Our Guest Today: Jonathan Lunde
Jonathan Lunde is a Streetworker and the Director of Street Work at UTEC.
What is UTEC? Founded in 1999 and based in Lowell, “UTEC’s mission and promise is to ignite and nurture the ambition of proven-risk youth to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success.” UTEC was also highlighted in the National Institute of Justice’s 2016 environmental scan of agencies working with justice-involved young adults.
What is a Streetworker? What does Jonathan do at UTEC?
Street Outreach and Gang Peacemaking ensure that Streetworkers meet young people “where they’re at” and serve as the starting point of UTEC’s program model. Streetworkers target those young people who are most disengaged and deeply involved in local youth gang networks. This recruitment and relationship-building work sets the stage for Streetworkers to conduct UTEC’s gang peacemaking work and to bring disconnected youth through the doors.
Why does Jonathan uniquely qualify for this position, and how has he contributed and led the program for over 8 years? He shares his humble beginning, his first assignment at UTEC and how he makes an impact in young people’s lives.
Beside streetworkers and the street outreach program, UTEC offers transitional coaches, Workforce Development, Education programs help youth obtain their HiSET (formerly GED). They also have Youth Empowerment Corps members (primarily AmeriCorps) and provide ‘hands-on’ service throughout the service year in twelve different specialized positions, including Culinary, Social Justice, Woodworking, Education, and Social Enterprise.
When I first found out about UTEC not long ago at a house party, I experienced the outstanding food prepared by the UTEC Culinary Team.
Special thanks to Feisworld Associate Producer Adam Leffert for introducing me to UTEC through his friends Rebecca Steinitz, and her husband Sam Putnam (the Culinary Innovator at UTEC).
- [06:00] How do you usually introduce yourself?
- [07:00] How did you get involved with UTEC?
- [08:40] You are currently a street worker. What is it what a street worker does exactly, and what does the UTEC program involve?
- [14:00] How do you approach someone while working at UTEC? (Your daily routine)
- [18:00] You are currently writing a ‘manual’ for the street worker, tell us about that.
- [22:00] Could you share the story about that young man that went out of jail during summer and you brought him some clothes?
- [25:00] Typically when coming out of jail people have to embrace their lives with no or limited resources. What can they do about that and how does UTEC help?
- [27:00] What does the staff learn while working at UTEC and what do you have to know beforehand if you want to work there.
- [30:00] The selection process to work at UTEC is picky. What do you usually look for?
- [32:00] How do you deal with gangs? Is it tough and dangerous to talk to them?
- [37:00] Different social classes typically help or contribute in very different ways (from donations and charity to street workers). How do you feel about that?
- [39:00] Can you comment about what kind of skills young people learn at UTEC program?
- [42:00] How many full-time staff and young people are in UTEC now?
- [43:00] How can people get involved with UTEC and upcoming events?
[07:00] I kind of rode the escalator of drug abuse. I started drinking when I was 13 and by the time I was 23/24 I was shooting heroin in my arm. I was just really messed up and in a really bad place
[17:00] People have issues, and at the end of the day, people are going to change when they want to change. Our job as street workers is to continuously be there, and to help facilitate for that young person when they are ready to change.
[20:00] All of the street credibility in the world is only going to get you so far as a street worker. A lot of people think that they can be street workers because they’ve been through this or that, but you need to be able to do the work and have a passion.
[21:00] A lot of the people that we work with feel that they’ve been given up on by a lot of other folks. They have been cycling through this hell. One of the most important things for is to make sure that no young person that we ever work with, feels that they’ve been given up on.
[23:00] We show up every single week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes more than that. To sit there with them and talk, and try to bring them some hope. That’s a big deal for people, when they are not given love from anywhere else.
[28:00] This is the only work I’ve ever had where I’m genuinely excited every single morning I walk into work. The energy here is absolutely incredible. Sometimes you have really high highs and really low lows because of what we do, but the environment is very supportive.
Music Acknowledgement – Witt Lowry – Lay Here https://youtu.be/VXL-iRr3bT0
Welcome to the Feisworld podcast, engaging conversations that cross the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world. All of the street credibility in the world is only going to get you so far as a street worker. A lot of people think they could be a street worker because they’ve been through this or they’ve been through that, or they’re coming from the criminal justice system or whatever, but you need to be able to do the work and you need to have a passion for the work. A lot of the people that we work with feel like they’ve been given up on by a lot of other folks. They’ve been system involved since they were young and have just been kind of cycled through this hell. The big things for us is make sure that no young person that we ever work with feel that they’ve been.
Given up on us for your being. They run deep inside, and we both know a hunger for some nuts is all this appetite.
