Massachusetts Law Reform Institute: 50 Years of Advocating for People Living in Poverty

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit statewide poverty and law centers.  Its mission is to advance laws, policies, and practices that secure economic, racial, and social justice for low-income people and communities. For 50 years, MLRI has helped to shape policy that has had a significant impact on both the state and national levels, including helping to develop the Commonwealth’s Chapter 40B housing law and advancing CORI reform in Massachusetts.

O’Neill and Associates Vice President Suzanne Morse interviews Georgia Katsoulomitis, MLRI’s executive director, about the organization’s advocacy work and its 50-year history of developing policies that help people living in poverty.

A Faith That Does Justice Holds Community Meeting on Ending Homelessness


Rosanne Haggerty, Fr. Peter Gyves, Becca Fritz, and Fr. J. Bryan Hehir at AFTDJ’s Community Meeting on Ending Homelessness

What are the three actions that communities can take to end homelessness?  A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ) sought an answer to this question at its second Boston Community Meeting on December 19th. According to Rosanne Haggerty, president and CEO of Community Solutions in New York City, communities must know homeless individuals by name and know their specific circumstances. Successful communities adopt a “command center” approach to solving homelessness as they do for coping with natural disasters. Finally, communities need data in real time in order to learn what actions are effective and those that are not.  Haggerty, formerly a McArthur Foundation fellow, was interviewed by Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, the Secretary of Social Services of the Archdiocese of Boston.

AFTDJ is an ecumenical nonprofit working to move people to action in confronting injustices in the United States. Its goal is to create solidarity among people who very often have little contact in contemporary society – those with wealth, education, and privilege and those who are living in poverty and in threatened communities.  Its Community Meetings help educate participants in the challenges facing vulnerable populations and the ways to improve those circumstances.

An estimated 200 attendees – including representatives from Boston Health Care for the Homeless, the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, the City of Boston, and several faith traditions – were at the Community Meeting that was held in Boston at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Ms. Haggerty recounted her journey from being a developer of supportive housing to becoming a community leader using a systems based approach to ending homelessness.  She believes that communities can solve the problem of homelessness if they do so holistically.  This means breaking down the siloes among the multiple public and private agencies providing programs for the homeless and engaging all members of the community as part of the process.

The meeting also featured a first-person testimonial from Becca, who first became homeless at the age of 15 after her mother became gravely ill and her father took his own life while in the grips of addiction.  Becca described being left to her own devices to find shelter, even though she was a minor. She described her ordeal as a “failure of the system.”  Eventually, after being hospitalized for an eating disorder, she received support from Bridge Over Troubled Waters in Boston.  She is now housed, working and attending school.

AFTDJ was formed in San Diego, where Fr. Peter Gyves, SJ MD, brought together English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities to share experiences and concerns about the direction the country was taking.  Fr. Peter moved the program to Boston last year and expanded its mission. In addition to holding workshops, which bring vulnerable populations and long-time Boston residents together, AFTDJ hosts Community Meetings on topics that impact vulnerable populations, such as immigration and homelessness.  AFTDJ will hold its next Community Meeting in March 2018.  If you are interested in learning more about its work, visit their Website, Like them at Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.

A Faith That Does Justice to Host First Community Meeting Focused on Immigration

A new Boston nonprofit, A Faith That Does Justice Inc., is founded on a powerful idea –connecting people of good will to vulnerable populations will help transform society.

Founded by Fr. Peter W. Gyves, a Jesuit priest and doctor who was inspired by the example of the Jesuit priests he observed in El Salvador, the program seeks to build solidarity in three ways – by hosting workshops that allow people of different faiths to explore their common goals in human rights and social justice; by sponsoring community meetings that will bring speakers to Boston to highlight the challenges facing the poor and vulnerable around the world; and by pursuing a Faith in Action component, one element of which will be English as a Second Language classes.

AFTDJAt the first of the organization’s Community meetings, A Faith That Does Justice will welcome the Honorable Ruben Zamora, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the United Nations, as its first guest speaker. Zamora will be interviewed by Fr. Gyves, where they will discuss the increase of undocumented immigrants from Latin America into the United States, as seen from the perspective of a UN representative.

