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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

The Community Responds

By Joe Stewart
On May 10, State Representative Marcus Vaughn (9th Norfolk district), shared that the State had selected the Bay State Correctional Center as the next overflow shelter location to house about 150 families (450 individuals). The State indicated that the anticipated move-in date would be mid-June.  Following that announcement, local officials began to prepare and residents began to react.  
The following day, several Norfolk residents formed a Facebook group, Norfolk Welcome Wagon (NWW), and invited like-minded residents to join and collaborate. Since then, more than 200 people have joined the group and the organizers launched a website,, with a “Sign Up Here” form to better organize volunteers.
Three members of the NWW steering committee, Lucy Bullock-Sieger, Ron Tibbetts, and John Bowman-Colin, all Norfolk residents, were interviewed for this article.  Also interviewed was a Wrentham volunteer, Mike Dacko, a master electrician and proprietor of His Way Electric Corp.
 In response to the question, “What compelled you to get involved?” several responded with a variation of, “We’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants.”  
Bullock-Sieger shared that she has been involved with refugees and migrants, including working for the International Catholic Migration Commission; Tibbetts was the executive director of the Episcopalian homeless mission in Boston for 14 years; and Bowman-Colin shared that he’s a descendant of immigrants - his great-grandparents migrated to Boston and first lived in a West End tenement. His grandfather, one of 13 children, needed an emergency appendectomy which was paid for by a family from the wealthy side of Beacon Hill. Without that generous support, Bowman-Colin’s mother and others, an entire generation, would not have been born.
 Dacko, the electrician, said that in 2021 he was arriving at a job site and saw a man using crutches who appeared lost. Dacko pulled over and offered to help the man – who was on his way to an interview but was miles from the correct address. On the way to the interview, Dacko learned the man’s name, Kenny, and that the man had been an attorney in Kenya but had fled following weeks of torture resulting in the amputation of his leg. Kenny thought it was a miracle that he had made it to Boston. They struck up a friendship, and Kenny became very close to Dacko’s family. Since then, Kenny has moved to Phoenix, AZ and is nearing the end of law school, planning to resume his career.
 Those experiences motivated Dacko to involve his wife and three children in helping migrants; they recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to help at a Haitian refugee camp. Dacko recalled the fun that his children had while playing soccer with Hattian children. Who knew that smiles and a soccer ball could so quickly break through language and racial barriers? When he learned of the children who will move to Norfolk, Dacko contacted the King Philip Soccer Association (KPSA), which organizes youth and travel soccer for Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham players in grades 3-8, to see if together they might help. 
 In an email response, Gwen Prater, KPSA president, confirmed that suitable soccer gear has been identified and that KPSA will be partnering with the Norfolk Recreation Department to get the equipment delivered after families have settled in.
Tibbetts highlighted that residents have a stark choice: either embrace these people or reject them. He shared that his experience has taught him that embracing people, particularly those on the margins, expands one’s worldview. Tibbetts, also a vocational deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, noted that faith communities have an obligation to serve and that has motivated him to coordinate with Norfolk’s Federated Church and the Emmanuel Baptist Church, as well as the Church of the Advent in Medfield and his own St. John’s.
Bullock-Sieger shared that NWW volunteers have prepared and delivered care bags for Norfolk Fire and Police to hand out as needed once the shelter opens. NWW has deferred additional projects until the steering committee meets with the State’s onsite service provider, Heading Home (at press time the contract had been awarded but not finalized). From experience, Bullock-Sieger expects people at the shelter will need help with clothing, children’s activities, learning the English language, and support groups for moms; basically, anything and everything to help them integrate with the community and prepare for the future.
Bullock-Sieger concluded by observing that fear travels quickly, that this is an opportunity to shape Norfolk’s future, and that “people can do hard things.” Tibbetts pointed out that children reflect their parents’ values – what is said at home is what children say at school. And Bowman-Colin quoted Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” made famous by the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Editor’s Note: At Local Town Pages press time, the State announced that the shelter move-in date had been moved to late June.