Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Brockton Women Revel In Cartwheels, Caring

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—When Kathy Mullen heard her name called as this year’s City of Brockton Commission on Women’s Issues “Woman of Courage” winner she looked at the hundreds in the crowd and couldn’t believe she was winning the award.
“I was blown away. Me? I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it,” Mullen (Pictured above) said during an interview Monday afternoon at St. Paul’s Table at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brockton where about 100 people a day come for free lunch at the church’s long-time soup kitchen.
Mullen was one of six Brockton women who were recognized last Saturday, March 5 during the annual “Women of the Year” breakfast at The Shaw’s Center that honors the tireless and often thankless efforts of the city’s volunteers.
This year’s honorees, are pictured in consecutive order from top to bottom:
*Lovern Augustine, Mrs. Ethnic World International 2011, a survivor of domestic
violence who helped spearhead last week’s White Ribbon rally in Boston Feb. 26;
*Laronda Campbell, who has taught countless girls to believe in themselves and reach for their dreams as founder of Brockton Youth Cheerleading;

*Aisha Barlatier-Bonny, BAMSI’s Director of Operations in Wraparound Family Services who has dedicated herself to families with BAMSI and works to help her native Haiti through the Haitian Organization for the Advancement of Petit-Goave;

*Nadia Gay, a working, single mom of two teenagers, who tirelessly donates her time as president of Christ the King Church’s St. Vincent DePaul Society bringing food and often unexpected Christmas joy to many families; and

Jill Wiley, minister at Central United Methodist Church and perennial volunteer at St. Paul’s Table, who quietly goes about enriching the city’s art community as administrator for Brockton Cultural Council.

