By Seth Daniel
As they say, two heads are better than one, and the Union Park Neighborhood Association (UPNA) has elected two people to head up the long-time South End association for the coming civic year.
Board member Svetla Tzenova has been designated the new co-president to join long-time President Jamie Fox to help shoulder the duties of the UPNA organization, which holds three general meetings and several social events – including a hugely popular outdoor concert series.
Fox, who has been a very successful president for the last five years, said he was looking for a little help and some fresh ideas.
“I have a regular job and when things get busy there, I don’t want to ignore things in the neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for five years and I think you need fresh ideas and energy. There was a time when I thought I wanted to step down from being president, but people encouraged me not to. Instead, Svetla has agreed to be co-president. This way, she’ll split the workload with me and I can still be involved in doing the things we have been doing. I’ve been very encouraged so far, especially with the communications she’s been sending. Certainly two heads are better than one. Svetla is a very pleasant person and you need that in this role. I’ll be able to last longer in this job if I have to do less.”
Tzenova, 38, has been on the Board of UPNA for two years, recruited by Fox’s wife, Sue Ann Fox, to help decorate for one of the organization’s noted social parties. Tzenova had a background in such things, despite being a math whiz and economist trained at MIT, and went all out.
That energy translated into a spark that drew her more and more into the neighborhood association. Now, after living on Upton Street for 10 years, she said she finds it amazing to know so many neighbors and be so tied in to the community.
“I grew up in a huge city where everyone is nameless and faceless,” she said. “Here, you get that feeling of being in a small town even though you’re in a big city, and the first time you feel it, it’s a tremendous feeling. For me, it’s the first time in my life where every time I walk down the street, I see people with their dog and I know their name and the dog’s name too. That’s pretty cool.”
And that’s pretty notable for a woman from Bulgaria who originally had an aversion to the South End.
Tzenova said she had been living in Cambridge, and then moved across the street from the Christian Science Center. She had a friend on Chandler Street who was trying to convince her to move to the neighborhood, but only knowing the neighborhood from its past reputation, she was not interested.
However, her friend was able to convince her to look around for a home, and once she set foot in the South End, she never wanted to leave.
In fact, growing up in Bulgaria in a large city, Tzenova said she dreamt of owning a place that pretty much looked like her home on Upton Street.
“I grew up in a high rise and so I always had this mental image that I would live in a house with a stoop,” she said. “I don’t know where it came from, but to end up in a neighborhood that has all of these stoops, I guess I pretty much hit the jackpot. That’s probably one of my favorite things about living here.”
Tzenova said Fox approached her because he felt like no one would step up, and it could mean the association would have to fold into another active association.
She said that was enough to get her to step up even more than she had already.
“When Jamie first mentioned it to me, he said if no one steps up, we might have to merge with another neighborhood association,” she said. “That seemed scary to me because they had built a wonderful organization. We decided that if we had enough of a succession plan to maintain the tradition, that would be good enough…He and his wife do so much for the neighborhood, the businesses and the people. It wasn’t conceivable I could do it on my own. That’s how we arrived at the co-president idea. It works well for contributing and sharing the workload.”
In his time, Fox had taken UPNA from being an organization that spent a lot of money on its social parties, to one that gets sponsorships for the socials and the summer concerts. There are also no dues.
To achieve that, he has introduced the UPNA Club Card, which allows those who make a donation to get the discount card that is honored by several businesses and restaurants in the UPNA area.
Tzenova said she feels that the organization is working really well, and has no immediate plans to make great changes in her role. However, she said she would like to bring more young people into the fold.
The UPNA is currently working to identify ideas for events and summer activities, and they will hold a general meeting in May.