40th anniversary of Coalition for a Better Acre

Gov. Micheal Dukakis signing CBA-endorsed legislation

On October 6, 2022, the Coalition for a Better Acre celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The CBA started as a grassroots organization determined to save the neighborhood from an urban renewal plan that would have displaced hundreds. The CBA succeeded and has continued to provide support for the neighborhood and beyond with housing, daycare, education, nutrition, and all the other things essential to urban life.

At the anniversary event, the CBA honored forty people and entities that have been central to the organization’s four decades of success.

The CBA kindly shared the citations of the 40 honorees. Here they are:

CBA 40th Anniversary Honorees

  • Charlie Gargiulo, founder of CBA, community organizer, and forceful advocate has dedicated his life to social and economic justice. Charlie watched with helplessness as a 13-year-old boy when his Aunt Rose and many family and friends from Little Canada had their homes and dignity stripped by urban renewal. Charlie worked tirelessly to empower residents to successfully defend their community from the same kind of faceless forces that destroyed the lives of people like his Aunt Rose.
  • In 1988 CBA established Acre Family Day Care as a workforce development program. Acre Family Child Care became its own non-profit in 1990, training low-income women from many ethnic groups to start their own home-based business as family daycare providers. Today, Acre Family Child Care provides care for nearly 400 children every day.
  • Angel Bermudez was the first Community Organizer hired by the CBA and knocked on doors to mobilize Acre residents to resist the city’s goal to displace them. Angel also organized to stop the former St. Joseph Hospital from building a parking lot which would have displaced residents.
  • Laura Buxbaum came at a time when there was a lot of rebuilding to do at CBA, which had not had a Executive Director for several years. Although she was with the organization for a short time, she was able to work with the board and the team to get CBA to a stable place, and onto the next chapter. Laura was instrumental in getting the re-syndication of North Canal Apartments.
  • Former City Manager James Campbell became a strong advocate for CBA’s efforts to save North Canal Apartments for its residents. He resisted a strong political effort by the Lowell Sun and private developers to displace North Canal tenants and build market rate housing on its site. He stood firm behind his promise to make Lowell’s revitalization worked for all its citizens.
  • Frank Carvalho was a banking executive and small business owner who became CBA’s Executive Director. He brought many programs to CBA, with a sharp focus on workforce and small business development. Frank started the Mill Cities Community Investments CDFI in partnership with CBA and Lawrence Community Works.
  • Arva Clark was essential to the success of CBA. As Executive Director of the Lowell YWCA, she courageously threw the full weight of her organization to support the CBA when it was under attack by the city government for opposing the displacement of Acre residents. She was the first Secretary of the CBA Board of Directors and remained a fearless leader in efforts to promote social and economic justic
  • Arlene Dias was one of the most effective leaders in the early struggles to save the Acre Triangle and North Canal. She served as Vice-President and then became Co-Chair of CBA with Charlie Gargiulo in the late 80’s. Arlene was an eloquent and passionate public speaker on behalf of Acre residents. She also was a strong fighter for equity and quality in Lowell’s public school system.
  • George Duncan was the first banker willing to support CBA and helped leverage the private financing necessary for CBA’s successful development efforts. Mr. Duncan was instrumental in rebuilding CBA during difficult times. He is a former CBA board member and remains a strong advocate and partner.
  • Debbie Fox was hired as CBA’s Construction Manager and her work in successfully guiding the Acre Triangle and North Canal projects to completion remains legendary in the community development world. In particular, her work on North Canal created a blueprint for other communities to follow in their efforts to save expiring use projects for its residents throughout the nation.
  • Michael Heath was a CBA super volunteer who never said no to CBA when we needed anything. After events, Michael always came in to clean the popcorn machine that no one else wanted to clean. Family was his top priority, dedicating his life to caring for his daughter, Destiny who is here to receive this honor on his behalf. Michael, we miss you.
  • Cecilio Hernandez led CBA in many roles, including Director of Finance and Interim Executive Director. His expertise and leadership skills ensured the day-to-day work on North Canal development continued during a pivotal time at CBA. Cecilio says, “CBA produced in me a deep sense of what it means to “love your neighbor” and to engage in work that is messy at times, but totally meaningful.”
