Published January 21, 2020


WAKEFIELD — Awards were presented to a benevolent Wakefield non-profit organization and two outstanding Wakefield residents at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Day celebration, held inside the Galvin Middle School auditorium on Monday morning, Jan. 20.

The theme for this year’s event was “Anybody Can Serve.” Award introduction was made by Rich Greif, chairman of the Wakefield Human Rights Commission (WHRC).

Receiving the Student Service Award was Jasmine Vogtli for the Sustainable Wakefield Program she helped form several years ago. Vogtli assisted in crafting the local plastic bag ban bylaw and forming the town’s Sustainability Committee, among other laudable efforts.

REPRESENTATIVES OF the Wakefield Food Pantry receive the 2020 Community Award during yesterday’s Martin Luther King Jr. event at the Galvin Middle School. (Katherine Cruise Photo)

After receiving the award from Town Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin, Vogtli took over the podium and said, “We can all make a difference if we try.” Vogtli left the stage with a certificate signed by Senator Jason Lewis and State Representative Donald H. Wong.

This year’s Wakefield Resident Award went to Elizabeth Freeman for her dedication to making Wakefield and the world a better place. The 1964 graduate of Wakefield High School established the Linden Tree Coffee House; Books for Kids, a book distribution program for children living in the Philippines; her puppetry kids’ program and has done a lot of work with the Farm Workers Union.

In 1972, Freeman’s sister Nan Freeman died after she was struck by the driver of a truck while picketing with striking farm workers at the Talisman Sugar Plant outside of Belle Glade, Fla.

During her remarks, Freeman said she was “lucky” to have grown up on the West Side of town and spoke about her travels to San Francisco and other locations where she performed works of service.

She accepted the award from School Committee Chairman Christopher Callanan.

The Wakefield Community Award was presented to the Wakefield Food Pantry (WFP) by Ed Dombroski, Town Council chairman.

“The Food Pantry is one of the most deserving organizations in town,” said Dombroski, “The organization is a model of community service. Over 600 people in Wakefield are served every year.”

TOWN COUNCILOR Julie Smith-Galvin (left) with Wakefield Student award winner Jasmine Vogtli. (Katherine Cruise Photo)

Dombroski revealed that one in 11 Massachusetts residents is food insecure and that every segment of society is impacted.

Along with the organization’s leadership and dedicated volunteers, donations of food and money have made the Food Pantry a success, he said.

“A $1 donation purchases $4 worth of food. Non-perishables are always welcome.”

Accepting the award on behalf of WFP was the organization’s Executive Director Maureen Miller.

Miller thanked her volunteers for their banking and accounting services, shopping, publicity efforts and sharing stories on Facebook.

“This all helps us serve those in need,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Douglas Lyons introduced keynote speaker Milagros “Milly” Arbaje-Thomas, chief executive officer of METCO, Inc. Originally from the Dominican Republic and the oldest child in an immigrant family, she paved the way for her siblings to see their own potential.

“In the two years I’ve been on the job, it brings tears to my eyes to see communities open their doors,” she said during her talk.

Already retired at age 40, she was offered the METCO position two years ago, which she soon accepted in spite of being in recovery from a serious bout with breast cancer.

“I follow where God leads me,” she said.

Arbaje-Thomas also pointed to 1st Chronicles 4:9-10, which contains the prayer of Jabez: “Oh, (God), that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!”

“He got me through cancer, so let’s see how we can enlarge this territory,” she said in reference to the METCO program.

Arbaje-Thomas also spoke about the bombing of Dr. King’s home in January 1956 by segregationists in retaliation for the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In answer to her rhetorical question, “Has Dr. King’s dream been fulfilled?” she responded, “There’s still a lot to be done.”

Her call to action included asking that advocates fill the State House, attend race-related performances by METCO students and continue the fight for housing equality.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” she said in her final comments. “Thank you, Wakefield.”

This year, Wakefield is celebrating its 50th year of partnership with METCO. The program offers opportunities for children from racially imbalanced schools in Boston and children from isolated suburban schools to learn together in an integrated public school setting.

In the program notes, Arbaje-Thomas said that she believes any leader of color has a responsibility to stand up to issues of race and injustice, to be heard and to open up opportunities for other underrepresented groups.

During his greetings to Arbaje-Thomas before she took the podium, Sen. Lewis, introduced by Faith Defendre, agreed that there is still work to do, including helping people put food on the table, ensuring that they earn decent wages and can retire with dignity.

The gathering drew more than 100 people from Wakefield and surrounding towns to honor the award winners, hear inspiring stories and listen to songs “If I Can Help Somebody” and “This Little Light of Mine” performed by the Wakefield Community Choir and “Amazing Grace” by Reverend Father Michael Ssenfuma from the Most Blessed Sacrament Parish.

Opening remarks were delivered by high school student Christina Joseph (also of the WHRC).

Reciting poems titled “I Am So Black” and “Rhapsody” were high school student ReignYah Grant and Galvin student Max Jacob, respectively. Teyhana Nortelus also recited “Hey Black Child.”

The invocation and benediction were given by Rev. Glenn Mortimer, Wakefield/Lynnfield Methodist Church and Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, Ph.D., Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

Unable to perform during the celebration due to illness were high school students Elisabeth Nordeen, Melydia McCall and Braelyn McLaughlin.

Following the event, refreshments were served in the cafeteria.

The WHRC extended appreciation to MLK Day subcommittee members Jennifer Boettcher, Benny Wheat, Pina Masciarelli-Patel, Isabel Castro, Christina Joseph and Wendy Dennis.

Also, Rob Mills and Caroline Gorton of Lawton Welding for food donations, Galvin Principal Adam Colantuoni and the custodial staff, WCAT-TV staff and various schools in Wakefield for artwork honoring the legacy of Dr. King.

The event was held by the WHRC in partnership with Wakefield’s public schools.