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Power to the People: Elsa Laboy

When Elsa Laboy speaks, people listen. Whether encouraging people to vote, advocating at zoning board hearing, or organizing a neighborhood cleanup, Elsa’s enthusiasm and passion for a cause inspire others to get involved. Her work with Coalition for a Better Acre has given her the power to empower others.

For those who know Elsa Laboy today, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, this vocal neighborhood leader was a quiet new resident who kept to herself and was not engaged with the community around her.

Elsa Laboy moved from her native Puerto Rico to the U.S. in 1993, first to Connecticut and then to Lowell, where one of her grown sons had married and settled. She became a teaching assistant at the city’s Sullivan School and enjoying spending time at church and with her family, but she knew little of the community or neighborhood where she lived.

A knock on the door that changed a life

That changed the day a community organizer with Coalition for a Better Acre, knocked on the door of Elsa’s Fletcher Street apartment, inviting her to take part in a neighborhood barbecue.

"Since that day, I have been very involved in CBA,” Elsa says. “They have taught me how to help people get involved in their community, to get engaged and understand how they can make a difference.”

With a strong commitment to its mission of resident empowerment, CBA provides opportunities and training for residents to develop and strengthen skills in leadership and community organizing. For example, CBA recently sent Elsa and several others to national training institutes in San Jose, Washington DC, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Chicago. And she recently went to the Statehouse in Boston to meet with the city’s representatives.

A responsibility to fight for what's important

“I’ve learned that politicians don’t know what’s happening in our neighborhoods and our city unless we tell them. It is our responsibility to go and fight for what’s important to us. You can’t just sit back and wait or expect other people to make it happen,” she says.

Today, Elsa serves on the CBA membership committee, which plans community events to help neighbors come together. She also serves on the CBA Board of Directors, where she is developing skills and experience that will enable her to serve as a strong member of other community boards and organizations.

With the depth of her skills and experience, she is now comfortable attending government hearings and advocating for issues she cares deeply about, such as affordable housing. She has been a strong voice in support of new affordable housing in the Acre, including recent projects at the former St. Joseph’s High School on Merrimack Street and the new Unity Place Apartments at 482 Moody St.

She is perhaps most enthusiastic about the adaptive reuse of the former St. Joseph’s Elementary School on Moody Street, transformed into 15 stunning new apartments with graceful high ceilings, brilliant natural light, and gleaming floors. It’s where she now calls home.

"They have empowered me."

“I’m very happy here,” she says. “The apartments are very beautiful. I’m very comfortable, and the building is so clean and well cared for.”

Not surprisingly, Elsa has already taken it upon herself to get her new neighbors more involved in the building and the neighborhood.

“Working with CBA has allowed me to become so much stronger. They have empowered me, and I can pass that on to other people, to help them understand that together, we can accomplish so much. If you believe in yourself and you work hard at it, you can accomplish anything.”