african-american heritage month
african-american heritage month

African American Heritage Month

black history month
black history month

Black History Month 2022

karen headshot updated
karen headshot updated

January Connector Newsletter


Chelmsford Housing Authority Apartments a Place to Call Home


New center named for Rita O’Brien Dee

Tewksbury resident Rita O’Brien Dee, surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues, was honored by Community Teamwork in Lowell for her half century of service to the organization. The Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health & Development will be a resource for Community Teamwork and providers across the community who are working with children with behavioral, emotional, and developmental challenges.                                                                                                              (Paige Impink photo)

By PAIGE IMPINK News Correspondent

TOWN CRIER – Oct 16, 2021

TEWKSBURY — She thought she was attending a board meeting to accept a donation from a supporter of Community Teamwork, a vital services organization she works with in Lowell. But, when Rita O’Brien Dee saw her face on colorful t-shirts and friends and family under a festive tent, she realized something else was go­ing on.

Community Teamwork CEO Karen Frederick wel­comed O’Brien Dee and explained the surprise.

“We’d like to welcome Rita and acknowledge more than a half century of service to the community, and to the Commu­nity Teamwork family by dedicating The Rita O’Bri­en Dee Center for Behavioral Health & De­velopment,” said Freder­ick.

Through a generous anonymous donation and a subsequent grant from the Greater Lowell Com­munity Foundation, Com­munity Teamwork was able to establish the program, located at the James Houlares Center on Phoenix Avenue in Lowell. The center will be the headquarters for programs and services that promote healthy social-emotional development for children, in­crease children’s success in school, strengthen children and families, and mitigate adversity through trauma-inform­ed care.

According to Child and Family Services Division Director Meghan Siem­bor, “This opportunity could not have come at a better time… This opportunity enables us to meet a critical need and ad­dress a significant public health issue — children’s mental and behavioral health.”

Siembor praised O’Brien Dee.

“Her love for children is unparalleled as is her passion for giving back to the community,” said Siembor. “It truly is an honor for me and the staff across the Division of Child and Family ser­vices to be able to develop this Center in her hon­or.”

O’Brien Dee was visibly moved.

O’Brien Dee has been involved with Commu­nity Teamwork for 56 years. As a single parent raising five children on her own, she faced difficult struggles trying to work, put food on the table, and keep a roof over the heads of her family.

O’Brien Dee started her career as a teacher aide at Head Start, and earned her Associate’s Degree and quickly be­came an early childhood teacher at the center. O’Brien Dee was in the classroom for 27 years.

Upon retirement, O’Bri­en Dee joined the Head Start Policy Council and Community Teamwork’s Board of Directors. O’Bri­en Dee is also a member of many CTI committees and supports numerous initiatives.

According to data collected by CTI, mental health has emerged as a prominent community need, jumping from the fourth-most cited community need to the second-most cited need from the prior survey cycles. The impact of the pandemic is notable.

Key information also points to mental health as the most pressing is­sue in the community behind the need for better housing, according to CTI’s data for the great­er Lowell community.

O’Brien Dee is known in Tewksbury for her participation in the Friends of the Library, the Tewksbury Historical Society, and is an active member of the Tewks­bury Senior Center, Gar­den Club, the Democra­tic Town Committee, and is a former election wor­ker.

O’Brien Dee has been an inspiration and example of giving back to the community, not just in Tewksbury, but in the greater Merrimack Val­ley.

If you would like to donate to help support the new Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavior­al Health & Develop­ment, please contribute to the Greater Lowell COMMUNITY Foundation c/o The Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development

three women standing together
three women standing together


New behavioral health program named for longtime educator Rita O’Brien Dee Community Teamwork Inc.

By Aaron Curtis 

acurtis@lowellsun. com

Lowell » Rita O’Brien Dee spent the last 56 years committed to her community through Community Teamwork Inc. — a career that started in 1965 when she worked as a teacher’s aide in the Head Start program.

Dee, who was a single mother of five children in her early 30s at that time, transitioned from an aide to a teacher in 1971.

