Canton resident to be honored for work at Dorchester women’s center

Amazon makes good on $1 million pledge to St. Mary’s in Dorchester

Inside Amazon's new Fort Point office on Melcher Street in Boston.

Inside Amazon’s new Fort Point office on Melcher Street in Boston.

St. Mary’s Center in Dorchester just received its biggest donation ever, from one of the world’s biggest companies.

Amazon said Monday that it will give the family homeless shelter and social service center $1 million, making good on a pledge last fall to match up to $1 million in donations. The combined $2 million will go toward a community resource center St. Mary’s hopes to build on its Jones Hill campus, offering legal help, domestic violence counseling, and other services for both St. Mary’s residents and the neighborhood at large.

“When Amazon approached us and gave us this tremendous opportunity, we began to think about the impact we could have on so many levels,” said St. Mary’s Center’s chief executive, Deirdre Houtmeyers. “It has been amazing.”

The $7 million project is likely to involve three to five years of fund-raising, planning, and construction. But the gift from Amazon — which also has a hiring and training program for mothers who live at St. Mary’s — gives it a strong jump start, Houtmeyers said.

The e-commerce giant, which is expanding rapidly in Boston — the city is also a finalist for Amazon’s so-called second headquarters — has donated to providers of services for the homeless in other cities where it has a large presence, such as Washington, and is building a homeless shelter at its headquarters in Seattle. It also, however, opposed a recent plan to tax large employers in Seattle to raise money for services for the homeless.

In Boston, where Amazon plans to add thousands of jobs in the next few years, the company noticed what St. Mary’s was doing and was eager to support it, said spokeswoman Allison Flicker.

“We were looking for an organization that was hard-working and scrappy and doing this kind of work,” Flicker said. “We were really impressed and inspired by what St. Mary’s does.”

To Houtmeyers, news of the donation came first as a shock — “our mouths just dropped,” she said, recalling her first meeting with Amazon executives last fall — then as an opportunity.

“We serve homeless families,” she said. “But there’s such a huge opportunity to prevent homelessness in the first place.”

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.

Nonprofit gets boost from Amazon

Online giant agrees to $1M match to St. Mary’s

 Donna Goodison Friday, October 13, 2017

MILLION-DOLLAR SMILE: Deirdre Houtmeyers, CEO of St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, is all smiles upon announcing Amazon’s $1 million match offer.

Credit: Matt West

MILLION-DOLLAR SMILE: Deirdre Houtmeyers, CEO of St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, is all smiles upon announcing Amazon’s $1 million match offer.

Amazon is giving St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children the biggest corporate gift in the Dorchester nonprofit’s 24-year history.

The online retail giant will match donations up to $1 million to St. Mary’s Center, which will use the proceeds to help fund a new resource center.

St. Mary’s works with families — mostly young mothers and their children — who have experienced homelessness, poverty, trauma, abuse and profound neglect. It has five residential and three employment, education and prevention programs.

“We build their emotional well-being, educational achievements, economic opportunities and ultimately self-sufficiency and independence,” CEO Deirdre Houtmeyers said.

Amazon also will help raise funds for St. Mary’s, which will be a “spotlight charity,” on today. It will donate 0.5 percent of the price of eligible purchases made on the site for customers who choose the center.

“We found that St. Mary’s was just a very effective organization and worthy one that was making a very significant contribution already in the community,” said Mike Touloumtzis, site leader for Amazon’s Boston and Cambridge businesses. “There are more than 1,200 Amazonians who make their homes in the Boston area, and I am excited for them to have the opportunity to get to know many of the families and staff here at St. Mary’s Center.”

Amazon also collected donations for the center’s families this week from its employees in Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, Boston and Cambridge.

St. Mary’s is the third nonprofit to benefit from Amazon’s $1 million match offer.

Amazon donating $1 million to Dorchester nonprofit


Amazon’s donation to the St. Mary’s Center comes as the city is preparing a bid for the e-retailer’s so-called second headquarters.

What it’s like to be homeless during the holidays?

DECEMBER 26, 2016


This Christmas marked the third stay at Rosie’s Place for Angela J., who was evicted from her home in 2014.

Across Massachusetts, thousands of people typically find themselves homeless during the Christmas holiday. These include single adults, mothers with young children, people struggling with addiction. At shelters in Boston this weekend, residents described their hopes for a better year ahead — and gratitude for the help they have received.

Rosie’s Place feels like family

Angela J. found herself homeless on Christmas Day, but amid the jewelry, scarves, hats, gloves, toiletries, purses, and bags — all presents donated by the community — she could have been forgiven for forgetting that fact, at least temporarily.

“You know that you’re in a homeless situation, transition, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Angela said.

A guest at Rosie’s Place, Angela, 48, spent Christmas Day at the nation’s oldest shelter for women.

Sporting a purple dress topped with a floral blouse, hues of blue and purple splashed on her shirt, and gemstones shining brightly on her left shoulder, she sat on the couch in a sitting area and called the shelter a “lighthouse.”

Angela and her family were evicted in 2014 when their landlord, who was selling the house, wanted to make repairs. She suffers from psoriasis, asthma, migraine headaches, depression, high blood pressure, and Stage 3 kidney disease.

This Christmas marks her third stay at Rosie’s Place, which allows guests to stay for up to three weeks.

“The people that I’ve met here, on this journey, have become my family and also friends as I go through the process of being homeless,” she said.

