Crazy Love at a Distance: Lowell Supports Risky Young Adults During Coronavirus Suspension

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A Lowell program that helps young adults find their way out of street life and criminal intervention, like other non-profit organizations, is a hit as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.

But UTEC does not have to deal only with financial fees that stop work, the economic downturn and social distance are at the bottom. He needs to worry about the at-risk young adults he caters to, who are now detached from daily programs, which for many are a lifeline.

James O’Keefe hands a bag of one-and-a-half-year-old Joshua Babin with his mother Erin watching. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

About 3,000 teens and young adults have gone through the UTEC program since it was founded 20 years ago. Half of them are parents, and UTEC has won recognition for helping them complete their education, care for their children, receive valuable job training and stay out of trouble with the law.

But the UTEC plant and workstations, which usually buzz with activity, are much quieter these days because of the coronavirus. Donations decrease and the organization loses money in other ways. But in the midst of this, staff are struggling to buy laptops for young adults in the program so that they can continue to study and train remotely while required to stay home. And UTEC employees prepare and box meals to attract young people to the program every day.

UTEC Executive Director Greg Crotto, 2015 Photo File (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

UTEC Executive Director Greg Crotto says he wants to make sure that the disorder caused by COVID-19 will not return young adults to the UTEC “family”.

“We just don’t want any young person to feel like he’s forgotten,” Krot says. “And there are so many challenges on a regular day before COVID that, you know, you don’t allow them to enter UTEC. With the (coronavirus) effect on them, we are very, very anxious to make sure that one doesn’t feel forgotten … Recognizing that our young adults face, like others, anxiety and depression and not necessarily have the largest social support network, and so we really need to not only continue our services, we have to strengthen. “

One of UTEC’s values ​​that is often talked about in the program is the idea of ​​”crazy love,” explains Krot. He says one of the ways the organization’s street workers exemplify this is by looking for young people in the program when they do not show up for their day job or hours. He says he is concerned that there will not be this kind of regular connection with young people because the coronavirus requires social distance.

UTEC also works with young people in prisons in Middlesex and Essex. But currently, field workers cannot enter prisons because of the coronavirus epidemic.

The organization manages three social enterprises in which its young adults receive job training: food / catering, woodworking and mattress recycling. The staff is redeployed to provide daily feeding for young adults and several staff arrange mattresses that still enter the recycling facility.

Photo file worker for 2015 at UTEC cafe. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

According to Croteau, social enterprises generate about $ 1 million in revenue each year. He says they have lost about $ 155,000 so far as a result of the coronavirus being canceled and work stopping. And UTEC has borne the additional cost of packing and delivering food and supplies, including toilet paper and cleaning products, for the program’s young people and their children.

“I think it’s not just about delivering food, it’s about delivering that commitment,” Crotto says. “Delivering crazy love that can come in a different form right now. The team was making home hand disinfectant that day. So, you know, learn how to do this, bottle them and get ready to deliver them to 100 “families”.

“I never thought I would know about mattresses. I never thought I would know about a hand disinfectant,” Krot says. “But Madd Love’s Hand Disinfectant Comes In The Way Of The Family (UTEC).”

24-year-old Money Money Gaston says she’s usually on UTEC programs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. She is in the culinary program, receiving cooking and catering training, along with writing CVs and job interviews. Now because of the coronavirus epidemic, Gaston is home alone with his two children, who will usually be in school.

“I feel pretty stable, although with social distance, all I can say is I just can’t be around my UTEC family, just having that culture and that motivation,” Gaston says. “At home, we are still able to connect with our transition coach or our teachers if we need help with any of our online courses.”

Jose Rivera loads the boxes into the delivery van. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

Gaston still receives a scholarship for his job at UTEC, though he cannot complete it at the moment. UTEC executives say they have pledged to continue paying their young people through suspension. According to Croteau, scholarships are $ 55,000 to $ 60,000 a month.

Gaston says at the moment the most critical support he receives from UTEC, along with food and provisions, is assistance from the program’s social worker.

“With all this coronavirus, I was just really worried about my kids losing their father last year. So I’m basically the only parent they have,” Gaston explains. “So I’m literally locked up in this house, I haven’t left this house since this whole thing started, because I just keep having bad dreams that I’ll catch a coronavirus and then die, then I’ll leave my children with no one. Being able to talk to my therapist so she can calm me down and … just basically keep me the same, is one of the biggest roles in my life right now that UTEC is helping me. “