“I always looked forward to coming back every September and seeing my new kids,” Dee said. “They came in like buds and went out like flowers.”

She spent 27 years at Head Start before moving on to serve children, families and the rest of her community through Community Teamwork Inc. in another capacity. Dee was a member of the Head Start Policy Council and to this day serves on the CTI board of directors.

Dee turned 90 this year, but the energetic and eternally positive Tewksbury resident has not slowed down.

“Rita O’Brien Dee,” said CTI CEO Karen Frederick outside the James Houlares Center in Lowell on Wednesday. “A 56year legacy of community action and still going strong.”

‘They came in like buds and went out like flowers.’ – Rita O’Brien Dee, retired Community Teamwork Inc. educator, of the students in the Head Start and other school programs

The program — still in the planning stages — is called the Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development.

Dee » 7A


Community Teamwork’s new Center for Behavioral Health and Development is dedicated to longtime parent, employee and board member Rita o’Brien Dee, much to her surprise. From left, are CTI CEO Karen Frederick,  Marie Sweeney and Rita O’Brien Dee. Julia Malakie / lowell Sun

Frederick, Dee, several of her family members, and CTI employees and representatives were outside the center on Phoenix Avenue for a ceremony to honor Dee and announce the launch of a program that will carry with it her name.



“I had no idea,” Dee said. “I am just so honored. It’s such a big thing and such a good thing. I love it.”

Meghan Siembor, deputy director of CTI’s Early Childhood and School Age Programs, said the program will be a resource for CTIand providers throughout the area who are working with children with behavioral, emotional and developmental challenges or who have experienced trauma.

The Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development — which will be based at the James Houlares Center — will be the headquarters for programs and services “that will promote healthy social- emotional development, increase children’s success in school, strengthen children and families and mitigate adversity through trauma- informed care,” according to a program flier.

The program was kickstarted by an “generous anonymous donation” and a $ 20,000 grant through the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, according to Frederick.

“We will begin working to do a needs assessment and analyzing the behavioral health needs of the children and staff in our programs and our community, identifying resources that are out there to support them, and identify the gaps in critical services,” Siembor said.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, Siembor listed statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show 7.4% of children ages 3 to17 have a diagnosed behavior problem. Of that age range, 7.1% have diagnosed anxiety and 3.2% have diagnosed depression, according to the CDC website.

Siembor added those numbers “are constantly increasing.”

The behavioral health of youth in the U. S. was dealt a blow by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to social isolation, financial hardships among caregivers and school closures. Siembor said the Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey in October 2020 that showed 31% of parents said their children’s mental or emotional health was worse than before the pandemic.

“This opportunity really could not have come at a better time,” Siembor said about the launch of the new program. “It enables us to meet a critical need in our community and address a significant public health issue, which is child mental and behavioral health.”

The announcement of the Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development’s launch came as a surprise to Dee. She was led to the James Houlares Center under the guise that there was a grant that CTI

Those interested in making a contribution to help support the Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development, can do so online at glcfoundation. org/donate.

Donations can also be sent by mail, to the Greater Lowell Community Foundation c/o The Rita O’Brien Dee Center for Behavioral Health and Development Fund, 100 Merrimack St., No. 202 Lowell, MA 01852. Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis.

Community Teamwork’s new Center for Behavioral Health and Development is dedicated to Rita O’Brien Dee, left, who gives a hug to CTI chief Financial Officer Penny Judd of Kennebunk, Maine.

Dee pointed out she was driven to the center by a fellow board member, Marie Sweeney and that she was needed to appear for a photo shoot. When she arrived, her family members were on hand, and people were wearing T- shirts with her smiling face on the front, along with the name of the new program.

Community Teamwork’s new center for behavioral Health and development was recently dedicated to longtime parent, employee and board member Rita O’Brien Dee, right, and she shared a hug with CTI CEO Karen Frederick at a ceremony announcing the new program.


