Ready. Set. Ride!

bike03There will be Spandex. There will be chin straps. There will be sore rear-ends and rubbery legs. There will be fun . . . and a lot of money raised for good causes.


This coming Saturday, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation holds its 2nd Annual River Ride Bike-a-Thon and Family Fun Ride.


The Family Fun Ride is a 5-mile trek, while the Bike-a-Thon is a 15-mile ride looping along the Merrimack River in Lowell and Tyngsboro.


Sovanna Devin Pouv. Courtesy Angkor Dance Troupe/Narin Sinuon.

Sovanna Devin Pouv. Courtesy Angkor Dance Troupe/Narin Sinuon.

Fundraising is not something that comes to me naturally, but riding a bike, I could do that for hours,” said Sovanna Devin Pouv, a board member of the Angkor Dance Troupe, who rode with a team to raise money to produce the Troupe’s Apsara Dancing Stones show last year.

The group was involved in a lot of fundraising, but none as much fun as the bike-a-thon. They created a team made up of board members, dancers, staff and friends; had team jerseys made and bombarded social media to solicit support. Steve Flynn and Linda Sopheap Sou. Courtesy Angkor Dance Troupe/Narin Sinuon.

Steve Flynn and Linda Sopheap Sou. Courtesy Angkor Dance Troupe/Narin Sinuon.

“Additionally we were able to meet other wonderful organizations from around the area and learn more about the work they’re doing,” added Pouv. “It was a very fun and community building event where I’m proud to say Team Angkor will be participating again this year.”

Other organizations with teams pedaling for a cause this year include the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell, who are raising funds for their music program; the Lowell Community Health Center; the New England Quilt Museum; the Lowell Philharmonic Orchestra; Habitat for Humanity; and many others.

Last year, community organizations raised $25,000 – by going for a bike ride.

Julia Gavin, a writer at UMass Lowell and board member of the Arts League of Lowell is riding for the first time this year to raise money for the new education program ALL is launching.

“The event is the same day at the start of Lowell Open Studios so this is also my way, as a non-artist, of celebrating the weekend,” she said.  “I think it’s a great event because it’s active and it gets a lot of the city’s non-profit groups in one area to show how large the community is and how many Lowellians are dedicated to these organizations.”

One of last year’s riders, John Wooding, a Political Science professor at UMass Lowell and Chairman of the Cultural Organization of Lowell, sent me the following essay about his experience. It’s so entertaining I just couldn’t butcher it for quotes, so I’m running it as is. For those who do not know, Dr. Wooding is British, so when you read this essay please do so in a British accent.  


Greater Lowell Community Foundation’s Bike-a-Thon 2012

by John Wooding


woodingGetting my bike out of the car.  A bit chilly.  Wandering if I can do this – haven’t ridden in over a year.   But people in parking lot.  Bikes everywhere, and smiling volunteers.  Sense of excitement.  A very diverse crowd.  Lots of kids with parents and folks from all the communities of Lowell.   Some people wearing spandex (looking serious) with expensive machines.  Some older folks, maybe even older than me (thank God!).   Lots of friendly faces, all riding for a cause.


We get ready to go, helmets on and some good-natured jibes and competition.  We are off, trying not to crash into each other at the start.  We quickly thin out and the Serious Ones are already 5 blocks ahead.  I start pedaling, trying to remember how to change gear……into some neighborhoods I hadn’t seen before and I remember how much fun it is to ride.  Volunteers on every corner, cheering us on and shouting directions.  It really helps.


Half way (how far is 15 miles?) now.  A little rain, legs getting tired, some young kids ahead of me with all the energy of youth.  I will never catch ’em but that’s OK.  Across the bridge, volunteers yelling 4 more miles.  I think my legs have died.  No idea whether I am last, first or in the middle and trying to remember the route.  Pass a couple of folks, show them whose boss! Then I realize I am going the wrong way.  Ooops.  Nearly there and being cheered as I get to the end.  Folks standing by their bikes drinking water, already finished.  But I am not last!  Lots of mutual support.  Get off my bike (slowly).  Bum hurts, legs are tired.  I will probably never walk straight again.  But it was a lot of fun and I raised a load of money for COOL.  This is what it should be about – getting some exercise, seeing a new Lowell, raising money for the things we believe in, the things we care about.

For more information about the Bike-a-Thon, including how to donate to a team (or 6) visit www.


