Community Spotlight: Disrupting The Cycle of Poverty with USES

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Today, we’ll be speaking about Lekker as little as possible. (You may be thinking, that’s sort of difficult considering this a design journal, but stick with us here.) Since the pandemic has put a hold on our regular volunteering and who knows what it will look like in the future, we want to continuously share the organizations we love, support, and are chatting about behind the scenes.

We want to make sure our small business and platform are working to spotlight people and organizations in the community that are mobilizing and doing the work to make Boston a more equitable place to live and working against social, racial, and economic injustices.

For this community spotlight, we’ll be taking you through the history, mission, and innovations of 129-year-old South End institution, United South End Settlements, USES for short. An organization that works tirelessly to support the South End community, helping families gain agency in economic stability, establishing a diverse network of support, and achieving their financial, personal, and educational goals.

Let’s dive in

USES History

USES was born out of the settlement house movement, and in fact, it originated in 1892 as the first settlement house in Boston and the fourth settlement house in the United States, the Andover House. The settlement house movement was rooted in socialist ideals, creating housing and living communities that brought middle-class, typically college graduates, to live together with their low-income or immigrant neighbors and share social capital, knowledge, and opportunity. Once established, the early settlement houses provided services such as daycare, education, and healthcare.

Fun fact: The original Andover house was at 6 Rollins St, right across from our old Washington St showroom.

In 1959, the Andover House then joined forces with five other settlement houses in the area, the Ellis Memorial House, Lincoln House, the Hale House, the Eldridge House, and Harriet Tubman House, according to United South End Settlements records. In 1960, Ellis Memorial and the Eldridge House left the group, and the new collation was thusly named United South End Settlements.

From USES themselves, “The 1890s saw incredible change in the South End and in Boston; emancipated slaves, new European and Asian immigrants, and rural laborers flocked to big cities in search of work, freedom, and opportunities. Many found poverty, bad housing, and fierce prejudice. To address these problems, a new form of engagement emerged: the Settlement House.”

USES Mission

For 129 years, USES has built on that philosophy of the settlement house movement and aims to disrupt the cycle of poverty and increase economic and social stability with three specific components: enrichment and educational programs, development coaching, and social capital.

Their programs are wide-ranging and are all centered around the furthering and redistribution of all types of knowledge.

In terms of traditional education, USES uses a STEAM curriculum for their club48 After School and Early Childhood programs, which is a focus on STEM through an arts lens. Whether through field trips, group projects, or after-school downtime, they foster traditional knowledge in a creative environment.

Another way they help reinvent the environment in which children learn is through their work at Camp Hale. Each summer season, USES hosts around 255 children ages 6-15 at Squam Lake in Sandwich, NH. We know now the benefits of nature both psychologically and physiologically are astounding, and USES has run this sleep-away camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since 1949.

Campers meet and interact with others from different racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, challenge themselves to tackle new activities not readily available in cities, and are mentored by counselors who teach team-building, tolerance, and leadership through the camp activities.  

When it comes to involving the whole family in knowledge, their family mobility programs focus on one-on-one coaching to build confidence and success in career goals, financial stability, family, education, and community connections.

Pandemic Pivoting

We’ve watched it with our own small business eyes, the entire South End community has had to adapt quickly and innovate with empathy through every stage of the pandemic, and we’re not stopping anytime soon.

USES acted quickly and swiftly once noticing the worsening food insecurity and access to food for so many of their families during weekly check-ins, especially since sites throughout the city were only providing food on weekdays and not on weekends.

So they partnered with the YMCA of Greater Boston, AboutFresh, and City Fresh Foods to provide families throughout Boston with weekly meals and essentials since March. They even started a new food delivery program in April of last year, called neighbor2neighbor, that distributed over 50,000 pounds of food to families in the USES community and throughout the South End/Lower Roxbury area.

Even their education pivoted – they spending hours virtually conducting family check-ins, wellness screenings, and coaching appointments. And their Early Childhood Education program provided virtual programming to ensure children continued to receive early literacy and math support, as well as their previously mentioned STEAM programming!

And they didn’t forget about activities to help reduce stress for kids and parents alike: USES’ club48 After School Program shifted to a full-day learning pod program to support at-home learning and their parents who need to attend work and school. They even have a virtual library for kids you can access right now with tons of activities to help cut down on screen time.

Learn more about their COVID-19 response.

How to get involved

Learn more about USES during their annual Neighborhood Gala that is both free + virtual this year (we’ll be there virtually)!

On May 20, 2021, at 6:30 pm, USES will be celebrating the resilience of their community at large during this otherworldly year, the progress and innovations of their programs, including their STEAM learning, Camp Hale, and various other empowerment initiatives.

They are looking to raise over 300,000 dollars during the evening, and with the event being now being free, if you’re able, it’s the perfect time to learn about what they do and contribute what you can. Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes of last year’s in-person gala. If you can’t make it this year, keep up with their event calendar, donate to help their various programs or sign up to be a volunteer!

Have an organization or cause in the Boston area that you’d like us to share? We’d love to hear from you!

Reach out to us or let us know in the comments below.

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