Local teacher teams with students to revive Houghton’s Pond stand

For many years, visitors to Houghton’s Pond in Milton were able to get a snack at the concession stand near the playground equipment while enjoying their time outdoors at the recreation area. The stand closed, however, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a Milton couple has reopened the stand by creating a nonprofit, Rise & Thrive Education, Inc. They also started a GoFundMe campaign in May with a goal of raising $60,000 to make necessary improvements and to purchase equipment.

The organization’s founders, Joe and Danielle Cain, saw an opportunity to reach two goals when they created Rise & Thrive Education. The first was to bring the refreshment stand back to Houghton’s Pond. The second was to offer work experience to Joe’s students at ABCD University High School (UHS), where he serves as an academic support and special education teacher.

Operated by Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), a social services nonprofit, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools – Boston Collaborative High School, UHS serves Boston students aged 16-22 who are behind at least one grade level or who left high school without earning their diploma.

The Cains applied to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation in the spring of 2024 for a permit to operate the concession stand and were approved to provide snacks to the public for the next five seasons. They then applied for and were awarded 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt through the Internal Revenue Service.

Joe Cain said that the nonprofit came about with efforts to provide additional on-campus food choices to UHS students. With Cain’s supervision, students created the FireBird Café, which is named after the school’s mascot and offers new food choices in an updated space. That success led him to think about following the same model at Houghton’s Pond.

“We saw this as an opportunity,” he said. “This was a space similar to our school, where the community’s needs weren’t really being met. My wife and I love coming here. We always have. We’ve always wondered why it was closed.”

As the Cains researched the concession stand, they decided that the business model needed to change to a community-based effort. Students at UHS take classes during the summer to earn credits, since there are three graduation dates: January, June and August. Cain saw that having students work and study at the same time over the summer would give them hands-on experience with running a business while continuing their studies. The school serves approximately 80 students, of which about 30 will have the opportunity to work in Milton. The students will take classes for two days and then work two shifts at Houghton’s Pond.

At UHS, students and faculty believe that students can thrive through Resilience, Integrity, Scholarship and Empowerment, for which they use the acronym RISE. Cain decided to use Rise & Thrive Refreshments as the name for the concession stand at the pond but said that students will have the chance to change it if needed.

Nearly $20,000 of the $60,000 goal has been raised through the GoFundMe platform. The funds are needed to help with a variety of expenses, including refrigeration equipment, cleaning supplies, food storage containers, an ice machine, cooking equipment, fire extinguishers, and transportation for the students, all of whom live in Boston.

“Thanks to the GoFundMe, we were able to repair the plumbing, make some electrical upgrades in terms of safety, purchase freezers for the ice cream, refrigerators for drinks, purchase a hot dog rolling station, and we repaired all the screens,” Cain said.

He added that the building that houses the snack area and pavilion was built in 1920 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The home of Ralph Houghton originally stood on the site. Cain has applied for funds through the Milton Community Preservation Act to upgrade and make the property safer.

“The DCR staff has been awesome and they’re very happy that somebody’s here,” he said. ‘When there’s life in the building, there’s a much higher chance of it getting the attention that it needs.”

Cain said that any profits from sales at the stand will be put toward on-campus efforts at UHS, such as taking the refrigeration units to the school when they are not being used as well as offering free Wi-Fi year-round at the pavilion area in Milton.

Rise & Thrive Refreshments officially opened on Saturday, June 22, and will operate Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day weekend. Visitors will be able to purchase beverages, granola bars, potato chips, hot dogs, and packaged ice cream treats.

The refreshment pavilion at Houghton’s Pond is one of seven surviving historic structures commissioned
by the MDC to serve visitors to the Blue Hills. (Source: James Woodward/Wikimedia Commons)

The students will be paid through the ABCD summer works program, with those who are 18 and younger earning $15 per hour and those who are 19 and older earning $20 per hour.

“The community’s been super supportive,” Cain said, adding that he’s grateful not only for the financial donations, but also for the offers of help that have come his way.

Milton High School students have inquired about earning community service hours in exchange for helping with the project, while Milton Girl Scout Troop 82298 has created a dog treat station near the outdoor seating pavilion and a beach toy station near the ordering windows. Chefs have also offered to help train the students. Cain’s brother, Mike, flew to Massachusetts from California to replace ceiling tiles, clean the interior, and clean, repair and paint the picnic tables in the pavilion.

Cain wants his students to look at situations on their campus as well as the underused refreshment space at Houghton’s Pond as opportunities to find solutions. He has seen their enthusiasm as things have come together in both locations. “That’s been nice,” he said.

When he thinks about his students’ future plans, he is sure of one thing. “I want to teach students how to run a business,” he said.

To donate to the Rise & Thrive Houghton’s Pond Pavilion campaign, go to gofundme.com/f/revitalize-the-houghtons-pond-refreshment-pavilion.