Keep Glowing: Groundwork Lawrence's annual gala goes virtual

TIM JEAN/Staff photo Groundwork Lawrence executive director Heather McMann, left, and project director Brad Buschur stand where a guided walk will take place on the Merrimack River Trail in April. The guided walk is one of the more than 20 auction items for Groundwork Lawrence Virtual Glow Gala being held on November 19th. Groundwork has teamed with others to open this trail that begins near the Abe Bashara Boathouse and will connect Lawrence and Andover. 11/13/20

Adapt, endure and keep glowing. Even in a pandemic; especially in a pandemic.

2020 saw Groundwork Lawrence and partners shoulder forth with youth, food and park programs.

The nonprofit and friends will celebrate their accomplishments and prepare for 2021 on Nov. 19 at Groundwork's annual fundraiser, called the Glow Gala, a virtual event this year.

Its accompanying silent auction opened online Nov. 5 –

Up for bid at the organization's annual fundraiser are eco-friendly art pieces and activities.

They include a CSA share of local produce; a cigar-box guitar by Haverhill craftsman Michael Forehand; a motherboard map of the Dominican Republic by Lawrence artist Will Smith Cabrera; and a guided tour on a new 1.5-mile section of the Merrimack River Trail by Andover naturalist Susan Stott.

Bids close on the night of the virtual gala. The event is open to all who register at

In an ordinary year, the gala would attract 300 people for a night of dining and music in the Everett Mills. The shindig typically raises $140,000.

This year the party, in the face of COVID-19, will be streamed online — heels optional.

It starts at 6:30 p.m. and presents an hour of music, spoken word by Groundwork youth and videos from the field.

Clips will include thoughts about the outdoors by Abdiel Perez, healthy living by Maria Natera and farming by Costello Park gardener Thomas Paulsen.

"I think it is sad we are not all together, but we are going to celebrate," said Heather McMann, Groundwork's executive director. "Just like Lawrence is resilient, we are resilient." 

McMann has been with Groundwork for 15 of the organization's 21 years, serving Lawrence – also Methuen and Haverhill – by partnering with the Lawrence Senior Center, local schools, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and other groups in four main areas.

The nonprofit expanded programs in 2020, pivoting to socially distanced operations.

Thanks largely to a $280,000 Paycheck Protection Program grant, established by the CARES Act, and $50,000 in grants from New Balance, Groundwork maintained its staff of 16 full-timers and 31 part-time Green Team of youth in summer and 12 during the school year.

The crews fulfilled their missions.

The Costello Garden grew 9,000 pounds of produce, compared to 6,000 in 2019.

Some 160 residents tended their plots at 11 community gardens throughout the city.

Three Groundwork-supported farmer's markets generated $375,000 in sales, serving 15,000 customers. That was a little less than in 2019 but more than in 2018.

In addition, in partnership with MassDevelopment, Groundwork provided 14,500 grab 'n' go meals catered by eight different restaurants in Lawrence over 10 weeks between April and June.

The meals fed hungry people amid 30% unemployment in Lawrence, and helped support economically strapped restaurants with about $150,000 in business.

The Glow Gala will celebrate Groundwork and the city's diligence and fortitude.

"Nothing has stopped for us except for our cooking classes, and they have moved to video," McMann said.

The nonprofit's annual operating budget, about $2.5 million, is raised primarily through grants and donations.

Grants are typically targeted for specific spending.

Glow Gala funds allow flexibility, spending as circumstances dictate, McMann said

"They allow us to adapt and meet the needs of the community be it COVID or gas explosions," she said.

Artisans whose items are auctioned receive half the sale price. Groundwork receives the other half.

Haverhill luthier Michael Forehand has contributed auction items for 10 years. The retired IT worker says Groundwork's reduce, re-use and recycle ethos aligns with his environmental inclinations.

He makes a dozen or two cigar-box guitars a year, selling the six-string instruments to musicians and people who decorate their homes with them.

Other items for auction include birding, bicycle and food and wine baskets, housewares and – hope springs eternal – monster seats at Fenway Park to see the Red Sox.

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