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Bridging communities at Brooksby

Town social groups bring together those with a common bond

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May 29th, 2014
Helen Millican sits in her Brooksby apartment home with a copy of the advertisement for a recent Lexington Meet and Greet. She co-chairs the group with a Brooksby neighbor who also hails from Lexington.
Helen Millican sits in her Brooksby apartment home

Lexington, Mass., was Helen Millican’s home from the time she was a preschooler. She grew up there, married a man from the town, raised her children, and taught swimming lessons to many of the town’s children. Townspeople also knew the Millicans for the garden center they owned.

“A real Lexingtonian” is how Helen describes herself. But Helen made Brooksb..., the Erickson Living community in Peabody, Mass., her home more than nine years ago and has embraced her new community.

At Brooksby, Helen is a regular in the TV studio, and after spending many years involved in her Lexington church—the “highlight of our life,” she says—Helen now manages many elements, including the ushers and program booklets, for the Protestant services in Brooksby’s interfaith chapel.   

Before moving to Brooksby, Helen says, “I knew nothing about the North Shore.” But she soon learned to appreciate the shopping and medical facilities in the area, as well as the many activities at Brooksby.

Making connections

This year, Helen added another activity to her list: she co-chairs Brooksby’s Lexington Meet and Greet group with Betty Johnson. 

The concept of town meet and greets began with Kevin Connolly, restaurant manager of Brooksby’s Harvest Grille and Cider House Bistro. Connolly saw an opportunity to bring together people who moved to Brooksby from the same town. He offered his Harvest Grille space for hour-long gatherings. Groups from Marblehead, Reading, Salem, Swampscott, Topsfield, and Wakefield plan to meet this year.  

“I always wondered how many people were here from Lexington,” Helen says.

In the meetings, “some of the conversations have been really great, especially when they realize how close they lived to each other or even common friends,” Connolly says. 

“I thought it was a nice way to touch base with people who had come from the same community at different points,” adds Betty, co-chair of the Lexington group.

Betty and her husband spent 30 years in Lexington, where Helen taught their children to swim and they shared mutual friends through church activities. Even so, the Johnsons and Millicans didn’t connect on a more personal level until moving to Brooksby and volunteering together at the chapel and in the TV studio. 

The Lexington Meet and Greet is very much a social activity aimed at the approximately 40 people who live at Brooksby and hail from Lexington. Helen and Betty added an educational element to a recent meeting to help attract their neighbors, who have a plethora of activities to choose from at Brooksby. Helen brought in her nephew, a manager of a Lexington real estate branch, who led a discussion about market changes in the town. The group of about 30 participants had a lively question-and-answer session. 

“Even though we’re living here, we have a love for [Lexington]; it’s a part of our lives,” Helen says. 

Helen remains a member of the Lexington Historical Society and hopes to highlight the town’s history in a future meeting. “We’re trying to create more interest in learning about the town,” she says. 

Variety of options in one place

For Helen and Betty, community involvement and volunteerism comes naturally, and opportunities abound at Brooksby. 

“You have so many different types of backgrounds living close,” Betty says of Brooksby. No matter what type of organization you want to be a part of, at Brooksby “it’s all right here.” 

Betty adds: “You can do as much as you want, or if you don’t want to do anything, you don’t have to.” 

“I volunteer; I know things need to be done, and I have to be busy,” says Helen, who also belongs to Brooksby’s garden club. Since Helen’s husband Harold died in 2011, she has maintained her active involvement at Brooksby and her connections with friends and family in Lexington.  

“I feel very fortunate to be here,” she says of Brooksby, adding, “I’m very, very happy that I’m here.”

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