Ambassador Zamora has participated in the political sphere within El Salvador for the past 30 years, holding positions as member of the Legislative Assembly, candidate to the Presidency of the Republic (1994 and 2000), and Founder and Vice-President of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR).

Fr. Gyves, who is bilingual, is a retired pediatrician who once worked in poor communities in El Salvador. Two years ago, he piloted AFTDJ in Barrio Logan, San Diego. This program focuses on faith lived in action on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. He took this approach to two groups, one that spoke English and the other Spanish. Both urged him to bring the groups together, which he did in January 2015.  From there, the idea of A Faith That Does Justice was born. It was then moved to Boston in September 2016 in order to reach out to its diverse population of people, many of whom have recently arrived in the United States.

The forum with Ambassador Zamora will take place on Tuesday, October 10th from 6:15 to 8:15 pm at Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston.  If you are interested in attending A Faith That Does Justice’s community meeting with Ambassador Zamora, please rsvp at this link.

Disaster Response in the New Economy

By: Anthony DeMaio, Director

As Houston continues to reel from the effects of #Harvey and Florida braces for #Irma, American generosity is once again in full display as individuals, nonprofits and the business community come together to help those in need. In this outpouring of compassion, we are also witnessing a transformation in corporate philanthropy. While many legacy corporations continue to operate business as usual, newer companies, including disruptive technologies, are exhibiting a new kind of corporate citizenship. Delta Air Lines would do well to take a cue from Uber, for example.

The Miami Herald reported today that airfares had skyrocketed in recent hours prompting some consumers to vent their frustrations with the major air carriers on social media with some posts going viral. On the other side of reality are major tech players like Airbnb and Uber. Once again, the hospitality company Airbnb is pushing its Disaster Response Program, encouraging hosts to open their properties to people displaced by the storm, helping them find warmth and safety free of charge. Airbnb’s program launched in 2013 is an outgrowth of its grassroots efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. Uber is offering free rides to and from Harvey shelters in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and other cities in Texas. According to the company, “No action is required to receive a free ride to or from these locations – the full discount will be applied and reflected in the app when you request UberX.”

To be fair, most legacy corporations, including the big airlines, have robust #CSR operations, contributing valuable support to the relief efforts. In many cases, however, their playbooks could benefit from a refresh. There’s still a need for big checks, aircraft and trucks loaded with supplies, free flights for responders and aide workers, and other traditional response initiatives that only large-scale organizations can muster. But, when compared to the immediate utility of Uber and Airbnb’s contributions, the conventional response programs seem outmoded. And their humanitarian response is largely eclipsed by the negative PR engendered by allegations of price gouging.

Perhaps in the future we’ll see airlines – and other big companies – looking to make a more substantive contribution in the face of a devastating storm. At the very least, they need to know that corporate greed has no place during a natural disaster. Every company should be thinking about their CSR plans.

O’Neill and Associates’ Clients on the Move at the 2017 Boston Marathon

Marissa finish lineO’Neill and Associates is proud to recognize its clients and teams that ran the 2017 Boston Marathon: the Arredondo Family Foundation, HomeStart, National Braille Press, Project Hope, and St. Francis House.

HomeStart had a team of two, including our client Jennifer Sciamanna of RCN, and raised more than $20,000. Project Hope’s team of ten runners raised over $100,000; St. Francis House’s five runners raised over $63,000; and the Arredondo Family Foundation’s seven runners raised over $37,000.

National Braille Press raised over $20,000 with a team of two, including our own account executive Marissa Sullivan (shown in photo).

OA: Are there special reasons for your interest in supporting National Braille Press through the Boston Marathon?

MS: I have been working with National Braille Press for almost two years and am amazed by everything they do to promote the importance of braille literacy. Organizations like National Braille Press enabled my great grandmother, who lived more than 40 years of her life blind, to be on her own and navigate through each day. It is an honor to fundraise and run for National Braille Press.

OA: What was it like crossing the finish line?