— Aimee Ortiz, Globe Staff

Even at shelter, he’s ‘always felt lucky’


Samuel R. lives at the Pine Street Inn.

Samuel R. spent more than 20 years as a truck driver before a back injury ended his career and left him without a steady income.

“I’ve always been used to making money, so it makes you feel bad not having anywhere to go in the morning. Now, when I wake up, I don’t have anything to do but lay around here,” he said, sitting at the Pine Street Inn, where he has lived since June.

Samuel, 69, returned to Boston this summer from Georgia, where he had been living with his sister for several months. Before that, he lived in Dorchester, but he left when his landlord sold the building and raised the rent.

This was the first Christmas that Samuel spent at a shelter, but he said he tries to stay optimistic.

“I’ve always felt lucky,” he said. “I’ve always had a good life, even when I’m living here.”

He wants to move back to Georgia in a couple of months and looks forward to living closer to his children, grandchildren, and 13 brothers and sisters.

“It’s just tiring being in here,” he said. “It’s not bad if you have somewhere you’re going soon, but if you have no place to go, it’s bad.”
For Samuel, Christmas has never been a major celebration, but it’s a reason for his large family to come together each year.
And by next Christmas, he hopes to be back with family, maybe even in his own home.

“Next year, I’ll have my own home,” he said, nodding his head, with a smile. “I’ve been saving money. I’m looking at it with a good attitude.”

— Felicia Gans, Globe Correspondent

She’s planning for better times ahead


Christmas is hard, Dorice M. said.

Dorice M. struggled to make ends meet while taking care of her children and working near-minimum-wage jobs for 10 or 12 hours a day. But when she became unemployed, times grew more dire for the 42-year-old and her two youngest children, a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl.

Dorice and her kids ended up sleeping in the emergency room at Boston Medical Center for two nights this year. She then qualified for emergency housing assistance from the state, and was placed at a shelter at St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester.

She said she feels blessed to have a warm place to stay, but Christmas is hard — not being able to host family gatherings, or cook a big meal for relatives and friends, or give to charity. “We miss a lot of those things we had when we were self-sufficient,” she said. “It hurts.”

Dorice, a Roxbury native, is hopeful. She said she’s two weeks away from completing a technical education program readying her for better-paying jobs in health administration. And despite being homeless, her kids have not missed any days in school and kept good grades, she said with a smile.

As for next Christmas, Dorice said she hopes to be “gainfully employed and being able to give back to another family in need — maybe revisiting here and blessing someone that is in my situation.”

— Josh Miller, Globe Staff

He dreams of a home, and drum set


A shelter is “just a stop,” Glen says.

At the end of Glen M.’s performances as a drummer decades ago, his bandmates would leave the audience with an invitation: “Party at Glen’s house!”
It’s a phrase he misses: “Glen’s house.”

But he doesn’t want a house for the parties; he just wants a quiet place to call his own.

“You’re never ready to become homeless,” Glen said at Pine Street Inn, where he has been living steadily for two years, and on-and-off for many years prior. “It just happens.”

Glen said spending Christmas at a shelter was a hard experience, but tries to stay positive. He said he loves his life and feels lucky for the opportunities he has had to turn his life around, including an alcohol abuse treatment program and the support of staff and volunteers at Pine Street Inn.

“This is just a stop for about everybody,” said Glen, 63. “It’s a very hard thing to get through, and if you can get through and be successful, you’ll be happy to get out, but grateful for all the people here that helped you.”

Glen said this Christmas feels like a chance to start over. His dreams for 2017 are to stay sober, move into his own home, and buy a drum set. “I want to do it all again,” he said, “but just for the love of music.”

— Felicia Gans, Globe Correspondent

She made a better life in 2016


Judi V. is no longer homeless.

Judi V., 52, walked into Rosie’s Place on Christmas Day not as a guest but as a volunteer, a welcome change from last year. Living in transitional housing since October, Judi is no longer homeless, but she hasn’t forgotten the support she received or friendships she made at the shelter for women.

“I came here giving out Christmas gifts and getting Christmas gifts,” she said. “It’s really nice, everything that they put out for everybody,” she said.
Homeless since 2012, Judi stayed at Rosie’s Place six times, taking advantage of the shelter’s programs such as the Leadership Institute, which teaches residents about finance, goal-setting, and how they can use their own voice to achieve their goals. It’s also where she met her best friend.
“We were here at Christmas time, and the last thing we said was for the new year, for 2016, we were going to get apartments — 2016 was our year,” Judi said. “And sure enough, we both ended up with apartments.”

Wearing a red gift bow in her hair, Judi checked her phone for messages from her son and reminisced about what she called the good years, the 12 years that they lived in the same home. “You can get so down because you take two steps forward and three steps back sometime,” she said.
“It feels really good to have a place. It reminds me of when my kid was really small,” she said. “I’ve got the tree and his presents under there and he’s on his way now.”

— Aimee Ortiz, Globe Staff

Homeless over the Christmas holiday

Massachusetts is the nation’s only right-to-shelter state. The law mandates the state provide accommodations for poor families — parents with kids and pregnant women — who meet specific criteria for being homeless. Those include not having a place to stay because of domestic violence, natural disaster, no-fault eviction, or health and safety risks. The state contracts only a limited number of rooms in homeless shelters, so some families have gotten placed in hotels or motels when shelters are full. The state spent more than $300 million on housing homeless families and programs to help get them back on their feet last year. Many private shelters provide housing for individuals, as opposed to families, who are homeless. But the state collects daily data only on the families it pays to house.