  • Tyler Jones was a former CBA board chair and strong tenant advocate. He brought organizing skills when educating residents about their rights to safe, high-quality, affordable housing. With Tyler’s leadership, CBA brought on English and GED classes, workforce training programs, and continued to advocate for equitable economic opportunities for Acre residents.
  • Lowell Development & Financial Corp. created a $15 million loan pool with twelve local banks to fund the renovation of the and the North Canal Housing Development. This was the largest loan LDFC has made since its founding in 1975. And CBA paid it off!
  • Brother Valmond Leclerc was CBA’s first Treasurer after joining the first efforts knock on doors in the Acre Triangle to organize residents to save their neighborhood. He brought the Oblate Missionary Center on board as an original member organization of the CBA. “Brother Val” was a street worker who helped provide addiction services for Spanish speaking residents before bilingual services were available.
  • In the beginning, it was impossible for CBA to win the support of any City Councilors, except for Armand Lemay. As a French-Canadian who remembered the tragedy of the forced removal of the residents of Little Canada in the 1960’s, Armand was determined to help CBA’s efforts to prevent the same fate of forced displacement from happening to others. He stood with CBA throughout his long tenure on the Lowell City Council and as Mayor.
  • Judith Liben had a stellar reputation for serving the poor of Lowell with strong legal support. As a lawyer working with Merrimack Valley Legal Services, she provided direct legal services to individuals in need, as well as valuable legal services to CBA from its inception. Judith was instrumental in guiding the organization through the legal battles necessary to turn North Canal over to CBA and the North Canal Tenants Association.
  • Maria Lopez was involved in many of CBA’s organizing efforts: to get a local Spanish-language cable channel, getting out the vote, and safer streets. She came to Lowell as a single mother and lived with her 3 children on Adams Street. Maria was introduced to CBA by her friend, Diana Quinones, and dedicated many hours as a volunteer and board member, often with kids in tow. Maria asks, “If we’re not willing to do the work to make our city a better place, who will?”
  • Sothara Ly is a dedicated CBA super volunteer. She attends every CBA event she can, has served on the annual meeting committee, knocked on doors, phone banked, registered people to vote, and recently began volunteering at CBA’s food pantry to serve the Khmer-speaking community. Sothara participates in all of CBA’s Health Access programming, and she especially loves Zumba classes.
  • Maloney Properties has been our partner in managing CBA’s properties for almost 40 years. They not only take care of CBA’s physical properties, Maloney Properties is a vital partner in developing real estate projects. The Maloney staff work around the clock to make sure our properties are safe, clean, and beautiful.
  • Mill Cities Community Investments is the byproduct of community development partnerships. In 2008, CBA and Lawrence Community Works (LCW), a CDC serving Lawrence, joined together to establish a community development financial institution (CDFI) to serve the Merrimack Valley. MCCI provides home improvement loans, loans for lead paint mitigation, small business loans and technical assistance to small businesses.
  • Jim Milinazzo was the Planning Director for the City of Lowell when he resisted efforts by the City Manager to sabotage CBA’s work to save the Acre Triangle. He knew CBA represented the residents of the Acre Triangle and he helped CBA navigate the political waters of city government. Jim continued to support CBA as he served as Executive Director of LDFC, a Lowell City Councilor, and Mayor.
  • Anita Moeller came to CBA while a student at UMass Lowell and started a workforce development program that would become Acre Family Child Care. Anita saw two related economic needs for North Canal women: jobs and childcare. Acre Family Child Care now provides training programs in English, Spanish, and Khmer that enable women to run licensed family child care businesses in their own homes.
  • Elkin Montoya always says he got involved with CBA because an “Angel knocked on his door” – it was Angel Bermudez, who recruited him to join CBA. Elkin served on CBA’s board for many years, including as the board chair who hired Yun-Ju. Over 30 years later, he continues to volunteer for CBA and is a fierce advocate for our work.
  • Madeline Nash was a former CBA Director of Real Estate who was instrumental in developing the St. Joseph’s School, Acre High School, and Unity Place Apartments. She expanded CBA’s development work beyond the Acre, with the Gorham Street Apartments and Haverhill projects. Madeline left behind a very strong pipeline of real estate projects that CBA continues to develop to this day.
  • NeighborWorks America is a key partner in CBA’s community development work. As a chartered member of the NeighborWorks America network, CBA receives targeted funding and technical assistance specific to community development. As a NeighborWorks member, CBA is able to provide more opportunities for affordable housing.