MS: It’s hard to put into words that feeling when you turn left onto Boylston Street and finally have the finish line in sight. I remember thousands of onlookers screaming my name as I got closer to the finish line.  The best moment was probably that moment when I was just steps away from the finish line and I saw and heard my family screaming my name and vigorously waving their hands. I gave them a big wave and finished the last steps of those grueling 26.2 miles.

OA: You were able to raise over $10,000; how do you hope those funds help National Braille Press?

MS: I hope the funds I raised continue to help National Braille Press support a lifetime of opportunity for blind children and adults through braille, and provide access to information that empowers them to actively engage in work, family and community their surrounding community.


Embracing Our Differences Makes Us Great

By Ann Murphy

With the rancorous tenor of the political season permeating every waking hour, it’s difficult to feel hopeful for what’s next for the United States and for future generations.  Name calling, intolerance, fear mongering and outright nastiness have taken over the airwaves and the headlines.

But, there are glimmers of hope out there and there are people who espouse the very values that make our country great. These people illustrate the importance of our diversity and our differences and how these attributes are the key to helping us live our lives to the fullest.

nbp-haben-2Meet Haben Girma, a 28-year-old and the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School.  An African-American first generation immigrant, Haben was born deaf and blind and learned to read braille at the age of five. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she became a civil rights attorney at the California-based firm Disability Rights Advocates.  She left the firm earlier this year and now, instead of litigating against companies on behalf of the disabled, she became an instrument of change and an advocate for accessibility.  As a result of her efforts, Haben was recently recognized by President Obama as a White House Champion of Change.

Haben recently spoke at the Michael Driscoll Elementary School in Brookline to elementary school students who participate in the program “Understanding our Differences And Similarities.”  She communicated with the students through her braille note taker as an aide translated the students’ questions and comments from another device.

The students had insightful questions and addressed important things, such as what Haben liked to do in her free time. Her answer: she likes to dance swing and salsa and spend time with friends.  What is her favorite book? Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Students also had many questions about how Haben navigates with the help of her guide dog Maxine. Haben talked about using Google Maps and how Maxine responds to commands.

The students were fascinated by Haben, who gave an example of overcoming barriers when she discussed what it took for her to learn how to surf.

“I love the ocean and beach and I wanted to learn how to surf. I contacted surf schools and most said ‘we can’t help you because we don’t know how to work with people like you.’  It was very frustrating. It’s not fair to discriminate against people. A teacher’s job is to teach and to be creative. That means being creative to find a solution to work for the student,” said Haben.

Haben doesn’t want the word “inspirational” to be used about her and others with disabilities and she had a strong statement on that for the students.

“We call people with disabilities inspirational without thinking about what we are saying or what we mean. I prefer using inspiration as a verb. I’m inspired to make my school more inclusive, I’m inspired to make my website more accessible… rather than saying that person is inspirational.”

Haben visited with the elementary school students as a precursor to her featured keynote address at the annual National Braille Press gala, “A Million Laughs for Literacy,” that was held on Friday, October 28 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston.  Haben’s remarks and her presence were a reminder to us all that it’s our differences that make us all better people and that what we perceive as challenges, for ourselves or in others, are actually opportunities to find solutions and positive outcomes.

For more information about O’Neill and Associates’ communications services, visit our website

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund to Host Major Symposium on Alzheimer’s Disease on October 19th

caf-symposiumCure Alzheimer’s Fund will host its 6th annual symposium at the Boston Public Library on Wednesday, October 19th.  The symposium will focus on New Paths to Discovery and will feature some of the world’s leading researchers on Alzheimer’s disease.

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund is a non-profit dedicated to funding the most promising research to prevent, slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Since its founding in 2004, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has contributed over $45 million to research, and its funded initiatives have been responsible for several key breakthroughs – including the groundbreaking “Alzheimer’s in a Dish” study. So far this year, the organization has issued more than $6 million in research grants to scientists looking to advance our knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease or to develop effective therapies to treat or cure it.  Since the beginning of the year, the organization has funded 29 projects across the country and around the world, with more grants to come.

