By Yadira Betances Muldoon
After 35 years at Chapel School, Director Cindy Mazella can’t go far without running into current and former students and their families.
Last month, little Leilani Martinez gave “Miss Cindy” a giant bear hug when saying hello at Nevins Library.
“She takes care of me,” Leilani grinned, when asked why this lady is so special to her.
Generations of youngsters who’ve attended Chapel – and their families – can say the same! But the time has come for this extra-special caretaker and educator to say goodbye: Mazella is retiring and will leave the school in October
. Gina Colarusso has been named the new director and began her role last month.
“I’m going to miss it,” Mazella admitted. “I’ll miss the kids. They are the sweetest thing and the reason why I come to work every day.”
The preschool currently serves 82 students, ranging in age from 2.9 to 5 years old, who come from Greater Lawrence, southern New Hampshire and beyond. The school has 10 teachers.
Chapel School was founded in 1958 by the late Flo Ladre, wife of the late David Ladre, longtime pastor at First Church Congregational, 26 Pleasant St. The school is run as a separate entity from First Church, although the two collaborate on several projects. Students also participate in the church’s food drives and a Mitten Tree where items are donated to Methuen Public Schools’ Resource Center.
“Our goal is to teach children to help others and that warms my heart,” Mazella said.
But Mazella said her job is not just educating the children.
“We also work with families to help them through the challenges they face,” Mazella said.
Jinsy Bisono, whose son Matthew Torres Bisono is a Chapel student, is one example. She said Mazella helped her find the resources her son needed for his developmental delays.
“I can’t thank her enough for what she did for me and my family,” Bisono said. “She’s definitely going to be missed. We’ve been blessed that she has given so much of herself to the community.”
Mazella first became acquainted with Chapel School when she enrolled her daughter Meghan and later son Daniel in the program.
“I wanted to work there as a teacher because it was a loving and caring environment,” she said.
Meghan had finished her first year and a teaching position opened, which Mazella took on a part-time basis in 1988.
“Its reputation precedes it,” said Mazella, who is always delighted when former students enroll their children at Chapel – something she’s witnessed often.
Mazella was a teacher for five years before taking the role of director in 1994.
Over the years she has adopted to new changes, including using social media to highlight students’ success and promote the school.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she continued paying teachers’ salaries and sent parents weekly activities to keep children engaged. In turn, parents sent pictures of their children.
“We formed a little community; it brought us together during a very difficult time,” she said.
That sense of community shone through when teachers and parents also rallied around a student’s mother who was fighting cancer. Mazella organized a calendar to ensure she had a ride to treatment in Boston. There were times when Mazella would drive the mother into Boston at 5:30am and be back in time for the school bell to ring.
“We all took turns, pitching in to help each other,” she said.
During her tenure, Mazella led several renovation projects in the classrooms, located inside the historic church. She also applied for a Massachusetts Stabilization Grant which provided funds so teachers can take staff development classes.
Chapel School was also one of the first to build a playground using proceeds from the sale of Yankee Candles, she said. That was close to her heart as she is a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that limits the body’s ability to fight off infections – the same type which the founder of Yankee Candle succumbed to. Mazella met him and told him about the playground at Chapel School.
“He gave me the biggest hug and told me to send him pictures,” she said. “I think (cancer) shaped me. I can’t take life for granted and we have to be kind to one another.”
Roberta Jurovich has watched Mazella lead Chapel for 20 years – first as a parent and later as a co-worker.
“All 3 of our kids have fond memories of attending Chapel School,” Jurovich said. “You could tell (Mazella) loved the school.”
In 2008, Jurovich became the church’s office manager – then later the manager of both the church and the school. She got a first-hand look at the demands of Mazella’s role.
“I have watched Cindy deal with any number of joys and concerns that come with running a school. Through it all, Cindy has been a sounding board, advocate, mentor and cheerleader to the parents and staff of Chapel,” Jurovich said. “She will listen whenever needed and offer helpful advice. She is very well known and respected in the community.
“I have watched the Chapel School evolve as Cindy sees the changing needs of families. She created Lunch Bunch and extended hours, as well as other smaller changes over the years,” Jurovich continued. “After all this time, you can tell Cindy still loves Chapel. We now see parents who attended Chapel bringing their own kids and Cindy is a part of why.”
Mazella’s roots run deep in Methuen. Her grandfather, Angelo Bonanno, started farming the land on Merrimack Street now known as Pleasant Valley Gardens. It is run by her niece Cara Griffin, a fourth-generation member of the Bonanno family.
In fact, Mazella’s fondest memories are working on the farm alongside her father, also named Angelo. Mazella’s children worked on the farm as teenagers.
Mazella and her husband Kevin have been married for 43 years.
A Catholic, Mazella is a member of St. Lucy Church. She is part of the Prayer Shawl Ministry at First Church which knits and crochets afghans that are donated to area hospitals, hospice facilities and Nevins Home.
She has also been on the board of the Methuen Festival of Trees. She has been on the board of Greater Lawrence Community Action Council for seven years. In fact, that organization nominated her for the YWCA Tribute to Women in 2018.
Looking back, Mazella is thankful for the opportunity to lead Chapel, meet so many amazing people and have so many wonderful experiences.
“It’s not the end result, it’s the journey and making a difference along the way,” she said.
GOODBYE, MISS CINDY!
First Church Congregational is hosting a Retirement Luncheon Open House on Oct. 7 from noon-4pm for those who’d like to wish Chapel Director Cindy Mazella well as she embarks on this next phase of life. For tickets or more info, call the Church Office at (978) 687-1240.