Afghan families move to Bolton while waiting for Bromfield House

April 29, 2022 The Harvard Press BY MARTY GREEN

For the Afghan families who came to Harvard last December, their stay at Friendly Crossways was supposed to be a brief one, until a longer-term home could be located. The leading candidate for that longer-term—but still temporary—residence was Bromfield House, the vacant house where the school district administration offices were once located. But approval to use Bromfield House is tied up in the Worcester County Probate Court, and the refugees have had to move yet again, this time to Bolton.

In early January, the Select Board approved leasing Bromfield House to Ascentria Care Alliance, the organization helping to resettle the refugees. Then weeks stretched into months while lawyers for the board and for the Bromfield Trust tried and failed to work out a joint petition to the Worcester County Probate Court to allow the lease. In mid-March the Select Board submitted its own petition to the court.

Neither the Bromfield trustees nor any other party objected to that petition by the court’s April 12 deadline. But the Probate Court has not yet ruled on whether leasing the building is acceptable under Margaret Bromfield Blanchard’s will. The terms of her will require that income from the sale of the house be used for educational purposes, but the terms say nothing about a lease.

The lease also requires approval from the state attorney general. That go-ahead came promptly on April 13, according to Terry Symula, volunteer leader of the Neighborhood Support Team that is helping the Afghan families.

Meanwhile, the families remained at Friendly Crossways as winter turned into spring. “It was an unexpected blessing to have them stay as long as they did,” said Mary Helan Vesenka Turner of Friendly Crossways. (See letter to the editor) However, Friendly Crossways had long-standing commitments as a wedding venue in May and June.

“The pressure was on,” Symula said, to find new housing. With help from Father Terence Kilcoyne of St. Theresa Catholic Church and the approval of Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, the families moved to a property in Bolton owned by the Holy Trinity Catholic Parish. The move took place April 22, at the end of school vacation week. A daughter in one of the families reported they were settling in well. “We love it,” she said by email.

The 12 school-age children in the Afghan families have been attending Harvard schools since January. To disrupt their education as little as possible, Superintendent Linda Dwight said, they will be able to continue their schooling here. However, their daily trip to and from Bolton requires volunteer drivers instead of the school bus they rode before.

Symula said she hoped the Probate Court decision comes soon and allows the lease with Ascentria. Then work can begin on Bromfield House to make it usable as a home for the families for at least another school year.

Rebecca Zhang contributed to this story

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