The symposium will feature a film screening of four short films focused on living with Alzheimer’s, plus a discussion with award-winning author David Shenk and prize-winning filmmaker Eric Latek.  Additionally, the event will highlight research on new paths to discovery by Duke University’s Murali Doraiswamy, Beth Stevens of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Rudy Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital.  Tanzi is the Chair of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund’s Research Consortium and Doraiswamy is a member of the consortium.  There will be a Q&A with the researchers after their presentations.

The symposium is free of charge and members of the public are welcome to attend the film screening, the research presentation or both.  Attendees must register in advance by calling (781) 237-3800 or at this link.

To learn more about O’Neill and Associates’ healthcare experience, click here

Urban Edge Receives William L. Boyan Award from Boston Children’s Hospital


Kevin Churchwell, MD, Executive Vice President of Health Affairs and Chief Operating Officer, Boston Children’s Hospital; William L. Boyan; Frank Shea, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Edge; Shari Nethersole, MD, Executive Director for Community Health, Boston Children’s Hospital

In August, Urban Edge’s President and CEO Frank Shea was on hand to receive the William L. Boyan Award from Boston Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees.  The award, named in honor of longtime trustee William L. Boyan, grants $50,000 annually to a community organization, community health center or Boston school for their work and commitment to the children and families of Boston.  Urban Edge was honored for their Family Financial Capability Program.

Urban Edge is a community development corporation that works in the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. The nonprofit’s mission is dedicated to strengthening communities and families. They do this by building quality affordable housing but also through community-based programs such as microloan funds, foreclosure prevention, and summer youth jobs.

Urban Edge’s Family Financial Capability program has a nearly ten-year history of providing high-quality, integrated financial support services for more than 100 low and moderate income families living in Urban Edge’s portfolio.  By identifying the needs of families with severe income issues and by helping them access public benefits through family budgeting and long-term planning, Urban Edge provides tailored services that simultaneously address residents’ short and long term goals.  Tenancy preservation and family economic resiliency are the primary goals of the program, but staff also engage residents to become involved local projects and events that suit their interests and become leaders in the community.

20160825_BoyanAwardsKK-36.jpg“We are so thankful to Boston Children’s Hospital for recognizing the hard work Urban Edge does every day to help the families in our community,” said Shea.  “Assisting families in their efforts to be financially stable is at the center of the work we do in community development.  It is gratifying to have an institution of Children’s Hospital stature acknowledge and aid us in that work.”

Previous recipients of the Boyan Award include The Home for Little Wanderers, Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, and Sociedad Latina.

For more information on O’Neill and Associates nonprofit expertise, click here

St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs Announce State Funding for 46 Units of Affordable Housing

Development will convert the historic
Boston Young Men’s Christian Union into housing

sfh-logoSt. Francis House (SFH) and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston (POUA) are excited to announce the award of funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to create 46 units of affordable housing at the former Boston Young Men’s Christian Union (BYMCU) building at 48 Boylston Street in Boston.

On behalf of the Baker Administration, DHCD will support the project with a combination of Federal and State Low Income Housing Tax Credits that will leverage approximately $11.8 million in equity, and $4,000,000 in various subsidies from DHCD. The City of Boston is also providing significant funding for the development.

“These affordable housing awards reflect our administration’s commitment to a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “By increasing affordable housing production, and stabilizing working families, low-income senior citizens and homeless families or those at risk, these housing awards will strengthen communities across Massachusetts.”

In April 2016, SFH and POUA purchased the historic building located near the Boston Common and on the edge of Chinatown on Boylston Street. Together, SFH and the POUA will undertake the rehabilitation of the now-vacant building.

“This funding will help create affordable housing in the heart of downtown Boston in a neighborhood that has seen rental costs skyrocket,” said Karen LaFrazia, Executive Director of St. Francis House. “Without an affordable home, finding a job and being an active member of the community can be impossible. This development will strengthen our mission to provide pathways to stability for individuals experiencing homelessness.”

The property will be redeveloped by SFH and POUA to provide much needed affordable housing in the community.  The completed development will include units to serve people who have experienced homelessness, and others with very modest incomes. Twenty-six of the units will be reserved for individuals earning less than 30% of the area median income.

