More than 200 people gathered May 27 on Zoom for the 46th Annual Theodore D. Mann Newton Mayor’s Community Breakfast. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller spoke about the Newton community standing together and how to move forward during the pandemic.
“Drawing hope from knowing that we can and will take care of each other,” Fuller said. “This is the way of hope.”
Fuller described how the Newton community has come together during the crisis — from over 3,000 neighbors connecting on social media to provide support to healthcare workers putting themselves at risk.
The event also featured prerecorded video montages, performances by Newton high school students, a universal prayer, and local religious leaders’ reflections on faith, hope, and community. Participants also had the opportunity to converse with one another in breakout rooms.
Stephen M. Kessinger, director of Government & Educational Media of NewTV, an accessible platform for the Newton community, said program leaders “really wanted to shift the focus on an uplifting message of unity against this dark backdrop of COVID-19.”
Fuller said there was something different about that morning, but she was glad to see how much was the same despite the pandemic.
“None of us have been unscathed,” Fuller said. “And yet, we are here together again in our new world.”
Fuller acknowledged “the steadfast stewards of this event” and expressed her gratitude “for the strong and enduring partnership of the Harmony Foundation, the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association, and other community partners.”
This year, attendees were given the option to donate to listed organizations, such as the Newton COVID-19 Care Fund, Newton Food Pantry, and the Senior Citizen Fund of Newton. Prior events required attendees to purchase $25 tickets to support the Harmony Foundation, also known as the Foundation for Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Harmony.
Anthony Logalbo, the president of Harmony Foundation, said in the past, the group also relied on ads from different local organizations, financial institutions, and businesses.
“We couldn't do any of that this year,” Logalbo said. “And this is the primary fundraiser for the Harmony Foundation.”
Like everybody else, Logalbo said, the foundation is “prepared to make the adjustment for having less revenue” and hopes to recover with time.
“It was a very coordinated and collaborative effort to really bring the community together,” Kessinger said.
Fuller expressed her gratitude toward the community.
“All of you here this morning, all of you who have given up so much for the greater good, who are staying safer at home, who are staying apart and covering your faces — we have taken care of each other, and we flattened the curve,” Fuller said.
Susan Albright, president of Newton’s city council who joined the breakfast, described in an interview why events like this are important.
“It's always good to remind people that we will get past this,” Albright said. “And we will be back together again.”
Susan Paley, a member of the breakfast planning committee and vice president of community relations for Newton-based The Village Bank, the lead sponsor of the breakfast, said it provided opportunities for people to unite together in the face of the pandemic.
“I was struck by the resiliency of our community and the ability to pivot and change in a time of uncertainty,” she said in an email after the event.
In an interview, Hattie Kerwin Derrick, a member of the planning committee and chair of the Newton Human Rights Commission, said she found the reflections from the faith leaders to be especially helpful.
“I hold that dear right now as I look at the world around me and what’s happening,” Derrick said.
While there were drawbacks to the digital transition, such as the absence of elementary and middle school student performances this year, Logalbo said the virtual format also provided opportunities for advancements in future events.
“It opened up new possibilities for us,” Logalbo said. “It was a new freedom, actually, to try new things.”
Nickki Dawes, an attendee of the virtual breakfast, said she appreciated the breakout session as a good stand-in for continuing the tradition of building relationships at the event.
“When I attend community gatherings like this, a big part of it is going to be to meet and interact with people face to face,” Dawes said. “I thought that was a good step on their part to continue with the tradition of relationship building.”
Paley of The Village Bank said in an email, “Moving the event to a virtual platform strengthened and tightened up a lot of the components of the Breakfast.”
Kessinger said NewTV and the Community Breakfast Planning Committee embraced going online this year with new ideas and tried to make it “engaging for people watching.”
“It helps to give it more value for what we can do and bring to the community.”
Logalbo said he hopes the Harmony Foundation will be well equipped to improve next year’s program and “get the younger grade students involved.”
“We may certainly try to continue some of these ideas into the future,” Logalbo said. “Even when we get back to being able to be in the same, big room together”
View the Community Breakfast here: vimeo.com/422795162
Kelsey Lu and Dnee Sirichantaropas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.