In Memoriam: Mary Lou Keenan
Compassionate. Kind. Caring. Involved, Intelligent. Thoughtful. Funny. Devoted. Good friend. Champion for Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell.
These are just a sampling of the descriptors the Girls Inc. staff offered when we learned of the passing of our board member and dear friend, Mary Lou Keenan.
Mary Lou was a tireless volunteer who loved spending time with our members. Her presence in our building could be felt throughout as she always had a smile and a kind, supportive word for everyone she encountered. She and her husband, Jim Keenan, generously sponsored and attended every event. Sharing a laugh with Mary Lou was a treasure, as were conversations about Girls Inc. programming and how our girls and young women were faring. She truly cared, and it showed.
“Mary Lou’s commitment to Girls Inc. has been not only a role model to the girls we serve but also to the staff and the board of directors,’ said fellow board member and good friend Germain Vigeant-Trudel. We will miss everything about our friend and mentor and will continue to strive for excellence in programming in Mary Lou’s honor.
Active in her community, Mary Lou served as a Board member and Past President of the Board for Girl’s Inc. of Greater Lowell and Past Chairperson and member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro as well as the former Alumnae Board Treasurer. In addition, she was a past Secretary and longtime Board member of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre and a Board Member of the Whistler House Museum of Art both in Lowell.
Hard working and humble in nature, Mary Lou was recognized for her contributions to the community by Girl’s Inc. as the Honoree for the Celebration of Today’s Woman in 2011, as the Board Person of the Year in 2018 by the Non Profit Alliance of Great Lowell and also as Board Member of the Year by the Association of Catholic Admissions and Advancement Professionals.
A model Girls Inc. woman ahead of her time, Mary Lou graduated from the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro and went on to receive her AB in Mathematics from Trinity Washington University and then her Master’s in Education from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mary Lou began her career as a computer programmer for the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C. with the Remington Rand Univac Corporation. She shifted her talents to education where she had a long and distinguished career as a teacher at the Nativity School in St. Paul, MN and later at Tewksbury Junior High School in Tewksbury, MA.
Alumna Spotlight – Shelby Phillips
Shelby Phillips was the first person to ask a question at the World Congress of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IASSIDD) conference. Before you shrug your shoulders and think no big deal—this former painfully shy teenager was attending a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, with hundreds of people in attendance. Shelby was one of 21 students selected to attend IASSIDD. The College of Natural Sciences awarded Shelby the Flanagan Fund Scholarship for this trip and the Office of Financial Aid Services at The University of Massachusetts Amherst provided her with a scholarship to cover the remaining cost. As if that’s not impressive enough, during a 12-hour layover in London, Shelby left London Gatwick Airport and explored the city on her own. “My mom has never taken a vacation from work and I’ve barely travelled New England. I never thought I would get the opportunity to go abroad. When I heard about the opportunity to attend the IASSIDD conference I knew that I had to take a chance and apply because it fit so well with my studies at UMass. I kept hearing my Girls Inc. voice telling me to go for it!”
Shelby was seven years old when she joined Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell. She recalls her early years fondly, remembering the friends she made, the classes and field trips she enjoyed, and the special program specialists who guided her along the way. Most memorable were three high school summers when she was a counselor-in-training (CIT) and part of a team of peers who spent the summer learning team-building and leadership skills, interviewing and job-preparation strategies, economic literacy, and also helping the Girls Inc. staff supervise and mentor the younger girls. From classrooms to field trips to the South Common pool, the staff depend upon the CITs’ thoughtful and reassuring assistance. Shelby enjoyed being a CIT because, “[she] had the opportunity to be a mentor to young girls while also learning what it takes to be a leader by observing the program specialists.”
Now a senior at UMass Amherst, Shelby will graduate in 2020 with a biology degree, a minor in psychology, and a letter of specialization in developmental disabilities and human services. She teaches part-time at Whole Children in Hadley, Mass., a social/recreation center for children and teenagers of all abilities. She began there as an interning teacher’s assistant, was then hired to teach students to maneuver public transportation and physical education and has now been promoted to manage the cooking program.
“My CIT training made it possible for me to confidently walk into a classroom and teach,” said Shelby. “After watching the Girls Inc. program specialists work with the girls, I learned strategies for maintaining calm in the classroom and how to identify children who need more support than others. Girls Inc. equipped me with the skills that make me a successful teacher at Whole Children. When I lack in confidence, I recall what I learned at Girls Inc. and tell myself I can do it!”
