LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell’s “Seeds of Hope” initiative aims to regrow Puerto Rico’s agricultural base in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The community service effort was announced as part of the university’s MLK Awareness Week, which honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by promoting student volunteer opportunities, engaging Lowell schoolchildren in King’s teachings and recognizing individuals who emulate his work with Distinguished Service Awards. More than 150 people gathered at the University Crossing student center on campus recently to learn about the “Seeds of Hope” campaign and honor this year’s award recipients during the MLK Celebration Dinner.
“Tonight is about dreams and aspirations; tonight is about celebrating the future and potential of young people. It’s about the rise of all people and UMass Lowell’s commitment to social justice,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney at the event.
Through “Seeds of Love,” UMass Lowell students, faculty, staff, alumni and the public are donating non-genetically modified seeds to the Puerto Rican Resiliency Fund. In turn, the organization is distributing the seeds – which will give root to beans, cucumbers, squash, radishes, turnips and more – to Puerto Rico’s small-scale farms, communities and schools, as the U.S. territory continues to recover from Hurricane Maria. The storm, ranked as a Category 4 hurricane as it made landfall on Sept. 20, lashed the island with pounding winds and rain and is considered the worst natural disaster in the U.S. territory’s history.
“Puerto Rico’s agriculture took a massive hit from the hurricane, which decimated 80 percent of the islands crops; now the island is importing 90 percent of its food,” said Elsie Otero, associate director of UMass Lowell’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, which is organizing the drive and annually presents MLK Awareness Week. “As a campus community that promotes sustainability, we are proud to play a role in long-term relief focused on helping the people of Puerto Rico regrow their food supply.”
Individuals behind other community-focused initiatives were honored at the event, as Distinguished Service Awards were presented to an outstanding Lowell-based organization and a UMass Lowell student, faculty and staff member. The award recipients were:
The African Community Center of Lowell, which provides social, cultural and educational opportunities for African immigrants living in Lowell, often working with the most vulnerable migrant families in the community. UMass Lowell graduate Gordon Halm, the organization’s founder and executive director, accepted the award on behalf of the center. Halm received his undergraduate degree in liberal arts from UMass Lowell in 2012 and a master’s degree in peace and conflict studies the following year.
Fang Zhang, a doctoral student who lives in Dracut and is studying chemistry in UMass Lowell’s Kennedy College of Sciences. Zhang serves as a student alumni ambassador, president of the Graduate Student Association and a volunteer with UMass Lowell’s Pair Up Program, which brings together international and American students to promote diversity and inclusion. Beyond campus, he works to eradicate hunger as a volunteer at the Living Waters Center of Hope in Lowell and the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence. He also builds affordable housing through Matthew 25, a nonprofit organization in Worcester.
Phitsamay Uy, an associate professor of leadership in schooling in UMass Lowell’s College of Education. A Boston resident, she also co-directs the university’s Center for Asian American Studies. In these roles, she provides professional development workshops to teachers so they can better meet the needs of a diverse student population and promotes research and education on the cultures, histories and experiences of Asian Americans.
Ruby Carnevale, who serves as UMass Lowell’s director of employment services and as a member of the Human Resources/Equal Opportunity Office leadership team. The award honors her work with hiring managers and committees to develop diversity and understanding among the university’s workforce. Carnevale lives in Lowell.
The event’s keynote remarks were offered by Franklyn Webb, a UMass Lowell graduate student in mechanical engineering who received his bachelor’s degree in the field from the university in 2014. Webb, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, credits UMass Lowell’s Career Services and Cooperative Education Center and his determination to succeed as factors that helped him land his job at Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge.
The ceremony also recognized the work of Lowell’s schoolchildren. Pupils from St. Patrick’s School, Charlotte M. Murkland Elementary and Kathryn P. Stoklosa Middle School, some of whom worked with teachers from Refuge Lowell art studio, created paintings, mixed-media collages and poetry displayed as part of the program. The works were inspired by the theme “Dignity, worth, excellence – what’s your life’s blueprint?,” a phrase taken from a speech King delivered in 1967.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu