|Maura may be back on the West Coast, serving as an Assistant Dean at the University of California Berkeley, but Lowell CHC is never far from her heart.|
When Maura Smith took on the challenge of raising money to build our $42M home in a renovated former mill on Jackson Street, it seemed like an impossible dream.
Thank goodness that impossible dreams are right up her alley.
From a very early age, Maura knew she wanted to change the world.
Descended from Irish immigrants who helped fuel Lowell's growth in the 1800s, the drive to make a difference was in her blood.
Early on, Maura thought her future was in politics, boldly declaring, "When I grow up I want to be a U.S. Senator!" in her middle school year book. Growing up during the anti-war movement of the 1970s, attending protests with her family was just a way of life. As a teenager, she was captivated by the late Paul Tsongas' vision for Lowell. She volunteered during his campaigns and moved up the ranks to earn her very first job as a member of his Senate staff.
While those experiences drove her to major in Political Science in college, Tsongas' vision for Lowell's rebirth helped Maura see a different avenue for the change she wished to create: urban redevelopment. So, she headed back to the classroom, earning a Master's in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.
Through all of her academic and career twists and turns, Maura realized there was one common thread: a passion and a fearlessness about raising money for causes she believed in.
"I love asking for money and helping people feel the joy that comes with doing good. It's what I was meant to do."
Fast forward a number of years to when she met then Health Center CEO, Dorcas Grigg-Saito. Learning more about Lowell CHC got her personal and professional juices flowing.
"I realized that the Health Center had an incredibly compelling story to tell. Here was an organization that literally wraps its arms around its patients, providing services and support that go beyond just primary medical care."
In 2008, recognizing that the Health Center desperately needed to expand and consolidate its services under one roof, Dorcas convinced Maura to lead the ambitious fundraising campaign that was required.
The problem? Up until that point, the Health Center had never done much fundraising. With no existing donor network and a goal to raise $5M of the project costs from the community, "impossible" seemed like a major understatement.
"At that point, even in Lowell, few people knew what a critical community resource the Health Center represented. But, Dorcas and I were women on a mission," she says with a chuckle. "We simply refused to believe there was anyone in Lowell that wouldn't see the value of this project."
Maura began filling her calendar with literally hundreds of meetings and hard hat tours, telling anyone and everyone the Lowell CHC story. It worked. Her beloved hometown rallied behind the effort in a big way.
"No one we met ever walked away and said, 'I don't care.' Everyone wanted to make it happen."
Soon, she had enlisted business owners, government officials, community supporters, patients, and Health Center staff to become financial supporters and get the project done. Once she convinced two outstanding Lowell cheerleaders, Michael Gallagher and Amy Werner, to chair the capital campaign, they were off to the races.
"We were doing this for families like my family when they first came to Lowell - people new to this community who just needed a helping hand. So many people could relate to that story. It was our job to tell it."
In January of 2013, Lowell Community Health Center opened its doors at 161 Jackson Street, providing thousands of patients with a new, state-of-the-art healthcare home. Reflecting back, Maura sees one key to success: In Lowell, people care for their community through good times and bad.
"The Health Center's 'Caring for Lowell' motto is more than just a campaign theme. It sums up a unique community spirit and formidable resiliency that is very hard to find. And, I really miss that."