4 Your Community: St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children

Deirdre Houtmeyers talks about St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, which helps families break the cycle of poverty.

WBZ Cares: St. Mary’s Center Graduates Women From Education And Job Training Programs

BOSTON (CBS) – St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester not only provides housing for young women and their children, they also provide job training for those women who otherwise might not be able to make it on their own.

Yanira Ayala is among the recent graduates from the center’s Women@Work Plus program.

“I really love it,” said Yanira. “I really love that I took this opportunity for Women at Work. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing anything right now, and that’s not good.”

Kenzie Ramirez is another grateful graduate of St. Mary’s Women@Work Plus program. “They are so good, they just keep pushing you and pushing you, “said Kenzie. “So I think without them no, I really wouldn’t have made it.”

And Gisselle Jimenez is another St. Mary’s success story, and another graduate. “This program has opened so many doors for me,” said Giselle, “and I just feel so great ,and so positive about what is coming next you know?

Giselle is looking toward her future. “Next I start school in September, and if it wasn’t for them pushing me, I would have never enrolled in school, and (my goal is) to become a midwife.

Giselle admits that’s going to be a real challenge. “Yes, but it’s what I love and I know that I can do it. Now I know and feel more confident that I can do it.”
Three young women, among the hundreds helped by St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, giving them the tools needed to take the next step in their lives.

To donate to St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, go to their website at

Related: WBZ Cares Campaign


NightSide – WBZ Cares – St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children

Originally broadcast July 21st, 2016.

WBZ Cares: St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children Has a Long History of Helping

BOSTON (CBS) – The WBZ Cares Campaign continues for the month of July. Each month, WBZ Newsradio 1030 highlights a worthy non-profit organization, and tells the story of what it does for the community.

This month, WBZ profiles St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester, which provides housing, education and services for young women and their children.

St. Mary’s Center has been helping women and children for more than two decades, but it’s history dates all the way back to the 1870’s, when an infant was left on the doorstep of a local church.

“For many years, it became this special place where woman and their children could be raised and receive care and support,” said Susan Keliher, St. Mary’s Vice-President for Development and Communications. “The facility greatly expanded, and became St. Margaret’s Hospital, where many Bostonians came into the world, including Senator Ted Kennedy, and our current Mayor.”

“I was born here, so I have a little connection to the hospital, ” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “Back in 1967, I was born in this hospital.”

The operations of St. Margaret’s Hospital were moved to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton in 1993, and St. Mary’s has occupied the site on Cushing Ave. in Dorchester exclusively since then.

Mayor Walsh was among those attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony for St. Mary’s latest program, Mass Maternity First Home, providing housing for homeless families.

“I know that the mothers and the kids that are here are in a safe environment,” said Mayor Walsh. “I know that the programs that are here are all about making sure mothers and families have an opportunity to live independently, and be able to get on their feet.”

Young mom Marisa Centeio is among those who have benefited from the programs at St. Mary’s Center.

“Now I am proud to say I am a great cook, and a great single parent, and a hard worker, ” said Marisa at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I received my high school equivalency through the Women’s Learning Center, and I will be attending the nursing program at Roxbury Community College in the fall.”

To donate to St. Mary’s Center for omen and Children, go to their website at

WBZ Cares: Young Women Learn Valuable Skills On Internet Radio Station

A unique program at St. Mary’s Center is – “Girls Radio,” an internet radio station based at the center, teaching high school girls some valuable skills, and helping them stay in school.

“GRLZ Radio teaches them such great skills,” says Director Saun Green. “It teaches them leadership, it teaches them research, it teaches them just how to come together and work together in a group to get things done.”

The station has nearly five-thousand listeners around the world, in countries all over the globe.

Participants of on the air (Photo Credit: Facebook Page)
Participants of on the air (Photo Credit: Facebook Page)

“They (the girls) create radio shows, talk shows – about issues of importance to them,” Green said. “These girls pick their shows and research them, and they put their shows together.”

Taja Boone is one of the DJ’s at GRLZ Radio, she had dropped out of school, but now she has graduated high school, and is going on to college. She says GRLZ radio helped her achieve her goals in life, and has inspired her for the future.

“Communications is definitely something I’m passionate about, ” says Taja. “Down the line, when I’m old (hah, hah), I definitely want to open a radio station that is like GRLZ Radio, and help the youth in my community at that time.”

If you would like to donate to St. Mary’s Center, check out their website at

Related: WBZ Cares Campaign

WBZ Cares: “St. Mary’s Center” in Dorchester Helps Women and Their Children

July 6, 2016 4:00 AM By Doug Cope

Filed Under: Cushing Ave, Doug Cope, St Mary’s Center for Women and Children, WBZ Cares, WBZ NewsRadio1030

St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children

For the month of July, WBZ profiles St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, located on Cushing Avenue in Dorchester. St. Mary’s Center provides housing, education and services for young women and their children.

The Center supports more than 600 women, children and their families by giving them a safe place to live, along with educational and employment training. They’ve been providing help for more than two decades.

“We don’t know their past, nor can we create their future,” said St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers, when talking about the women they serve. “We can just help them along that journey. And when you are respectful and you treat people with dignity, that’s when people make it, because they believe in themselves.”