Days after Saturday’s ceremony, Mullen, 64, shakes her head in disbelief that she has won the “Woman of Courage” award.
She downplays her role in resurrecting St. Paul’s Table more than 6 years ago. An employee of New England Life Insurance for more than 30 years, Mullen said she was laid-off as a customer service supervisor when the company was bought-out. She began volunteering at St. Paul’s and quickly saw where her organizational and leadership skills could help.
“I like order,” Mullen said, waving her hands in a straight line in front of her.
And order was what was needed at the time. Mullen was quickly named volunteer coordinator—the first of a handful of unpaid titles with St. Paul’s.
Mullen, quick to smile and firm about the way things should be done, began recruiting a steady corps of 15 to 20 regular volunteers culled from the community, schools, friends family, churches and other organizations that has allowed St. Paul’s Table to stay open 6 days a week.
Less dramatic, but possibly more important was the overhaul of the soup kitchen’s information gathering and data analysis procedures—a haphazard collection of information about the soup kitchen’s guests—info that makes or breaks a nonprofit group’s chances at much-needed grant money.
“We didn’t have the data,” Mullen said.
Mullen said she was humbled by the “Woman of Courage” honor and isn’t one of those people who is comfortable when people point out her strengths.
“It’s just that things have to get done,” Mullen said.
She isn’t comfortable when people say she has courage because every day she fights debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that has transformed her once firm and strong handshake into a somewhat annoying exercise when Mullen has to warn new acquaintances of the pain in her hands or worse suck up the pain rather than have her hand go limp.
“I hate that ‘fishy, floppy’ handshake,” she said.
Mullen isn’t comfortable when she is heralded for being openly gay decades before it was as accepted as it is today. She has been married to spouse Carolyn—who isn’t as open and public--since March, 2005, just 10 months after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. The couple has been together for more than 30 years.
“It’s who I am,” Mullen said. “I can’t be anything else,” she said.
Who Mullen is comfortable with being called a “Woman of Courage” are the hundreds of women she met and helped as a rape crisis counselor for about 5 years in the 1990s with Womansplace Crisis Center in Brockton-now called A New Day.
“You can’t imagine what they go through after something like that,” Mullen said.
She has seen the physical pain, emotional suffering and down-deep courage it takes rape survivors to rise from brutal and savage beatings and continue on in life despite it.
“Those people have courage,” Mullen said. “Everyone has courage, it’s just that sometimes they just don’t know they have it. In this political climate we all need courage,” she said.
During Saturday’s breakfast, Mullen received the special “Woman of Courage” Award during a program that was highlighted by the state’s first female auditor and Cardinal Spellman High School graduate Suzanne Bump, who gave the key note speech during an event that was punctuated with laughter, inspiration and tears.
Bump, who once worked closely with Brockton’s Edwina Martin House, a safe-haven for women with addictions, and the final speaker of the morning, couldn’t help but notice the outpouring of emotion during each award winners' biography and acceptance remarks.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been at an event where there have been so many tears of joy,” Bump said.
During many of the short histories of each winner tears were shed, but there was much more laughter from the many-flavored, many colored, and many-sized personalities and characters of each of the women.
Nadia Gay listened as her 26-year-old daughter Bianca, who nominated Gay for “Woman of the Year,” told how her mother hustles from one job in the morning and another in the afternoon all the while keeping food on the table, keeping a household in order and keeping her and her brother Phillip, 17, in line.
“Most people want to sleep-in on the weekends—like ME—but she gets up and goes out to help the poor and needy,” she said as her mother cleared a tear from her eye.
“She is SuperWoman,” Bianca said.
Gay, as a leader of Christ the King’s St. Vincent DePaul chapter, not only has given her weekends, but also her heart to helping others, especially during the Christmas holidays when, working families haven’t enough money to keep a roof over their heads, eat and stay warm, never mind money for gifts.
“People have lost their house, they have no car because it’s gone, the family has illnesses and sicknesses and they don’t know how they’re going to have a Christmas,” Nadia said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t worry. Christmas is on me,’ and I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she said, getting a burst of laughter and applause from the audience.
Gay said she then calls on “My People,” a network of friends, family, work colleagues, parishioners, and a host of others who hear her call and donate money, toys, food, and other needs.
“There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for Nadia,” she said, thanking her “People” who have helped foster and spread the rewards and joys of helping others.
Many of the honorees said they were humbled by the award and proud to be in the company of so many women working to help others and bring awareness to social issues.
During her comments, Gay energetically waved at Loverne Augustine--a fellow “Woman of the Year” who as Mrs. Ethnic World International 2011 pageant winner has dedicated this year to raising awareness of domestic violence.
Gay said Augustine is someone she admires and wants to join Augustine’s domestic violence campaign.
“Watch out--I’m coming for you,” Gay said lightheartedly, adding she would have to find some more time in the day.
Augustine, who had already received her award, motioned for Gay to come on in.
“Bring it on girl, bring it on,” Augustine said.
Augustine, 33, a mother of 9-year-old Lailah Thymes, and a dedicated volunteer with several domestic violence and crisis intervention programs, said when she was as a girl she watched as her father brutally beat her mother during decades of marriage.
A native of Trinidad, Augustine said her mother finally got out of the relationship, but a cycle of violence had been implanted.
Augustine said for two years she suffered the abuse of a boyfriend before she was able to defy the lessons of a domestic-violence past.
“Let’s put domestic violence to an end,” she said.
Augustine’s energy and spirit were matched by Laronda Campbell who founded Brockton Youth Cheerleaderleading in 2001—an organization that has grown from 10 members to 123.
Campbell said her five brothers taught her to be tough and strong as they teased her growing up, and in part launched a cheerleading career that began with a bet, when she was challenged to do a gymnastic move.
“They said, ‘I bet you can’t even do a cartwheel,’” Campbell recalled to a laugh from the crowd, including Campbell’s brothers who attended the event.
Campbell thanked her parents for teaching her many things, including that while a man or woman should be tough and strong, they should always strive to be polite and respectful to others—a lesson she teaches to the hundreds of young girls and women between 3 and 14 who participate in programs, teams or coach.
“Manners will carry you—money won’t,” Campbell said.
After Coach Campbell’s motivating and enthusiastic remarks, those who followed acknowledged Campbell’s spirit.
Mayor Linda Balzotti—who earned a round of applause for being Brockton’s first female mayor—quipped: “Holy Mackerel—no one’s going to mess with these women.”
Aisha Barlatier-Bonny who accepted her award after Campbell, smiled and said, “After Laronda’s speech I feel like I should do a cartwheel.”
Barlatier-Bonny said she was overwhelmed by the award, and thanked all of those at BAMSI who have helped her over the 8 years she has been with the multiservice agency.
“I work with some great women at BAMSI and they have all shaped me,” she said.
Since giving birth to a fourth child, Chloe, Barlatier-Bonny has hardly stopped working for families at BAMSI and working to aid residents in her native Haiti through Haitan Organization for the Advancement of Petit-Goave—a town in Haiti where many of her family members perished after last year’s devastating earthquake.
Barlatier-Bonny said anything she has accomplished has been because of much help, especially from her husband Manny, her first sweetheart and life partner for 25 years, 10 of those as husband and wife.
“Without him I couldn’t have done any of this,” Barlatier-Bonny said, noting his love, support, and indefatigable help at home have always opened the way for her to reach out to others.
For Jill Wiley, a minister at Central United Methodist Church who has served her church in more than 30 cities across the U.S. said she is humbled to be among so many women who serve their community in so many ways.
Wiley said she was surprised to be among such women, however Anne Beauregard, who nominated Wiley, said Wiley has quietly organized and aided numerous workshops, festivals, and craft fairs, while keeping an open mind and doing the thankless jobs that have to be done.
“She does more after everyone else goes home,” Beauregard said.
Wiley said her work as a volunteer at St. Paul’s Table and as administrator of Brockton’s Cultural Council, has helped her make a difference in Brockton, and to her surprise after a lifetime of work in dozens of communities she never expected to be among such award winners.
She said the future is bright with so many women working for families, the needy and youngsters.
“Brockton now has a woman mayor,the state it's first female auditor,” Wiley said. “Someday we’ll have a female president,” she said.


  1. Amazing piece and you truly captured the moments that were special that morning! GREAT PIECE!!!

  2. excellent in-depth coverage of some pretty spectacular women! Brockton is proud!