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For a Lawrence nonprofit, neighbors always come first

by John Ladler, Boston Globe

In 1996, residents of Lawrence’s Arlington neighborhood decided to create an association that could help them advocate for such needs as more jobs and housing, and a solution to the area’s periodic flooding.

Those neighbors could hardly have guessed that the fledgling group they launched nearly 25 years ago would evolve into a citywide nonprofit that today assists about 500 local residents in grappling with some of those same issues.

Recently ACT Lawrence itself received a major boost when the Latina-led community development corporation was awarded a three-year, $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation.

The Lawrence agency, one of 130 nonprofits sharing in $20 million in Cummings grants to support their community work, will use the funds to maintain and enhance the financial literacy workshops and counseling it provides to adults and young people -- all offered virtually now due to COVID-19.

“It was more than exciting -- it was like a dream come true,” said Ana Luna, the organization’s longtime executive director.

Luna said the funding -- to be distributed in three annual $33,333 payments -- will provide the nonprofit with financial stability over the next few years and position it to secure other funding -- valuable support for a relatively low-budget agency with just three paid staff members.

She said the funding is particularly helpful now during the pandemic as ACT Lawrence, like other nonprofits, grapples to keep pace with community needs at a time when funding is less available.

“As we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, this award comes to us right on time to continue to help people with financial counseling,” Frank Espaillat, ACT Lawrence’s board chair, said in an e-mail.

From its start as a neighborhood group, ACT Lawrence became a nonprofit agency in 1998 and some years later was certified by the state as a community development corporation. Today it is among about 60 state-certified CDCs in Massachusetts that provide a range of services for low- and moderate-income residents.


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