Kind of like rose, the escalator of drug abuse. I started out my first drink. I was probably 13. And then by the time I was 23, 24, I was shooting heroin in my arm and I was just really messed up and in a really bad place.
Even though, you know, this moment may not last past, now.
We never go into a situation saying, you need to do this, you need to do that. That’s not our job. It’s not our job to tell people how to live their lives.
Do you remember how it, at the end of the day, not just young adults, but people are going to change when they want to change. So our job as street workers is to continuously be there, to continuously chip away, help facilitate change for that young person when they’re ready for it.
Welcome back to a regular episode of the Feisworld podcast, where I interview unsung heroes and self-made artists. So today I am joined by a street worker from UTech. His name is Jonathan Lundi. What is UTEC? UT was founded in 1999 and based in Lowell, Massachusetts. UTech’s mission and promise is to ignite and nurture the ambition of provenrisk youth to trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. UTech was also highlighted in the National Institute of justice 2016 environmental scan of agencies working with justice involved young adults. But what is a street worker? What does Jonathan do at UTech? Street outreach and gang peacemaking ensure that street workers meet young people where they’re at and serve as the starting point of UTech’s program model. Street workers target those young people who are most disengaged and deeply involved in local youth gang networks. This recruitment and relationship building work sets the stage for street workers to conduct UTech’s gang peacemaking work and to bring disconnected youth through the doors. What does Jonathan uniquely qualify for this position, and how has he contributed and led the program for over eight years. He shares his humble beginning, his first assignment at UTech, and how he makes an impact in young people’s lives.
It’s no easy job, I know, but Jonathan says that he looks forward to working at UTech every morning. Many people can’t say that about their jobs. Besides street workers and the street Outreach program, UTEC offers a variety of programs, including transitional coaches, workforce development, education programs that help young people obtain their high set. Formerly known as the GED, they also have youth empowerment, corpse members, primarily Amer Corps, and provide handson service throughout the service year in twelve different specialized positions, including culinary, social justice, woodworking education, and social enterprise. When I first found out about UTech not long ago at a house party, I experienced the outstanding food prepared by the UTech Colon Era team. I couldn’t wait to share the stories of UTech. They speak the truth with heart and soul. I hope that you enjoy our conversation and remember that resources and links can be found on phaseworld.com. And a quick shout out to my associate producer Adam Leffer for introducing me to UTech through his friends Rebecca Steinetz and her husband Sam Putnam, who is the culinary innovator at UTech. Without further ado, please welcome Jonathan Lindy to the Phase World Podcast.
Thanks so much for your time. Sometimes I take away the privilege of having my guests sort of introduce themselves herself. But I wonder, in a social setting, how do you go about introducing yourself to others?
I guess it depends on the social setting. I guess it depends on if it’s a Youte event or like a work event or if it’s something else.
So if something else at a place where people might not know who you are, how do you go about that?
No one’s ever actually asked me that before. I’m kind of like believe it or not, I’m actually kind of an introvert, so I don’t go out that much. Which is crazy to think that I’m a street worker. I don’t know. I’m just Jonathan man. I’m Jonathan from Lowell, and I have a wife and a beautiful baby daughter. And I work at UTech and I’ve been here for eight going on nine years.
And I love what I do and I love working with the youth here and all.
So tell me a little bit more about how you got involved with UTech. How did that start?
Oh, God. Well, I guess if you moved before I got to UTech, I went through some struggles. When I was younger. I was really into drugs from a very young age. I mean, from about the age of 13 up until about 23, 24, I was high pretty much every single day. I kind of like rode the escalator of drug abuse. I started out my first drink, I was probably 13. And then by the time I was 23, 24, I was shooting heroin in my arm and I was just really messed up and in a really bad place. And thanks to having some good people around me, I was able to get past that and get clean. And I’ll be going on about twelve years actually, this September, September 2, I’ll be twelve years clean. But because of all the crazy stuff that I went through when I was younger, I had been looking for jobs where I could use my own life story and my own experience to maybe help mold young people, I guess. And I saw where was it? It was on Craigslist. And I was just looking for jobs and I saw this cryptic posting about like an American position on Craigslist at UTech.
And I didn’t even know how to pronounce you tech back then, it’s UTEC. So I thought it was like Audic. I was like, oh, what’s this Utic place? But I googled it, it sounded really cool. And I remember coming into interview and I remember nobody liking me here, except for which is crazy because I’ve been here for nine years now. And I remember coming into the interview process, and the only person here that wanted to give me a chance was the American Corps coordinator, this girl, Tanya. And she gave me a shot. And I’ve been here for almost nine years now, so I guess it kind of worked out.
Why didn’t people like you? You’re very likable.
