Viet-AID honored for work improving Fields Corner
Dorchester House President and CEO Walter J. Ramos says honoring Viet-AID was an easy choice.
“The idea was to celebrate Dorchester and all that Dorchester has to offer,” he said.“Also to celebrate organizations we work with that are major contributors to Fields Corner and Dorchester.”
The clear choice was Viet-AID, a community development corporation that serves the Vietnamese community and the Dorchester neighborhoods where they live.
“For us we felt it was important to recognize them and the contributions they make to the Fields Corner neighborhood,” he said.
According to Ramos, Viet- AID has done much to bring the Vietnamese community to the forefront of the Fields Corner neighborhood.
Since it was started almost two decades ago, Viet-AID has delivered a long list of accomplishments supporting the Vietnamese community.
In 2002, Viet-AID opened a 18,000-square-foot community center in Fields Corner and holds annual Vietnamese cultural celebrations there. The organization has also developed 128 units of affordable housing, most recently the Bloomfield Gardens development on Geneva Ave., as well as over half-a-dozen commercial spaces.
Nam Pham, executive director of Viet-AID, said the organization is very pleased with its success in building affordable housing in Dorchester to support the community and allow its residents to continue to live there.
“The need for affordable housing in our community keeps increasing and around Dorchester we never have enough good affordable housing so over the last 10 years we have focused on doing more to meet the needs of our community,” Pham said. “We not only build affordable housing units, we also build very good quality.”
The group runs a small business assistance program, an early childhood education and care program, an after-school and summer program for Vietnamese youth, a first-time home buyer program that has worked with over 400 families and a foreclosure prevention program.
Viet-AID has also worked in collaboration with environmental health advocacy, research and service agencies, to provided education, training and technical assistance to workers and business owners in the hardwood floor re-finishing and nail salon industries — Vietnamese dominated business that use highly toxic materials — on adopting safer materials and practices.
The organization heads up Fields Corner Connect, a neighborhood-wide effort to promote public safety and awareness.
Viet-AID also backed a resident project to build a community garden at the corner of Freeman St. and Faulkner St.
Pham says he is excited about Viet-AID’s newest project, an approximately $14 million development of 35 units of affordable housing along Washington St. in previously vacant buildings. The Four Corners development project will also have a handful of units designated for very low-income housing, 3,000 square feet of commercial space and community space.
Viet-AID has been working on the project for several years and is now moving forward on it with the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
“We are very happy that we received overwhelming support from the neighborhood,” Pham said. “The project will bring change and provide decent housing for working families in the neighborhood.”
Pham has been executive director of Viet-AID for the last two-and-a-half years, but he has been on the organization’s board for 10 years and was involved with it from its launch, so he has seen the growth first hand.
Viet-AID started with one staff member and now has 15 full-time staff employees, 30 part-time teachers for its education programs and about 100 volunteers, according to Pham.
“When people think of Dorchester they may not get a fuzzy feeling – we want to change that,” Pham said. “We want to make it a nice place and a cultural hub and a business destination. We are still small, but even with our small organization we have still been able to make a difference and improve the neighborhood. The demand for our services keeps increasing.”
Pham said Viet-AID’s leaders were thrilled to be singled out by the Dorchester House and a 20-person delegation from the organization attended the gala last week to receive the honor. According to Pham, it is the first community award Viet-AID has received.
“We are very grateful and very humbled by the award,” he said. “We just try to do our best to make Field Corners the best place for everybody. We are grateful for any recognition for our contribution to our community.”
At its annual gala, the Dorchester House also honored Fair Foods and Mt. Washington Bank.
Fair Foods is a nonprofit organization that fights hunger in the area with food distribution services. According to the Dorchester House’s Ramos, Fair Foods has distributed 63 million pounds.
Mt. Washington Bank, which first opened in Dorchester in 2002, has donated over $2 million to local community groups and was singled out for its philanthropic efforts, Ramos said.
While the Dorchester House opened in 1887 as a settlement house to serve low-income residents and immigrants in Fields Corner, the organization grew to open a community health center in the 1970s. Today the health center offers a wide range of services including primary care, oral care, eye care, OB/GYN care, physical therapy, substance abuse programs and social services.
According to Ramos, it is very important for the Dorchester House to work with other groups and organizations in the community, such as Viet-AID. For example, he said that many of the center’s patients are Vietnamese and working with Viet-AID helps Dorchester House stay in touch with the community so all know the services it provides.
“I don’t think any of us could exist without the other institutions in the neighborhood,” Ramos said. “Each institution is another resource to help in the quality lives of people. To know that these institutions exist in the neighborhood is important to us.”
Overall, Ramos was thrilled with the success of its annual gala and in particular the decision to honor other organizations and get them involved with the event.
“It went very well. We were very, very pleased. We had over 300 people that attended so it was one of our larger events,” he said. “It made for a really wonderful evening.”