Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition (MFFC) is a nonprofit organization focused on 5 main pillars: Food Access and Nutrition Education; Community Empowerment; Built Environment; Youth Development; and Physical Activity. As the only full-time staff person at MFFC, every day is different for Shavel’le Olivier. She might be grant writing, meeting with staff, or going out to events and gatherings. She’s considering daily how residents can have better access to healthy food and food knowledge, how to use natural spaces and resources to promote activity for people who cannot afford gyms and other options, how to engage young people and help them make healthy life choices; how to establish a food forest where there isn’t an established system, and how to make sure residents are involved and feel heard when speaking up.
When she first got involved with MFFC, Olivier was a 17-year-old looking for a job and some independence. She had grown up with her twin sister Shanel’le in Mattapan, and a friend recommend that she work at the Mattapan Square Market, one of MFFC’s key nutrition programs. She was shy and reserved, but the people she met and worked with became some of her first close friends. Her confidence grew as she met and interacted with MFFC’s board, primarily made up of women of color. Mattapan Food and Fitness quickly became another home for her.
Over the years she spent with MFFC, Olivier got to know the community members who took time to speak with her and mentor her. She gained an appreciation for their work and was inspired to continue, volunteering with the Vigorous Youth program while attending Boston College. One of the classes that stood out to her from then was an adaptive leadership class, highlighting leaders who look differently than a stereotypical white male. Olivier was inspired by the idea that anyone can be a leader, herself included. She doesn’t need to take up too much space or be an extrovert. She can be herself, a woman who enjoys going for walks, reading fiction at home and spending time with her sisters, and still be a leader. Her mindset was solidified by the strong positive influence of MFFC founder Vivien Morris. Morris has been a key role model in Olivier’s life, from her work around nutrition to protesting in Boston, all while remaining humble, kind, loving, and generous with her time.
It was this close relationship with Morris and the other board members and her commitment to the organization for 10 years already that led to the decision on a summer day in 2019 for Olivier to become the first full-time staff member at MFFC. After receiving substantial funding that allowed for the team to put together a job description for Executive Director, Olivier was honored to step into the role with the trust and support of her longtime mentors.
As a Black woman at the head of this community organization, Olivier is demonstrating daily her progressive leadership and the ability to get work done with care and empathy. However, she’s still young and knows that sometimes people are surprised when she’s introduced as the Executive Director. At this point in her life, she’s confident enough to know that it’s her skills, her contributions, and the people she’s supporting that really matter. One of her favorite parts of the job is still planning and implementing the programming for MFFC. While she’s had to be more hands off as her responsibilities have increased, she still enjoys stopping in at events and programming when she can and surprising residents as well.
“Whenever I work on grant applications, I write from an asset-based approach, and the community is our strongest asset. People might look online and see negative stereotypes, but until you live here, you’ll miss out on the richness of the people. I just want to see people be open to change and empathetic to others, whether it’s sharing the road and introducing bike lanes for easier transportation or getting involved and connecting with their neighbors.” - Shavel'le Olivier, reflecting on her work in Mattapan
This month, one of the best ways for Mattapan community members to get involved is by joining MFFC’s monthly meeting on March 14th virtually for March’s topic of National Nutrition Month. For more events and information on MFFC’s work, visit their website and get in touch via email or phone. Olivier and her team will be on the other side ready to connect!