I thank you. Yeah, I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t say that people didn’t like me, but maybe I wasn’t the first choice. And you said it was very different back then. We still had the street workers and we did the gang outreach, the peacemaking and all this, but the job that I applied for was the cultural Arts coordinator, so I was in charge of like the break dancing programs and sound recording. I guess that wasn’t the first choice because I’m not a break dancer, maybe, but it worked out okay and I’m still here.
Speaking of which, you are a street worker currently?
That’s right. Yeah, I’m a street worker. I’m the director for the street worker program at Utah.
I’m very intrigued by this program. You are sort of the step zero or one to really be out there exactly as what the street worker sounds like. So tell me a little bit more about that.
Sure. So let me give you maybe like a little frame of reference first as far as what we do at UTech. We’ve been operating now since 1999. The organization started 99 as a direct result of the gang violence that was in the city at that time. Back then there was kind of a gang war going on that was drawn along ethnic lines. There was a large influx of Cambodians into the city of whole late eighty s and ninety s and already like a pretty large Latino population. And some guys were formed and some violence erupted and because of that, young people in the city didn’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. They didn’t feel safe walking to school. They didn’t feel safe because of the color of their skin or maybe because of the color of the clothes that they were wearing when they were trying to get to class in the morning, whether it was middle school or even high school. And because of those factors, a lot of young people were turning to gangs when maybe they wouldn’t have before for protection because they didn’t feel safe in their own community. You fast forward a few years, some young folks were ready for a change and sick of the gang violence and sick of all the craziness in Lowell.
And they came together with some folks from the city and got a $40,000 grant from the city of Lowell, which was the money that we used to open our doors for the first time back in 99. And back then we had like I think the space was maybe like 1000 sq ft or something. It was really small. There was a closet that doubled as an office. We had maybe one ping pong table and like one half half inflated basketball. And I’ve always heard stories of the first day that we opened. There were just hundreds of kids kind of walking into the center because there was nothing else in the community like that at the time. And it was a service that was much needed. So that’s how UTech kind of got started. We had the street workers and we had enrichment programming. Really it was just a mechanism to keep young people off of the streets and in a positive environment. So we did our work for ten years. Fast forward ten years. We went through a theory of change process. We looked at the young people in the city and who we were serving and we looked at who we should really be serving, right?
Like who needed help the most. We find our target population to young men and women that are ages 17 to 25, that have high levels of gang involvement, engaged in criminal activities. Maybe they’ve been through the criminal justice system, maybe they’ve been incarcerated, right? So we’re looking at serving the impact players, like maybe the 10% of young adults in the city that are causing like 80% to 90% of the violence. And those young people who we feel like through working with them we can get the most return on investment from a public safety perspective. So that’s who we serve now. And our function is street workers. We’re like at the very bottom of the model. We’re the first point of entry for every young person. I would say about we did this maybe six months ago. All of the young adults in the program surprised us with a Street Worker Appreciation Day and we all went to the gym and they made these posters for us and all this stuff and it was really cool, and it’s never been done. We’ve been in operation for 17 years. That was the first ever Street Worker Appreciation Day, so we all felt really good about ourselves.
But I remember one of the staff asked the question when we were up in Circle, and it was us and 50 young people or whatever, and he said, Raise your hand if the first person that you met when you started your UTech journey was a street worker. And I would say about 98% of them raise their hands. So we’re the first point of entry. We’re the first face that people see. And we do our work. Like I said, we’re looking for that specific young person, those young people that are engaged in criminal activities, that have involvement. So we do our work through street outreach, through hotspots in the City of Bull and the City of Lawrence as well, and also in jails and prisons throughout the state.
Wow. It’s a lot of really good information, and there’s a lot for me to process, even though I feel like it’s very native to you. I haven’t really been to Lo very much now that I have been living in Boston for 14 years.
I have to. And I know that the location where you’re at has a lot of events and all the other services, which hopefully we’ll touch base a bit about as well. But I just learned so much about Lowell’s history. I had no idea. I have friends who are Cambodian, Filipino, from growing up in Lowell, and I had no idea why such a kind of a concentrated type of population will reside there. Might never cross my mind. So tell me a bit more about how you approach someone. I don’t know. How do you get a piece of paper on your desk saying, okay, today, Jonathan, you need to go meet David or someone?
