Group photo of MLK Jr. Family Services, Inc. staff and volunteers with President & CEO Ronn Johnson at the recognition event in 2019
SPECIAL TO POINT OF VIEW The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, Inc. Part II ByEd Cohen As we got more and more contracts we grew bigger and we eventually grew out of the community center. Because we needed more and more staff, we bought the house on Wilbraham Road for our administrative offices; there was no room in the community center for staff and offices to run programs out of as well, and we leased a property on Bay Street for our Mental Health Services which were administered by Denise Stewart.” Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services also started to manage the contract for a family shelter, a congregated living shelter for mothers and their children that they received from the Children’s Study Home and that was later picked up by the Center for Human Development.
The Food Pantry that was originally part of the MLK Jr. Presbyterian Church Fellowship House and transitioned to the MLK Jr. Family Services greatly increased in size and the Board Volunteers were no longer able to manage it. Eventually Andrea Glenn directed the Food Pantry operations. Dora Robinson said “We grew a lot over a ten-year period because we needed a lot more staff for reporting, record keeping, and fiscal. The Board initially were volunteers keeping the books and so forth, we needed full time staff for book keeping, fiscal operations, administrative staff, and so forth, so that’s how we started growing this way; we couldn’t survive with just volunteers.” The MLK Jr. Community Center and later MLK Jr. Family Services never deviated from their original mission. Dora Robinson added that “We are still a full-service community-based organization with a social justice perspective. We launched the first city wide MLK community celebration at the Eastfield Mall as our first attempt to celebrate Social Justice, and did that for years.” Dora Robinson also mentioned that “MLK Jr. Family Services ran an alternative school ‘The MLK Jr. School of Excellence’ when Art Serota was on our Board of Directors. Art Serota encouraged us to set up the alternative school focused on young Black Men; Art Serota had his alter- native school the Learning Tree, but because there was such a great need he encouraged us to set up a class at MLK; that was the foundation for the MLK School of Excellence Charter School.” After 18 years of stellar leadership and service Dora Robinson left MLK Jr. Family Services to accept the President/CEO a position with the Pioneer Valley United Way in 2008. After several interim President/ CEO’s Ronn Johnson became the President/CEO of MLK Jr. Family Services in 2012. In 2013 he and the Board of Directors led an effort to launch a successful Capital Fund Drive to purchase the land that the Center was built on from the United Presbytery Church, securing the property in 2014. They also guided MLK Jr. Family Services Inc. to develop the Martin Luther Jr Social Jus- tice Awards to recognize & celebrate leaders from the community who have helped to make gains in the areas of Education, Health Disparities, Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Race Relations. Another program that Ronn Johnson and the 16-member Board of Directors representing multiple sec- tors of the community helped to start was the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a free academic program in partnership with Mass Humanities. Adults from low-income communities in Springfield were now able to take free college-accredited classes in the humanities and receive 6 transferable credits from Bard College. The community wide Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday pro- gram was restarted under the leader- ship of President/CEO Ronn Johnson in 2013 at the Community Music School of Springfield in partnership with CMSS Executive Director Eileen McCaffery and DREAM Studios under the direction of Benjamin Smith. Since 2014 the program has been taking place at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield with up to 3,000 people in the audience and 300 students on stage paying tribute to Dr. King’s legacy with performances in music, spoken word, poetry, prose, and dance. Springfield College joined the collaborative effort as a co-sponsor in 2016. Recently Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services collaborated with Common Wealth Murals, that organized the Fresh Paint Springfield Project, and Rosemary Tracy Woods, executive director and chief curator of Art for the Soul Gallery to have the “Say Their Names” mural painted on the side of the MLK Jr. Family Services Building to honor George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. From a core group of dedicated volunteers, the staff grew to 32 staff members with 125 volunteers who made it possible for the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services to serve the large volume of consumers needing services. Project Mustard Seed is alive and well! ■
Group photo at the Clemente Course graduation in 2019 with MLK Jr. Family Services, Inc.
President & CEO Ronn Johnson, course administrators, faculty and graduates.
Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services 106 Wilbraham Road Springfield, MA 01109 (ADMIN) (413) 746-3655 MLKJRFS Management Team