by 4Squares Residential Group in Partnership with Judi 411
Marie Cassidy, Medford's Mom
This May, we honor Marie Cassidy, Director of the Medford Family Network. It's rare to find a family in Medford who hasn't heard of the MFN or hasn't attended an MFN-sponsored event. From family hikes and traveling playgroups at neighborhood parks to summer concerts at Wrights Pond and the Medford Farmers Market, the MFN has served as an integral part of Medford family life for over 25 years. Many of our city's parents and children can't remember a time without the MFN in their lives, nor would they want to.
While COVID required many of the MFN's programs and events to become temporarily virtual, the spring and summer of 2021 hold promise that our children's traditions (and we) have enjoyed will return. So without further ado, let's hear from the Mom to All of Medford, Marie Cassidy, as she recalls her childhood and loving the way she's lived in Medford.
You're a Medford native. What was growing up in Medford like for you?
Yes, I am born and raised here and lived on Roosevelt Road, near Forest Street. But I grew up in the days before Route 93 and the Roosevelt Circle rotary. Imagine a time when Route 93 was not there. The fun I experienced as a child was watching 93 be built. Literally! My brother and sister and I watched houses being moved, saw trucks everywhere, and heard the construction noise for years. To witness that change was so cool. It opened up Medford to the world and the world to us. It changed everything for how one commuted and explored the world.
Wow, suddenly, Medford was accessible. How did you get into the city before then? Mostly buses and trains?
Oh yes, all buses and trains. I would walk down to a bus in Medford Square, travel to Sullivan Station --because this was also pre-Wellington Station – and hop the train into the city. In my youth, you didn't go into Boston without looking proper. A trip to Boston required the White Glove Experience, complete with a hat, a stop at Filene's to shop, and then a visit to Jordan Marsh for blueberry muffins.
I'd imagine that the 93 extension created a lot of change in the Medford community.
Oh, it absolutely did. The access 7 miles south to Boston, half an hour north to New Hampshire, and an hour to Maine all opened up Medford to the world and the world to us. At the same time, the world on Roosevelt Road was a great place to grow up. We played kick-the-can, and our neighborhood buddies gathered on rocks that inspired our make-believe play. The road led to Bellevue Pond, where we skated in the winter and sled down Circuit Road. Even back then, I pretended to be the mother. I would fashion rooms out of sticks and other twigs and leaves, and I created a tiny house for everybody. I'd set the table from a rock and serve pebbles for dessert. It was a great time of life.
The neighborhood came back to me an MFN mom shared with me that she lived on Roosevelt Road. When I asked what number she lived at, she said 38. -- the number of my family home! She to end up being the chairperson of the advisory board for the MFN. Life has a way of coming full circle in really cool ways.
What inspired you to create the Medford Family Network?
I was blessed to have this opportunity. After years of working with children and families in different capacities in and around Medford, I began working as a social worker for the Department of Social Services.
My supervisor approached me because someone was on the phone who wanted to talk about the needs of families in Medford. Knowing my passion for my community, he suggested I take the call.
The caller was Mr. Roy Belson, the Superintendent of Medford Public Schools, who explained he was interested in creating a local family network to support families with small children. I shared my ideas with him, then hung up the phone and figured that was that.
A month or two later, I got a call from the city's early childhood director, who asked me, "Marie, are you interested in applying for this job?" I replied, "What job?" She explained, "The Department of Early Education and Care awarded us a grant to start a family network in Medford. You gave us some great ideas that were part of the grant. Do you want to apply to lead it?" Of course, I did!
So I applied for and got the job, and the MFN was born. Our initial mission was to support parents to become the first, most important, and longest-lasting teachers in their children's lives, starting at birth up to age four.
We began with parent education classes and play-and-learn groups, eventually growing to 10 different centers in the city, including the library, Graceworks, the homeless shelter, and Medford Housing Development's community center, among others. Later funding allowed us to expand services up to age eight and create a centralized location at Medford High School.
Ah, yes, The Purple Door Play Space! Many parents feel like the MFN changed how they viewed themselves as parents. I'm guessing you've witnessed a shift in the parenting conversation here in Medford as well?
