As a young girl in Honduras, Nina Johnson-Letona, BSN, RN, CNRN, dreamed of a profession where she could help others. “I didn’t have the opportunity to go to nursing school in Honduras, so I made it a priority to advance my education and become a nurse when I migrated to America,” she said.
While going to school, she worked nights, weekends and holidays in the Brigham’s Medical Records department. After obtaining certification as a nursing assistant, she landed a patient care associate role in the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit while she finished her degree.
Her dedication and strong work ethic not only helped her achieve her aspiration of becoming a nurse in the Neurosciences Intermediate Care Unit, but also a personal goal: purchasing a home for her family.
Now, Johnson-Letona is continuing to help others in a new way — by connecting neighbors and working together to improve the quality of life in her neighborhood.
“I love the community of Dorchester because it has a lot to offer, with diversity, numerous options for transportation, educational opportunities, beautiful parks and wonderful people,” said Johnson-Letona. “When I first moved to the Woodrow Avenue area, it was so quiet.”
But about five years ago, the neighborhood began to change. Young adults began hanging out on the streets at night, and new construction projects cropped up that neighbors were unaware of.
“My neighbors and I felt that we weren’t informed about what was happening, and we would call the city to complain,” she recounted.
One day while calling City Hall, she was connected to a neighborhood liaison from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s office who offered some tips for organizing within her community.
“I talked with her about the need to make our neighborhood a better, safer place to live, and she said I could help by starting a neighborhood association,” said Johnson-Letona. “I thought about it and decided it was what we needed to do to make things better.”
Although Johnson-Letona didn’t know many of her neighbors at the time, she distributed flyers that the mayor’s office helped her create and invited people to attend the inaugural meeting of the Woodrow Avenue Neighborhood Association (WANA). “Our first meeting was in September 2016 in a room at one of the local schools,” she said. “We had five people, and we talked about our objectives for this group and how we would bring interested neighbors together to address mutual concerns.”
Since that time, the group has grown in membership and is achieving its goals in many ways. These include hosting two community events, advocating for and receiving assistance for street repairs, educating residents about the importance of completing the census, helping people register to vote and collaborating with elected officials and other community organizations.
When the pandemic hit, WANA worked with the city to provide resources to Dorchester residents.
“We shared information about local food pantries, distributed masks and tried to do our part to help the neighborhood,” said Johnson-Letona, who serves as chair of the association and works in partnership with other members of the WANA leadership team. “I found strength in knowing I could help, especially during these unprecedented times. We became stronger as a community because people were coming together to help each other. For that, I’m forever grateful.”
Although WANA hasn’t met in person since the start of the pandemic, members continue to connect via Zoom. “I feel empowered after each meeting to work harder for the benefit of the community,” Johnson-Letona said. “Our neighborhood isn’t perfect, but I am thankful to God and the WANA team that we are moving forward.”
Overall, the community is a better place with people working together.
“We all care about this community and want to help,” she said. “I feel so much more at home because of this effort.”