Each community entered in the National Civic League’s All-America City has 10 minutes to make a presentation in front of a panel of judges who will ultimately decide which city is worthy of the most prestigious civic award in the country.
There is also a question-and-answer period following the presentation, the final phase of the selection process that had begun with an extensive application submitted by the city to the NCL.
City Manager Ash and his 54-person delegation knew they had struck a chord of positivity with the judges following their brilliant presentation that had encapsulated the city’s rich history and highlighted three outstanding agencies and projects: Healthy Chelsea Coalition, the Neighborhood Developers’ North Bellingham Action Plan, and ROCA, the non-profit organization led by Molly Baldwin that has garnered international acclaim.
It wasn’t that Ash and his group were overconfident about their chances. It was others who spoke volumes about Chelsea’s unique, finely orchestrated, dramatic and dynamic “I Am Chelsea” presentation. The group received the loudest, standing ovation from other competitors in the audience. Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville referenced Ash and Chelsea in his city’s presentation.
And when Roseann Bongiovanni of the Chelsea Collaborative knocked it out of the ballpark with her eloquent response to the judges’ first question, the chances for success were heightened.
But the NCL holds its awards ceremony the next day so it was it more than a 24-hour waiting game for the Chelsea group.
At approximately 8 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, (MDT) amidst a ceremony that had the excitement and drama of the Academy Awards, Portsmouth (R.I.) Administrator John Klimm approached the podium.
“This community continues to enhance their civic infrastructure,” said Klimm. “This community has given its residents opportunities to strengthen their neighborhoods. This community believes in the power of their youth to succeed.”
And Klimm then delivered the words that Ash and Company had traveled 2,000 miles to hear: “The All-America City of Chelsea, Massachusetts.”
The celebration was raucous as Chelsea delegates shouted in exultation, hugged and embraced, to the accompaniment of tears of joy.
With a standing ovation behind him, the 6-foot-7-inch Jay Ash walked to the stage to accept the NCL’s highest honor. Cheers of “I Am Chelsea” could be heard throughout the Grand Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
“It’s an unbelievable honor to be here because we have been in this room for the last two days, listening to just unbelievable communities doing unbelievable things around our country,” said Ash.
“And you know what. When I came down here I thought I knew a lot about America but what I am leaving here with is knowing that best things that are happening in America are happening in our cities and towns and it’s all because all of you.
“We are very grateful to the National Civic League. We’re very grateful to the jury and the sponsors who were involved. We’re thrilled for everybody back in Chelsea. But the message we want to leave with you is: There really is no ‘I’ in Chelsea. But there is a single ‘I’ in America and it is all of us. Thank you all for all you do. Thank you for inspiring us.”
Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League, lauded Chelsea for being a model for communities across the country.
“I think Chelsea is an example of all the other communities here who are doing work that they probably never thought they could get done because they are raising the bar for everybody in their community and across the nation.
Rubio-Cortes was particularly impressed by Ash, Chelsea’s city manager who has revitalized the city and made it a national success story.
“Jay Ash is a great leader because you know what, he wasn’t in the front leading everybody, he was leading from behind and that’s a great leader. I think Chelsea stood out because they knew who they were. They told everybody who they were, plus they invited people to be honorary ambassadors for Chelsea in terms of doing the right thing for their community and having great ideas and implementing them.”
Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative and a delegate in 1998 when the city was also a winner, summed up the thoughts of the local delegation.
“It was awesome for a city like Chelsea, who has gone though so much, to have this victory,” said Vega. “I’m extremely proud of our city and the work that we have been able to accomplish together. Even as we were practicing for our presentation, I thought, ‘Wow, we do a lot of good work in our city so I am extremely happy.’’’
Joseph Vinard, president and CEO of the Chelsea Bank who served ably as the treasurer for the group’s travel operations, said about Chelsea’s triumph in Denver, “It’s one of the proudest moments that I’ve had since I’ve been in the city of Chelsea. The team that was here was fabulous. They were over the top. They worked hard. They were proud of what they did. And they really speak for what this city is all about. And Jay Ash is an amazing guy. He did a great job putting this together. We couldn’t have done this without him.”