Taking Pride in a Clean Playground
By Amanda Burke
FITCHBURG -- Silas Dobson saw Joanne “Mama” sitting on her front porch nearby Green Street Park over a decade ago.
She asked Dobson to pick up rubbish tossed in the park she watched over from her porch daily, as kids played basketball and socialized, the park that was this summer rededicated, the Joanne “Mama” Fitz Memorial Playground.
“I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Dobson, who wore comfortable clothes and a hat earned after 12 years in the United States Air Force Pararescue. “I just do it for the kids.”
On Saturday, Dobson was joined by Robert Pooler, who tossed plastic bottles and food wrappers into a yellow trash bag.
Neither man grew up in Fitchburg, and both said they moved to the city to join family. Fitchburg, they said, became their home the moment they moved here.
“I like to take pride in the area that I live in,” said Pooler, who plans to run for At-Large City Councilor next year.
Dobson was raised in Boston, and he said he came of age among “a lot of gun play, a lot of killing.”
Recalling that, he turned and looked behind him, across the basketball court and the playground and said: “Kids deserve a safehaven.”
Many of those kids know Dobson. Over the course of an hour Saturday morning he greeted several people, asked a student about his football season this year, and waved to cars that honked as they drove by.
Community leader Fitz passed away in 2016, but the impact she made on Dobson is lasting. Fitz, he said, introduced Dobson to the woman who became his wife.
And before her passing, she would often dispatch Dobson to “check on” kids in the park.
“I’d say, Mama Fitz is watching you,” he recalled.
“But today,” he said, “younger kids, they don’t know Mama Fitz, so basically I just, carry it on.”
Dobson, a father of seven who left the Air Force as a disabled veteran, walks deliberately, with a slight limp. Picking up at the memorial park helps him stay active, he said.
A former basketball coach and volunteer for several community organizations, Dobson said he hopes to one day launch a youth mentorship program in Fitchburg.
But for now, Dobson said he will keep going back to the Joanna “Mama” Fitz Memorial Playground a few times a week.
He’ll continue picking up trash, and sometimes sweep the basketball court. He said he sees no end to his stewardship of the Joanna “Mama” Fitz Memorial Playground.
And maybe, he said, his stewardship will catch on with young people, as did Mama Fitz’s with him.
“I’m not a role model, I’m not a mentor yet, but I want to be a positive influence. If they see it, maybe it will rub off on them,” he said.