For decades East Boston’s Action for Boston Community Development’s (ABCD) APAC office has been an oasis of help and hope for countless families in the neighborhood.
Social service programs like ABCD’s Fuel Assistance have helped low-income residents and fixed income seniors heat their homes throughout the winter without having to worry if they would have enough money for both heat and food or heat and medication.
At the helm of the renowned antipoverty/community action organization since 2009 was a man that approached helping Eastie’s most vulnerable population with empathy, compassion and an unparalleled ability for being the voice of thousands of marginalized citizens both here and across the state.
Last week it was announced that President and CEO of ABCD John Drew, longtime fighter for the low-income and underserved, will step down from his top role at ABCD on June 30, 2022 after over five decades of service to the agency.
The 85-year-old Drew has served in leadership positions at the renowned antipoverty/community action organization since 1971. The Charlestown native has been ABCD President/CEO since 2009.
“I have had a long run supporting ABCD and its many all-important programs, as well as playing a role in significant national, state and local initiatives to combat poverty and provide opportunities for those who are low-income and disadvantaged to get on the escalator to a better life,” said Drew. “I came in when ABCD was a start-up – something new – an organization dedicated to combating poverty during tumultuous times.”
Drew noted that his work for decades alongside former President/CEO Bob Coard, former longtime APAC Director and Eastie legend John White as well as other dedicated community, corporate and political leaders has made his journey all the more special.
“I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with these committed trailblazers and hundreds of others over the years to make a difference for those in need,” he said.
ABCD was a start-up in the fight against poverty in America, taking off in 1962 with a $1.9 million grant from the Ford Foundation and help from other funding sources. When Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, ABCD was designated as Boston’s official antipoverty agency. Suddenly grass-roots community-based ABCD centers were serving every neighborhood, kids were signing up for summer jobs, seniors were becoming Foster Grandparents. Fuel assistance, job-training, Head Start, childcare sprang up.
Since the 1960s, ABCD has built institutions including the community health center movement; the Women, Infants & Children program; Roxbury Multi-Service Center; Urban College of Boston and many more. It spearheaded community participation, leadership building, and community engagement. In 1973, ABCD and three other community action agencies filed a successful class action lawsuit to prevent President Nixon from abolishing the Office of Economic Opportunity.
“ABCD was a leader in a revolution for poor people,” said Drew. “And we never stopped growing.”
Today ABCD serves more than 100,000 low-income people annually with programs and services providing help and support for individuals, families, seniors, those with disabilities – whoever is in need.
“John Drew’s work as the President and CEO of ABCD — Boston’s leading anti-poverty organization — has touched the lives of countless children and families, including many here in East Boston,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “I wish him a happy retirement and thank him for all of his work on behalf of our community.”
Sen. Lydia Edwards added, “John Drew has literally dedicated his life to advocating for thousands of people. His leadership has expanded and grown ABCD and as a former Councilor and current Senator I regularly see and hear about the impact ABCD has on our lives. Thank you John for all your work.”
City Councilor Gabriela Coletta said Drew has brought an empathic and compassionate approach to serving the community during his tenure as CEO of ABCD.
“In his time he has understood that systemic inequities often dictate life circumstances and centered the humanity of others in his work,” she said. “We are grateful for his many years of providing resources to our most vulnerable and wish him well during his retirement.”
ABCD announced that Sharon Scott-Chandler, Esq. will take over the President and CEO post.
Drew said his successor, currently ABCD Executive Vice President/COO, has been approved by the 50-member ABCD Board of Directors to take the reins upon his retirement.
“Sharon has the experience, expertise and commitment to take ABCD to the next level,” said Drew. “I am proud and privileged to pass the baton to her, the first African-American woman to lead this extraordinary organization.”
Chair of ABCD Board of Directors Sean Daughtry said Drew was always a tireless advocate, champion and warrior for all those needing a hand up in our city, state and nation.
“John is determined, tenacious and relentless in pursuing goals that give people in need opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their children, and live with dignity,” he said. “His leadership at ABCD has been a force for good for all concerned and he leaves the organization stronger than ever.”
While Director of ABCD Government and Industrial Relations Bob Elias added, “I have worked side by side with John Drew for decades, always inspired by his drive, his commitment, his vision for the future and ability to mobilize forces to make a difference for those in need. He’s a creative thinker and passionate leader who is also an entrepreneur, savvy about leveraging economics to meet human needs. During difficult times, ABCD has prospered under John’s unwavering leadership. We will miss him,”
A national leader in the community action and non-profit sectors for decades, Drew is the founder of several national and Massachusetts-based non-profit organizations. As the Northeast region board member of the National Community Action Foundation, he has spearheaded national policy impacting low-income people and communities.
He also oversaw expansion of Head Start programs, particularly early Head Start, and initiated several new youth programs, including WorkSMART, a year-round paid work and learning experience for disadvantaged youth, and YEA! Youth Engaged in Action, a summer program for low-income 13-year-olds who are too old for camp and too young for traditional summer jobs programs.
During his tenure, Drew acquired significant real estate property for ABCD and initiated renovation and high technology updates to produce state-of-the-art facilities that enhanced program stability for Head Start, neighborhood programs, ABCD’s two alternative high schools, Urban College and more. His efforts supported neighborhood development and strengthened non-profit programs, expanding services and opportunities for low-income residents.
In 2011, ABCD expanded to also serve the Mystic Valley region, receiving federal Community Services Block Grant and other funding designated for that area and successfully providing vital services and programs.
Drew’s passion for the underserved stems in part from his experiences living in public housing following a back injury and, in the early days of the anti-poverty movement, sending his two young children to Head Start.
“Head Start turned our lives around,” he said. “From day one it has been a beacon of light for struggling families.”
Drew studied at Bentley College in his mid-30s and went on to complete his MBA at Suffolk University. After being licensed as a Certified Public Accountant, he worked as an auditor for Peat Marwick and was assigned to audit ABCD. He soon joined the organization’s finance team and the rest is history. Before long he was serving as second-in-command at ABCD and in 2009 was named President/CEO.