Kaylee Neslusan and her twin girls. Kaylee is a former resident at St. Mary’s, now out on her own (Photo Credit: Neslusan Family Photo)
Kaylee Neslusan and her twin girls. Kaylee is a former resident at St. Mary’s, now out on her own (Photo Credit: Neslusan Family Photo)

Kaylee Neslusan is among those who have been helped at St. Mary’s Center. She left hone at 14, and didn’t have parents to guide her in life.

“Nobody ever taught me to be a mother, ” said Kaylee.

“Nobody ever taught me how to clean house, nobody ever taught me how to do dishes. I was a teenager, and you don’t care about that stuff.”

Kaylee is the mother of twin girls, and lived at Margaret’s House at St. Mary’s for a year-and-a-half. Now, thanks to the training and support she received at St. Mary’s, she and her kids are living on their own, and she’ll graduate from the Center’s Women @Work Plus program in December.

“Moving her and realizing there is so much more that I need to learn other than just changing diapers and playing with them (her kids), “said Kaylee.

“St. Mary’s provided me with a lot of the skills you need to succeed as a parent in today’s society. ”

Doug Cope

Follow Doug on Twitter Doug Cope is a reporter/anchor at WBZ, and host of the daily feature “The Parent Report”, which reports on issues involving children and parenting. Doug has both a broadcasting and public affairs background, having serv…

More from Doug Cope.

Former St. Kevin’s Parish in Dorchester, Mass., Transformed Into Affordable Housing

Uphams Crossing provides housing for workforce and formerly homeless families.



By Elana Aurise, Reporter Staff

Jun. 15, 2016

St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children has secured a $100,000 grant to build a new recreation center at their Jones Hill campus. The gift is one of 100 grants given out by the Cummings Foundation, a Woburn-based philanthropy.

St. Mary’s Center stands out for its seven programs that are built on education, employment, preventative, and residential programs. Each year, more than 600 underserved families and children who may have experienced domestic abuse, trauma, poverty or homelessness receive the help and resources needed to build a brighter future for St. Mary’s.

The recreation center will provide the staff and families a public space to have meetings and celebrations, and most importantly, will allow the children they serve to experience a big open space to run around and play.

The Cummings Foundation made the grant as part of their “$100K for 100” program —including Earthern Vessels, Inc., an academic mentoring organization based in Dorchester and the Neighborhood House Charter School. To view all the grant recipients, visit

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No days off for this determined, devoted mother





Domingas Dos Santos, former resident, St. Marys Center, single-mother
Domingas Dos Santos is “the epitome of persistence,’’ one of her teachers said. Photo credit: KEVIN CULLEN/GLOBE STAFF

Every weekday, the alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and Domingas Dos Santos rolls over. Sometimes she would like to ignore it, but that’s not an option.

She taps the alarm, gets up, and gets herself ready. Then she makes breakfast for her three boys: Victor, 10, Diego, 8, and Christian, the baby, who is 4.

“With Christian, it’s eggs,” she says. “Every day, scrambled eggs. Christian’s got to have his eggs.”

They are out the door by 6:45, Domingas Dos Santos and her boys. They get on the 28 bus at Talbot Avenue and after heading up Blue Hill Avenue they get off at the Franklin Park Zoo. Then they take the 16 bus down Columbia Road and she drops her sons off at St. John Paul II Catholic Academy.

Once her sons are in school, Domingas Dos Santos goes to school. Sometimes she takes another bus, but more often she’ll walk, back up Columbia Road, through Uphams Corner, hanging a left on Hancock Street, then up Bowdoin Street.

Halfway down Bowdoin, she walks into the building that houses College Bound Dorchester and gets to work, a 30-year-old high school student going places.

Five years ago, Domingas Dos Santos arrived in Boston from Cape Verde with her husband, who has a large extended family here. She didn’t speak English, which became a big problem when she and her husband split up. Just as suddenly, she was homeless, with three kids.

She ended up at the St. Mary’s shelter for women and children on top of Jones Hill in Dorchester.

“The people there were very kind to my sons,” she said. “No one wants to live in a shelter, but my kids loved it there because people loved them.”

People at St. Mary’s told her about College Bound Dorchester and she began taking English classes.

Ashley Hannah, one of her teachers, noticed something immediately.

“I think all the teachers here looked at her and said, ‘This is the one.’ She stood out,” said Hannah. “She is the epitome of persistence. She looks at obstacles and figures out how to overcome them. She’s such a strong woman, an amazing mom. She’s not just an inspiration to other students, but to me.”

On those days when Ashley Hannah, working mom, is struggling with her toddler, she thinks about Domingas Dos Santos and suddenly things are in perspective.

It takes most people about seven years to master academic English, but Domingas Dos Santos did it in four. She is on course to pass her high school equivalency test by the end of the month. She hopes to acquire citizenship by the end of the year.

‘She is the epitome of persistence. She looks at obstacles and figures out how to overcome them.’

– Ashley Hannah, Domingas Dos Santos’ teacher at College Bound Dorchester

When she finishes her schoolwork, Domingas Dos Santos takes a couple more buses to her job as a cashier at the Home Depot in South Bay.

“They gave me some award,” she said the other day, sitting in the Panera across from Home Depot. “They said I was a good employee . . . I smile at all the customers and I’m nice to everybody. I don’t think that’s hard.”

It was harder a couple of years ago, when Victor and Diego were at different public schools, on different schedules. Juggling the kids and school, both hers and theirs, is still a constant struggle. Some people dream of things and she dreams of saving up enough to buy a car.

“My ex-husband’s family has been good,” she says. “They’ve helped with the kids. But a car would make things a lot easier. That’s my goal for the next year.”