Yeah, that’s kind of how it works. It doesn’t always work out like that, but we definitely it’s funny when you talk about doing street work and you talk about it to someone that’s never really no idea about it. They just picture us, like, randomly walking around the City of Low, like, you know, just, like, shaking people’s hands and knocking on people’s doors and kissing babies or whatever. But, yeah, everything that we do is really intentional, and I guess it has to be, or else we just be spinning our tires all the time, so okay, so there’s a couple of ways that the job works. Like, the two focuses are our guide, Peacemaking, which we’ve been doing, like I said, since you text started. And then also we try to refer young people to programming. We have lists of young people that we work with, some who are incarcerated, some who are not. And every month we do an enrollment, right? So every month we have, say, 2015 or 20 target young people that we’re trying to work with to get enrolled, knowing that we’re probably not going to get all of them in that month just because of different factors in their lives and barriers that they’re dealing with, right?
But maybe we’ll have eight or ten young people that are incarcerated, so we’ll do work with them behind the walls, work with them when they get out to prep them for programming. Then we might have ten young people that are out on the street, right? We’re doing home visits. We’re helping them out with probation, with parole, any kind of little thing to strengthen the relationship and strengthen the bond that we have with them. And usually it’ll be those 15 or 20 people that were really hitting hard throughout that month. And then there’s also the peacemaking side of it. So street workers, we all do a lot of the same work, but we all have different roles and different stuff that we specialize in, right? Well, all street workers do gang peacemaking. We have one street worker that’s the gang specialist. So his job throughout the month is to work with any gang sets that are particularly hot. Maybe there’s one Blood gang set and one Crypt gang set that have been kind of going at it over the last couple of weeks. So he’s going to work with those guys, work with those shot callers to try to prevent any violence and stuff like that.
It’s kind of hard to put, like, how we do the work into a box because we’re always getting pulled in so many different directions. And you really can’t put street work in a box because it’s like this organic thing that doesn’t want to be in a box, you know what I mean? So it’s kind of hard to talk about how we do the work sometimes, but we try to be as intentional as possible and a huge part of it, as well as having really good partnerships in the city, street workers only as good as whatever he has in his back pocket for hooks and for resources. So like I said, if a young person, if we don’t maybe have a strong relationship with a young person that we’re working with and we need to stress in that relationship, like I said, maybe he’s got some issues that he’s dealing with for probation. Like, he hasn’t been showing up. His probation officer is riding with him. We have a great relationship with probation, right? So that’s a hook right away. We can pull that out of our back pocket, take the kid in and get them squared away.
So a lot of it’s about building strong bonds, building strong relationships, having those resources and those hooks in your back pocket and being patient. Because if everything worked out perfectly, in a perfect world, we have like 50 new enrollments every single month. But that’s not how it goes. And people have issues. And at the end of the day, not just young adults, but people are going to change when they want to change. So our job is street workers is to continuously be there, to continuously chip away and to help facilitate change for that young person when they’re ready for it’s.
Forever till we die never let you have your way you would just take because I run my connection is empty and lately I’ve been searching for real do you remember how it feels to live and actually feel? She wrote me down so now you’re left with all my pieces of hill how can you steal something from someone?
That’s a lot to ask for. As you’re describing this, I think about the level of difficulty that you must face. Speaking of a job with no manual at all, there may be some guideline etiquette.
I’m writing a manual right now, actually. My boss is making me. Yeah?
Seriously? Is it for internal use only?
Well, we got some pretty cool stuff on the horizon. We’re looking into opening a teaching and learning institute for other not only outreach programs, but programs from kind of across the country. So having this kind of like implementation guide and street worker handbook could help us with the teaching and learning. So we’ll see. We’re still working on it.
That’s incredible. It’s so interesting. I’ve been speaking with several guests lately. In this case it’s actually palliative care or cancer doctors who mentioned that unlike living in Massachusetts, there are a lot of services just completely inaccessible, unavailable to people throughout, you know, other parts of the US. And certainly worldwide. So they actually wrote together, co authored handbook that people can actually read and follow and to get the best care possible. In a way, I feel like it’s very much related to what you’re doing. When I help out even my cousins and friends in terms of finding a job, working with young people in college, fresh out of college, I noticed a level of difficulty as well. Some kids are spoiled, some kids are not motivated. The introverted, they cannot send that email, they cannot make that phone call. And you’re sitting there as a selfdesignated mentor thinking, I cannot do all of that for you. You have to be willing to do that for yourself. So the fact that you’re always there really makes a difference. Rather than someone part time or to say I’m doing this, I’m logging 4 hours a month. Well, they’re not going to be ready when you are ready for that limited window of time.
So I would love to dissect to kind of dig in a little bit more. One is how do you initiate a conversation? And you mentioned briefly about your background. So in a way I feel that they could potentially relate to someone like you more and have that respect up front. How do you feel about that?