‘We will begin working to do a needs assessment and analyzing the behavioral health needs of the children and staff.’ – Meghan Siembor, deputy director of CTI’s Early Childhood and School Age Programs

 © 2021 lowell sun. Please review new arbitration language here. 10/8/2021

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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
ed with luke on a bike
ed with luke on a bike

Mill City Mentors Goes Virtual

9/23/21 > LOWELL » The goal of Mill City Mentors is to provide support to area youth facing adversity by connecting them with a volunteer mentor to confide in and spend time with.

Mill City Mentors endured a major obstacle last year when the coronavirus pandemic struck, eliminating the program’s ability to have mentors meet face- to- face with mentees.

The program — part of Greater Lowell nonprofit Community Teamwork Inc. — was able to adapt.

With the nation in lockdown, Mill City Mentors switched to virtual mentoring, or eMentoring, in April 2020, according to Program Director Ed Banks. The new method of mentoring turned out to be a success and has introduced a new dynamic to the realm of mentoring.

Tewksbury residents Bruce Gorman and his wife, MJ Gorman, said life was already difficult for 9- year- old Luke Gorman

before the pandemic took hold. Luke is Bruce’s son from a previous marriage. Bruce had previously shared joint custody of Luke with his ex-wife. Now, Luke was living fulltime with him and his wife.

“A (Department of Children and Families) caseworker suggested after talking to Luke that it would be nice for him to have a mentor, a big brother, or someone who he could talk to who wasn’t a parent,” Bruce Gorman said.

“A neutral ground person,” MJ Gorman added.

The mentorship was set up at the beginning of the pandemic, with Banks serving as Luke’s “eMentor.” It worked out well, as Banks and Luke quickly developed a strong relationship, built mostly around a joint love for video games.

“Early on in the pandemic, no one really knew what was happening, so it was good for him to get some sort of socialization with someone outside of our family,” MJ Gorman said.

Charles Calenda is one of the Mill City Mentors volunteers, serving as a mentor to a 10- year- old for the past year.

“(The program) looked like a great way to get involved and kinda help build a brighter and more prosperous future for the kids,” said Calenda, a 25year- old medical student who grew up in Chelmsford.

“It was a very exciting and inspiring moment for me to be able to meet someone I’d be able to have an impact on,” he said.

Calenda acknowledges he was hesitant about meeting his mentee for the first time over Zoom, but the two quickly clicked.

“A lot of the mentorships would have diminished without this option,” Calenda said about the eMentorship program.

For anyone interested in mentoring an area youth or for those looking for a mentor for their family, apply at

Mill City Mentors Program Director Ed Banks delivers a bike donated by Kevin Kuhs to a mentee. -courtesy of Community TeamWork Inc.

Luke Gorman, 9, of Tewksbury, is seen on a screen during one of his ementoring sessions through the Mill City Mentors program, which is part of Community Teamwork Inc.

By Aaron Curtis acurtis@lowellsun. com Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis

Mill City Mentors Goes Virtual

© 2021 lowell sun. Please review new arbitration language here. 9/23/2021


facing eviction
facing eviction

Seek Help, if Facing Eviction

Trahan Hosts Livestream with Tips 

By Amy Sokolow Boston Herald  – Lowell Sun 8/9/21

For renters worried about making ends meet and having trouble making rent payments, or whose landlord has said they’re seeking an eviction for other reasons, housing advocates in Massachusetts have a few tips to help.

“ If ( tenants) get a notice to quit, they have to understand that it is just the first step in a very long process,” said Steve Meacham, coordinator of organizing for City Life/ Vida Urbana, a grassroots community organization in Boston.

He emphasized that tenants should not move if they receive that first communication. “ Without any opposition, the eviction process goes incredibly quickly, like a matter of weeks,” he said. “ If you raise defenses … you can fight off that eviction at least long enough to negotiate some alternatives.”

Another tip, shared with renters during a livestream hosted by U. S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D 3rd., of Lowell, on Friday, is to seek help — even if you’re not sure you qualify. “ Now more than ever, we’re working with people that have never even thought about asking for help before,” said Lindsey Richmond from Resources for Communities and People.

