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Kennedy's Legacy Lives At Dorchester Health Clinic

This article is more than 10 years old.
Employees of the Upham’s Corner Health Center gathered Wednesday to observe a moment of silence for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. “It is fair to say that without the senator’s legislation and all the work he did in the Senate, none of us would be here today,” said operations manager Melida Arredondo. “It was his legislation that created community health centers. (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)
Employees of the Upham’s Corner Health Center gathered Wednesday to observe a moment of silence for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. “It is fair to say that without the senator’s legislation and all the work he did in the Senate, none of us would be here today,” said operations manager Melida Arredondo. “It was his legislation that created community health centers. (Meghna Chakrabarti/WBUR)

At 10 o'clock Wednesday morning, a quiet announcement floated through the corridors of the Upham's Corner Health Center.

"If you would like to join us in lowering the flag to half staff, please meet in front of the building. Thank you."

More than 100 doctors, nurses, therapists and patients poured out to the front of the Columbia Road clinic. Pink and blue scrubs surrounded the flagpole as operations manager Melida Arredondo began to speak.

"It is fair to say that without the senator's legislation and all the work he did in the Senate, none of us would be here today," Arredondo said. "It was his legislation that created community health centers. And for that we honor and remember Sen. Ted Kennedy, the lionhearted Democrat from Massachusetts."

Arredondo and a colleague unclipped the line and lowered the flag to half-staff. "OK, right there," she said.

The group observed a moment of silence. But only a short one, because the health center is busy. In 1966, Kennedy passed legislation that created the national community health center program. The Upham's Corner Health Center was one of the first clinics launched after the bill passed.

Demand has grown dramatically since its founding. The center saw 250,000 patient visits in 2008. It serves a mostly poor, mostly minority population that Arrodondo says would receive little to no health care if the center weren't there.

Kennedy was born on February 22, 1932 at St. Margaret's Hospital in Dorchester, just a few blocks away from the center.

After the moment of silence, Arredondo headed back to her office. But she stopped short in the lobby. Kennedy's legacy graces every corner of the clinic, Arredondo said.

"I look at these kids. My bet is these kids went through WIC. They got fed because of that program."

In 1972, Kennedy championed WIC, the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program. It's the first of a long list of Kennedy-initiated federal programs that have supported the work at Upham's Corner, Arredondo says. She counted them off on her fingers: WIC. The Americans with Disabilities Act. Expanded Head Start.

"On Channel 7 this morning, they listed a lot of the legislation," she said. "They listed about six, and I was like, 'Oh my God, all six of those pieces of legislation have somehow impacted my life.' "

Sen. Kennedy also personally stepped in when the Health Center needed help. In 2005, the clinic desperately needed a new dentist and tried to hire a highly-respected one from overseas. Arredondo remembers how hard it was to get the dentist a work visa. They talked to immigration services. Nothing. They talked to several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Nothing. After months and months of trying, they still could not get the dentist a work visa.

"Finally [director Edward Grimes] decided to approach Sen. Kennedy's office," Arredondo said. "And within two days the visa was extended. Within two days."

However, focus down from the national legislation to a sphere smaller than the local intervention, and that's where Arredondo says Kennedy's legacy draws to its finest point. Right in Arredondo's office, right to a photograph on her desk.

Lance Corporal Alexander Scott Arredondo. Her stepson. He was killed in action in Iraq on August 25, 2004. Five years ago to the day that Sen. Kennedy died.

"I just can't believe it," Arredondo said.

Kennedy met with Arredondo four times after her stepson's death. On the last visit, her husband Carlos told the senator about a memorial scholarship they founded at Alexander's high school. A few weeks later, they received a letter in the mail that Arredondo still keeps in a protective plastic sleeve in her desk.

June 8, 2006

Dear Carlos,

Thank you so much for your touching letter about the establishment of the Alexander Arredondo Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Blue Hills Regional Technical High School.

My niece Caroline once said, "I have come to believe more strongly than ever that after people die, they really do live on through those who love them."

I commend you for this beautiful tribute to Alexander, and I'm sure he'd be proud of you. It's a privilege to enclose a donation for the scholarship.

You and your family will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers, and I send you my warmest wishes.

Sincerely,
Edward M. Kennedy

This program aired on August 26, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

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