Pvt. Chester G. Colbath Memorial Square

Colbath 016Friday afternoon the city dedicated a memorial square at the corner of Stratham and Deerfield Streets to U.S. Army Pvt. Chester G. Colbath, killed in Italy on March 4, 1944 while serving his country in World War II. He was 19-years-old. He is buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.

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Lowell Reads What Lowell Writes

Literary Lowell.

Thoughts immediately turn to Jack Kerouac; and although he may be the Mill City’s most widely-known writer, the literary scene in the city today is much more diverse and exciting than it was in the mid-20th century world of Kerouac.

That diversity was showcased last Friday night at the United Teen Equality Center, where the Pollard Memorial Library held its Lowell Reads Micky Ward wrap-up party themed “Lowell Reads What Lowell Writes,” featuring a talented stable of local writers including: Paul Marion, Ryan Gallagher, Ricky Orng, Dave Robinson and Rachel Norton.

There were, of course, reverent nods to Kerouac throughout the evening, beginning with Ryan Gallagher’s impressive and dramatic recitation of one of Kerouac’s most complex works, the poem “Old Angel Midnight,” and continued by Paul Marion’s reading of his own work “Johnny and the Raincoat”; a piece inspired by the day Marion spent with Johnny Depp in 1991when Edward Scissorhands made a pilgrimage to Kerouac’s hometown to buy a memento from his estate.

Gallagher, the co-founder of Bootstrap Press, also read one of his own original works, a piece titled “Cuplets.”

Ryan Gallagher performs "Old Angel Midnight"

Ryan Gallagher performs “Old Angel Midnight”

Ricky Orng, the program coordinator of  FreeVerse, read a selection of his original works including a poem written in response to a man who asked him, while he was at a film screening in Lynn, if he had lost any family members in the Cambodian genocide.

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Ricky Orng

“There are Cambodians like me born every day with the culture inside of them dead,” Orng wrote.

That piece, coming from deep inside the Cambodian-American experience was an interesting compliment to Marion’s poem about the first city-sanctioned Cambodian New Year celebration in Lowell in 1985, a “new” culture and food experience as seen through the eyes of a French-Canadian Lowellian eager to learn about his new neighbors.  

Dave Robinson, author of the popular “Sweeney On-The-Fringe,” published by Loom Press, read excerpts from his upcoming fourth Sweeney book, which is written in the Japanese Haibun style, an intriguing mix of prose and haiku.

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Dave Robinson

While you may have heard of Marion, Gallagher, Robinson and Orng before, it was a newcomer to the Lowell writer’s circle that had the room buzzing.

Rachel Norton is a Lowell High School Junior.

 friday 145Outskirts Press recently published her novel “Sara’s Song,” the story of a friendship between a jaded teenage girl and her optimistic 7-year-old friend who is battling Leukemia; the story of this remarkable relationship, a piece of historical fiction, is set amid the backdrop of  World War II Germany.

 friday 140“When I started writing and reading in Lowell there wasn’t this sort of depth, there wasn’t this bench strength,” said Marion, adding it has been exciting for him to watch Lowell grow into a literary community.


friday 159“To have a mayor that is comfortable around poetry, that says a lot about the community,” he said addressing the extremely well-read Mayor Patrick Murphy, who was in attendance. “Thank you for everything you have done for the community, for people who don’t have a loud voice, for the environment, for the artists. It has been really interesting to have someone with your vision at the head of the table.”


Sean Thibodeau, the Pollard Memorial Library’s Community Planning Librarian, who oversees the Lowell Reads program, said its purpose is simple: “To get Lowell engaged in the same story because the act of reading is often a solitary experience.”

Sean Thibodeau

Sean Thibodeau

The library obtained 50 copies of “Irish Thunder,” Bob Halloran’s book about Lowell’s favorite boxer Micky Ward and 50 copies of “A Warrior’s Heart,” Ward’s autobiography. The goal was for each copy to be borrowed once – that goal was shattered as each was taken out 2 ½ times.

“We even had some that have been stolen,” Thibodeau laughed.

Thibodeau packed a whole lot of fun into the two-week program including: Wii boxing and Micky Ward trivia for teens, a discussion with Halloran about his book, a night featuring locals who appeared in the Micky Ward biopic The Fighter, a screening of the movie, a discussion about Lowell’s boxing history and a night with Ward’s trainers Arthur Ramalho and Mickey O’Keefe.

