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At A Beleaguered Field In Dorchester, Efforts To Create A Positive Place05:47
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Marine veteran Jeff Buckley keeps an eye on workout participants doing band pulls in the basement of All Dorchester Sports and Leadership at Town Field. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Marine veteran Jeff Buckley keeps an eye on workout participants doing band pulls in the basement of All Dorchester Sports and Leadership at Town Field. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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An organization founded to ease racial tensions among Boston teenagers is trying to make a field in Dorchester a destination.

Some of Boston's most violent streets border the field, but that's not deterring the employees and volunteers of All Dorchester Sports and Leadership (ADSL), who are working to transform the place.

And young people are flocking to the programs at Town Field.

Things get going at 4:30 a.m., when Jeff Buckley, a Marine veteran, opens the gym and a few dedicated teens come in to work out.

"A lot of these kids play high school sports, some of them are going into the military, so it's good for them, very good for them," says Buckley.

Andrew McDonough has been coming for two years. He plays hockey at Boston College High School.

"Jeff runs good workouts here and keeps us moving us all the time, so it's great here," says McDonough.

Jeff Buckley demonstrates to Joe Doyle how to lift weights properly. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jeff Buckley demonstrates to Joe Doyle how to lift weights properly. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Turning Spaces Into Active Places

This summer, the old bathhouse that serves as the cramped headquarters for ADSL was bathed in children's laughter and energy. For the second year, the organization ran a day camp for about 40 kids.

Twenty counselors came from BC High and other high schools, inside one minute, outside another, keeping tabs on the kids.

Counselors like Jaden Young, from Cambridge, a student at Buckingham Browne & Nichols. "I love the kids here," Young says.

Young works in a challenging environment.

"You see the basketball court right there?" Young asks. "We have people who drink, smoke cigarettes, weed over there. The influences are everywhere bad."

No one was turned away from the day camp.

Neighborhood kids whose parents ADSL Executive Director Candice Gartley had never met showed up on their own and were welcomed to meals and activities.

"A lot of the families, the parents, work," Gartley says. "They're not at home, so the kids hang around at the playground and for me, it's about creating community. It's about creating a safe place for these kids."

The All Dorchester Sports and Leadership (ADSL) building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The All Dorchester Sports and Leadership (ADSL) building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It has become a place to hang out.

The once-rundown corner of Town Field that the camp occupies was spruced up this summer. Gartley says dozens of veterans swooped in for four hours and put up bike posts, raised flower and vegetable beds, and replaced windows in the 1899 building.

"We had scoreboards built," Gartley says. "We had benches built. They re-mulched and pulled all the weeds out. They cut bushes down. They built us a kiosk."

A Safe Space, A Tough Piece Of Turf 

ADSL began during busing, as the All Dorchester Sports League, a way to get black and white kids together without beating each other up.

The program now fields baseball, softball and basketball leagues. Gartley says about 200 kids take part in basketball.

"It brings kids from different neighborhoods, which is really unusual around here, especially with gang activities," Gartley says, "but our basketball court is the safe space where everybody can play no matter what neighborhood they're from."

The program operates on a tough piece of turf. On one side of Town Field are the elegant homes of Melville Park, but just next to them is Bowdoin-Geneva, one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city, so dangerous parents often don't allow their kids to walk to the park, Gartley says.

"We got some push-back because the parents are worried about the safety of their children," Gartley says.

When coaches can, they walk kids to the field. And they keep them there until their parents can pick them up.

Once the sun goes down, Gartley says shootings do occur on the basketball courts and drug deals go down under the bleachers. She works constantly to persuade people not to use the field as a bathroom while the kids are there.

"We do have a boarding house across the street, and at the bottom of the boarding house is a liquor store, and then across the street is the park," Gartley says. "It's a beautiful place to have a beer and sell your dope and then when you gotta go to the bathroom, there's a brick house, so you just go."

Saving The Field

Gates Cleghorn conducts a cooking class in Codman Square. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Gates Cleghorn conducts a cooking class in Codman Square. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

ADSL offers cooking classes. They've branched out from Town Field to Codman Square.

"So today I'm doing a West African peanut stew," says chef Gates Cleghorn.

Cleghorn shows a small group assembled at his table how to chop onions. The kids bring their parents and grandparents.

Gartley says the idea behind the classes is to get children to learn how to cook nutritiously, and to teach their relatives.

"I want them tasting and trying new things, and sharing that information with their neighbors because there is not a lot of out-of-school activities for them here," Gartley says.

Gartley is trying to get more organizations to have a stake in Town Field. Boston Latin School now plays some games there. So does The Roxbury Latin School. She's persuaded the Savin Hill League to play some games. She is trying to persuade Mayor Marty Walsh to revive the practice of flooding the field in winter, so black and Latino and Vietnamese kids can learn hockey.

"I found out from my neighbors that 60 years ago, in Town Field, they flooded the field here, and they had a little ice skating rink," Gartley says. "So I said, 'We need to create that.' "

The city is replacing the 1940s field lights. The work should end in November, so the field, dark since last year, can resume night games next spring.

"We're not trying to save the world," Gartley says. "We're trying to save our corner of the world."

Fields Corner. Town Field.

This segment aired on September 19, 2017.

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Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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