people working together
people working together

“There are opportunities up here.” Downtown Lowell draws a melting pot of entrepreneurs AND Lowell is making a comeback

Two articles appeared in the Boston Globe about the growth in small business in Lowell. Congratulations to the
Entrepreneurship Center at Community Teamwork for their efforts in helping to make this happen!
September 29, 2021
“There are opportunities up here.” Downtown Lowell draws a melting pot of entrepreneurs
Lowell is making a comeback – The former industrial city’s efforts have stalled in the past, but this time the push has momentum and money behind it

D.B.’s Story

Secure Jobs Success Story

D.B. came to Secure Jobs program as a referral from the Resource Center here at CTI. He relocated to Lowell, MA from Detroit, MI because he felt he needed a drastic change in his life. He expressed feelings of being burned out from his time working for the Corrections Dept. in his home state. D.B. is living at the Lowell Transitional Living Shelter where he was advised to visit CTI for further assistance. D.B. was quickly referred to the SJ program and enrolled on 10/18/18. We began to work on updating his resume and developing a cover letter. We taught him how to modify these documents, using specific job postings, to reflect the desired position. D.B. worked hard on his job search every day until he landed a full time position, with full benefits, at Securitas (a security company). Although the position pays just $14.00/hr. it will earn him enough money to move out of shelter, with the help of our RAFT program, and a place of his own. D.B. will continue to participate in the program until he acquires a position with a company in the field of his choice, Human Services. But for now, he is proud to have found a job and will soon be able to leave shelter and live on his own.

More about Community Teamwork’s Secure Job Program

Gainful employment is critical to a family’s ability to maintain housing stability.  The Secure Jobs program helps people achieve the long term objective of self-sufficiency and permanent housing.  Since its inception, the program has helped more than 1oo people with the steps needed to secure long-term employment.

The Secure Jobs Initiative was established in 2013  as a pilot program in partnership with the Fireman Foundation with funding through the Housing Stabilization and Preservation Trust Fund.   Other partners in launching this program include the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) and Eastern Bank.  This initiative provides job readiness skills training, eliminates barriers to employment and connects families with suitable employers in jobs with defined career paths.  The program provides job training, job search services and a year of  stabilization services for participants.

In addition to providing clients with personalized employment services, our Secure Jobs staff works with the client to remove barriers to success by linking participants with childcare resources, transportation to and from training programs, helping navigate options for people who have challenges with CORIs, and providing skills training, job readiness training, and job search services.

For more information or to schedule an appointment please contact the Financial Education (FEC) Office, 978.654.5673. Located at 165 Merrimack Street Lowell MA  01852.

Tonya’s Story

Tonya’s Story

The Family Self- Sufficiency Program (FSS) is designed to help families receiving rental assistance to become self-supporting. This is a voluntary program and is open to all families receiving a housing subsidy such as Section 8. Community Teamwork’s Family Self-Sufficiency program has empowered many graduates to achieve their goals and Tonya is one such successful graduate.

Tonya graduated FSS on December 31, 2018 with $3109 in escrow. Over the years she took an additional $5482 in interim disbursements to pay for her college tuition, thereby totaling $8591 in FSS escrow disbursements. Tonya earned her associate’s degree in Nursing from Laboure College on December 17, 2018, and was hired as a full time Registered Nurse on December 2, 2018. Upon graduating FSS, Tonya immediately set herself on the path to asset development by choosing her new goals: Starting a savings account for a down payment on a home, starting a 401K at her new job, taking a first time home owner’s class, and improving her credit.

Tonya credits here success with the help and guidance she received from the Family Self-Sufficiency Program.

people climbing wall
people climbing wall

The Hazards of PayDay Loans for Tax Refunds

Tax time is approaching and many people will choose to receive Refund Anticipation Loans (RAL) better known as PayDay Loans from private tax preparers; so, they can leave the tax office with a check for their anticipated refund amount.


Before agreeing to an RAL the taxpayer should be aware of the following:


  • By agreeing to a refund-related financial product they will not receive their refund from the IRS as the IRS will send their refund to the financial institution.
  • RALs are interest bearing loans and not a quicker way of receiving their refunds from the IRS. No matter who files the return, the refund takes the same amount of time to be processed.
  • If the financial institution does not receive a Direct Deposit within the expected time frame for whatever reason, the taxpayer may be liable to the lender for additional interest and other fees. These loans could end up costing even more money; thereby, reducing the amount of the refund.
  • The taxpayer will be paying the loan fee, interest and the preparer fee. All of these fees can be eliminated if the taxpayer is able to wait 1-2 weeks for their refund and goes to a FREE VITA site (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). They will then save all of these fees and be able to have the refund directly deposited to their own bank account.


