Because The Public Matters

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The Public Matters civic engagement initiative was launched by the Lowell Plan in partnership with Lowell National Historical Park in 2009.  Public Matters began as an experimental course to create a dialogue between the Lowell Plan and exceptional leaders in the Lowell community.  On May 10th, members from all ten classes of Public Matters gathered at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center to discuss the state of the city today in the first of a new Public Matters speaker’s series.

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Jim Cook, executive director of the LDFC & Lowell Plan

The mission of Public Matters is to foster and enhance the knowledge and skills of leaders in Lowell. Qualified individuals become members in a rigorous and challenging program in civic engagement. Throughout this program, members learn how to contribute more effectively to a diverse and mutually supportive community. The goal of Public Matters is to ensure that the Lowell of tomorrow will be served by inspired stewards of our history, natural resources, social and cultural capital and economic and government institution.

The program began with remarks from Lowell Plan executive director Jim Cook, LNHP deputy superintendent, Sue Andrews,  Mayor William Samaras and City Manager Eileen Donoghue–Samaras and Donoghue are both Lowell Plan board members.  The panel was moderated by PM graduate Jamie O’Hearn.

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From L-R Mayor William Samaras, Heather Doss, Geoff Foster, Linda Sou, Anthony Nganga, Cathy Mercado, Craig Thomas

The morning’s panel featured graduates from several Public Matters classes:

  • Heather Prince Doss (PM ’17) Pastor of the Eliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell. Rev. Doss teaches and provides pastoral care for church members from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
  • Geoff Foster (PM ’15) Director of Organizing and Policymaking at United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell.  Geoff oversees UTEC’s civic engagement and social justice programs including Teens Leading the Way – a statewide coalition of youth engaged in policymaking.
  • Cathy Mercado (PM ’17) a Mortgage Loan Officer at Santander Bank.  Prior to joining Santander Cathy was the Project Coordinator for the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership, an organization that promotes responsible and sustainable home ownership for low- and moderate-income earners.
  • Anthony Nganga (PM ’18) the founder of Studio 26 Associates, an architectural firm based in Lowell.  Through his firm, Anthony has provided architectural services to local community building owners and tenants including immigrant owned companies.
  • Linda Sou (PM ’10) is the Senior Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Lowell Community Health Center where she designs, directs, and manages processes for innovation and strategy development that lead to new growth and innovative opportunities for the organization.
  • Craig Thomas (PM ’12) is the Director of Real Estate for the Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA), a membership based community development corporation dedicated to resident empowerment and sustainable community revitalization.

Over the span of two hours, the panelists discussed views on the City of Lowell in the areas of housing, welcoming newcomers, and civic engagement with a particular focus o the relationship between these areas and economic development.   Audience members also participated through an engaging Q & A session on each of the topics.  Staff members from the City’s Planning & Development office were in attendance as well as city councilors Vesna Nuon, Edward Kennedy, and Karen Cirillo.

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Mayor William Samaras, Councilors Edward Kennedy, Karen Cirillo, and Vesna Nuon 

The current class of Public Matters is concluding its program over the next month.  They have held sessions in the following areas: Reinventing a New England City, Public Narrative, Neighborhood Quality of Life, Governance, Social Capital, Immigration, Neighborhoods, Economic Growth, Health and Social Services, and “New Lowell”

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City Manager Eileen Donoghue

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Ani Vong (PM ’15) and former Public Matters director, Rosemary Noon 

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UTEC Past & Present: Sovanna Pouv (PM ’16) and Geoff Foster (PM ’15)

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Team CBA: Jen Myers (PM ’13), Craig Thomas (PM ’12), and Julia Gavin (PM ’15)

Over the past ten years, nearly two hundred community members have participated in the Public Matters program.  Membership is diverse with governmental, nonprofit and business sectors all well-represented.  Interested applicants or nominators should visit www.lowellplan.org for more information about the 2019 offering.  Applications usually are accepted during the fall of the preceding year.

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