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Associated Interviews Long-Time Bromley-Heath Resident

Tue, April 30, 2013

On Friday, April 26th, we sat down with Ms. Anna Mae Cole, 60-year resident of the Bromley-Heath housing development in Jamaica Plain, where we’re building our new state-of-the-art Learning Center. Ms. Cole, who celebrated her 81st birthday over the weekend, gave us a glimpse into her life at Bromley-Heath, how it’s changed over the years, and how she thinks our new Learning Center will affect the community.

See the YouTube video and the transcribed interview below.

Public Housing
I guess I really got involved more by coming in being a single mom on setting an example for my children, you know, letting them know that the community where they live is very important, that they participate, that they help to make it a nice place to stay. Because so many times you get a bad rap about public housing, in particular. When I moved in public housing, people would kill to get in here because it was just the bomb, so to speak, to have a place with hot, running water, a gas stove or whatever, and heat, where before, when you lived out in the neighborhoods, most people had an oil stove, you had to heat your own water, and stuff like that, and heating in the winter was very poor, so this was just like a utopia for me.

Where I was living, before I moved here, I used to sit up on the roof and watch them build this place. And I would see building and once it was just about completed, I would have my friend drive me up here at night and I’d would be peeking in the windows, looking in there saying, “oh wow, that’s just so gorgeous, I’d just love to be in there.” And I was fortunate enough to get an apartment in here.

Life at Bromley-Heath
We didn’t have much recreation at the time in here, because it was newly built, and we had we called Bromley Hall over there, it was the neighborhood house, and it used to close in the summer! (laughs) And so we would end up trying to be organized around here. Us mothers, we organized a little bit, we had a little group called “Mothers for Action.” We got involved in trying to bring about some kind of activities in the community in the summer for the kids. And I think, it’s United Way now, but it was UCE, United Community Service, that used to fund it and they had the Bromley Hall here, and they had the JP Neighborhood House on Amory Street, and so somewhere along the line, we were able to get some things, and they would open it up so the kids could do stuff.

But that Bromley Hall was everything to us, we did roller skating in it, it was the health center, the Get Well Baby Clinic would come in once a month, and they would take the tables and put stuff on and the kids would get their shots or whatever they needed. My husband and I, we gave movies down there on Saturdays in the day time. We rented a big camera and we rented movies, and it was ten cents for the kids to come in, and we’d have movies with cowboys, westerns, and I would sell popcorn, five cents a bag. The kids would be in there during the day, and they’d have the cartoons and the wild wild west stuff, like Roy Rogers and stuff. At night, we’d have the teenagers and the adults, they’d come in and we’d show the movies for them, so it was some activity for them. It’s just little things that went on but was very, very popular in here because it was something for the kids to do and it was recognizing the people, some of the moms, organizing and doing stuff.

Associated’s Current Jamaica Plain Center
What really was here was the day care center. That’s right, it’s been here over 40-something years. And it was down in the basement, over at 960, 964. It was a really great, great day care center, and it served children not only in Bromley, but outside the community, it served a lot of children. One of my daughters went to the day care. It was a very popular place, well-run, and had good teaching. I can’t think of all the directors, I can only remember one, Ms. Lukaw, she was a director of the daycare, very nice lady. And as a result of that, something came about and we had the infant day care center, and that was upstairs at 962, I believe it was.  At first, it was called New Life, and it was over on the opposite side, and it expanded and moved into 962, so they dealt with babies I think from so many months, to I guess two or three years old, and then some of them would funnel down into the day care. And so we end up, really, in some ways, having a very, very successful or thriving community, because it was so many things in here that was helpful to people.

Associated’s new Learning Center
When it came about for the day care, I was really happy when we were meeting with them [Associated], you know, before. And they wished to remain in Bromley-Heath, but they wanted to expand to a larger place at [the old] Martha Eliot [Center]. You know, we had several agencies and organizations vying for that building, but you know, my thing was, we should take the day care because they’ve been here all these years. And the fact that they, with all the reputation you have about public housing, and they’re still interested in investing five or ten million or whatever dollars [$16 million!] in here to stay, I said I think it helps to stabilize the community, and it says something to people on the outside, that Bromley-Heath is not that bad anyway. And after I resigned, I had no idea that it wanted to expand with all of the programmatic things that you’re talking about doing over here, it’s almost like servicing the total family. It’s doing not only child care, but education, parenting, all these things that I feel are very, very important.

Thank you for speaking with us, Ms. Cole!

The new Learning Center at Bromley-Heath will open in Spring 2014.  Please visit the Learning Center page, or visit our Blocks and Bricks blog to learn more.