By Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Peter Lovis, owner of the beloved Concord Cheese Shop, is offering high-quality cutting boards handcrafted by youth who have chosen to turn their lives around. The young people are members of UTEC, a Lowell-based youth development nonprofit agency. The cutting boards are among the products of UTEC’s Woodworking social enterprise, one of several workforce development training programs.
About 20 years ago, Lovis was working in economic development at the Lowell-area community action agency Community Teamwork, Inc. and teaching entrepreneurship when he heard about UTEC.
The organization, founded mainly by teens working to oppose gang conflict and lack of opportunity, was just getting off the ground, and Lovis wanted to help. The teens’ concept for UTEC was to build a welcoming community for kids in trouble with the law – drawing them in through energetic streetworker outreach and teaching skills that could lead to better lives.
To Lovis, it made economic sense. “Why wouldn’t we put $1,000 or so into a program to help a poor kid earn money and eventually be able to pay taxes and give back – instead of our paying tens of thousands of dollars on social programs or jail for that kid down the road?”
One of the first teens to be helped by UTEC, notes Lovis, got her education and went on to Bentley University and gainful employment. Today she’s paying back society’s investment many times over. “Why wouldn’t we want that?” Lovis asks. “I don’t understand why everyone wouldn’t be on board with a small upfront investment and a big payback. We have to invest in people when they are young and most capable of learning.”
The businessman remembers a formative experience of his own. When he was 16, he was hired to work in a shop – a cheese shop, as it happens. The owner put so much trust in him that after the holiday season, he handed young Lovis the keys and said, “Take care of things while the wife and I go on vacation.”
Lovis never forgot what that trust meant to him – how competent and capable it made him feel. “We live up to expectations,” he says. And he sees youth living up to expectations at UTEC, too.
Turning lives around is one reason that the Concord Cheese Shop is carrying UTEC’s cutting boards during this holiday season. The other reason is the boards’ high quality.
“As a businessperson, quality is the most important aspect to me. And of course, I like knowing I’m supporting an amazing program,” Lovis says.
The cutting boards are made from 100% reclaimed East Coast hardwoods, thanks to Keiver-Willard Lumber Corp., and there is a variety of sizes and styles. Lovis likes the boards so much that he plans to order more items from UTEC in 2017 – for use in his shop. He is hoping to get a larger version of one cutting board that he particularly admires and hopes to also order tabletops for the Cheese Shop’s eating area.
“I love the craftsmanship, and I believe deeply in UTEC’s mission,” Lovis says. He maintains an ongoing commitment to an effort he regards as economic development as much as human development. “Over the years, I’ve served on UTEC’s board, provided financial support and mentoring about retail and food businesses, and I’m always happy to give a talk at a local fundraiser.”
Meanwhile, he makes sure he always has a young person around the shop to coach and encourage as that other cheese shop owner encouraged him back in the 1970s. Paying it forward.
To view a brief video of UTEC’s Woodworking program, click here.
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Source: Lowell Sun