Tonight, the fabulous Lisa Brukilacchio will be honored at The Welcome Project’s YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City celebration. Lisa is one of those people who “knows everybody,” as her range of work and passion for the community brings her into many people’s orbits. Tonight she will be recognized with the Suzanne Sankar Founder’s Award, which is given to an outstanding individual or group who has served as a leader in building the collective power of Somerville area immigrants.
From The Welcome Project‘s website:
For over 30 years, Somerville resident Lisa Brukilacchio has worked to support immigrant communities in Somerville. Currently the Director of the Somerville Health Agenda of the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), Lisa says her passion for working with immigrants grew out of another love: gardening.
“I had a community garden plot on Tufts property the first summer I lived in Somerville, the summer of 1979, where I first met a lot of “real” people who lived in Somerville,” Lisa said, “Early on, it was mostly Greek and Italian neighbors who would engage with me around growing. Later, when I became more involved in doing outreach for community gardens, I met a couple from El Salvador, who got involved in the team building the garden along the bike path. ”
Through gardening and youth development work, Lisa met Rose Boardman, then director of The Welcome Project.
“I started working with kids from the Mystic Learning Center, including immigrant families who had plots at Mystic and Rose Boardman had me come and do some planting projects.” This work eventually grew into working with Somerville Housing Authority on a landscape training/jobs program for residents. Meanwhile, over near Union Square, the Community Growing Center started up in 1993, where Lisa helped connect others across the city interested in supporting youth development and cultural activities to highlight the many populations making Somerville their home.
“As a volunteer working in the city, I got to meet lots of people. I landed here for school, but when I got engaged with the community, I had an opportunity to interact directly with various communities,” Lisa explained. “There were a lot of young people who thought their only way out was the military. As part of coordinating out of school programs, we would spend time with youth, opening their minds to potential options. Working to provide experiential learning opportunities for youth, I met other community leaders like Franklin Dalembert of the Somerville Haitian Coalition and other members of the Somerville Community Partnerships. We sought to enrich the role of those kids through literally building a stronger, healthier community together through the process of building the Growing Center!”
This work also connected her with many different Somerville populations, including Haitian, Salvadoran, Tibetan, and Indian.
“It was really the commonality of gardens, growing food, and cultural connections to the earth which brought us together,” Lisa added. “A big part of this work, the mission of the Growing Center, is to bring people together in a safe space to share our different cultural traditions. Community gardens have a unique capacity to do that through providing chances for meaningful activity, community engagement and cultural exchange around growing food.”
Lisa brings this focus on immigrant communities to her work in healthcare as well.
“When I first started working In the healthcare field, a large number of the families I worked with were immigrants. Many had come over from Italy, like my own grandmother, some were political refugees and some had grandparents who were slaves in the rural south. I learned a lot from them all,” Lisa said. Later after working for the City of Somerville and for Tufts University, Lisa returned to healthcare at Cambridge Health Alliance.
“CHA comes to health care from a population health and community perspective. I’ve found so many colleagues who are committed to addressing health disparities and an institution that has served vulnerable populations for a long time.”
Lisa added that understanding people’s cultural background is a critical piece of health work.
“We all have different perspectives on what we want our lives to be – how you enjoy life, where you find pride, purpose and meaning. It’s so basic, so integral to a person’s well-being,” Lisa said. “Health care is really about trying to bridge our cultural understandings of wellness.”
The Welcome Project is thrilled to recognize Lisa Brukilacchio with the Suzanne Sankar Founders Award at the 2015 YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City celebration.