She used to read to her boys at home, in part to improve her English.

“But then my kids kept making fun of my accent and laughing . . . so now I have them read books to me instead,” she said. “Diego is a great student. Victor says his belly hurts when I ask him to read a book. Diego, I don’t have to tell him to do his homework. He just does it. Victor, I have to tell him, but he does it.”

The boys are in bed by 8 p.m.

In her quiet time, Domingas Dos Santos sometimes second-guesses herself.

“I tell my boys, ‘Don’t be like me. I’m 30 years old and I’m still in high school.’ And they say, ‘But mommy, you’re a good mom.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but I should have finished college by now.’ ”

After she gets her high school equivalency, she will begin College Bound Dorchester’s bridge program to prepare for college. She wants to be a teacher. She is her boys’ teacher.

“I tell them a little about life every day,” she says. “I tell them there are two ways to go in life: a good way and a bad way. Education will bring them the good way, and they have to make good choices. I think I’m going to bring them to school until they graduate. Their grandmother says, ‘Give them a break, let them go to the park by themselves.’ But I say no, I’m going to bring them.’ ’’

Trying to figure out that balance, of being protective and letting her boys become more independent, is harder to master than English grammar.

“I’ve been lucky,” she says. “I’ve met good people who were good to me, good to my kids. I pray a lot. I pray for my kids. For myself.”

She prays at St. Patrick’s Church in Roxbury, too, and that’s where she’ll be on Mother’s Day, enjoying food and friends, watching her boys play.

For Domingas Dos Santos, every day is Mother’s Day. From the moment the alarm goes off at 5 a.m., until she closes her eyes at night and drifts toward what little rest she gets.

“I live for my kids,” she says, nodding, looking out at a parking lot in Dorchester, never so sure of anything she’s said in her life. “Everything I do, it’s for them. My kids come first. I come second. Because I’m a mom.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@GlobeCullen.

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St. Mary’s Center featured on Wahlburger’s tonight!  600x600bb-85

Nurse Alma” aired Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 9 p.m. (EST) on A&E.

Check out the March 30th episode of the reality series, Wahlburgers on A&E. Alma, Bob, and Brandon Wahlberg visit St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children (the former St. Margaret’s Hospital), where Alma used to work as a nurse, the place where the Wahlberg boys were born, and where young families continue to begin their journeys.

Behind the Scene Photos

Wahlburger's 1
Wahlberg family with production group and St. Mary’s Center staff.
Wahlburger's 21
Wahlberg family with moms at St. Mary’s Center.

Watch the full episode here.


Helping women, children get over life’s challenges




Her name was Mary. And as much as she loved her baby, she gave birth to him at a time when many unwed mothers, especially those without means, could not keep their children.

So in the early 1930s, she entrusted her infant into the arms of caregivers at the hospital on a hill in Dorchester, where he was cared for, loved, and nurtured. Eventually, mother and son would reunite. But as the boy grew into a man — a military veteran and then a beloved teacher — he never forgot the warm kindness he received at the hospital.

And that explains why, weeks after Robert Cosmos died in October at age 83, St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children received a check from his estate for $20,000.

“They took care of him there until his mother could take care of him,’’ said Barbara Ayers, Mr. Cosmos’s first cousin and the executrix of his will. “He was very private, and he didn’t mention it to many people, but what a wonderful job they did. And they’re still doing it.’’

Yes, they are.

Perhaps Mr. Cosmos knew full well that the love he received in 1932 remains in blossom today at the former hospital on a hill, a place where tonight little children will sleep in cozy rooms as Boston’s glass-and-chrome skyline twinkles in the dark a few miles and a lifetime away.

“We have little ones here, and for the first time in their lives, they feel loved and nurtured and safe,’’ Deirdre Houtmeyers told me Monday as we walked along the center’s corridors. “They can go to bed at night knowing that no one’s going to hurt them.’’

Houtmeyers, a Boston College graduate and the daughter of a Newton carpenter, spent her career as the director of the addictions program at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and she now leads St. Mary’s with a passion that is palpable.

“I believe if you can help, you must help,’’ she told me, her eyes watering as we greeted the women whom her staff of about 100 are helping to nurture and guide just as Robert Cosmos was helped 80 years ago. “This is the perfect opportunity for me to help these families along their journey to self-sufficiency.’’

What a journey that is. Little kids who suffered from unspeakable abuse. Learning disabled and homeless women working toward high school equivalency degrees. Family shelters that provide safe harbor from domestic violence.

“I call it home because I trust the staff,’’ 20-year-old Yanira, homeless and pregnant at age 15, told me. “It’s not just a place where you sleep; you’re surrounded by people who really love you.’’

You can feel that love in this place. It’s there in the brightly decorated doors of its clients. It’s there in the smiles and the verve of the staff. And it’s there in the eyes of the little kids who will receive presents from neighborhood firefighters on Christmas morning. The tree will shine brightly. There will be a festive holiday meal. But, caregivers know, amid the smiles and expressions of wonder, there will be, too, some tears and anxiety. This holiday, for even the littlest ones, is not always a gauzy Hallmark commercial.

The center has an $8 million budget, $1.2 million of which has to be raised privately, and Houtmeyers makes sure nothing is squandered. “Money is not wasted here,’’ she said.

She is surrounded by women — on her staff and among her clients — who depend on that careful stewardship.