“ If you find yourself in a situation where you think you might be late on your next month’s mortgage or even rent, you reach out and see what kind of assistance you may qualify for.”

Another guest at Trahan’s talk, Connie Martin of Community Teamwork, emphasized the importance of having a complete application for rental assistance, which entails “carefully reading all the questions, getting all the documentation uploaded,” she said, She advised that renters talk with their landlords so they know to expect the application.

Finally, Meacham emphasized that each side has a legitimate case to win. “A tenant should recognize that their relationship with their landlord is a business relationship,” he said. “In every business relationship, each side has strengths and weaknesses, each side has tools that they can use to try to win.”

Students from left to right Misael Bruno Zachary Saphangthong Jasmine Touch Siobhan Sheehan YouthBuild Program Manager and Anna Jabar Omoyeni Culinary Art Instructor. Photo by Soben Pin
Students from left to right Misael Bruno Zachary Saphangthong Jasmine Touch Siobhan Sheehan YouthBuild Program Manager and Anna Jabar Omoyeni Culinary Art Instructor. Photo by Soben Pin

Cooking Up Success at Youthbuild

By Soben Pin   |   June 22, 2021    KHMER POST

“They’re hungry all the time. It was amazing when we started to serve breakfast, kids started to show up, then they wanted to do their math homework and wanted to work,” said Siobhan Sheehan, YouthBuild Program Manager of Community Teamwork, Inc.

Students from left to right: Misael Bruno, Zachary Saphangthong, Jasmine Touch, Siobhan Sheehan, YouthBuild Program Manager, and Anna Jabar-Omoyeni, Culinary Art Instructor. Photo by Soben Pin.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor since 2018, providing troubled youths an alternative path to job skills, while completing their GED equivalent certificate called “HISET.” It is considered a vocational training program, specifically targeting young people ages 16-24 who dropped out from high school, or are struggling to complete their traditional high school diploma, and in many cases also ran into trouble with the law.

Siobhan Sheehan, Youthbuild Program Manager of Community Teamwork, Inc.

“Lowell High School is a very tough place to be” said Siobhan. “It is very hard to be among 4,000 other kids, you get shuffled in these numbers and you easily get lost. When kids have trouble at home, single parents who owes back rents, it puts pressure on these young people, they are hungry and worry about if they’ll become homeless. They have no one to turn to. We’re grateful for our parent organization, CTI — Community Teamwork Inc which has temporary shelter assistance if needed and rental assistance. We are able to help some of our kids get through it by coordinating between units and help their families” added Siobhan.

While at YouthBuild, a vocational training program which runs for one year with each cohort of about 20-25 young adults, they learn carpentry and culinary skills. Today, I visited the first state-of-the art kitchen that was recently finished. It is funded by Cummings grants that allowed the program to extend into serving the students lunch. “It makes a real impact on them and you can see it every day” said Anna Jabar-Omoyeni, Culinary Art Instructor. “It’s one thing to come here to learn, it’s another when you break bread together, it creates the type of bond that gives them a sense of family.” Anna who owned the famous La Boniche, a French cuisine in downtown Lowell on Merrimack Street that operated for 27 years. In 2014, she closed the restaurant. “I was blessed to do what I did for a long time but when you get to that age, (50), you know you couldn’t do it too much longer,” so Anna worked as a catering chef for two years before coming to CTI in 2018. “Working with these young people, it feels like this is what my lifetime work was meant to be, passing on my knowledge to the next generation. It’s fun and rewarding to see their transformation on a daily basis” said Anna.

Anna Jabar-Omoyeni, Culinary Art Instructor.

With Anna, they learn how to debone a chicken, how to peel the onions in a professional way, aging the food, safety in food handling and sanitization. Every day they cook a different meal based on the menu chosen for that day. As part of the program, they also do community service by cooking for homeless shelters and charities.