We work with a lot of young men that have like the heavy gang involvement too, and also one of the things for me, like, a lot of the young men that I work with don’t look like me. I’m a 34 year old white man, you know what I mean? So it’s taken me longer to kind of get to the place that I am now than other people. But all of the street credibility in the world is only going to get you so far as a street worker. A lot of people think they could be a street worker because they’ve been through this or they’ve been through that, or they’re coming from the criminal justice system or whatever, but you need to be able to do the work, and you need to have a passion for the work. And I think one of the things that I’ve always prided myself on, my willingness and readiness to be there and to do the work for whoever I’m working with. And we always say, like, the young adults that we work with can smell bullshit from a mile away. And also a lot of the people that we work with feel like they’ve been given up on by a lot of other folks.
They’ve been system involved since they were young, and it just been kind of cycled through this hell. One of the big things for us is making sure and one of the things that I always like pound home as the director over here, is to make sure that no young person that we ever work with feel that they’ve been given up on. That’s absolutely crucial for us, for me, and for the rest of the team, young folks in the city know that they can count on us whether they’ve seen us last week or haven’t seen us in three years. They know that they can pick up the phone and call myself or my partner’s Mao or Johnny or Nemesis and that we’re going to be there for them and that we’re going to take care of them and that we’re going to do the very best for them that we can because we have love for them. You know what I mean? And we don’t want anybody to ever feel like they’ve been left behind.
You had shared a story. I remembered a lot of things you said, but one of the things was that when a young person had to go to either I wasn’t sure, jail or prison for six months. He went in when it was the summer time, and he came out, it was the winter and he had the exact same clothing on short sleeves, shorts. And you have brought clothes for him. Could you share that story again, that.
Happens all the time. Actually, that particular story was in the Boston Globe. We had a Globe reporter come along with us for that release, and it was a front page blowfall. And there was actually a picture of us giving the kid a hug in his T shirt. And yeah, he was a young kid that we’ve known for years, a young kid that we work with when he was incarcerated. And you get locked up in July, and you got your sandals and your shorts and your T shirt on. And I remember it was two degrees outside. I was checking the temperature in my car, and he had out it was two degrees out and looking like he was ready to go to the beach. That’s something that we do on pickup days all the time when you get incarcerated. The story of the narrative is usually the same for most of the young adults that we work with. You get a lot of love when you’re outside. You’re out on the streets when you got money and you’re doing whatever, but you get locked up and all that kind of goes away. You stop getting phone calls.
You stop getting letters. A lot of young adults we work with don’t really have family or a supportive family structure, so they don’t even get those visits. No one’s getting money for their canteen. No one’s getting money put on their books, so they can make phone calls and stuff like that. But we show up every single week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes more than that, to sit in circle with them and talk and to try to bring them some hope. That’s a big deal for people when they’re not getting love from anywhere else. For us to come and give them that love is really huge. A lot of young folks that we work with, they get released and they have nothing. I mean, we have a young kid we’ve known for a long time. He made a couple of mistakes and got incarcerated, and he recently got out, and he got released with $100. That’s it. No place to go, no family in the community, like, nothing. All he has is us, and all he has is UTech. And you see those stories time and time again, and it’s about getting them situated and getting them back on their feet and hopefully on a better path.
Well, that’s a very challenging situation to be in. First of all, shout out to the support network, and you being one of them who has your phone line open. But also, as you mentioned, you’re as good as the resource that you have, right? You don’t have a house with infinite rooms or a location that could house or host anybody, any amount of people. What is that you can do with the limited resource? I can’t even imagine, to be honest.
Well, the good thing about being in Lowell I can’t speak for other cities, but I can speak for Lowell. We have really great partnerships in the city. And one of the things that people from other communities have told me is that they’re always impressed that when you go to a meeting in the bowl, it’s like everybody’s around the table, all the partners, all the nonprofits, everybody’s trying to do better for the city and to do better for the folks that live here. So that being said, being from this community, we don’t have all the resources in the world, but I think we’re better off than some other places. So in this young man’s case, we were able to get him a bed over at the shelter which is down the street from UTech. We were able to take some money and get them situated with some clothes and some toiletries and pulled some strings and got them working here right away within like a week, got all this paperwork cleared and everything like that. So it’s a case by case and it’s always different depending on who the young person is. But in this case we were able to kind of help him out and get him back on his feet.
Wow. Fantastic. Related to your job and you mentioned that you recruit and not just the lucky ones, but the ones who really want to make a difference will join UTech. And I met a couple of very young men and I believe at least one of them was also in a way, rescued and nurtured by UTech and later on it has been working since then. So what do you think are the things that you have to know sort of before you go to UTech versus the things that you could potentially learn on the job? That’s kind of what we talk about in career management in general, whether it be in finance and consulting. What are your thoughts on you tech?
Do you mean like for the program participants or for the staff?
