Everett is a compact city, covering just 3.4 square miles. Many working-class residents worry that the escalating costs in Boston’s neighborhoods will price them out, as gentrification spreads across the Mystic River. The local economy could change dramatically: In 2014, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded Wynn Resorts a license to build a $1.6-billion hotel and casino on an empty waterfront site in Everett. The project could bring as many as 4,000 jobs to the region.
On Broadway, the main street that bisects Everett, storefront signs are in Portuguese or Chinese, restaurants serve Salvadoran pupusas as well as Brazilian barbecue, and churches offer Sunday services in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or Haitian Creole.
Many families in Everett can trace their roots to first-wave immigrants from Italy and Ireland. More recent residents have arrived from Central and South America, particularly El Salvador and Brazil, as well as Morocco, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Neighbors who measure their ties to Everett not in years but decades will relay two stories that were critical turning points in the city’s history. Both go a long way toward explaining how Everett became a more welcoming place.
The first was catalyzed in 1994 when a Latina in sixth grade broke her leg in three places, during school. She had no health insurance. “The parents didn’t speak English and didn’t know that there was a health insurance policy that they could have purchased for $18 a year to cover their daughter during the school day,” recalls Jackie Coogan, a retired public school teacher in Everett.
Coogan was so disturbed by the incident that she founded the Joint Committee for Children’s Health Care in Everett (JCCHCE), a nonprofit that helps steer Everett residents, especially newcomers, through the maze of health care. It also connects them to social services offered through its network of more than 30 partnering agencies. The committee has an office on the second floor in Everett City Hall. Staffers offer services in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, French and Italian. To date the JCCHCE has provided assistance with health insurance, education and awareness to over 40,000 children and adults. Between August 2014 and July 2015, JCCHCE enrolled more than 4,500 people in state-provided health insurance.
The group has a satellite office nearby at St. Anthony’s Parish. For many immigrants from Brazil, Sister Elisete Signor is one of their first encounters in Everett. She arrived in the United States 15 years ago and runs the church’s Scalabrini Center. Born in Brazil to Italian parents and previously a missionary in Paraguay, she speaks Portuguese, Italian and Spanish and is “still learning English.”
Signor is a navigator for newcomers. She may help someone to sign up for health insurance or explain how to enroll a child in school or how to make a doctor’s appointment.
“It’s only simple things,” Signor says, “but sometimes they are not English speakers, and at our organization they can get help in so many languages, so this is great.”