Christians from around the world, dressed in their holiday finest, will stream into churches on Christmas Day. There will be soaring music, angelic choirs, and glad tidings of great joy. There will be bright candles on the altar and wreaths made of pine branches wrapped in ribbon.

It’s a holy moment, a moment of magic and of hope.

Amid the splendor, it’s important to remember that there was a woman at the center of it all in that Bethlehem manger more than 2,000 years ago.

She did all the work. Her name was Mary.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @FarragherTom.


Creating a Lasting Change: Women and Children’s Center Breaks the Cycle of Poverty Real Estate Guide

By Kelly Church

St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester, MA works to break the cycle of poverty through emotional well-being, educational achievements, and economic independence. Every year, the Center supports 600 women and children with shelter, clinical and educational services, job training, employment placement, and search for affordable permanent housing.

St. Mary’s Center’s history began in 1874, when an abandoned baby was left on a Boston church’s doorstep. By 1902, just eight years after opening, the Center had provided care and shelter to 1,000 babies and unwed mothers that were commonly rejected by society. Over the years, St. Mary’s Center has continued to provide comfort and care for pregnant women and infants, including teenaged girls.

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito

“We make sure in partnering with our families that all of our staff are trauma-informed and receive the proper trainings and support to understand the challenges faced by the families we serve,” says Susan Keliher, Vice President of Development and Communications for St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. “We also continue to collaborate among our seven programs as well as with our nonprofit partners that are on our campus or in our community.”

Every summer the Center celebrates their Family Literacy Initiative. Keliher says St. Mary’s Center hosts a “multi-week campaign to encourage reading and literacy among the women and children we serve.” The agency encourages community engagement and support in this festive celebration. Keliher says that the Center believes education, especially reading, is the way out of poverty and homelessness.

St. Mary’s Center has five residential programs and three education, employment, and prevention programs. Each of their residential programs has a different purpose. Bridge Home is a short-term crisis intervention program for children who have experienced trauma. Bridge Home staff serve twelve children at any one time, between the ages of birth to twelve years old, as they conduct assessments and offer recommendations for the child’s well-being.

Crossroads is a larger shelter that serves more than 70 families each year. Based in East Boston, Crossroads provides shelter for families, case management, housing search, stabilization services and a food pantry. The goal is to help them move from homelessness to independent living.

Margaret’s House serves 32 homeless Groundbreaking Shovelfamilies. The program provides a full continuum of family-centered, strengths-based, culturally competent programming so that families can thrive and successfully move to independent living. The average stay here is nine months. All families who move into one of St. Mary’s Center’s residential programs come through referrals from the Department of Transitional Assistance or the Department of Children and Families.

St. Mary’s Home is the Center’s longest-standing. It offers shelter and support to 17 pregnant and parenting teenagers, making it the largest program of its kind in the Boston area. Women between the ages of 13 and 21 are served and provided with parenting skills as they increase their independent life skills, while also pursuing educational, vocational, and personal goals.

Later this year, St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children will open its fifth residential program. The Supportive Housing program will provide 12 young homeless families at any one time with the tools, developmental experience, and learning opportunities that they need to thrive and succeed.

Keliher says community support has been instrumental in St. Mary’s Center’s transformation in its 22 year history. The Center receives government support from the state’s elected officials, as well as support from community members through events and fundraisers. These donations and financial contributions are vital to the success of St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, and Keliher says she feels blessed to have so much community support to make a lasting change in the community.

“We like to say change comes from the center and positively changing the trajectory of a family, impacts that family for generations,” says Keliher. St. Mary’s Center’s other programs are, Women’s Learning Center, and Women@Work Plus. To learn more about the Center, visit

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4th Annual Day of Service Brings $250,000 of In-Kind Services and Resources to Homeless Families.

AGC Group Photo w Comm Evans
Police Commissioner Evans with AGC of MA volunteers including Bill Endicott (far left) and Joe Kelly (far right), and staff of St. Mary’s Center.

Boston, Mass.—More than 150 volunteers representing the Association of General Contractors (AGC) of Massachusetts will rally on May 15th to transform the Dorchester campus of St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. The day-long project, which kicks off at 7 a.m., brings an unprecedented level of capital and professional support to the aging facility, formerly St. Margaret’s Hospital. Today, more than 600 women and children receive shelter, education and job training at St. Mary’s Center. The project’s value, estimated at $250,000, will improve the facility and create a more functional space for the agency’s six programs.

“We are honored to partner with St. Mary’s Center and bring our members’ commercial building expertise to this project so more families can build brighter futures for themselves.” Bob Petrucelli, President and CEO of AGC of Massachusetts.

Indira Alvarez, Inspectional Services Dept. Boston (ISD); Brenda Rosario, Board Member; John Meaney, ISD; and Commissioner William Christopher, ISD with AGC of MA volunteers.
Indira Alvarez, Inspectional Services Dept. Boston (ISD); Brenda Rosario, Board Member; John Meaney, ISD; and Commissioner William Christopher, ISD with AGC of MA volunteers.

Last winter’s record-breaking snowfall has taken a toll on the historic building which is located in Upham’s Corner atop the highest point in Boston, Jones Hill. The project includes repair to the building’s façade, updates to the interior at, an afterschool program and web-based radio station for teen girls, the creation of an additional bedroom in Margaret’s House, an onsite residence for homeless families, improvements to community space in St. Mary’s Home, a residential program for pregnant and parenting teens, landscaping, and the renovation of the lobby and reception area.