FREE VITA Site at Community Teamwork!

Community Teamwork works with the Internal Revenue Service to recruit and certify volunteer tax preparers. These are people from our own community who donate their time to study and pass tax tests in order to save others the cost of private tax preparer fees and loan fee and interest. There are never any fees with VITA!

The normal direct deposit time is only 1-to-2-1/2 weeks.

What is CTI’s VITA site doing to help?


  1. The program is adding additional tax appointment sessions throughout the month of February in order to help more people file and receive their refunds earlier.
  2. The MyFreeTaxes IRS-approved, self-preparation, tax program will be accessible during scheduled times on several of CTI’s community computers at 17 Kirk Street starting Wednesday, Feb. 4th. Taxpayers will be able to prepare, print and efile their own returns. VITA personnel will be available during those times to assist anyone with questions.

VITA will begin accepting calls for appointments starting on January 15th. If taxpayers have any questions before that they can contact Gail at 978-654-5676.



Kualapai Takes Helm of MV Small Business Center

LilianaCommunity Teamwork is very pleased to announce the appointment of Liliana Kualapai as Director of the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center. Kuaplapai is a longtime entrepreneur, with a passion for small business.  She has a performing arts background with over 25 years of experience in the arts as a performer, educator and business owner.

Kualapai opened her first business, The Bennet Dance Center (BDC), outside of Lincoln, Nebraska in 1994, providing dance instruction in rural Nebraska towns to children and adults, including children with special needs. She later relocated to Massachusett, where she earned her B.A. from Brandeis University and continued her work in the arts as a theater and dance educator.

In 2006, Kualapai re-established herself as a small business owner and opened Downtown Dancewear in downtown Lowell, filling a need as a retailer within the Merrimack Valley dance community by offering dance apparel, shoes, and supplies at prices the local economy could support.  As a downtown business owner, she worked to strengthen business relations, establishing connections with fellow business owners and reaching out to organizations dedicated to supporting the small business community, one of which was the Merrimack Valley Small Business Center (MVSBC).

From Downtown Dancewear’s inception, Kualapai worked closely with the team at MVSBC to formulate business strategies, increase sales, and improve retail practices.  To further her business education, she also enrolled in the InterWise StreetWise ‘MBA’ program, earning her Certificate in Small Business Entrepreneurship from Boston University’s Entrepreneurial Management Institute.

Downtown Dancewear closed in March of 2014 as Kualapai pursued a professional career in small business assistance and accepted the position of Director of the MVSBC.  Her experience as a business owner is an asset that the center is looking forward to utilizing as the program continues to grow and support entrepreneurs throughout the Merrimack Valley.

For more information about Kualapai and Community Teamwork’s MV Small Business Center click here: Sun Article on Kualapai.

Summer Zhou
Summer Zhou

UMass Grad Student Helps VITA Clients File Taxes

Summer Zhou tcmSummer Zhou is one of the rare people who looks forward to tax season. A graduate student in the Manning School of Business, Zhou is participating in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for the second year in a row. From January to mid-April, she spends Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings at Community Teamwork in downtown Lowell, greeting clients, answering questions and preparing income taxes. The service is offered free of charge to residents who meet specific income requirements.

 “I love volunteering,” says Zhou, who will receive her master’s degree in accounting in May. “I’m helping people and getting experience in my field.

“Zhou is in her second year as a volunteer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program at Community Teamwork,” explains VITA Program Coordinator Gail Fortes. “She has been an great asset to the program due to her knowledge, flexibility and her warm personality.”

 Zhou signed up for the VITA program last year after hearing about it through the student Accounting Society. A national program, nearly 92,000 volunteers participated in VITA last year, preparing more than 3.3 million returns, according to the IRS.  Zhou estimates she filed about 20 returns during last tax season.

 A native of Beijing, Zhou says the VITA program gives her the opportunity to learn more about the U.S. tax system while applying what she’s mastered in her courses and through an accounting internship last summer with Parexel International Corp., a biopharmaceutical firm in Billerica.

 “It’s great to use what I have learned,” she says.

