Lowell Week in Review: June 10, 2018

Campaign Reception

Tomorrow night (Monday, June 11, 2018 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm) is my re-election campaign reception at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren Street, Lowell. Donations in any amount are welcome but not necessary. Please stop by if you can.

Happy Birthday, Lowell National Historical Park

Created in 1978, Lowell National Historical Park celebrates its 40th birthday this weekend. Friday night there was a big reunion of park personnel past and present and yesterday there was a series of events highlighted by a 10 am walking tour led by National Park planner Christine Bruins. The title of the walk was “Forty Years of Preservation with Lowell NHP.” After passing through and hearing the latest news on the Hamilton Canal District, the tour visited the Appleton Mills Apartments, the Lowell Community Health Center and the Counting House Lofts, all on Jackson Street, all made possible through the use of Federal historic tax credits, and all tremendous examples of preservation.

Lowell Community Health Center

Inside Appleton Mills Apartments

Immediately following the walking tour there was a short speaking program in the Market Mills Courtyard that ended with a birthday cake for the Park. The rest of the day featured hands-on events at the Tsongas Industrial History Center and free canal boat rides.

AcreFest & Resource Fair

The Coalition for a Better Acre and ACTION (Acre Coming Together Improving Our Neighborhood) joined together yesterday to sponsor the 7th Annual AcreFest and Resource Fair on the North Common. There was music, dancing, a cookout and more than three dozen community groups at tables and booths around the Common.

Sako Long of CBA

A good example of the participants was CBA’s STEP Program (standing for Supported Training and Education Program). Staffing the table was Sako Long, the CBA’s Workforce Development Program Manager. He explained that participants in this program receive job training including “soft skills” such as how to sit for a job interview and are guaranteed a job upon graduation.

Because so many who participate in these programs find the lack of private and public transportation to be an impediment to employment, the STEP program also provides free transportation to job sites. However, even with training and transportation assistance, finding reliable and affordable child care remains a big challenge for many parents who are seeking work.

Perhaps the first step in overcoming these obstacles is by finding out what is already out there which is why this resource fair/carnival is such a valuable thing for the neighborhood and the city. Anyone who was familiar with the Acre of the 1980s who visited the neighborhood now would be amazed at how far it has come.

The Wooding-Marion Endowment Fund

Just-retired UMass Lowell political science professor John Wooding has joined with co-blogger and former UMass Lowell Executive Director of Community Relations to create the Wooding-Marion Prize for Peace and Justice Endowment Fund. John and Paul were both involved with the Greeley Peace Scholar Program which has each year for nearly a decade brought to UMass Lowell a scholar selected “on the basis of his or her ability to effectively promote the cause of peace and conflict resolution at local, regional, national, or international levels and/or peace and justice studies.”

The Wooding-Marion Fund will complement the Greely Scholar Program by presenting an annual prize to a student that will recognize leadership in promoting peace and justice in a community setting. While John and Paul have generously endowed the fund, donations from others are welcome and can be made on the UMass Lowell website.

Lowell Community Charter Public School

This past Thursday evening was the Open House at the Lowell Community Charter Public School on Jackson Street, held in combination with a street party that closed Jackson Street to traffic and featured food, games and entertainment.

Street party on Jackson Street

The Director of the school, Nick Leonardos, led a dozen of us the 5pm tour which visited a number of classrooms and met some of the teachers at the pre-K to 8 school. For all the times I’ve travelled up and down Jackson Street, I never realized what an impressive facility has been created inside. Originally, the school leased space inside mills 5 and 6 but in 2014, it purchased multiple floors of both mills along with an acre-sized vacant lot across Middlesex Street which will be the future home of, among other things, a full sized-gymnasium for the school.

Middlesex DA Marian Ryan

Update on the Opioid Crisis

Tuesday night Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan was the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation. Ryan praised the Greater Lowell community’s response to the opioid crisis which response has become a state and national model.

Ryan singled out the Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell for its efforts to provide mental health support to children whose parents die in overdoses. Ryan acknowledged that the loss of a parent is devastating in any situation, but a loss to an overdose brings many other issues. It’s unlikely that was the first time the deceased parent used drugs, so you may assume the child has lived in that environment for some time. And as research makes it clear that some families are genetically predisposed to addiction, you cannot be surprised that five or so years down the line many of these children will find themselves involved in the criminal justice system. The program that has been created, Project Care, is mostly due to Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell, which Ryan called “a real hero” in this scenario. The Association has mental health trauma care specialists on call so that when first responders encounter an overdose situation that somehow involves children, the first responders immediately know who to call.

Ryan also commended the Greater Lowell Community Foundation itself, both for its reliable financial support to the opioid-response effort but also to a new $10,000 grant from the Foundation to aid the Lowell Drug Court. Ryan explained that the Drug Court has a great track record of helping those assigned to it overcome their addictions by combining mandatory treatment programs with intensive court supervision. Unfortunately, those two objectives can work at cross-purposes. The court will place addicts in treatment centers far from the addict’s hometown and all the familiar people and places that tug someone back to drug use. But the court also requires weekly in-person appearances at court. The rigors and expense of travelling from a distant treatment facility to the local court and back again once each week can create an insurmountable obstacle to those who lack their own transportation. This new $10,000 GLCF grant will help the program obtain a van that will be used to drive people between treatment and court. This should minimize if not eliminate the transportation challenges facing those in the drug court now and in the future. It also illustrates the type of community-based, collaborative approach followed in Greater Lowell that accounts for much of whatever local success there has been in the response to this epidemic.

Councilors Ed Kennedy and Vesna Nuon

City Council Election Subcommittee

On Monday night I traveled to the Wang School for a meeting of the City Council’s Ad hoc Election Subcommittee. Subcommittee Chair Vesna Nuon and member Ed Kennedy ran the meeting. Councilor Karen Cirillo was also present. Hosted by the Pawtucketville Citizens Council, this was the subcommittee’s third of seven “listening sessions.” There were about 50 people in attendance. Councilors urged everyone to share their thoughts on the current system of government in Lowell and what they would prefer in its place.

Many spoke up but there really wasn’t a consensus. Some were concerned that a system with District Councilors would be flawed in two respects: there is a risk that district councilors would be so focused on their own districts that they would lose sight of what was best for the city as a whole. Second, once a person was elected as a district councilor, that person might cater to whatever voting blocks in the district supported him or her and would just ignore everyone else.

A number of others looked favorably on having some number of district city councilors, saying that the recent composition of the city council does not reflect the demographics of the city as it should and that having at least some district council seats might help change that.

The issue of low turnout in city elections came up. Some commented that if people want the attention of elected officials, all they have to do is vote. Others contended that the reason so many people do not vote in local elections is that they feel disconnected from local government. Councilor Kennedy said he intended to file a motion for the next council meeting which would urge the school committee to adopt a mandatory local civics course at Lowell High School that would be designed to educate students about how city government works and to get them enthused about becoming involved. He feels that if you start with high school students, interest will spread to their families. Finally, an audience member commended Lowell Votes for the comprehensive, multi-lingual Voter Guide it produced for the last city election.

The next listening session of this subcommittee is Wednesday, June 13 at 6:30 pm at the Sullivan School, 150 Draper Street.

3rd CD Candidate Forum

Today at 2 pm at Lowell High’s Cyrus Irish Auditorium, the Kathy Reticker Form for Children and Families will host the candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat. The candidates will answer questions about issues confronting children and families. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 1:30 pm.