A Vision Came True: Johnson, DeFillipo honored for Chelsea Reads program

Who better to tell the story about “Chelsea Reads” than the co-founder of the event herself, Margo Johnson?

“Back in the year 2005, a colleague and I had a vision to create a safe haven at the Chelsea Library for our neighbors moving into the City of Chelsea and decided to start a program called ‘Chelsea Reads,’’ said Johnson.

So Johnson, part of the MGH Reach and Read Program, and Donna DeFillippo of Raising A

Reader, began “our journey, collaborating and creating a happy and safe environment for children and parents to learn what the Library can do, have fun while doing it, and to educate and introduce all of our wonderful staff and City Management.”

Each year “Chelsea Reads” is scheduled during the month of November in conjunction with National Family Literacy Month.

This year’s celebration of reading has begun and CPL Library Director Sarah Gay Jackson has announced that “Chelsea Reads” will honor the dedication and commitment to the event by co-founders Johnson and DeFillipo.

While the event is held every year inside the library, due to COVID-19, this year’s event has gone virtual and will be held throughout the entire the month of November. The Library is hosting online events, virtual activities, at home crafts, and no-contact programs like a StoryWalk and scavenger hunt.

Growing from 100

To 1,000 guests

The dynamic duo of Johnson and DeFillippo were hoping to have small-scale celebration of reading when they started “Chelsea Reads” 15 years ago. It grew quickly to become one of Chelsea schoolchildren’s most anticipated events of the school year.

Each year Chelsea Reads has welcomed “Celebrity Readers” such as former Supt.of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque, former City Manager Jay Ash, Police Chief Brian Kyes, Sgt. David Flibotte, Officer Sammy Mojica, former State Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, Councilors-at-Large Leo Robinson and Roy Avellaneda, and current City Manager Tom Ambrosino.

Another highlight at Chelsea Reads has been the appearances of cartoon characters in costume and interactive educational games at various stations throughout the library. The Museum of Science table was always an exciting attraction.

But the piece de resistance of Chelsea Reads may be the free bags of books and the souvenir bookbags themselves that are given to each and every child who participates in the event.

 Little wonder that the event grew quickly from 100 visitors in the first couple of years to a turnout of close to 1,000, spread out over two floors of the library.

Johnson said at the outset she approached Chelsea business owners for their support and they agreed about the importance of the event’s mission.

 “I’m so proud to be a part of this event,” said Johnson, who is one of Chelsea and Revere’s most unsung community organizers.

 This year’s theme

Amanda Arsenault is a graduate of Chelsea High School where she took four years of Latin. After graduating from UMass Boston where she wrote for the college newspaper, The Beacon, and graduating with a degree in English, Arsenault now works as a library assistant at the CPL.

Arsenault said “Chelsea Reads” will have four themes over the course of four weeks: storytelling and the importance of reading; multilingual and multicultural events such a hieroglyphics program; dance and movement that encourage children to get up and move, also featuring a performance by Off Broadway Dance Studio; and health, cooking, and togetherness.

Praise from 

Director Jackson

Sarah Gay Jackson became part of the Chelsea Reads organizing committee about a decade ago. Jackson has been instrumental in the resurgence in popularity of the CPL, joining her predecessors, former CPL directors Nicholas Minidakis and Robert Collins, as revered leaders of the historic library located diagonally across the street from Chelsea City Hall.

Jackson, who became Library Director in 2015, made a decision to honor Margo Johnson and Donna DeFillippo for not only founding the event but their continuing commitment to the children of Chelsea.

“We’re very grateful to them and we’re pleased to recognize these outstanding members of our community,” said Jackson.

(Information and the title from Margo Johnson’s personal essay and “Chelsea Reads” promotional materials were used in the compilation of this story).

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