For Denise LaScaleia, the sights, smells, and sounds of the Italian Home in the summertime have changed very little since her days as a young girl following her dad around with a little hammer in her hand.
“It has the same smells, the same noises,” she says. “I can still hear the excitement in kids voices at the pool, the screaming and laughter when the kids are playing. I can sit in the conference room and still hear the ball bouncing on the gym floor above me.”
LaScaleia, who has been the Italian Home’s Facilities Director since 2000, literally grew up at the Italian Home -- in the white house near the pool, in fact. Her father cared for the property at the Italian Home for decades, and together with his wife Doris raised Denise, her brother and four sisters in that house on campus.
Michael LaScaleia had been dropped off at the Italian Home when he was four, stayed until he was 13, and then never really left, continuing to visit the Franciscan sisters, doing maintenance jobs, mowing the lawns, and do a host of other tasks until he was eventually hired full-time in his early 20’s. In 2003, he celebrated 50 years of employment at Italian Home.
“My dad was a terrific carpenter, builder, and electrician” Denise recalls. “He could build just about anything – inside or out. Along with Mario Pallotta, he designed and installed the main entrance gardens that still greet us today. Mario was 10 years younger than my dad and, like my dad, had been left at the Italian Home at an early age.”
Knock on the Door Early on Summer Mornings
Denise remembers with pleasure her summers as a child at the Italian Home. The kids living there were her playmates and would knock on her door early on a summer morning to see if she could come outside. Diana Dorci, who was left at the Italian Home by her parents and lived there for four years, was one of Denise’s best friends. Today Diana volunteers for the Italian Home and she and Denise still connect from time to time.
Summer life on the campus in the late 1960s was different – yet the same as today in many ways.
Hopscotch, jacks, football
“When I was a child, there was a lot more open space and trees on the campus. Over the years, the fields where we played have given way to new buildings and the pool to meet the needs of the kids.” she adds.
“Back then, I don’t think there was as much structure to the days in the summer. The nuns were here, and they were doing the laundry, the cooking, the repairing of things. And we would just play – hopscotch, jacks, dodge ball. We kids were divided by gender – boys playing ball in one area, maybe, while the girls were playing jump rope in another. “
“Sister would push out a cart with snacks. Meals were more structured. But we had a great time,” she recalls.
Pool a welcome addition
The pool was a welcome addition in the 1970s. “On warm days, I remember the sisters gathering of all the kids into the pool area. They served the children popsicles and ice cream poolside!”
“The sisters also had big barbecues that were wonderful. And we’d have trips to Canobie Lake Park, Salisbury Beach, and to baseball games.”
Today, about 70 children continue to live in the Italian Home residential campuses in Jamaica Plain and East Freetown. Many more come to campus in the summer to attend the Mary Savioloi Pallotta Education Center, which was built in 1990 and serves children year round in grades K-8. Still more children attend the After School Program, which also serves elementary school children and runs a summer camp onsite.
Summer for kids in all of these programs continues to offer plenty of opportunities for kids to just be kids, Denise says. “Kids playing sports or swimming in the pool – the laughter, the good times. It feels the same,” she says. Barbecues, ice cream and popsicles remain huge summertime favorites. And trips to Canobie Lake, to the beach, to a baseball game or to the movies are made possible by gifts from generous donor and continue to provide children with special memories during a period of time that can be otherwise difficult.
“I worked here with my dad as a kid, and then I went off to college and worked in construction elsewhere for 13 years before coming back here to work with my dad for three years until he passed away,” says Denise. “This place feels like home to me. I love the place, I love the mission of creating a safe environment for the children. It’s a special place, in the summer and all year round. That’s why I’ve stayed here most of my life.”
The Mario and Claire Pallotta Enrichment Fund supports activities for children in Italian Home’s care during the summer and year round, giving them the joy of childhood experiences and adventures, enriching their lives with activities such as trips to an amusement park, afternoons at the movies, music lessons, dance classes, and athletics programs that are not reimbursed by the state or insurance. Learn more and donate here.