In Waltham, the local Lions Club’s plan for a fundraising Drive-Through Holiday Light Showhas angered disability rights advocates because it will be held on the sprawling grounds of Waltham’s former Fernald Center. In the 1940s and 1950s, children at Fernald were used in experiments and later lawsuits brought to light squalid conditions and physical abuse.
“This site should not be used to celebrate the holiday season or any celebration,” Sandra Heller, chairperson of Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, wrote in an email about the event. “Since the residents were forced to stay in those grounds and endure abuse, neglect and experiments and [were] never treated as human beings that are valued in any way.”
Waltham’s Mayor Jeannette McCarthy declined to speak to GBH to discuss the objections. But Waltham Lions Club President Liz Pulice said the club’s decades of community service to the city included holiday activities and cookouts for Fernald Center residents and staff in its later years of operation. Their recent work has focused on pandemic aid, including food pantries and the construction of a remote learning space at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club. Pulice said since COVID had forced the cancellation of all their major fundraisers, the upcoming event was “an important part of our fundraising plan.”
“No one disputes that the Lions Club has done, and will continue to do, laudable charitable work,” Rick Glassman of the Disability Law Center wrote in an email. “The issue here is whether using this site for a five week long holiday music and light show, even one raising money for charity, is disrespectful, given the history of abuse, neglect and scientific experimentation that took place at Fernald.”
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