When the COVID crisis began, Jessica had only been Executive Director of Mill City Grows for a few short months. While the change in leadership from founders Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson had been in the works for some time, Jessica knew she had big shoes to fill. She also knew that in the midst of a pandemic, her community would need fresh, local food more than ever.
There was a time when her hometown was the last thing on her mind.
Back in the 90s, Jessica couldn't wait to broaden her horizons after graduating Dracut High. As long as she could remember, she had dreamed of working in media. Those dreams took her as far as New York City to study film making, and tested her skills in a variety of jobs from advertising to film production.
When she returned to the area, it was to take a job in community media that helped her see her career - and her hometown - with fresh eyes. When it appeared that an important program might not run due to funding, she made a call and secured a donation that made it happen.
"It was so exciting. I realized that one call, one conversation could create something that the community really needed."
That "aha" moment began a second phase of her career, putting her networking and sales skills to good use to raise funds for a number of local non-profits.
"That work really opened my eyes about how the system benefits some and not others."
She also became involved in a small start-up, Mill City Grows, which was on a mission to bring locally grown produce to the residents of Lowell. "This sounds like something that's going to be on a cover of a magazine in 10 years!" she remembers thinking.
Over the years, the organization - and her passion - grew, as she moved from volunteer and Board Member to Grant Writer and now, Executive Director. In all of these roles, she's seen the benefits of a holistic approach to health and wellness, which naturally grew her admiration for the Health Center.
"In Lowell, we've been able to create a community around health. Those connections, those partnerships help us impact people's lives in a really meaningful way."
Partnerships like the Mobile Market, which supplies fresh, affordable local produce at sites around Lowell, including right around the corner from Lowell CHC. Mill City Grows has also partnered with the Health Center to offer free cooking classes that build connections and community around healthy, locally-grown food. Although some of these programs are on pause due to COVID, the pandemic has made Jessica more passionate than ever about bringing people together to create lasting change.
That's one reason why Jessica values Lowell CHC's emphasis on cultural inclusion and understanding.
"People know they can come to the Health Center, be heard and understood and helped. It's welcoming in a way that so many institutions are not."
We are so grateful to Jessica, and the hard-working urban farmers, gardeners, and educators at Mill City Grows, for helping us build a more welcoming, healthier Lowell - regardless of what COVID-19 puts in the way.