cold winter months and even the presents under the tree on Christmas morning were there because I had a parent that came from a generation of hardworking Americans.
These are Americans or even non-Americans who are being taught that working hard is not the way to achieve anything. Typically it is also the working class who is denied any assistance that they may need such as healthcare, fuel assistance, housing, and even food stamps because the government claims they make too much money while living week to week.

They were a generation that witnessed wars such as WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War; a generation that stood in the Depression-era soup lines; a generation that was raised by parents that believed if you worked hard then you were able to achieve anything.
Unfortunately, this same generation that should be recognized for their hard work, sacrifices and helping to shape our country into what it is today including who we are as individuals are now the retirees who have been denied a cost of living increase due to low inflation.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue stated that, “Social Security is doing its job helping Americans maintain their standard of living.”

Well, I have witnessed an elderly mother, friends and neighbors who make choices between both eating and buying their much-needed medicine. I have actually spoken to some seniors who admitted to me that they purchase pet food yet they have no pets at all. I heard my mother tell me not to call an ambulance during an emergency situation because she owes the ambulance company too much money.

And it is not only owing money for healthcare it is also not being eligible for food stamps or hardly any food stamps at all because you are an older American that makes too much money with your Social Security benefits. I have even gone to a food pantry with my mother and when she asked if the quarts of milk were available for everyone, she was told only if you have a child who lives in your household. I guess that our seniors do not need to drink something as nutritional as milk.

Most importantly, 50 million retirees who have for the first time since 1975 gone without a cost of living raise because of low inflation deserve to be taken care of financially. It is the generation that has gone without enough in order to sacrifice for their families and their country and it is the generation that should no longer go without.

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From the Streets of Salem ; Winter Blues Can Take a Toll

“So this is Christmas” as I am composing this column. Christmas morning with music playing, the tree bursting with lights, my cats curled under the tree and my husband and I looking forward to the holiday feast that awaits us at my younger brother’s house in Ipswich.

Yet, mixed in with my joy is a pain that only gains strength during the Christmas season; a pain that I endure daily, yet it is a pain that my family struggles with due to our losses. We’ve lost our sons, brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers and friends, who are dearly missed each day.

I, who was once the middle child, am now the oldest child with only two out of my five brothers left. However, my family is not the only one that has endured the loss of a loved one by suicide.

The word suicide is formed like homicide, the prefix sui- is from the Latin for oneself. To some suicide and homicide may just be words, yet to my family they have a meaning that I pray nobody ever experiences.

The experience started for my family in 1991 when one of my oldest brothers was murdered. The shock of a 28-year-old son, brother, uncle, husband and new dad being stabbed and thrown onto a cold sidewalk to die just left us all devastated.

Then the nightmare of losing another family member occurred in 2004 when my brother Guy was found dead, we assume by natural causes, and alone in his apartment by my brother Mark and my mother.

Well, the nightmare was to haunt us once again when in 2007 my “Irish twin” Mark decided that life was too much to handle and took his own life while looking at a picture of his daughter and son. I, who was once the middle child, am now the oldest child with only two out of my five brothers left. However, my family is not the only one that has endured the loss of a loved one by suicide.

John L. McIntosh, PhD, conducted a study for the American Association of Suicidology and concluded that suicide is the 11th cause of death nationally with the average of one person every 15.2 minutes killed themselves in 2007.

It’s a loss that is caused by too many reasons to list, yet here are a few: Feeling that things will never get “better,” divorce or breakup, losing custody of a child or children, a serious or terminal illness, chronic physical or emotional pain, being victimized in any way, legal issues either civil or criminal, a mental disorder such as bipolar or depression, feeling trapped in a situation that is perceived as negative, or even the loss of a loved one.

These, as I mentioned, are just some of the whys pertaining to suicide, yet as a survivor you are left many times with unanswered questions and grief.

As to signs of impending suicide, here also are just a few: Appearing sad or depressed, talking or writing about death, withdrawal from family and friends, extreme mood swings, losing interest in daily activities, changes in sleeping and eating habits, drug or alcohol abuse, or even poor school or work performance.

So as the “winter blues” mix in with the joy of the holidays I hope that 2011 is a healthy, happy and good year for everyone; as Tiny Tim exclaimed, “God bless us, every one!”

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From the Streets of Salem ; Not Everyone Enjoys the Comforts of Home

In my previous column we had chatted together about a place to call home, but what if home consists of a slumlord that is either absent or just does not care what conditions you and your family live in?

Well, let me begin by telling you a few things about of my experiences. My family has been the “gypsies” of Salem and has lived in so many different apartments and has dealt with everything from cockroaches’ infestation to mice taking over our living quarters. I have had cockroaches multiplying so fast that my home became theirs.

Remember that scene from Erin Brockovich when she opened a box to give her child something to eat, only to find cockroaches inside the package? One way I was eating a snack and as I went to eat the last few bites, a roach was perched in my hand nibbling on my snack. We once had a mouse utilize the crib of my youngest grandson as a toilet and even mice just using the home as their playground.
Back then I was so worried about losing the roof over our heads that I was willing to comply with the landlord’s promises — or non-promises — to rectify the situation.

Eventually my compliance turned to “why bother” when it came to paying the rent. I started to hold onto it until things were repaired or cleaned up, but it was to no avail. Of course in the end the landlord received his court-ordered judgment or my family not being aware of our rights would vacate the premises quietly.
Quietly, that is how the peasants were when it came to the lordship as far back as the Roman Empire and throughout the medieval times when feudalism was rampant in that society. Peasants accepted whatever conditions they had to endure while they worked the land since they needed the lord for protection and for existence. Loyalty under any condition was mandatory for the common folks in order to survive for themselves and their families since the aristocrats such as the kings, lords and even the church maintained control over the lower class.