  • Dave Ouellette is an activist in the Acre community, whose involvement with CBA helped launch the Acre neighborhood group, ACTION. After attending the NeighborWorks’ Community Leadership Institute (CLI), he and other participants took on the restoration of the North Common “Rainbow” as their CLI project. Dave served on CBA’s Board of Directors for 9 years, including as Board Chair.
  • Diana Quinones was one of the most effective community organizers in CBA’s history. She joined CBA as a mother who successfully fought to drive out violent drug dealers from preying on her family and her neighbors. She was hired as a Community Organizer and worked hard to empower low-income and Latino families in the Acre. She led a successful campaign to make the local cable TV station offer Spanish speaking programs, fought valiantly to oppose an English only referendum in Lowell.
  • CBA is able to build affordable housing, thanks in large part to our state partners at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. In particular, Kate Racer who has administrated or been involved with the affordable housing funding programs at DHCD for the majority of the 40 years CBA has existed. DHCD’s staff are always willing to talk with CBA about future projects, ongoing construction, and support our work to keep housing affordable for our current and future.
  • Emily Rosenbaum was an Executive Director during a challenging time for CBA. She not only helped stabilize the organization, but helped develop many real estate projects, including the first-ever outside the Acre – Gorham Street Apartments. Emily saw the need for foreclosure prevention and counseling launched the Home Preservation Center at CBA that has served over 1,700 families.
  • Jerry Rubin was a founding staff-member and the first person on CBA’s payroll. He brought together unlikely partners who would come to join the coalition to improve the Acre.
  • Bunrith Sath is a dedicated community member who connected the public with resources as a CBA community organizer. He helped to bring the Khmer community to CBA and focused on building a healthier community. Bunrith started the CBA potlucks before they became CHOP dinners and recruited residents for the Healthy Homes program alongside Dave Turcotte.
  • Francey Sierra has been involved with CBA for over 20 years. She truly enjoys working and engaging with the community, telling everyone about the events and opportunities at CBA. Francey does everything at CBA – canvassing, registering people to vote, getting flyers out, recruiting people to participate in programs – all with a compliment and a smile.
  • Charlie Sullivan served as treasurer of CBA’s board for 9 years and was instrumental in creating a board-restricted fund CBA will one day be able to utilize for operations. He continues to volunteer his time to consult with CBA’s finance committee.
  • Father Diego James Taggart invoked the spirit of community at CBA. As a member of the finance committee and board, Father Taggart guided CBA’s decision making as it solidified its identity. Clergy like Father Taggart were instrumental in helping get the word out about CBA. For a time he resided in the building that would become CBA’s offices.
  • Bill Traynor was CBA’s first executive director. Bill shared that he still carries with him the lessons learned through community work, “The CBA gave me the extraordinary opportunity as a young activist to attempt to be part of something bold and special and new in the City of Lowell, to work alongside people I loved and admired, and to take on challenges that seemed insurmountable and grow and win as a team.”
  • Dave Turcotte supported efforts by residents, business, church, and community leaders to preserve the Acre Triangle and form the CBA. He supported organizing efforts in his role as President of Mass Fair Share, and served on CBA’s Board of Directors, as a member, treasurer and Board Chair. as well as a member of CBA’s Real Estate Committee from 2006-2011. Dave continues to collaborate with CBA on several grant funded projects to improve the health of vulnerable residents and the quality of their housing.
  • In 1994, CBA purchased the 42,000-square-foot mill building at 95 Rock Street to retain and create jobs for local and low-income individuals in light manufacturing. Today, the building is the home of UnWrapped Inc., a textile manufacturing company, employing 200 people, of whom many are Cambodian immigrants and Acre residents. Unwrapped designed and started manufactured PPE used by hospitals and first responders early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Mary Uy is well known to the CBA community for her famous eggrolls! She has been a CBA Super Volunteer for over 14 years, engaging with community members, helping to plan events such as the Annual Meeting and Acre Clean Up.
  • Gerardo Vidal is a dedicated community member, a past board member, and super volunteer. He brings his passion for civic engagement and community involvement to the neighborhood, and CBA events. Gerardo helps others become active in the community by recruiting new members and volunteers, and spreading the word about CBA.