Thibodeau opened Friday night’s event with a piece by late Irish poet Seamus Heaney, “Weighing In”, which he said could be applied to Ward’s story.

“For Micky, courage and perseverance are recurring themes,” Thibodeau said. “Both inside and outside of the ring there were 99 ways things could have gone wrong and one way to go right.” 


Weighing in

by Seamus Heaney

The 56 lb. weight. A solid iron

Unit of negation. Stamped and cast

With an inset, rung-thick, moulded, short crossbar


For a handle. Squared-off and harmless-looking

Until you tried to lift it, then a socket-ripping,

Life-belittling force—


Gravity’s black box, the immovable

Stamp and squat and square-root of dead weight.

Yet balance it


Against another one placed on a weighbridge—

On a well-adjusted, freshly greased weighbridge—

And everything trembled, flowed with give and take.


And this is all the good tidings amount to:

The principle of bearing, bearing up

And bearing out, just having to


Balance the intolerable in others

Against our own, having to abide

Whatever we settled for and settled into


Against our better judgement. Passive

Suffering make the world go round.

Peace on earth, men of good will, all that


Holds good only as long as the balance holds,

The scales ride steady and the angel’s strain

Prolongs itself at an unearthly pitch.


To refuse the other cheek. To cast the stone.

Not to do so some time, not to break with

The obedient on you hurt yourself into


Is to fail the hurt, the self, the ingrown rule.

Prophesy who struck thee! When soldiers mocked

Blindfolded Jesus and he didn’t strike back


They were neither shamed nor edified, although

Something was made manifest—the power

Of power not exercised, of hope inferred


By the powerless forever. Still, for Jesus’ sake,

 Do me a favour, would you, just this once?

Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone.


Two sides to every question, yes, yes, yes…

But every now and then, just weighing in

Is what it must come down to, and without


Any self-exculpation or self-pity.

Alas, one night when follow-through was called for

And a quick hit would have fairly rankled,


You countered that it was my narrowness

That kept me keen, so got a first submission.

I held back when I should have drawn blood.


And that way (mea culpa) lost an edge.

A deep mistaken chivalry, old friend.

At this stage only foul play cleans the slate.

Mayor Murphy is not only a lover a poetry and a student of literature, he was also a boxer, having first met Micky Ward and his infamous brother Dicky while training at the West End Gym as a kid.

friday 122“If you asked me then If I would be here talking about Micky’s writing, I’d be shocked,” Murphy said.  “First off that I’d be here, but also that I’d be talking about his writing and not his fighting.”

“Everyone has a story to tell, it is just about how you find the form to tell it,” he added, alluding to Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” about the work that goes into writing. “Good writing takes a lot of good writing itself and it takes a lot of good reading.”


By Seamus Heaney

  Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound   

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   

My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.


Lowell — Through the Lens of Youth

photovoice 021A once white door on the side of a red brick building; today it is “tagged” by graffiti. To some, it is just an unavoidable reality of urban life, an eyesore you walk by and don’t give a second thought.

Matthew Pomerleau sees something more.

“The tagging could represent possible gang-related graffiti,” he wrote in the description of the photo he took in the city’s Acre neighborhood. “The best way to make this area safer would be to clean and/or re-paint the door.”

Matthew was one of 12 young men, all of whom have been affected by violence and understand the truths of the streets of Lowell better than anyone, who recently participated in a three-month photography project.

photovoice 033The project, dubbed Photovoice, gave the participants the opportunity to express what places and situations make them feel safe or unsafe in the city through the camera lens. They met several times a week, guided by Photovoice Coordinator Kerry Dates. Funding was provided through a grant by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

On Thursday September 19, three months of work were displayed in the Mayor’s Reception Room in the Photovoice Safety Summit, an art show attracting dozens of community members as well as former Lowell Police Superintendent Ken Lavallee and City Manager Bernie Lynch.

photovoice 017photovoice 005Photovoice participants included: Saunders Khath, Brendon Ly, Brian Mao, Luis Mateo, Timothy Nuth, Tyrone Nuth, Matthew Pomerleau, Nelson Rodriguez, Angel Ruiz, Sarin Ruom, Matthew Sekayi, and Ricky Wainaina.

Saunders Khath showcased a photo titled “The Brave,” depicting Lowell Fire Department Engine 3 driving through the city’s Highlands neighborhood.

photovoice 015“The reason that I took this photo was that it made me feel safe to see the fire truck in the neighborhood,” he wrote. “Although I am unsure of what the reason was that they are in this particular area, it is nice to see them. I also took this picture because the American flag was flying in the photo next to the Engine.”

