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Rozzie & Me: Hilary Sullivan

The Rozzie & Me blog series is guest-written by RVMS Marketing Committee Volunteer Kelly Ransom. Kelly will be interviewing residents, business-owners, and folks from all walks-of-life who make Roslindale a special place to live and work.

Roslindale Village Main Streets is a volunteer-driven organization that relies on the donated time of committed individuals like RVMS Board of Directors Clerk Hilary Sullivan. Today, we are talking with Hilary about connecting her work at Northeastern to RVMS, her first time driving through Roslindale, and thoughtfully embracing urban renewal.

K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

H: I grew up out in Western Mass in the Northampton area in a pretty small town. I went to a regional high school. It was 7th through 12th grade, comprised of six different towns, and I was in a graduating class of 104. I feel like I grew up in a place where everyone knows everyone. As I got older, I lived in several different cities. I like living in cities, but also still really like the idea of a city that feels like a community. I studied abroad in London and lived in D.C. for four  years prior to moving to Boston. I have been in Boston for ten years. The first three years I was in JP, and then for the last seven I've been in Roslindale.

K: You are on the Board  of Directors with Roslindale Village Main Street. Tell me about that.

H: I've been involved with RVMS for about five or six years. I work at Northeastern in the Center of Community Service which connects students with volunteer opportunities in the local area. When I moved to Roslindale, we had a Northeastern co-op student who was working at RVMS, and he was a student in a civic engagement program I ran. I had started to go to the Farmers Market and get involved a little bit. The co-op student identified the need for volunteers in Roslindale so I connected with him and put it out to the students. RVMS soon started to regularly rely on me to connect students to volunteer opportunities in Roslindale such as the Egg Hunt and the Farmers Market.

I've always been involved with volunteering. After I graduated college, I served in AmeriCorps for two years. It's often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps. I had the chance to travel all around during my two years of service and learned about communities and community engagement. I think that the best way to make a community better is for the people in that community to be empowered to make it better. Our philosophy at Northeastern is that we listen to what the community is looking for and then we send volunteers. We never send volunteers unless we are invited or asked to go. Through doing that work and then through realizing that I really wanted to be involved in my community, it just became a natural fit to increase my involvement  with RVMS. I expressed interest and was invited to interview five years ago and I have been on the Board for four.

On the Board, I am the Clerk. I take all of the minutes and help move our work forward. I have a Masters in Nonprofit Management, so I try to help a lot with some of the behind the scenes stuff. For the last couple years, I've run the nominating committee which helps recruit new board members and co-lead the Design Committee. Peter Castellucci, my co-chair, is awesome with the actual design stuff, and I help to move projects along. I also serve on the Marketing Committee.

K: If you had to make an estimate, how many volunteers do you think you've brought to RVMS over the past five years?

H: I would say between one-time volunteers who have only come for a market or fundraiser and then some of the people who have stayed on as volunteers over the years, it would be about 50 volunteers. That's my guess.


K: That's a big impact! Why do you think organizations like RVMS are important?

H: RVMS is unique in that it is its own nonprofit but it is also in partnership with the City. I see that we play two different roles. One of the roles we play is to be advocates and elevate issues and ideas in the community to the City. We are often the conduit or the voice for what businesses need, what residents want, what we as a whole agree that is important, whether it's infrastructure or liquor licenses that can be available to any business in Roslindale. I think we are often the organized voice to make that happen. I think these things can happen without organizations like RVMS, but it takes a lot longer and it's a lot more difficult.

I think the other thing is what I mentioned earlier, the idea that if we want a neighborhood to grow, improve, or stay a certain way, then we need people to spearhead it. We need the people who live in, work in, and are a part of a place to be the ones trying to make change. I see that RVMS is doing that. We have a staff of two full-time people and one-part-time person, and we get a lot done. A lot of that is due to the passionate volunteers. I probably volunteer anywhere between 5 to 15 hours a week with RVMS, and it's because I genuinely care. It doesn't feel like work.

K: Do you have a favorite Roslindale memory that you would like to share?

H: There are lots of things that I love that I've done here and that I've been a part of here. The strongest memory is the first time that I came to Roslindale. When I was living in JP, I had a good friend who had grown up in Roslindale. I was always asking about it but I never ventured here. He and I went to a party one night and it was in Roslindale somewhere. We drove in one way but I didn't see much of anything. Then, when we came back, it was around midnight and we were driving down Corinth Street by the traffic statue and I was like "Oh my God! Where are we? This is the cutest place I have ever seen." He said "This is Roslindale. I've told you about this place a million times."

So, the next day, we came back and walked around and he pointed things out to me and was telling me how different it was growing up here. I remember going to the Village Market. We went into Fornax. There was a book store here, and we went there too. I remember thinking that this place was special. Then a year or so later is when I moved here.

K: Do you have a favorite Roslindale event?

H: Oh my gosh. There are so many. I have to say that both the Egg Hunt and the Roslindale Day Parade are two of my absolute favorites. They are such diverse Roslindale events. They are events that I truly feel like bring out everybody. You see people from all different backgrounds who look different and talk different but they all come together for this common purpose. Tom Donahue, a longtime Roslindale resident and volunteer, leads both of those events and is awesome.  I'm proud of the work I've done here in the last five years, but Tom has been doing this work forever. I love that he loves to bring the community together and celebrate. I appreciate both of those events because I think they're fun and they’re community oriented. But I also appreciate them because, genuinely, I think they represent the people in Roslindale who are really trying to build something and make this a place that is a really great place to be.


K: What are some of your favorite places to go in Roslindale?

H: I am a Western Mass country girl at heart so the Arboretum is actually my favorite place in Roslindale. It's a great place to clear my head and I love it there. I am so lucky that I get to live in an urban environment but still feel like I can get away. It's amazing. There are also many, many awesome stores and restaurants here.


K: What would you like to see in Roslindale in the future?

H: I think that we're seeing urban renewal everywhere across the country. We're seeing it in Boston and we're certainly seeing it in Roslindale. I think you have to embrace that people want to live in cities. I don't think there's any other option than to embrace development, but I think that it has to be really thoughtful. I really want to be thoughtful about how Roslindale develops and how to keep it as this unique diverse place. I absolutely want every storefront filled, but I don't want every storefront filled up with a really fancy shop because not everyone can afford that. I want to see businesses and stores that everybody who wants to be in Roslindale and who has historically been in Roslindale can go to shop. I want us to embrace the change that is inevitable, but I want to channel it in a way that is really inclusive and truly makes it a diverse neighborhood. I really love Roslindale and feel like it is this magical little enclave tucked in the southwest corner of Boston.