We are The People We Serve
NorthStar is a multiservice state-certified “minority nonprofit organization” – a designation based on the agency’s maintaining a board of directors on which people of color constitute a majority. We are a leader in the Greater New Bedford education and human services community in recruiting, promoting, and retaining staff who represent the linguistic and cultural diversity of our area. Our multicultural composition and multilingual capacity enable us to build strong relationships with families and to send a strong message that they can achieve success in our programs.
Our history and mission
Born from local community action during the civil rights movement, NorthStar Learning Centers remains grounded in our original vision to provide individualized, strength-based, culturally responsive, family-focused programs that help children, youth, and families realize their strengths and dreams. Founded in 1974, we have grown from one neighborhood-based preschool center to a constellation of programs that serve New Bedford area children from birth to adulthood. In all our programs, we are committed to serving the underserved, reaching the “hard-to-reach,” and treating the “hard-to-treat.” Our mission is:
“to help young people overcome poverty, discrimination, educational disadvantage, violence, and other adversity through learning essential competencies and hopefulness with which they can transform their lives and communities. In advocacy and public policy, we as a minority-led nonprofit organization advance diversity as a strength and resource to open pathways to create a better life.”
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Significance of our Name, NorthStar
Our name refers to a powerful symbol of freedom in our national and local heritage. Following the North Star on their dangerous journey northward, many escaped slaves sought refuge in the New Bedford area. The famous ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived his first years as a free man in New Bedford. In 1847, he launched a newspaper called North Star. The use of “learning” in our name refers to not only school learning, but also lifelong learning in all aspects of one’s life – personally, aesthetically, professionally, socially, and spiritually.
We are the people we serve
NorthStar is a multiservice minority nonprofit organization. We are a leader in hiring, promoting, and retaining staff who represent Greater New Bedford’s different cultural communities. Our staff diversity and fluency in the languages spoken in our community send a strong message to the people we serve that they can achieve success in our programs.
Our Values & Priorities
Values that run through all our programs include:
Building on Strength
We focus on what’s right with children, youth, and families instead of what’s wrong with them.
Doing What it Takes
We meet children, youth, and families “where they’re at.” Our youth-serving programs include “24/7” availability; after-hours mediation in a family conflict can prevent a youth being removed from their home.
Where schooling is the most reliable route out of poverty, we focus on school enrollment (keeping youth in regular schools whenever possible), consistent attendance, more positive attitudes toward school, higher grades, grade promotion, and educational goal-setting beyond high school.
We bring the special challenges facing children, youth, and families of color to the policy tables—such as disproportionate minority representation in juvenile justice, special education, school discipline, and foster care. Beyond ethnicity, cultural competency includes recognizing the strengths of youth culture.
Recognizing that the multiple issues disadvantaged children, youth, and families face cross professional, bureaucratic, and agency boundaries, we have has long been committed to teaming up with other organizations to expand, improve, and integrate services and supports.
In addition to providing community-based programs, we work with families, government agencies, and other organizations to remove historic barriers to educational and economic opportunity, to increase our society’s investment in children, and to open pathways for all children and families to achieve a better life.
Why we use the term “participant.”
Referring to the children, youth, and families we serve as “participants” (or “program participants”) aligns with our approach of engaging people as partners in the helping process. (“Participant” is already widely used in youth-serving and other kinds of programming.) Consistent with strength-based practices in early childhood education, afterschool, and youth development programming, we strive to meaningfully involve children and youth, according to their age and developmental level, in activity planning and program design.
Moreover, the term “participant” is inclusive of the wide range of people—including, children, youth, their parents, and other family members—and the disparate service-recipient relationships they have with our multiple programs. It is as applicable to children as to adults. It can cover the spectrum of compulsory/non-compulsory involvement in a program.
We also have adopted the term “participant” because it offers an open-ended conception of the relationship between those who provide services and those who use them. We hope and expect employees to fully participate in the programs they provide—to approach their work with intentionality, responsibility, and openness that can bring about “transformative learning”—where employees learn with and from the children, youth, and family members in our programs.
We also simply refer to “people in our programs” or “people we work with”—more or less neutral, but at least not signifying inequality. Does it matter what terms we use? Yes! Different terms represent different ways of characterizing relationships between those who provide services and those who participate in them.
Effectively eliminated suspension and expulsion in practices in NorthStar programs.
There is compelling evidence that school zero tolerance and attending suspension and expulsion from school are disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities and are ineffective in deterring future problems. Unfortunately, many community-based and even university-affiliated youth programs subscribe to the same approach, where failure to abide by the rules triggers lock-step temporary or permanent exclusion from the program. The children/youth who are most in need of and stand to benefit most from program participation are most likely to be subject to disciplinary exclusion. This said, NorthStar has moved toward preventing, strictly limiting, and ultimately eliminating suspension and expulsion practice in response to youth misconduct. We have been able to adopt a no-exclusion approach by using a broad constellation of strategies that schools have employed to reduce disciplinary exclusions while maintaining school safety:
- Create opportunities for youth and staff to form personal connections and build strong bonds.
- Provide staff training focused on positive behavior management and on the underlying causes of disruptive behavior.
- Widely promote a set of expectations on youth behavior, along with high behavioral expectations.
- Implement a system of positive behavior support and strategic intervention that are age-appropriate and designed to progressively and effectively address and reduce the youth’s misconduct.
- Focus on preventing or diffusing potential disruptive situations before they erupt, along with a clear protocol on calmly and appropriately responding to crises.
- Demonstrate in all interactions and activities with youth that we value their participation, contributions, and unique personal characteristics.
Adopted a trauma-informed approach.
We have trauma-informed approach in our service delivery that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Practicing “universal trauma precautions,” we presume that most youth, their parents, and other connected persons with whom we are working are coping in some way or another with the impact of trauma. A universal trauma precautions approach reduces the likelihood that we will inadvertently re-traumatize the individual and thereby interfere with their healing and recovery. In contrast to a rigid disciplinary code, a trauma-informed perspective recognizes that some youth are more adversely impacted by past and present trauma and that there may be valid reasons to personalize consequences according to the needs and level of functioning of individual youth, while still holding them accountable for their actions.
Addressing underlying social problems.
Our programs do not operate in a vacuum. Most of the children and youth in our programs experience the pileup, or “cumulative risk,” of social problems such as poverty, discrimination, unemployment, substandard housing, child abuse and neglect, violence, substance abuse, and environmental injustice. Their problems are interrelated and mutually reinforcing, generating further difficulties. Individually and organizationally, we are involved in working with government, other service providers, community organizations, and families to reduce these social problems.