By Erin Merkel, news correspondent
United South End Settlements (USES) celebrated its 125th anniversary on Saturday with cake, children’s activities and socializing at the Harriet Tubman House.
USES is a community organization that works to improve education, safety and economic security for low-income families in Boston’s South End and Lower Roxbury.
Northeastern students volunteer for USES in an after school program, working with young kids as program advisors where they help with homework and play games. Students also tutor, work as early childhood assistants and distribute food to low-income senior citizens.
Freshman engineering major Lynnsey Martin said volunteering as a math tutor with USES has been a rewarding experience.
“Being able to help out third graders with long division is really cool,” Martin said. “I get to connect with someone who was like me at that age who cares about math and science and is looking for a way to follow that through.”
Nikki Stewart, vice president of development at USES, recalled a moment during the celebration when she was inspired by the diversity of the community.
“Standing up on the balcony, looking down at the audience, it really struck me what a wide range of diversity we have down in the crowd,” she said. “Diversity, no matter how you slice it. I think that’s really unique.”
Stewart had been working on the anniversary celebration for the past year. She said she wanted to focus the event on community outreach.
USES decided to model their anniversary after a children’s party, allowing them to develop a family-friendly environment and celebrate with the entire community. The birthday party is part one of a three-part celebration. Next, they plan on holding a historical exhibit and neighborhood gala in late May.
“We knew the [party] is not just going to be about the program we offer here, but about how the community is rich with diversity,” she said. “Neighbors are willing to help and how they can plug into that model as well.”
USES aims to battle poverty and use social justice to create positive and friendly neighborhood relations. For kids under 16, they provide academic and personal growth programs. Adults can enroll in the Work Force Readiness program, allowing educational and economic security. Seniors have access to at-home help, wellness classes and neighborhood socialization.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh attended the celebration and announced Jan. 28 as United South End Settlements Day in the City of Boston.
The 125th anniversary is a milestone for USES. After reflecting on the past, Stewart said USES now must look to the future.
“While our direction is not yet cemented, what we do know is that we are going to look at serving whole families and how our impact can disrupt the cycle of poverty generation to generation,” she said.
Lauren Prescott, a member of the South End Historical Society, educates people about the importance of the South End and the preservation of its neighborhoods. She spoke briefly about the history of the neighborhood.
Prescott said Immigration in the 1800s meant the city population was growing fast, and there wasn’t enough housing. The South End didn’t exist until 1801, when Bostonians decided to develop new residential neighborhoods, she said.
“[Bostonians] were afraid a lot of middle-class and upper middle-class men were going to flee to the suburbs,” Prescott said. “They began to fill in the marshes.”
USES was later founded in 1891 by wealthy and educated Boston citizens. They visited distressed communities to build better social and financial stability. In the 1960s, laws were made to preserve South End buildings for their historic value.
Martin said the organization opens students up to a new perspective they otherwise may not have been exposed to.
“I have the chance to work with people with a different background from me and to get involved in the community around Northeastern that I wouldn’t otherwise,” she said. “It’s a really cool thing.”
Photo by Dylan Shen