I think for the staff, you know what I mean. What do you have to know ahead of time?
So one of the things I love working about UTech is that our staff is so diverse. We have people on staff that were incarcerated for five years in state prison. We have people on staff that have PhDs from Harvard. Working here is not so much about degrees you have hanging on your wall or whatever. It’s more about what you know and what you can bring to the table, which is, I think, really cool. One of the things about coming to work at UTech that people should know if they’re applying for a job is that it’s controlled chaos. A lot of times it’d be nice to think that everything is always easy, everything moves and runs how we’d like it to, but sometimes things get a little crazy. That’s just the nature of the work. And also the culture here is pretty awesome. It’s really off the charts. It’s like one of the most open and loving and loudest and exciting places I’ve ever walked. Every morning when you walk through the front doors. For me, I work a lot of jobs. I’m 34, I’m not like super old, but I’ve worked a lot of jobs over the years.
This is the only job. I’ve ever had where I’m genuinely excited every single morning to walk into work. The energy here is just absolutely incredible, and we have a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, too, you got to do your work, you know? And sometimes the e tech, you have, like, really high highs, and sometimes you can have really low lows just because of the stuff that we have to deal with on a daily basis. But it’s a really supportive community. The staff are supportive of each other, staff are supportive of the young adults, the young adults are supportive of the staff. It’s a beautiful thing and it’s a really cool place to work, but we’re very picky if you’re trying to apply here. I remember the one street worker we had in the interview process for five months because we want to make sure we’re getting the right person. We want to make sure we’re getting someone that’s going to I think for most staff positions, especially those that are doing direct service when you’re working with the young adults, we want people that are going to be here for the long haul.
We want people that are here.
For the right reasons. And I’m so into that question because I have been involved in different charities and organizations over the years. In fact, my parents were very supportive. So my dad and I had this thing, I think since we talked about it, since I was three. Then together we got really involved when I was five and had been doing it for a long time. But I did notice over the years, sometimes people just want another LinkedIn badge or another something for them to talk about genuinely or to brag about that turn me off sometimes. What do you look for? How do you sort of justify or find that right reason for that person to be there?
I can speak on behalf of the street workers. So we’re looking for somebody, number one, like someone from the communities plus, right, because they have that kind of if they’re from here, they can kind of like buy into the mission and buy into what we’re doing and the reasoning behind it because we’re trying to better this community and some of the surrounding communities. So being from the community, you can really have a stake in that. So that’s one thing. It’s not mandatory, but we look for people that have some type of street experience for this program, just like you spoke about before. So maybe it’s a little bit easier for them to relate when they go into a jail, right, or when they’re doing out on the street. Even better if people already know who you are because they’ve seen you around the community. So that’s a plus as well. But more than that is just they need to have that passion and that’s why the interview process is so long sometimes, because it’s easy to pretend that you have passion when you want to get a job. And it’s really easy to go in and interview real good, kind of say all the right things.
But then when we’re calling you and being like, hey, you need to come in next Tuesday from five to 09:00 p.m.. And we’re not paying you for it, but we’re going to take you out of the street and put you to work and see how you do. You know what I mean? That’s kind of when the rubber hits the road, you know what I’m saying? So you do a couple of those and see if they’re really with it because they’re coming in, they’re donating their time, they’re volunteering, they’re not getting paid. So that’s kind of when you can see the passion start to come out. And we’ve had people straight up, we’ve had people set up appointments to come out with us and then not show for them. We’ve had all kinds of people cancel over the years and then we have people that really stick it out. And I mean, you’re in an interview process for five months and you’re calling me every single week to see if you got the job yet. I kind of know that you’re with it. And it’s not like we’re a Fortune 500 company, you know what I’m saying?
We’re a nonprofit, so we’re not driving around in Mercedes, BMWs and Benz’s. I got my 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Yeah, that style. Just like you said, comfort is my number one calling. Speaking of comfort, you also have a hoodie on. In fact, I like the branding of UTech, the hoodie, the logo, the video, but at the same time makes me wonder that’s almost like a target on your back when you are out there, you know, convincing young people to, in a way, convert and to consider a different path. Isn’t it a dangerous job that, you know, how do the gang members or the lead of the gang will think about that? I wonder how you navigate that political water.