 Zhou and other volunteers are required to complete training before they start working on taxes. Many of the other volunteers are experienced professionals and Zhou says she has learned a lot from them. In her volunteer role, Zhou also reviews returns prepared by others and troubleshoots issues for clients, many of whom are not native English speakers.

 “There is a lot of problem-solving involved,” she says.

 To learn more about this program, contact Gail Fortes at

 Note: This article is excerpted from the online digital newletter courtesy of UMass Lowell University Relations.

piggy bank
piggy bank

FinanciallyHers Seminar, a Program of the Financial Education Center, Boasts Great, Free Workshops

iStock Medium

In Honor of Women’s Month

Community Teamwork’s Center for Financial Self-Sufficiency, in collaboration with Lowell Public Schools, presents our 8th Annual Women’s Conference

F i n a n c i a l l y H e r s – A Program of the Financial Education Center (Financial Education/Asset Development/Secure Jobs)

FinanciallyHers, offered during Lowell Women’s Week, is a seminar focusing on women and their personal financial journey. Workshops are designed to deliver up-to-date content that supports women and directly relates to issues faced in today’s economy. Our focus is to help women become financially independent by offering the right information, tools and resources.

Participants will choose a workshop, enjoy light snacks, spend time networking and receive a gift card.






SaveYourRefund – Win Prizes

Doorways to Dreams Fund tSaveYourRefund Englishhrough the SaveYourRefund campaign is giving you the opportunity to win $100 in weekly prizes and a grand prize of $25,000. It’s simple, just have your tax preparer use Form 8888 when he or she prepares your taxes electronically so that your refund is split into two parts, one for spending, one for savings.  Try it out for yourself and share it with others. Begin saving for your vision, this is a great opportunity. Check out  for details and to register.




Join Us to Unveil Free Tax Prep and Salute Legislators

Community TeamwVITA Free Tax Prepork is beginning the New Year by holding a special event to recognize the important work of legislators who have successfully advocated for strong families and child education and care and to launch its EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and Free Tax Preparation Program through its VITA program for this tax season. Set up an appointment at  Community Teamwork,  165 Merrimack Street  Lowell. Contact Sandra Diaz 978.654.5725 or Gladys Santiago 978.654.5673



Congresswoman Niki Tsongas has praised Community Teamwork for expanding the reach of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program to include homeless families and individuals living in local shelters, including two operated by Community Teamwork. “The Earned Income Tax Credit and free tax preparation puts much needed money back into the hands of hard-working Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. This action benefits individuals and our local economies alike.”

“Community Teamwork provides critical supports to vulnerable families including quality child care and increased access to the Earned Income Tax Credit,” says CTI’s Executive Director Karen Frederick. “Join us in thanking legislators for their support of our efforts to increase family economic security and help us continue this work as we launch our 2014 tax preparation season.”

Congressman John Tierney, a champion of family strength, will join Community Teamwork on the 27th: “I am proud to join with Community Teamwork to highlight the important benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Each year, the EITC assists over 6 million people and gives working families a much needed boost at a time when many are still struggling. As families begin to file their annual tax returns, it’s critical to have the information necessary to know if they qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Tierney.

Community Teamwork provides these free EITC tax services and free tax preparation through its VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program in partnership with Mills 42 Federal Credit Union, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union and UMass Lowell.

“The program serves senior citizens, students, individuals, families and single parents,” says CTI Executive Director Karen Frederick, explaining that, “Many use this refund as a way to stay afloat during the year, pay down debt, put money in the bank, and even make down payments for a home or to buy a car.” Last year, the program helped 537 people receive returns totaling $1.1 million. “This is a great boon to these households and to our local economy – the Earned Income Tax Credit has a great impact on poverty reduction.”

FFS program
FFS program

Financial Literacy Academy, A program of the Financial Education Center


Community Teamwork’s Financial Education Center is a Division of Energy & Community Resources

Financial Education

Asset Development

 Secure Jobs

We are getting ready for VITA which will also be completely virtual this year. Information for scheduling appointments will be available by the end of January 2021.

Give us a call to learn more about our free programs!