There are still some slumlords who believe as owners of property or properties they can maximize profit by spending less money on the maintenance of the property that they own.
The phrase “slumlord” actually dates back to 1892 when George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called “Widowers’ Houses” in which he criticizes landlords who are in fact slum landlords. Though the term is derogatory, it was a fact of life for tenants who had no rights or legal protections until the early 1900s when laws were enacted in America to protect tenants with rent control and eviction rights.

Unfortunately there are too many people who are not aware of having rights, or are desperate for a place to live. Some cannot pass background checks because of past issues; other people can’t pay rent because lost their job, and others just cannot afford to pay higher rent in order to live in good conditions.

Absent landlords, or what I consider slum landlords, do not just charge minimal rent anymore. With today’s tough economy and joblessness among the once middle class, some landlords are charging high rents still because of the severe housing shortage. Hence the most recent location I resided at had ants, mice and barely any maintenance.
Now, I have experienced landlords that certainly care for their property and that try to keep the property from disrepair or infestations, but I find recently in the low-income neighborhoods there are truly more and more landlords that do not care appearing on the horizon. There are even the rooming house landlords that label their tenants because they are either renting a room because of being in transition for whatever personal reason or these rooming house owners believe their occupants are ignorant to the law.

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Families in Need

In 2006, my family was living on the financial edge. With no safety net, we existed week to week and the rent that we owed was increasing dramatically. No matter how hard my husband and I searched, the job market was just not producing for us, until eventually, in February of 2006, we were forced to leave our home and the city that I grew up in.
We were blessed not to be literally catapulted into the streets like some families, however, with hesitation we grabbed our belongings and ventured through the doors of a family shelter run by Housing Families, Inc.
Homelessness, whether it be individual or family-related, should not exist. It is a national issue that needs to be stopped for the sake of not only the taxpayers, but most importantly for the families that endure its repercussions. Finding refuge either on the streets on in a shelter should be something that no one, especially a child, should experience. "Home sweet home" should be a term that we are all familiar with, but what should be and what is the reality is too many people and families are still without a home.

Read More: that really is the voices of Families in Need

From the Streets of Salem ; Homelessness

First let me introduce myself. I am a grandmother, mother, sister, friend, wife and daughter. I am a Salem native and have experienced being homeless four times in my life.

Homelessness, as far as I am concerned, is defined by not having a place to actually call home. “Home sweet home” may be an endearing term, however it is a term that many with today’s economy may never be familiar with or it is a term that some people have recently forgotten from days that are now nothing but a memory.

Home is really defined as a refuge where an individual can contribute domesticated affection to their household and hence their family. Homelessness is not a recent social concern and there are varying degrees of being homeless.

The demand for shelters today is on an upward swing. A 2009 USA Today article states that homelessness increased over 9 percent since 2007 with at least 1.6 million people without a home, receiving shelter.

Historically, people have been without living quarters and without a place to shelter themselves for hundreds of years. For example, in Great Britain constables in 1530 would sentence vagabonds and beggars to the stocks for a three-day and three-night whipping. By the 16th century, housing was finally offered by the British government. The English also introduced the term “workhouse” which was really a place for the homeless to work and sleep while at the same time discouraging total reliance on state help.

Homelessness increased in the Americas during the post-Civil War era when many Europeans emigrated to America. The lack of shelter became an epidemic during the Great Depression when over two million people were homeless across the States.

Most towns and cities had a “skid row” and smaller towns had a population of hobos who lived by the railroad tracks and traveled nomadically via freight trains — certainly not the romantic life as portrayed in the movies.

Social concern was sparked by the increase in this population. One of the first rescue missionaries was founded in 1872: the New York City Rescue Mission, which still operates today. Provided at the mission are meals, sleeping quarters, guidance and job training. This became the template of local organizations that now operate today, such as LifeBridge in Salem (formerly called Salem Mission).

The demand for shelters today is on an upward swing. A 2009 USA Today article states that homelessness increased over 9 percent since 2007 with at least 1.6 million people without a home, receiving shelter.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s July 2008 report to Congress was based on counting homeless people on a single night in January 2007. HUD reported there were 671,888 individuals known to be homeless, either unsheltered on the streets or sleeping within a shelter.

There are too many people without a place of their own, and perceptions vary as to what home actually is. In my opinion home could be the streets, a room rented daily or weekly, a nook in an alleyway, a bench, a hallway or a space shared with a loved ones.

Yet home really should be a place that someone feels at ease: a place where after a long day you can rest your tired body and tired soul, a place where you can sleep at night feeling safe and secure, a place where you have meals with your family and any pets you have, and most importantly a place that you consider yours and decorate with the personal items of your life.

Many reasons lead to homelessness and there are also, in my opinion, many levels to homelessness. I personally have been in a family shelter located away from my hometown and resided with my family and friends no longer around me. I have also lived in rented rooms, slept in hallways and couch surfed between the homes of my family members.

I was once told that there are three main types of homeless: The “deadbeat,” the mentally challenged and the economically deprived. Yet do most of us really want to not have a home of our own? I say no to that question because the underlying causes can create a sort of acceptance for the way things are and not a want for the way things are. Some examples that create homelessness are: social services being cut, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, low-paying jobs, lack of affordable housing, addictions and mental illness.

So as the “Martha Stewart of the ghetto,” I will be writing a regular column focusing on social issues and everyday dilemmas, and offer bits and pieces of my personal story to you all. I sign off at the juncture in my life where I am concentrating again on moving forward in order to once again find a place that I can call home.