“Providing permanent housing for the homeless and workers priced out of the market is a critical need. We’re redeveloping this building to provide permanent housing for individuals who can’t afford Boston’s very high housing costs,” said Lisa B. Alberghini, President of POUA. “Our goal is to carry on the mission of the BYMCU by providing for people in need, and by offering housing for those who would otherwise be forced out of the neighborhood.”

A designated Boston Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was constructed in 1875 and was operated by the BYMCU for more than 150 years to provide a variety of social, recreational and service programs.

In keeping with the building’s history, the development will also provide benefits beyond housing. A street-level business venture will established by St. Francis House to add to the vitality of the neighborhood and create important employment opportunities for the people they serve. Additionally, SFH will relocate its corporate offices from 39 Boylston Street to free up space to provide more robust support services. Taken together, the award of DHCD funding for this project creates badly needed affordable housing, employment training and new jobs for homeless individuals, and expanded social services for vulnerable populations.

O’Neill and Associates is proud to provide St. Francis House with communications and government relations services. 


About St. Francis House

Located in the heart of Boston, St. Francis House rebuilds lives by providing refuge and pathways to stability for adults experiencing homelessness and poverty.

St. Francis House is a welcoming and inclusive community. For over thirty years, every day of the year, we meet guests’ basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. We transform lives by using a holistic approach to understanding and addressing the behavioral health, housing and employment needs of people.  We commit ourselves to helping those we serve achieve renewed lives of dignity and self-determination.

About the Planning Office for Urban Affairs

The mission of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, a non-profit housing developer affiliated with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, is to serve as a catalyst for social justice through its work in housing development, commercial development and neighborhood revitalization, and affordable housing advocacy. POUA has completed over 2,700 units of affordable and mixed-income housing. The emphasis of the Office is not on numbers, though, but on having a qualitative impact on the harsh reality of housing deprivation for all those we serve.

Dr. Arun Gandhi Delivers Inaugural Lecture for John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Chair in Peace

Gandhi Ireland.pngA year after receiving an honorary degree and delivering the commencement address at the University of Ulster-Magee Campus in Derry, Northern Ireland, Tom O’Neill returned to campus with his wife Shelly for the Formal Launch of the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Peace. Dedicated in honor of their efforts to foster peace and advance the reconciliation process during and after the Troubles, the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Peace seeks to use the lessons learned from peacebuilding in Northern Ireland to prepare future peacemakers of the world.

Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the world-renowned non-violent Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, served as the keynote speaker of the inaugural events, which revolved around the commencement ceremonies for the INCORE Class of 2018. During his time on campus, Dr. Gandhi met with the Clinton Summer School INCORE participants and delivered a lecture around peace and nonviolence. The Smyth Memorial Lecture, “Building a Culture of Peace: Lessons from My Grandfather” emphasized the importance of learning in order for future peacemakers to create a culture of peace. Mahatma Gandhi led India’s non-violent independence from Britain and Dr. Arun Gandhi recalled learning from his grandfather that justice did not mean revenge but rather transformation through love.

Professor Brandon Hamber is the Director of INCORE and was appointed as the professor for the Chair in Peace to help future peacemakers in cultivating a more peaceful world. He was congratulated by Emmy-nominated actress and producer, Dr. Roma Downey, through a video message where she expressed her warm congratulations and her confidence in his valuable contributions while holding the Chair in Peace. Professor Brandon Hamber meditated upon the current violence conflicts around the world and recognized the great work that will be done to empower a generation of peacemakers.

While these events remind us that there is much that remains to be done to stimulate peace around the globe, the formal launch of the Chair in Peace was an opportunity to celebrate people like Mahatma Gandhi, John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill. Tom adds:

“The origin in modern history of peace, brought about in a non-violent way, for the essence of equity and justice to be realised, was really at the hands of the great Mahatma. It was the others that followed him, because they had been reminded of what peace can do.”

Looking forward, we can only hope the next generation continues to follow and be reminded of these great leaders and what peace can do.

Coverage of the Formal Launch included The Irish News, the Londonderry Sentinel, the International Fund for Ireland, and more.