Well, that’s a really good question. So these are also very intentional. The colors that we wear. Street workers are the only ones that wear orange. That’s been our colors since the very beginning of doing this work. And we chose orange because it was a neutral color and no gang set in the city had claimed it. They’re wrong because that’s the way this things kind of work. Every city is different with the gang culture in Lowell. It’s really that kind of like California style, like Bloods and Crips and people with colors, especially back in the early 2000s, picking the orange color was neutral and it kind of made us stand out and people could see when we’re coming, you know what I mean? It could see us from a mile away and know as soon as we hit a neighborhood. So I’ve been doing this work, like I said, now eight, nine years. I’ve never felt friend. We’ve broken up a bunch of fights. I’ve got hit in the face a couple of times. But I’ve never felt threatened going into a neighborhood. I’ve never felt threatened going to talk to anybody. And a lot of that is because of the groundwork that was laid even before myself and some of the other street workers came on board.
Right. It was laid by the first street workers that kind of were out there, like, pitching the program to people and trying to get kids off the street. And one of the things about us, I mean, sure, we’ll talk about the program, we’ll preach about that, but we’ll never preach to a young adult about what they should do with their lives. Right. Our job is to help, like I said, I think I said before, to help facilitate change and to take them and put them somewhere else and maybe show them a different path or whatever. But we never go into a situation saying, like, you need to do this, you need to do that. That’s not our job. It’s not our job to tell people how to live their lives. And because we don’t go into situations like that, I think we get some more respect for folks. And we’ve had situations in the past where we’ve gotten calls and text messages from shot callers, you know, guys that kind of run stuff for gangs, telling us to get their kids into the program so they can get their GED, so they can get their work skills and stuff like that.
Because it’s interesting. Like, you talk about people that are involved in gangs, everybody thinks that all of a sudden. They think, like, oh, bad, bad. They’re bad. They’re not bad people. They just had to deal with certain stuff in their lives that have led them to this place that maybe a lot of us haven’t had to deal with. We really can’t put ourselves in their shoes. They’re just humans trying to kind of live life like the rest of us. And they care just as much as their kids as we care about our kids that are here.
Yeah. You’ve never felt threatened or anything like that.
That’s such a different perspective, and you don’t really have that until you speak with someone. It’s almost the same as I tell people that if you want to really learn about the culture, go to that country. Don’t just read books or even listen to a podcast. Be there. Be with the people.
A lot of people will give us crap, though, like, because of who we are and what we do, they’ll kind of give it to us a little bit sometimes. Sometimes they’ll call us like eutectives instead of detectives, like Eutectives. But then as soon as they get in trouble with probation or whatever, who are they calling for a warrant check or like, come in, like, oh, you need to take you over to see my PO. You know what I mean? It’s all in jest. You know what I mean? We take with minus all.
Yeah. You really cannot take yourself too seriously.
What I find interesting is also that there are several organizations that I have involved myself, and I could see a lot of people similar to my background that I didn’t necessarily grow up rich, but I had everything I needed in my life. Not for one day that I had I didn’t have a shirt on or I didn’t have enough food, electricity bill wasn’t paid for. But I noticed a lot of these organizations tend to attract sort of the upper middle class and hippie folks trying to make a difference in the world, which I think are great, or people trying to write checks or contribute in their own ways. On the other hand, I do have friends who have been homeless. I have friends who had a very humble upbringing. But I sometimes see that they do want to run away from this. It’s a history. It’s a past they don’t want to loop back on. In fact, they’re sometimes the ones who give me advice on, why are you doing this? You’re not equipped to do this, that you have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into. And they have good intentions, and they’re right that I’m really I can be very naive, but there you are.
You’ve lived a life that I don’t know. You have no trouble talking about it right now because I think it’s inspirational. I really laid the groundwork. But how do you feel about what I said just now? It was a lot, I guess.
I guess if I had to dissect it. Number one, I think that just in general, people are good people. Most people are just good people, and people want to help, and it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be from a certain neighborhood or from a certain place to help others. And whether you’re upper middle class or making 4 million a year, you want to help someone out, I’m with it. Whether you want to donate money or donate your time or donate some skill that you have or come to volunteer or come fix a broken computer, whatever it is, you know what I mean? I’m with it. We love people that want to kind of jump on board the bandwagon and help out a population that needs it. As far as sharing my story, I know people with crazier stories than I have that are able to share their stories, too. It takes time, and it gets easier over time to be able to share. But I think storytelling is really powerful to kind of, like, give people a window into your life. It’s a really beautiful thing. And we encourage everybody at UTech, staff and young people like to tell their stories because it is so powerful.
It can be so transformative, not only for other people kind of like looking in from the outside, but for you yourself, it’s empowering to be able to do that and to be able to share your history.
Yeah. I have had guests, like you said, harvard, PhDs, or doctors for the entire life. And at the end of the podcast, even in one hour’s time, and I will hear them say, wow, I have never summarized, I’ve never talked about myself this way. And that was really interesting. I just learned something about myself and we’ll be laughing. So I completely agree. And Woodworking is another I looked online mattress recycling. These are field skills. And I do such a shout out to people not only who bring these kids kind of into a very safe and friendly environment, but actually teach them something, like you said, the skills that they will carry with them.
