A Healthy Start – Health issues Tackled during HCHA Legislative Breakfast

By Cary Shuman

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Pat Milano, executive director of CASA, and featured speaker John Auerbach, commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo joined local and state officials at The Annual Legislative Breakfast hosted by theHarbor Community Health Alliance (HCHA) Friday morning at the Winthrop Senior Center.

Pat Milano, executive director of CASA (Communities Against Substance Abuse) and an active member of the HCHA, shared the emceeing duties with DeLeo.

HCHA is a local volunteer network of providers and community leaders working together to improve the health status of Winthrop, Chelsea, and Revere. The breakfast serves as a forum for state and local officials to discuss health and human service programs with leaders of those organizations.

“I always enjoy coming to this breakfast because it’s a great opportunity to talk as elected officials with people who work in the various [health and human services] fields,” said DeLeo. “It’s an uplifting experience to hear some of the good things that are going on. I have to thank everyone for your hard work because it does make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

John Auerbach, commissioner of the Mass. Department of Public Health, was the featured speaker for the breakfast program.

Nancy Williams, director of the Winthrop Council on Aging/Senior Center, Speaker of the House Robert Deleo, and Mary Ann Lounsbury of CASA.

“One of the most important lessons we’ve learned about doing public health in the most effective way is that in terms of making a difference in health, the changes need to occur at the local level and with the involvement and the leadership of people in each community.”

One shining example in Winthrop has been the establishment of the Medical Reserve Corps led by Town Councilor Jeanne Maggio. The volunteer group has assisted the Board of Health in its efforts to promote health in the town.

Judie VanKooiman, a volunteer at CASA (Communities Against Substance Abuse), spoke of the outstanding work being done by that organization.

“I started volunteering with CASA, a great organization, and one of the reasons I joined is that substance abuse has affected my life and it affects many families and individuals,” said VanKooiman. “CASA informs the community about the different resources and works with young people to promote substance abuse prevention. I invite everyone here to learn more about CASA. I would like to personally thank Kathy DelVento and Pat Milano for all the hard work that they’ve done.”

James McKenna, Winthrop town manager, Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash and Revere Mayor Thomas Ambrosino, each addressed the audience on behalf of their communities.

McKenna talked about the theme of the breakfast: positivity.

“It’s wonderful to have everyone here to talk about health,” said McKenna. “We forget sometimes that the mission of local government is public safety, public education, and public health. The theme of the breakfast is positivity and that’s about the bright spots. It’s important we learn from them because that’s where our success lies.”

McKenna said the Winthrop Town Council is doing a good job focusing the town’s attention on health initiatives. The town manager also praised the Winthrop School Committee for reducing the athletic user fee for student-athletes, resulting in an increase in participation by Winthrop High students.

Ciara Appleberry, a 22-year-old woman and Youth Star member of Chelsea-based Roca, talked of the adversity she overcame because of the assistance she has received from health and human service programs. Appleberry, who previously lived in foster homes and homeless shelters, has earned her GED and will attend Bunker Hill Community College. Appleberry said she has two jobs and lives in her own apartment.

“What I’m trying to say is no matter how hard the challenge is, it’s always good to keep a positive attitude,” said Appleberry. “We have to let people how important the work we do is.”

The audience responded to Appleberry’s personal and heartfelt message with a warm and prolonged ovation at the conclusion of her remarks.

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