Medford has been so welcoming to me. When I grew up, there were sections, different neighborhoods of the city. Then the community took the chance to come together to think differently. Years ago, people would say to me, "You know, Marie, I don't need this parent education stuff. I raised my kids the way my mom did, and they're just fine." Our programming offered new ways of thinking about parenting challenges, and over time, word spread. Now people say, "Have you heard of the Medford Family Network? Got a baby? Get to the Family Network."
How did the MFN shift its focus in the pandemic?
The pandemic has been a very tough year for those joining the MFN community. Some people who haven't had to ask for help now have no choice but to ask. So the network took on a different role this year to be a much more active, confident support to those in need. We've helped families pay rent, bills; buy clothing and food.
The community at large has risen to the occasion, too, by providing sustenance in different ways. Medford provides nourishment by hosting 9 Little Free Libraries and 14 micro pantries throughout the city. The MFN Babysitter Exchange continues as well but in another form. Neighborhood caregiver exchanges have developed due to social distancing requirements. We're getting closer to opening up the MFN Play Space at pre-pandemic capacity, but families can come in now and observe the three-foot distance minimum with other families.
As a result, our interior interaction runs deeper now. The energy and creativity, the newness, the freshness, I can feel it, and it's one of the reasons I love Medford so much.
As we begin to emerge, what programming can we look forward to coming back this summer?
We're working with the Board of Health to hopefully bring back Playgroups in the Park -- how we're going to do it, what equipment we can use, what we can share and not share. We're hoping we can begin groups with smaller numbers and increase as the summer goes on.
We hope to have a Teddy Bear Picnic, and of course, continue with concerts at the Condon Shell. We'd love to have seven shows, and we hope to begin working with performers to coordinate, but we aren't there just yet. So we may be holding virtual concerts as we did last summer with Alastair Mook and Ben Rudnick, who were terrific.
Parenting classes have also been very successful. All take place on zoom, and that will continue those zoom for right now. And, of course, Swap Days have continued throughout the pandemic, thanks to Tamar Siegel and a terrific group of volunteers. All Swaps are all-day events held at the Medford High School courtyard, where families come and pick up free items they need within a 30-minute time slot.
You mentioned skating on Bellevue Pond as a child, a hidden gem here in Medford. For newcomers to the community, what are other favorite spots where kids can play?
We have so many amazing parks in Medford, and they are getting better and better. We are blessed to have the Middlesex Fells here in Medford, where families can take fantastic walks. The MFN holds Nature Walks in the Fells led by Miss Andrea, including a walk of the Brooks Estate, one of the lesser-known areas of Medford. And, of course, Wright's Pond is a great walking spot for families and a signature gathering place in the summer.
My favorite spot at Wright's is the Butterfly Garden, which is where I always saw your mom, "The Grandma of the MFN."
Thank you for remembering her. She loved the network, and she loved that garden. The flower pots on either side of the stage at Wright's Pond honor her memory. I remember one day she was coming up to the Family Center, and she said, "Marie, why didn't you do build one of these for me when I was raising kids?" I reminded her that I was a kid when she was raising kids! She was just the best.
What would you tell families who are considering a move to Medford?
Medford has so much to offer. The energy here, the variety of people, things to do, and ways to get involved, no matter what your age, is what makes Medford great. No matter your ilk or your interests, you have a place here in Medford to thrive: Medford's historical association with the beautiful new library will offer so many new things for adults and children. I'm so excited we'll have a role in it with a Family Network room dedicated to playgroups, ESL classes, and the like. Outdoors, we have the Bicycle Club and the Farmers Market. No matter who you are, you have a place, a home here. And if you feel you don't, then we have people who are listening and want to know how we can make that better for you and us. You will find a home here in Medford.
Marie Cassidy grew up watching the literal landscape shift before her eyes and grew to become a community shapeshifter, nurturing us all through the Medford Family Network. If you would like to learn more about the MFN, its mission, and programming, visit www.themedfordfamilynetwork.org/, and keep up-to-date on programming by following the MFN on Facebook and Instagram.
If you're interested in more conversations with great Medford neighbors, or getting monthly community info - sign up for the 4Squares Medford Newsletter!
Photo Sources: Portrait, courtesy of Marie Cassidy; Child Painting, MFN Facebook; Marie and the Purple Door, Friends of the MFN Facebook.