by Alesha Gunn
I am no stranger to Chez Vous skating rink. In fact, the 77-year-old Dorchester Family Fun Center was the core of my social existence as a teenager. I can vividly recall phoning my friends to plan an evening out at the popular rink. We would coordinate rides from our parents, chit chat about what we were going to wear, but most importantly strategize about how to persuade our romantic interests to skate with us during “couples skate”. I had a ritual of devouring a basket of french fries from the snack bar before I slipped into a pair of tan and orange size 8 skates.
Chez Vous was the only place in our community that we could go to have fun, socialize among our peers, and feel at home. That was 14 years ago. Since then, not much has changed. Chez Vous remains one of the few social havens for black youth in Boston’s neighborhoods.
On the Saturday evening I visited the rink to conduct interviews, I was astonished at the sight of countless teens lined up around the corner to get into the institution. Upon entering the rink I was greeted by everyone I walked pass with a “hello” or a smile. It was the same kind of friendly atmosphere that I had become accustomed to 14 years ago. There were kids everywhere; they were ordering food at the snack bar, getting skates at the skate exchange, stuffing their belongings into lockers, and whizzing around the rink on their roller skates.
I interviewed a few patrons and asked them what Chez Vous meant to them. They each responded using the same word to describe essence of the historical rink: family. Upon mentioning the possibility of the rink shutting down, they all expressed a deep sadness. One patron in particular, Dominic Smith of Dorchester, 23, stressed the importance of Chez Vous as a means to keep young kids off of the streets and away from the violence that has plagued Boston neighborhoods over the last several years. Unfortunately, the closing of the center could become a reality since the rink has been experiencing some financial trouble for quite some time.
Greer Toney, the owner of Chez Vous, spoke candidly about her passion for the kids in her community, and her dedication to improving the lives of those she comes into contact with. She also spoke about the various support programs Chez Vous offers to children and adults. The “Homework Dinner” Club is an after school program that provides kids with homework assistance and meals. There are also weekly self-improvement groups for men and women.
Chez Vous proves to be more than just another staking rink. It is a true asset to the black community and serves our youth in ways that encourage them to think positive, value education, and respect themselves and others.