Another of Khath’s photos depicts kids playing in the playground at Clemente Park. It looks like a nice scene of kids having fun, but he sees it differently.

Khath explains the scene made him feel unsafe because the kids were playing unsupervised and the park is close to the road in a neighborhood that can be dangerous.

“The park is also littered and the children are playing with it,” he added. “This is a concern of mine because it is common to see young children outside by themselves without supervision. We can encourage the community to pick up litter in the parks so that people do not get hurt.”

City Manager Bernie Lynch was particularly taken by Ricky Wainaina’s “Happy Place,” an interestingly-angled photo that shows a bench downtown where Wainaina often went to think.

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Ricky Wainaina discusses his photography with City Manager Bernie Lynch.

“I could sit here and clear my head and was able to have the courage to keep pushing forward, which has gotten me to where I am today,” he wrote. “I hope the city and the community continue to do a good job in maintaining the beauty of this area.”

photovoice 030Lowell Police Department Deputy Superintendent William Taylor was impressed by the work the young men put into the project and the work they produced.

“This project gave these youth a positive alternative and an opportunity to showcase their artistic talent,” said Taylor. “Additionally, it gave them a chance to have their voice heard by city leaders and residents.”

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with several attendees expressing their admiration for the young men and the photos they took,” Taylor added. “I personally was very pleased with the event and the number of city leaders and community members who expressed their support for these young men and this project.”

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There’s A Lot To Learn From Lowell . . .

Adam 148On Monday afternoon, Lowell’s Urban Development Rock Star (aka Assistant City Manager/Director of the Department of Planning and Development) Adam Baacke guided 60 City Managers from across the nation on a 90-minute tour of the downtown and Hamilton Canal District. The group is staying in Boston this week attending the International City/County Management Association’s annual conference.

Baacke told the story of when he first started working for the city in 2000 and was nearly laughed out of town when he asked others in the Planning Department where they go to get lunch — there was, essentially, nowhere to go.

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That restaurant desert was irrigated though the development of more residential units downtown, as well as low-interest start-up loans through the Lowell Development Financial Corporation  to new businesses that were otherwise “unbankable”. Baacke acknowledged that those businesses were a risk, but two-thirds of them did stay in business for five years or longer; in the general retail/commercial market only one-third of small businesses survive that long, making it a risk worth taking.

He also explained that because the LDFC is a private non-profit consortium made up of eight lenders, the amount of capital put up by each lender is not substantial, so the loss to any one lender when a loan is defaulted upon is minimal, and written off by the lender.

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Lowell National Historic Park Assistant Superintendent Peter Aucella and Adam Baacke tell the group about the partnership between the Park and the City, in front of Boarding House Park.

The other big piece of the city’s redevelopment can be attributed to the use of state and federal historic and new market tax credits. They way that works is the developer sells the tax credits to large companies, such as an insurance company, at less than the dollar value; this provides immediate capital to the developer while giving the big business a tax break.

“When you hear those stories of big companies not paying taxes, it is because they buy up a lot of these tax credits, which are actually an investment back into communities,” said Baacke. “I think it is a better use of funds than they way the federal government generally spends money.”

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Dan Drazen of Trinity Financial, the developer of the Hamilton Canal District, and Adam Baacke address the ICMA members in the lobby of Appleton Mills.

The largest chunk of financing for the 130-unit Appleton Mill redevelopment, which the group visited, was funded through state and federal historic and housing tax credits that were purchased for $42 million by insurance giant MetLife Inc.

Several of the City Managers on the tour were ready to abandon their hometowns and move to the Appleton Mills by the conclusion of the tour.

Ready. Set. Play!

friday 097

Playing is fun. And it is good for you — physically, emotionally, socially.

On Friday, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell celebrated Nickolodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play, a day designed to embrace being active and having fun. Who can argue with that?

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More than 200 kids participated in games, obstacles courses, tug-o-war, dancing, musical chairs and bounced the heck out of a bounce house.

Mayor Patrick Murphy presented Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell Executive Director Joe Hungler with a proclamation officially proclaimnig Friday September 20 Worldwide Day of Play in Lowell. The essence of the day embodies the goals city government has for all of Lowell’s citizens — a healthy lifestyle and more FUN!

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