Not only to impart, like a trade, like the woodworking piece and with culinary mattress. I think one of the main things for us when we bring people into programming, we have those social enterprises that you mentioned. We have this whole array of wraparound services. It’s really a one stop shop, you know what I’m saying? For anybody coming off the street or coming out of prison, it’s like an on ramp to education and to work right away, right? And all the people that go through Woodworking, if they want to go work somewhere and do carpentry or cabinet baking, that’s awesome. And all the folks that go through culinary, if they want to go work at we have a great partnership with Whole Foods. If they want to go work at Whole Foods or go work in a restaurant somewhere, awesome. But they don’t have to. Like, we’re just trying to impart the basic skills into our young adults of, like, how to be a good employee, you know what I mean? So when they leave here, they can kick butt wherever they go, so they can be on time, so they know how to work with others and work as a part of the team, so they know how to interact and engage with their coworkers, with their supervisors, whatever it is, we just want to make good employees.
Whether or not you want to go work in a kitchen or work in a wood shop is fine. You go do what you got to do when you leave here, you know what I mean? But one of the cool things about the program, too, is we have all these different social enterprises that the young adults get to work in. When they come here, they get a paycheck, right, for the full day of work. So it’s like a siphon program. We have high set classes upstairs, which is kind of like the new GED.
You get paid for the full day, so whether you’re sitting in a kitchen and working or you’re sitting at high set, you’re getting your check for the full day, which is really cool. Everyone has access to case management. So when you come in, you get a transitional coach, which is like we call a caseworker. We just don’t call them case workers because we don’t view our young adults as cases. We don’t have case loads. We have life portfolios. Right. And the transitional coaches kind of walk the young adults through programming here and through whatever barriers they might still have on the outside. And even when a young adult graduates and they go get that job at Whole Foods or wherever it is, we have a pathway is coordinator that will follow them for two years out. Even once they leave here. If they have an issue with whatever it is, they can come back and talk to our pathways coordinator and he’s going to get them laced up and kind of back on track. So wrap around services, man. We don’t just say that we’re there for the participants in our program like we really are.
We do our very best to kind of walk the walk and not just talk, to talk.
Wow, I can’t believe you summarized in just a couple of minutes the level of dedication and thoughtfulness, really to clearly this program is designed by someone who has been there and done that. Regardless of how much of a good intention I have, I really, truly have no idea how you transition someone into a life that I think everybody deserves. So how many staff members versus how many young adults are with the program right now? And how many do you see transition kind of into other careers and kind of checking in every once in a while?
So I think we have about 45. 45 ish full time staff right now in an array of different positions. We have close to 100 and 7175 young people that are on an active caseload right now. So they get that intensive case management through their transitional coaches. They all have access to job slots.
Wow, that’s incredible. And what are some of the upcoming events? I want to close with potentially sort of a call to action in case people want to get involved. And how do they get involved?
Okay, so as far as folks that are looking to get involved, you can go to our website. It’s www dot UTAC bowl.org. And in one of the drop down menus, there are ways to learn about volunteer opportunities. Really? We have kind of an opendoor policy down here, so if anybody wants to come down and check the building out, you can come and check in at the front desk. And you’re like, hey, what’s up? I saw the podcast. I wanted to learn more about this. You can just kind of show up. If you want something more formal, you can make a call to the front desk. I think the front desk number is like 978-856-3902. You can call them and see about maybe setting up a visit or a tour to come down. Or you could talk to people about maybe opportunities to donate, opportunities to volunteer. Whatever it is, we love having friends. And the more friends we have, the better.
Awesome. Thanks so much, Jonathan. This is fantastic. I learned so much. Have a great day. Thanks so much.
Someone who has nothing to steal.
Hey, it’s Faye. I’m back for a few words at the end of the show. I hope you enjoy what you heard. You can visit us [email protected] to find out other episodes from this category or topic. Or you could explore other awesome people for artists and designers, digital marketers, performing artists, authors and speakers, entrepreneurs, students, educators and more. For this reason, we’ve taken your feedback and created a landing page to most easily navigate by categories and topics. Simply visit podcast feisworld.com to learn more. Sincerely, I want to thank you for your support. Bye for now.
Thinking diamonds are love we’re mining it up to remind us of us paying for trust do you get it? She told me marches, forget it. I want to change this world a girl I just don’t think that you get it this pressure is heavy now ready to just let you forget me. But when this all is said and done you gonna regret that you met me I used to want to find a feeling now I’m feeling so empty but honestly I want to thank you for the love and you let me stay.
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