By Seth Daniel
Neighbors walked by the huge McKinley South End Academy for years, almost as if it were an invisible entity even though it takes up nearly an entire block on Warren Street and neighbors are prone to “camp out” in its parking lot during off-hours.
The school is in poor condition, but the program is top notch – serving young people throughout the city who have experienced severe trauma in their lives and need a special program to thrive. It is for many students, a last stop for help on their schooling path, and neighbors who have learned more about it over the last year have strove to help the school in any way possible – and they have high hopes for this coming school year.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood 25 years and have passed this school thousands of times and never knew anything about it, unfortunately,” said John Chambers of the South End. “About a year ago I met Catherine Clark of the school. It took that one introduction and I came in for a visit and they stole my heart. There was a major effort to help the school and attention to what we could do as a neighborhood to help the kids. Now that it has become known in the last year, there is a lot of attention and help here. I’m just glad to have been the conduit for that.”
Already, the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association has also started working close with the school over the past year, sponsoring a pizza party at the end of last year for the kids during their annual talent show and promoting a clothing drive for the school at this year’s upcoming Yard Sale.
Additionally, the Ellis and neighbors joined with Harvard Pilgrim to distribute backpacks and ice cream sundaes last Friday as a Back to School gesture.
Headmaster Velecia Saunders said the new partnership was unexpected, but very much appreciated.
“I’m looking forward to continuing this new partnership with the folks that are within our neighborhood and the dedicated folks who have decided to take a look at us and volunteer their help and learn about what we do,” she said. “I am very pleased with Harvard Pilgrim for donating the backpacks and supplies. It’s just been incredible and we hope it will all continue.”
Clark, who also owns Vintage Gardens on Dartmouth Street, said the school is very special because it’s a therapeutic program for kids who are the neediest in the city – a place right in the middle of the South End dedicated to helping young people heal.
“I think the neighborhood partnership is awesome,” said Clark. “I’m happy that people just stop by and ask, ‘What are you and what do you do?’ We encourage visitors and encourage anyone to come see what the kids are doing here. We’re a unique population here and kids here at the McKinley are in a 100 percent social-emotional program. They come from severe trauma and we’re a healing and therapeutic program. I think the neighbors would be very interested in seeing this and helping with it.”