While keeping up with her studies and working at Whole Children, Shelby will apply to graduate school during her senior year. She has an interest in pediatric genetic counseling, where she will guide parents and caregivers to specialized care for their child’s genetic condition. Her top three choices are Brandeis University, Massachusetts General Hospital Institute or Boston University. Shelby is a research assistant at UMass Amherst and is considering a combination of direct patient care and research when she becomes a genetic counselor. Based on her Girls Inc. background, and her many successes ever since, Shelby’s confident when she says, “I can do it!” We are, too.
Alumna Spotlight – Jennifer Vivier
Jennifer Vivier was six years old when she first stepped foot into Girls incorporated of Greater Lowell. Little did she know this was going to be the place that would have a huge impact on her life going forward. She grew up an only child in a low-income household raised by her single mother. Part of her education was spent in a neighboring town that didn’t have much diversity, which was a main reason for her mother enrolling her into Girls Inc. Jennifer attended both the after school and summer programs and participated in many classes the facility had to offer.
When she was nine years old Jennifer took her first photography class. That very moment when she was given the opportunity to have complete freedom to be creative through the art of photography changed everything for her. In school Jennifer was often bullied and struggled academically to keep up with the other students. When she came to Girls Inc. her daily school frustrations were alleviated and she was able to express herself by participating in the classes and programs. One of Jennifer’s favorite classes was the Grandparent program, she would attend assisted living homes with a group of her peers and volunteer her time singing or making crafts with the residence. She also participated in several programs and events such as Money Management, Young Scientists and Take Our Daughters to Work Day where she was on the first ever national council at the age of eleven.
She remained an active member in the program till she was twelve years old. Jennifer remembers the many mentors she had in the program, the women who worked their showed her endless support and empowered her to get through her bad days and embrace the good ones. Without the opportunities Girls Inc. provided her at a young age, she doesn’t believe she would be the person she is today. Growing up she was always told it is important to give back to your community, Girls Inc. allowed Jennifer to have these experiences and teach her lifelong lessons. When she was nineteen years old she walked back in to Girls Inc. joining their team as a Program Specialist. Jennifer had just graduated high school and thought of no better way to spend her time than to give back to a place that had given her many opportunities. Over the next twelve years she would off and on working or volunteering her time with the organization while she was pursing her college degrees.
Now thirty-one years old Jennifer has previously received in 2016 the Martin Luther King Jr. award from University of Massachusetts Lowell for Distinguished Student Service for the work she has done with Girls Inc. and in May 2018 she received the 2018 UMass Lowell Chancellor’s Medal for Community Service for the continued efforts of connecting Girls Inc with the university. This award is given to students who have gone above and beyond to volunteer their time in their academic and personal communities.
Jennifer recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell receiving her bachelor’s degree in fine arts concentration in graphic design and a minor in digital media and production. Her goal for the future is to find a job in her field where she can continue to make a difference in the world through the use of media, technology and the arts.
Jennifer thanks the Girls Incorporated program for her many accomplishments and helping her become the woman she is today, without their continued love and support throughout all these years she says she wouldn’t have been able to get this far in her education and in life. She hopes to continue to give back to the organization and encourages the young members to dream big because anything is possible, as long as you believe in yourself you will make it far in life!
Alumna Spotlight – Kelsey Barowich
Kelsey Becomes an Advocate in Her Community
Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell alumna Kelsey spent 11 years at Girls Inc. taking advantage of programming that allowed her to discover her passions for civic engagement and public policy. She also worked as a Program Specialist and sat on the board last year. Today, Kelsey works as a Policy Analyst for the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight for the Massachusetts State Legislature. She is also an advocate for LGBTQ rights, a member of YW Boston’s Advocacy committee which focuses on paid family leave and criminal justice reform, and involved in protecting young people in Boston’s School to Prison Intervention Pipeline program.
(L to R: Kelsey Barowich, Alumna, and Maritza Grooms, former Teen Center Coordinator)
Kelsey is forever grateful for the confidence that Girls Inc. staff members, and fellow girls, helped her to develop. She learned how to believe in herself, and used that power to become an advocate and community organizer. Through the Alumnae Scholarship program Kelsey was able to study in Washington D.C. for a summer and intern with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. There, she cultivated her passion for helping others and learned more about civic engagement, public policy, and government relations.
As a young woman working in politics, Kelsey’s time at Girls Inc. continues to inspire her and push her forward. To this day, she relies on her Girls Inc. family for continued support, encouragement, and guidance. In the future, she hopes to head an advocacy organization similar to Girls Inc. and provide more people with the same gifts she received as a young girl.
Kelsey recognizes that girls continue to face great challenges but believes mentorship and community spaces, like the one she experienced at Girls Inc., are two important steps in combatting systematic oppression and inequality. Her advice is to never be afraid to ask for help, and to hold tight to people that love and inspire you. When you do that, she says, there is no way you will not succeed.
Check back soon for updates.