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Rebuilding Lawrence

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Some might think that the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts took the "path less traveled" to paraphrase poet Robert Frost, who lived in Lawrence throughout his school years. Near the state's northeast border with New Hampshire, what was once a thriving industrial city specializing in textiles and populated by immigrants has veered from the path to become a cesspool of crime, corruption and drugs with a population of over 77,000 who want change.

There are a number of factors leading up to its troubles, including the mid-1900s southbound exit of textile mills searching for a less expensive labor force. However, no factor is more blatant than the mistrusted city and school leaders who themselves are part of the corruption. From the former Mayor William Lantigua to former school superintendents and at least one teacher (a drug dealer) to a former deputy police chief, corruption abounds in high places making change difficult.

Yet, change is coming. Tired of corrupt officials perpetuating a poor school system with over 50 percent dropout rate, high unemployment, continually declining home values and high crime from a drug trade run rampant for lack of police funds, Lawrence's residents are working hard to upgrade their once-proud city. Elected Mayor Dan Rivera just took office in January providing a ray of hope to citizens. Organizations have sprung up in recent years to promote change and bring new lifeblood to a city fueled by darkness. These and other organizations are key to setting Lawrence down the path to rebuilding.

Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW)

Since 1999, the non-profit Lawrence CommunityWorks is committed to revitalizing Lawrence. With the primary target area being the North Common neighborhood, CommunityWorks projects include an affordable homeownership and playground development; first-time homeownership an education program; a youth network bringing performing arts, design technology and academic success to 140 young people a week and an old mill conversion into affordable housing units with "green" features and commercial space. The organization partnered with Groundwork Lawrence to reclaim nearly three acres of land for the development of Reviviendo Playground and Scarito Park. LCW have even been instrumental in fighting corruption by starting the Lawrence City Budget Reform Campaign to keep accountability and transparency in city fiscal planning. Become one of their nearly 6,000 volunteer members and be part of the change.

Groundwork Lawrence, Inc. (GWL)

In 2001, a non-profit called Groundwork Lawrence was formed. GWL often partners with LCW on projects. GWL describes itself as working toward "developing community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being." GWL manages school garden programs, farmers' markets, community gardens and the forward-thinking Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program, which is a partnership with the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center where clinic healthcare participants can get an actual prescription for free fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farmers' market to decrease diet-related illnesses. Training for certain "green" jobs and healthy living workshops are also part of the GWL plan to improve the lives of Lawrence residents.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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