It was in an 1858 essay in The Atlantic that Oliver Wendall Holmes coined the phrase that became one of Boston’s most enduring nicknames.
“[The] Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn’t pry that out of a Boston man, if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crowbar.”
The references soon grew in scope, and the City of Boston claimed its rightful and now undisputed spot as “The Hub of the Universe.”
But there was another “Hub” in the headlines on Thursday, May 17th. And judging by the who’s who crowd in attendance, UTEC truly took a turn as the center of the universe at the grand opening of the Nancy L. and Richard K. Donahue UTEC Hub for Social Innovation. With a speaking portion headlined by Governor Charlie Baker and several members of his administration (Speaking of the State House), UTEC put on an opening to remember.
The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC), founded in 1999 and based in Lowell, was the result of an organizing movement driven by young people to develop their own teen center in response to gang violence. Today it is nationally recognized as a model agency. UTEC’s mission and promise is to ignite and nurture the ambition of proven-risk youth to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success.
The morning’s events began with an open house of several public tours of the new UTEC space on 15 Warren St right down the street from the existing UTEC headquarters. The tours showcased the newly renovated building that includes the 2Gen Early Education Center, Community Kitchen and the Catalyst Center, a rental space for functions, events and trainings. Hundreds of guests including local members of the business and nonprofit community, and out of town visitors such as Suffolk County Sherriff Steve Tompkins and State Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton eagerly checked out the new space.
Governor Baker’s tour group included Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue and City Councilor Karen Cirillo.
The group first viewed the 2Gen early education center where UTEC community members can receive free childcare for their children, supporting families in a cross generational sense.
Later, they visited the new culinary space located in the basement level of 15 Warren. UTEC’s is the largest community kitchen in the entire Merrimack Valley.
Finally the tour group joined the assembled crowd in the 3rd floor Catalyst Center for the formal speaking program–although by formal, it was anything but the staid usual parade of talking heads. Walk up music provided by a DJ accompanied each of the speakers as they walked up the orange, rather than red carpet, (metaphorical in this sense, although there was an actual literal orange carpet on the sidewalk leading to the tour entrances.)
After Director of Policy & Organizing Geoff Foster called the meeting to order, UTEC young adults Allen and Alexandra served as the co-hosts for the morning’s celebration. They currently work in UTEC’s culinary and woodworking programs, respectively.
After brief telling of their experience with UTEC, Allen and Alexandra introduced “The Bald Eagle” Gregg Croteau, UTEC’s executive director. “The opportunities that we think are going to ooze from the bricks of this building, they are truly going to represent a collective vision that ensures that the young people in this room are never seen as those kids, but instead as our kids.”
Next to speak was Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. A longtime champion of the organization, Baker summed up his feelings with a simple statement. “This is what success looks like.”
Before Brenda Anderson and Felicia Neov could speak, the audience was joined by some very special guests–the children of UTEC’s 2Gen center. With the governor and delegation waiting, the two women spoke about their experiences as young parents at UTEC.
Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber and MassDevelopment CEO Lauren Liss also delivered remarks on their perspectives on UTEC’s latest achievements. Each spoke to the importance of place, which holds true at all ages, and particularly for children.
Geoff Foster introduced the Lowell delegation, represented on the speaking program by State Representative Tom Golden. Representative Golden led the crowd in a hardy chant of “U-TEC!” before giving Governor Baker the new chant of “G-B!”
Mayor Samaras was the last of the elected officials to speak and used the occasion to put the important role UTEC plays in a historical context.
“As a community, we have always worked to make Lowell a place of opportunity. Throughout history, whether it was millworkers, immigrants, university students, we have always tried to make sure that people are given the chances to succeed and live a good life. What UTEC does is really makes those opportunities universal” noted Mayor Samaras, whose ties with the organization go back to his days as the headmaster of Lowell High School, “UTEC helps give young people who may be in need of a second chance or a third chance or however many it takes—it gives those young people the opportunity to thrive, through education, through jobs, and through pride in their city and most importantly in their self.”
The final name on the speaking list was the guest of honor, philanthropist Nancy Donahue, who donated much of the funds necessary to make this project happen. Croteau told the story of how he and Mrs. Donahue met–as partners in a canal cleanup over a decade ago.
“I’m particularly happy to have this particular part of UTEC because the whole family concept is so important,” Donahue noted before jokingly noting about the community kitchen, “as a mother of seven boys, I know how important food is.”
Finally the ceremony finished with a two part conclusion. First it was time to cut the (orange, naturally) ribbon, which was walked onto the stage by members of UTEC’s facilities team. Following that, the sign dedicating the Nancy L. and Richard K. Donahue UTEC Hub for Social Innovation was unveiled with the push of a special button ushered in by the children of the 2Gen Center.
For more information on UTEC and the Nancy L. and Richard K. Donahue UTEC Hub for Social Innovation, be sure to visit www.utec-lowell.org.