St. Mary’s Center President Deirdre Houtmeyers recognizes the value and impact of the day of service. “This is a tremendous gift to St. Mary’s Center, a place which hundreds of families call home each year. To replicate a project of this magnitude on our own would take at least a year of planning and fundraising. Thanks to the AGC, we can allocate more resources to the programs and services benefitting our families.”

Mayor Martin Walsh and his Office of Neighborhood Services along with Boston City Councilor Frank Baker have advocated for the families of St. Mary’s Center and played an integral role in making this service project possible. Boston City Councilor Frank Baker along with members from fifty organizations will take part in the day of service:

Companies taking leadership roles:

  • Berkeley Building Company

    BOND Brother’s volunteers
  • BOND Brothers
  • Central Ceilings
  • Commodore Builders
  • Elaine Construction
  • Gilbane Building Company
  • Marc Truant & Assoc.
  • NEI General Contracting
  • Project Partners:
  • Allegheny Contract
  • Ben Franklin Institute of Technology
  • Best Painting Co.
  • Caliper Woodworking Corp
  • Campanelli Companies
  • Causeway Contracting
  • Charles Services and Equipment
  • Columbia Construction
  • Compass Project Management
  • Consigli Construction
  • Dec-Tam Corporation
  • DeIulis Brothers Construction Co. E.G. Sawyer Co.
  • Emanouil Inc. FT Painting
  • Greene Construction Co
  • GH Electrical Services
  • Hennigar Door
  • Inspectional Services Department of Boston
  • J&M Brown Company
  • KO Stone Lee Kennedy Company
  • Liberty Construction Services
  • Marjam Supply
  • Massachusetts Federation of Building Officials
  • McAdam Painting
  • Mechanical Air of New England
  • Mill Creek Residential Trust
  • Mutha Cullina, LLP
  • Onsite Services Corp
  • Perini Management Services Sea-Dar Construction
  • Second Street Iron & Metal
  • SEMBOA, MFBO SE Technologies
  • Siena Construction
  • Skanska USA Building Inc.
  • Southeastern Mass Building Officials Assoc.
  • Suffolk Construction
  • Thom S Carlson Corp
  • Turner Construction Company
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology


City Councilor Tito Jackson, MTV’s Phunk Phenomenon, Patriots’ Cheerleaders to appear at Fundraiser for St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children

Boston, Mass.—Fans of New Kids on the Block front-man Jordan Knight get ready to dance the night away for a great cause.  Knight will once again be the special guest at the 5th annual Dancing for Hope fundraiser at one of Boston’s premier nightclubs, The Estate, located at One Boylston Place. The Saturday, February 7 event kicks off at 6 p.m.

020715SMWCC-209All event proceeds will benefit St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, the Dorchester-based nonprofit agency which provides residential, education and employment programs for young families affected by intergenerational homelessness, poverty and trauma. To date the Dancing for Hope committee, co-chaired by event founders Jill Hayes and Evelyn Knight, has raised more than $285,000 for St. Mary’s Center’s programs and services.

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson returns for the second consecutive year as the event’s emcee. Dancing for Hope 2015 will also feature a performance by Phunk Phenomenon, from the hit show America’s Best Dance Crew, and an appearance by members of the New England Patriots cheerleading squad—back in Boston following their Super Bowl performance.

St. Mary’s Center President Deirdre Houtmeyers recognizes the value of Dancing for Hope.  “This annual event does much more than raise funds for St. Mary’s Center and our essential programs and services.  Through Dancing for Hope, new audiences become aware of the vital role we play in the Boston community. Everyone at St. Mary’s Center—both staff and clients— is grateful to the committee for their tireless efforts all year long.”


Diamonds of Dorchester

St. Mary’s Center would graciously like to thank all of our Diamonds of Dorchester 2014 event sponsors.

We are grateful to all of our supporters of the 11th Annual Diamonds of Dorchester event and our entire community who supports the nearly 600 families of St. Mary’s Center all year long! We cannot thank you enough!

2015 DiamondsAt our Diamonds of Dorchester event held on November 12, 2014 at the Copley Plaza Hotel, there were many highlights, including a moving tribute to the late Mayor Menino.  We also honored State Street Corporation with the John M. Corcoran Award for Excellence.
Thank you to our guests and sponsors, along with our emcee Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, who served as our auctioneer.  Together, you raised more than $365,000, so that more families may receive shelter, clinical and educational services, job training, employment placement, and search for affordable permanent housing at St. Mary’s Center.

Thank you!

Radiant Level Sponsors ~ $25,000

  • John and Mary Corcoran Family Foundation
  • State Street Foundation

Marquis Level Sponsors ~ $10,000

  • Anonymous
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA
  • Corcoran Jennison Companies
  • FGS, Inc.
  • The Flatley Foundation
  • Chris Gaffney & Karen Kames
  • Iron Mountain
  • Mary Lou & Wiliam Jackson
  • Xyster Consulting, Inc.

