By Seth Daniel
With tears welling up in this eyes, Joel ‘Speedy’ Reyes told a room full of folks on Monday afternoon, March 27, just how important it is to get clients from Project Place – which he once was – on the streets cleaning up the community and working.
Reyes is the supervisor of Project Place’s Clean Corners team that has, among many others, partnered recently with Washington Gateway Main Street and Chinatown Main Streets to do a cleanup of the area to beautify both districts. The program began last fall and has blossomed into a great and valuable way of employing a vulnerable population while keeping the area clean and vibrant.
“Fifteen years ago, I was like a little kid; I didn’t know where to go,” recalled Reyes, who related that he and others who come out of jail often have trouble finding work. “This place saved my life and a lot of other people too.
“Cleaning up this area and the Melnea Cass area is good because I see people who I know and grew up with and it hurts me,” he said. “I appreciate Melnea Cass Boulevard because it reminds me of what would have happened if I’d have kept doing what I was doing. I don’t know where I’d be. I would be just like them too. We want people to get help and to be able to work so they can change their lives too.”
The press conference at Project Place on Monday featured Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who officially celebrated the formation of the partnership between Project Place’s Clean Corners/Bright Hopes program, Washington Gateway Main Street and the Chinatown Main Street as part of an ongoing effort to improve neighborhoods in the City through targeted investments in beautification, public safety and enhanced homeless and addiction recovery services.
“Clean Corners/Bright Hopes is a proven partnership that works for our neighborhoods, and I am excited to announce that this expansion will reach new corners of our City,” said Mayor Walsh. “This is more than a Clean Streets initiative. It is work and job training for those who need a chance, and it exemplifies how when we all come together, we can make Boston shine. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of this partnership that provides opportunities to those who need it most.”
Following his official remarks, Mayor Walsh talked from the heart, and said it’s up to all of us to give a hand up to those that are homeless, or have a record, or just got out of jail. He said there are barriers that are very large when people are in those situations, and creating these kinds of programs with noted providers like Project Place can help solve a very complex problem.
“It’s important we see people and not walk over them,” he said. “Let’s put our arms around them and help them along…The people coming here are needing to work. We owe it to them to help them and give them a second chance.”
As part of the partnership, Clean Corners crews will maintain both sides of Washington Street from Herald Street to Melnea Cass Boulevard, as well as portions of Essex, Kingston, Edinboro, Hudson, Kneeland, Harrison, Tyler, Beach, Oxford and Knapp streets in Chinatown. Services include routine outdoor cleaning such as picking up and bagging trash along sidewalks and gutters; removing posters from light poles; caring for planters and cleaning the city’s “Big Belly” trash containers.
“We’re very excited about our partnership with the city of Boston. Clean Corners is our oldest social enterprise program, and we have long worked with the city. But we’re exceedingly proud of the City’s continued confidence in our clients, who perform valuable work while learning on-the-job training to obtain mainstream employment,” said Suzanne Kenney, executive director of Project Place. “This partnership with the city of Boston is one of the vital supports for Clean Corners, which is a great option for urban communities that want to keep their neighborhoods and business districts clean.”
Clean Corners is an economic development initiative created in response to the challenges involved with assisting people who are homeless achieve self-sufficiency. In addition to job training, Clean Corners employees have access to support services that help them maintain a professional work schedule. They are paid hourly, wear uniforms and are a highly visible, highly trained positive presence in the neighborhoods they serve. When they graduate from Clean Corners, the program participants have skills that transfer directly to a variety of industries, including custodial services, facilities maintenance, waste management and landscaping.
The announcement builds on the City’s partnership with Project Place. In December, Mayor Walsh announced a partnership between the City, Boston University and Project Place to clean the neighborhoods around the Melnea Cass Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue intersection.