Every week on Monday morning, they would pick up fresh produce for the week from the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. On the day I visited, a Thursday at noon, food was prepared for St. Paul Charities. They made pasta, individually wrap 75 hot meals and deliver to Elliott Church at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

“The kids learn about the value of being a part of the community,” said Siobhan. “They went on the wrong path because they don’t feel the attachment to the community. This is where the carpentry program became very successful — attaching them to the community by helping build low-income family homes for Habitats for Humanity, and building garden beds for the community. “They feel proud and take ownership of what they have done for their neighborhood. They tell their friends and families that ‘I did that’” said Siobhan.

Today I met with Misael Bruno, 19, who has completed the program and now interning at Tremont Pizza in downtown Lowell. “It wasn’t that hard” he said. “They just show me how they do their sauce and the way they make pizza dough,” Anna glanced him with a smile and said “it’s not hard, huh”. Misael added with a confidence, “I think I’ll be likely to get hired after the internship.”

Misael Bruno, 19.

“When kids graduate from the program, they earn a ServSafe Manager certificate (OSHA 10) that allows them to sufficiently manage a kitchen, so it gives them an edge. The first student interned at Tremont Pizza, first started as a dishwasher, but when they found out he had this certificate, he was promoted to the kitchen right away” said Siobhan. “We’re thankful for this grant that allows us to pay the students a stipend to work with their potential employer, where they will learn the work ethics and the scopes of their working environment before getting the real job.”

The internship is from 4-6 weeks, 18 hours per week. Students also receive a small stipend of $240 every two weeks for participating in the one year training program. “We train them to have ‘mental toughness’, there are timesheet which they have to clock in and out, coming to work on time or no pay for no show, they have to show that they want it for themselves too, then we see if we’re a good match” added Siobhan. “I had them wear an overall during the first year because they didn’t dress properly for the workplace. We train them for a job in the real world.” As part of the program, they also do math and reading as part of their academic work and have to pass an exam to earn their HISET certificate.

One of the students, Jasmine Touch, is interning at Andiamo Restaurant & Bakery in Andover because she likes to bake. She worked at four Dunkin Donuts stores before and intends to use her training to further her culinary interest.

The 3rd student, Zachary Saphangthong, who is making pasta sauce during my visit, was named Junior Chief because he is good with his cooking. “We also know he is smart, but he intentionally failed the test several times so he can stay on the program. His story made me cry” said Siobhan.

Zackary Saphangthong, 19.

He appeared in black jeans, worn low on his bottom, a cap turned to the side, and tattoos on his arms. Siobhan gave him a signal, he pulled up his pants and turn his cap, and put his mask on before entering the kitchen. A young handsome man indeed when the cap was turned to the front. He was open to tell me his story of why and how he found his path at YouthBuild.

“I ran into trouble with the law when I was 13. I got arrested for assault and battery and trespassing. I was under house arrest from 13-15”. At 15, Zackary was on the run, bouncing from house to house, selling illegal guns, he got caught and had to choose between going to jail or do community service. His choice was to do community service. After a few months at YouthBuild, he told Siobhan that he wanted a better life and wanted out of the gang life. That’s where his new journey started. Zackary is now 19 and is a Junior Chief working alongside with Anna. With help from the program, he got his driver license and saved enough money to buy his own car. He plans to attend Middlesex Community College in the fall to pursue an engineering major.

“Most kids here travel by foot. Most jobs require you to have a driver license and a car. It is nearly $1000 to help a student get their driver license which many kids can’t afford. It’s the poverty, when you don’t have that extra money it’s very hard to get a jump start. We are able to help 12 youths get their driver licenses, a few have jobs in Boston, others in other cities” said Siobhan.

The kitchen can hold up to six students at a time. Currently Anna teaches 12 students. They break into two groups and alternate daily. Six students per group. One day they do academics, the other they work in the kitchen. Beside making hot meals for local food pantries, they also have an opportunity to work alongside with Anna to provide state-of-art cooking and catering to many local events and fundraisers. It is the social enterprise part of the Culinary Art Program here at YouthBuild that is distinctive like no others. Anna catered 78 events in one year alone with her students prior to Covid-19. The largest party they served had 500 guests. “Next week, they will cater the Lowell House Open House cocktail party in which they get to dress up and serve in style” said Anna with excitement.