Friday, April 8, 2011

Atta Boy, Drew Forster

If any blog post can right an injustice, I hope this one will. Last weekend, I attended the grand opening, ribbon cutting and dedication of the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Community Center in Boston. Joan Kroc, the matron of the McDonald's fortune left $1.5 billion (that's a lot of Big Macs!) to the Salvation Army to build about 30 of these centers around the country. In Boston, the Uphams Corner/Dudley Square neighborhood
View Larger Map had wanted a community center for at least 20 years. This part of Dorchester/Roxbury's recent history has been marked by gun violence and a lack of hope. In vibrant, often prosperous Boston, this neighborhood just couldn't catch a break from the economy or city hall. The spirits of its Dominican and Cape Verdean immigrant families were unbowed, and individuals and groups never stopped working and hoping even when it might have been easy to do so.

Now, they have a 90,000 square foot, beautiful and functional community center with a big gym, a climbing wall, a dance studio, a truckload of elliptical and stairmaster machines, a recording studio, an indoor water park and outdoor splash playground, performing arts space and a "peace chapel" in which to remember those whose lives were cut short by violence.

My brother Drew has been working on this project since it was no more than an idea on paper. After Drew's work five years ago on the proposal helped win a high stakes internal competition among Salvation Army centers in cities across the northeast US, they asked him to stay on as the first full-time employee of this idea. The injustice came this weekend when I read through the twenty-some page program for the weekend's festivities and saw my brother's name nowhere. They compounded the injustice when, in 3 1/2 hours of speeches and festivities by politicians and fundraisers and the Salvation Army muckety mucks from Massachusetts and the upper administration of the northeast US, no one said "Drew Forster" once. Not when recounting the history of the project. Not when they showed the beautiful video presentation he created. Not when they lauded lots of others who did less to make it all happen. The picture at the right is one of the only one
s I got of Drew on Saturday, and it's blurry because he virtually never stopped moving, working during the festivities.

I realize that tons of people played a role. I realize that when a billionaire gives you $80 million and you raise another $30 million locally, that there are Certain People to Thank. I just wish they had added Drew to the list.

Drew's daughter Sydney did tell him at the end of the day "I'm so proud of your work, Daddy." But she shouldn't have been the first to say that out loud.

Since the big wigs didn't give Drew an atta boy, I now shall. Drew may kill me, but here's what they should have said.

Tons of people contributed to this grand occasion. It's safe to saw, however, that no one has contributed more time, intellectual resources or passion to this project than Drew Forster. Some helped launch the notion; others contributed money and ideas and expertise. There were those who brought certain aspects to completion. But no one was present - as was Drew - from proposal to ribbon cutting. Drew attended over 100 community meetings. We've said there were 200 official community meetings, so let's conservatively put Drew at half of those. He consistently sacrificed evening family time to talk and listen in Upham's Corner. Drew listened to the community about what they wanted in a neighborhood asset unlike anything they'd ever had before. Drew connected with those who have labored with lesser resources on the goals on which hew as now privileged to work. Drew participated in architecture discussions, fundraising discussions, demographic analysis (56,000 people within a mile of this spot; 19,000 of them children) and program planning. At the end of the first week of operation, Drew knew who had been there five days out of five. Hip Hip Hooray!

Actually, one person said "Drew was here all along", but she said it to her friend in the hallway when she met me, Drew's twin brother, the guy freaking people out all day by looking - if not dressing - exactly like him.
Isaura Mendes said it. Ms. Mendes lost two sons in two years to gun violence in the neighborhood, and now she crusades for peace. She knew that Drew was there all along. She knows that Drew gets it. Drew helped plan for the Peace Chapel, an oasis of serenity in the busy hive of the Kroc Center. it's a place to remember those who tragically don't walk down Dudley Street anymore and to pray that fewer young people die this year than last. Ms. Mendes represents so many other parents grieving the worst possible loss. "Drew was here all along", she said.

On that fifth day of Kroc Center operations, Drew greeted a member of what he dubbed (on the spot) "the five for five club". When he inquired after the man's "better half", who had accompanied him on his first four visits, he first said that she wasn't feeling well. After a moment, he said that, actually, that day marked seven months since their son Matthew had died of a gunshot wound at age 30. His wife didn't come out that day because - naturally - she still grieves over their son's death and that day was particularly difficult. Drew asked the man if he knew about the Peace Chapel and took him upstairs and sat quietly with him on a pointed day of remembrance.

Drew has dreamed this place on paper and in meetings and in PowerPoint and in letters, and I can't think of someone better suited to now be opening all of its many ambitious programs. They should have said that on Saturday. Drew was there all along.

For more information on the Kroc Center or to make a gift in Drew's honor, please visit


Paige said...

Wonderful! I wish I could have been there, and am glad to see a few pics. Looking forward to seeing the Kroc Center in person. Hooray for Drew!

Anne H. said...

Jeff, you've created a fine tribute to Drew. I was glad to read it and learn what a great thing he's accomplished. Good thing I wasn't there, I'd have run up to the mic and shouted "What about Drew Forster?"

Congratulations and God bless you Drew!

Lauren Jackson said...

Yes, congratulations to Drew! What an amazing accomplishment and selfless work for God's people.

Paige said...

Here is an email Ed sent to me:

Read the blog aloud to Heather and Mom. We all shed tears and needed to draw from the same Kleenex box. The piece was superbly well written and the comments well deserved. It's a good thing that we all know that our prime audience is the Lord and we know that He loves and appreciates all we do.