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Apr 22, 2019 | Insights

Invigorating Mattapan: Youth Making a Difference at the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition

UPDATE: Since this post was published, the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition has announced the hiring of Shavel’le Olivier as their first executive director.

The Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition was formed after Vivien Morris, then working at Boston Medical Center as a pediatric dietitian, conducted a study on the cost of a healthy diet in low income Boston neighborhoods including her home neighborhood of Mattapan. The results: the high cost and scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables had created a food desert and contributed to issues of childhood obesity in the community. When the study was done, Morris’ Mattapan friends told her “You know you wasted our time with this study, right? We know what the problem is. We need to figure out what to do about it.”

So Morris and a handful of community members sprang into action and started the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition with its first initiative, the Mattapan Square Farmer’s Market. Thirteen years later, MFFC has expanded to include multiple community programs and events, neighborhood beautification projects, and robust youth-led programs. The entirely volunteer-run organization is led by a Leadership Team of seven dedicated and passionate community members. “While our focus is food and fitness,” Morris said, “we eagerly take on whatever the issues or problems are in our community.”

Morris notes that one of the most exciting parts of the organization’s growth has been the success of its Vigorous Youth program. The program started when MFFC participated in a food access and walkability study of Mattapan. The study’s funders required that youth collect the data, so MFFC reached out to partner organizations across Mattapan to help them build a youth team. After the study was over, the teens wanted to stay active and Vigorous Youth was born.

“I am so proud of our young people,” said Morris. “They really step up and want to be leaders in the community. It’s a step beyond what we were ever expecting or hoping.”

Without a local public high school located in Mattapan, Morris believes Vigorous Youth provides a much needed opportunity for teenagers to come together and become more active in the neighborhood. “I think we all appreciate Mattapan more now that MFFC has created more spaces and places for the community to gather,” said Morris. “You have to build on the love you have for your community.”

Led by two devoted young women, Youth Director Shavel’le Olivier and Youth Coordinator Chavella Lee, Vigorous Youth teens coordinate and manage bicycling programs, a farm stand, and community workshops on everything from climate change to the effects of racism on health.

Olivier, one of the first teens to participate in the program, is now a graduate student and still deeply involved in MFFC, especially its biking programs. “Shavel’le has provided so much leadership to MFFC at every stage of her own growth,” said Morris. “She takes her role as a youth leader very seriously.”

Vigorous Youth’s biking program, Mattapan on Wheels, has been building a cycling community in the neighborhood for almost a decade. In 2011, they held an inaugural Bike-a-Thon that has since grown into one of the city’s signature biking advocacy events and welcomed more than 165 participants this past year. Vigorous Youth has built partnerships with other organizations across the city including Area B-3 Police, Boston Bikes, Boston Cyclists Union, Bowdoin Bike School, Roxbury Rides, and CrimsonBikes, and will be hosting a five-week, youth-led series of bicycle repair and maintenance workshops in the spring. A national youth biking conference in partnership with Bikes Not Bombs is also in the works.

Vigorous Youth's Farm Stand
Youth Farm Stand in Mattapan, Massachusetts

The teens also operate a Youth Farm Stand at the Mattapan Community Health Center, where Youth Coordinator Chavella Lee brings her experience from working at FoodCorps and The Food Project to lead the way. “Brookwood Community Farm provides the produce, and the teens do everything else,” said Morris. “They set it up, sell, reach out to the community, create and pass out flyers.”

Continuing their practice of running workshops for the community, Vigorous Youth most recently led MFFC’s monthly community meeting where they presented a Climate Café and facilitated discussions about the impacts of climate change on the community. In preparation, the teens participated in a multi-session training with Boston Nature Center.

“They really are leaders in their own right,” said Morris. “Their participation really deepens our understanding of what the neighborhood needs and creates a reach across generations that has strengthened the community.”

Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition recently joined TSNE as a fiscally sponsored project. You can read about them online at www.mattapanfoodandfit.org or follow them on Facebook at Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

Mattapan Food and Fitness Upcoming Events 2019

  • Mattapan Bike Workshops – Weekly on Saturdays from May 4 – June 8
  • Mattapan Walks at Almont Playground – Saturday, May 18
  • Moving for Life at Boston Nature Center – Saturday, June 22
  • Mattapan Farmer’s Market – Saturdays beginning July 13
  • Mattapan Farm Stand – Thursdays beginning July 18
  • Mattapan on Wheels Bike-a-thon – Saturday, July 20