Listen to Chris Santos-Gordon, Director Financial Education Center, disucss the Top 6 things to do to manage finances during the pandemic – WCAP Radio 8/4/2020: 1.Rework your budget   2. What can you live without?   3. Divert those “things I can live without” into savings   4. Take Care of Your Credit   5. Increase Income             6. Schedule a financial coaching appointment with us! 978.654.5673;  FEC Facebook Page 

All programs are being offered virtually.This September AND October we’ll be holding our Financial Literacy Academy via ZOOM. All who complete the FLA will receive a gift card for participating in the 6 week, once per week program! Give us a call to learn more 978-654-5673


Listen to Chris Santos-Gordon, Director of the Financial Education Center discuss how the Center is responding to the needs of the community re: employment services, skills training, VITA, financial education and more – WCAP Radio 6/2/2020

Community Teamwork’s Coordinated Family and Community Engagement, funded by the MA Dept of Early Education and Care bring you: Teaching Your  Preschooler about Money

The Financial Education Center has enrolled in a four part webinar series focusing on building your money confidence. Below is the link to Part 2- Managing Debt. We hope you find it helpful. You can click on the link and register to view the WEBINAR:
If after you view the webinar, you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help
WEBINAR – CONTROLLING SPENDING ~The Financial Education Center has enrolled in a four part webinar series focusing on personal finance management. Below is the link to part 1- Controlling Spending. We hope you find it helpful. You can click on the link and register to view the webinar.



Programing at CTI’s Financial Education Center

165 Merrimack Street – Lowell, MA  01852

Billy J. Hensley, Ph.D, President and CEO of National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)
•A new survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education finds that nearly 9 in 10 (88%) Americans say the COVID-19 crisis is causing stress on their personal finances.
•Financial literacy cannot predict or remedy a crisis, but financial education will play a pivotal role in the economic recovery of our country.

We encourage you to call or take advantage of Social Security Administration’s secure and convenient online services to:

•Apply for Retirement, Disability, and Medicare benefits,
•Check the status of an application or appeal,
•Request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas),
•Print a benefit verification letter, and
•Much more.

Most business with SSA can be done online but we know that many people still rely on phone or in-person help. That’s why we want people to know they can still count on SSA by phone.

Lastly, we know that getting medical and other documentation can be difficult due to the pandemic. SSA continues to extend deadlines wherever possible.




Financial Literacy Academy – FLA

The Financial Education Center at Community Teamwork will be holding its’ Financial Literacy Academy (FLA) starting in February. The FLA delivers a powerful introduction to personal finance management. Our hands-on approach offers an interesting and fun learning environment.
The FLA is free, offered once per week in the evening for six weeks. We provide dinner and *some childcare at no cost! Attendees will also receive a Certificate of Attendance.

Please call to register–Contact Gladys – call 978-654-5673 or email

Financial Literacy Academy
Tuesday evenings—
Time: 6:00-8:00 PM

Location: Community Teamwork’s Financial Education Center
165 Merrimack Street-Lowell, MA 01852

*call for more information on childcare
…Helping families achieve financial goals

The FLA offers a powerful introduction to personal Finance management. It is offered for 6 weeks, once per week for 2 hours.

We provide dinner and SOME childcare on a limited basis – (please call to learn more about childcare).

Attendees also receive a certificate of attendance.

Things to Know about the FLA

  • It is FREE
  • It is offered on Tuesday nights from 6pm-8pm
  • It is taught by CTI staff who are certified in Financial Social Work, Credit Repair and / or Tax Preparation
  • It is a fun way to learn about a sometimes, boring subject!

For more info contact: Gladys Santiago or call 978.654.5673 to register

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Why pay to have someone do your taxes when CTI will do them for free? VITA is offered to low-income individuals, and families who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Appointments are scheduled on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings during tax season. Please call to learn more: 978.654.5676

One-on-One Financial Coaching

Do you have a financial goal you’d like to reach, need help repairing your credit, want some one-on-one assistance in creating a budget or with ways to decrease debt? Financial coaching is a smart way to get you started! Please call our office to schedule an appointment: 978.654.5725 / 978.654.5673

Certified financial coaches will work with you on ways to: Increase your monthly income; Eliminate and manage debt; Repair and improve credit; Understand and take advantage of tax credits; Create a savings plan


CTI’s Financial Education Center…Helping Families Achieve Financial Goals

Learn more about solutions for Finances

Learn more about our NEW Center for Financial Self-Sufficiency which opened January 2017!

 Listen to Chris-Santos Gordon, Director of the Center for Financial Self-Sufficiency, on WCAP Radio, discussing the new Center and the wonderful opportunities it provides.

Listen to Chris Santos-Gordon, Director of the Financial Education Center, discuss on WCAP980 radio the opportunities available at the Financial Education Center at Community Teamwork 2/6/18