Princess Level Sponsors ~ $5,000

  • Arbella Insurance Foundation
  • Archdiocese of Boston
  • Boathouse, Inc.
  • Frank & Ginny Corcoran
  • Thomas & Line Corcoran
  • Corcoran Management Company
  • Ed & Dawn D’Alelio
  • Joseph & Nancy Flaherty
  • Expressway Toyota
  • Rick High & Anne Perkins
  • Gary & Corole Jennison
  • Rosanne Bacon-Meade & Peter Meade
  • PWC/Strategy
  • Wipro

Oval Level Sponsors ~ $2,500

  • Caritas Communities
  • Anthony & Amy Centrella
  • Computershare
  • Connell Limited Partnership
  • Richard & Ann Marie Connolly
  • Denis & Jeanne Conroy
  • Continental Resources, Inc.
  • Gayle & Joseph Corcoran
  • Charles & Francie Crowley
  • Eagles Adult Women’s Hockey Team
  • Brenda English
  • Jane & Edward Fay
  • Joseph & Nancy Flaherty
  • Anne Geraghty
  • Katherine A. Hesse, Esq. & Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane, LLP
  • Helco Electric, Inc.
  • Honey Dew Family Foundation
  • Deirdre Houtmeyers & John Fitzgerald
  • IBM
  • Jim Karam and First Bristol Corporation
  • Kathleen & Eric Maple
  • The McCarthy Family
  • McGladrey, LLP
  • The MENTOR Network
  • Norel Services, Inc.
  • Northern Contracting Corp.
  • Oracle Corporation
  • Quincy Mutual Group
  • Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster
  • Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, Inc.
  • St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
  • Strength Catalyst Partners
  • Tanagram & Paul Pyzowski
  • TJX Companies
  • Tufts Health Plan
  • UMass Medical School/Commonwealth Medicine
  • Women to Women Partnership—Newton Chapter
  • Women to Women Partnership—Norfolk Chapter

Neighbors Supporting Neighbors

2682599e752d3cb29e13c445a60a841eThe 1st Annual Neighbors Supporting Neighbors Event, an incredible evening which raised nearly $60,000 for St. Mary’s Center!

“We are forever grateful to the host committee of esteemed elected officials, including Mayor Walsh and Boston City Councilor Frank Baker, our passionate event co-chairs, James Baker and Sally Cahill, our tireless event committee and everyone who generously supported the event and St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. Each and every person came together to embody the true spirit and meaning of Neighbors Supporting Neighbors to help homeless families receive life-changing programs and services that improve their emotional well-being, educational achievements, and employment opportunities,”  Deirdre Houtmeyers, President of St. Mary’s Center.

“St. Mary’s Center helped me to get my confidence back, as a mother and as a woman.  The staff’s everyday support, every step of the way, always reminded me of how resilient, determined and strong I am.” 

Brenda Rosario, mother of two, Women@Work Plus Graduate and former Margaret’s House resident, Board Member and speaker at Neighbors Supporting Neighbors.



Mayor Walsh Visits St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester

Volunteers Recognized for Contributions

Photo 1: St. Mary’s Board of Trustees Chair Katherine Hesse (left) and St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers (right) with Mayor Marty Walsh during the January 25th visit and volunteer appreciation ceremony.
St. Mary’s Board of Trustees Chair Katherine Hesse (left) and St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers (right) with Mayor Marty Walsh during the January 25th visit and volunteer appreciation ceremony.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh recently visited St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children in Dorchester – a nonprofit supporting more than 600 women and children annually through a comprehensive range of services – to see, first hand, the results of his inaugural volunteer program.

Joined by St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers, members of the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees and a number of the families in St. Mary’s care, Mayor Walsh honored nearly twenty men and women who volunteered their time, skills and resources during the

Photo 4: St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers (right) and Mayor Marty Walsh (left) with Sahara Wadi and her son, Abdullahi Mohammed. Wadi is a resident at Margaret’s House, St. Mary’s Emergency Family Shelter.
St. Mary’s President Deirdre Houtmeyers (right) and Mayor Marty Walsh (left) with Sahara Wadi and her son, Abdullahi Mohammed. Wadi is a resident at Margaret’s House, St. Mary’s Emergency Family Shelter.

Mayor’s inaugural weekend community service tour on January 3, 2013.  Braving the snow, the volunteers spent the afternoon at St. Mary’s painting and cleaning the board room and cafeteria, among other areas of the Upham’s Corner campus.  While at St. Mary’s, the volunteers went above and beyond by making emergency repairs when a pipe burst during the cold spell.

Certificates of appreciation were presented to the dedicated volunteers on Saturday, January 25th.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Mayor Walsh.

Jan 2, 2014, 1:23pm EST

Former St. Kevin’s property to become apartments

Courtesy of The Architectural Team

An artist rendering of the former St. Kevin’s Parish in Dorchester that will become an affordable apartment community.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley and public officials gathered Tuesday to break ground on the rehabilitation of the former St. Kevin’s Parish in Dorchester.

The $36.7 million redevelopment, led by the Boston

Archdiocese’ Planning Office for Urban Affairs as well as St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children and Holy Family Parish, will offer 80 affordable housing units in Dorchester’s Upham’s Corner neighborhood.

Construction is expected to commence next month and the project is slated for completion in July 2015. The 102,000-square-foot development will include three multistory buildings, two newly constructed at 35 Bird St. and 530 Columbia Rd., and the reuse of one of the existing buildings at 516 Columbia Rd.

O’Malley said the project will answer a critical need for safe and affordable housing in the city. The former St. Kevin’s site will be redeveloped to create affordable housing, 25 percent of which will be for formerly homeless families.

St. Mary’s Center will provide on-site supportive services to families transitioning to permanent housing. The remaining 75 percent of the units will be workforce housing to provide affordable apartments for people who serve the community, including teacher’s aides, lab technicians, licensed practical nurses, paralegals and restaurant workers.

The development received about $11 million from the state, the City of Boston, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The remaining $25.7 million came from private loans with Bank of America the lead funder.

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