Celebrating Gordon Gottsche

The new Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center front entrance

The new Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center. Click for event photo gallery.

Just-A-Start supporters pause to recognize founder’s contributions to Cambridge and beyond.

It was a ‘who’s who’ of people who love Cambridge:  state senators and representatives past and present, city councilors and school committee members, dignitaries from the city’s corporate and educational institutions, neighbors, and youth.
All came together on Friday, Nov. 14th to recognize the man who founded Just-A-Start and through his passion and perseverance, built the small non-profit into a major player in creating opportunity, strengthening community, and improving the lives of low to moderate income families of Cambridge.
“Gordon went about not just fixing buildings, but changing lives,” said state Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Gordon, I hope you realize the impact you’ve had on so many people. I hope you do, but I don’t think you do.”
Gottsche, who retired in 2013, started Just-A-Start in 1968. Then, it was a small, grassroots program helping at-risk youths through small projects such as cleaning up playgrounds and parks or basic housing rehabilitation work. Through Gottsche’s stewardship, Just-A-Start has become a dynamic and successful multi-service agency focused on issues important to low and moderate income families: affordable housing, community engagement, workforce development, and educational initiatives.
“Gordon embodies all of the characteristics of a really great community development professional,” said Van Spanos. “Vision, creativity, and dedication made JAS what it is today.”
More than 100 people came to the ceremony for renaming Just-A-Start’s education center at 1175 Cambridge Street as the Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center, a testament to the number of people Gottsche’s work impacted.
“What Gordon has done over these past 40 years is remarkable,” said JAS’s executive director, Deborah Ruhe. “It’s up to us now to not just commemorate what he’s done, but to preserve it and ensure we continue to build on his success.”
Dignitaries read proclamations from the state house and city hall.
“He has given so much to our community over the years,” said State Rep. Tim Toomey, “Gordon was always fighting for the right thing to do and he didn’t care who he offended or what he said. We owe such a debt of gratitude to Gordon Gottsche, we could name the city of Cambridge after you.”
“Gordon has left quite a legacy,” said Cambridge Mayor David Maher.
Victor Santos, a graduate of Just-A-Start’s YouthBuild program, said he is eternally grateful for what Gordon started all those years ago. “This community means a lot to me. This is not just a building, this is a home… You started this and I’m proud to help carry on your legacy.”


CAMBRIDGE – Just-A-Start, the Cambridge-based economic development agency focused on creating opportunity, strengthening community, and improving lives, has been awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The grant, spread over three years, will be used to support academic and occupational skills training for at-risk youth.

“This provides a foundation of support for the JAS YouthBuild program serving some of the neediest and most underserved youth in Cambridge, Chelsea, and surrounding communities,” said Deborah Ruhe, executive director of Just-A-Start. “This type of funding shows that others recognize the work we are doing and that people believe in our mission and our track record of success.”

The YouthBuild program aligns with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative and job-driven training agenda by promoting a “stepping stone” approach that provides a seamless progression from education to work-based training and results in good paying jobs for young adults. The community-based nature of these grants ensures that services are provided where they are needed most and are intended to reach the hardest to serve youth.

JAS YouthBuild is a non-residential, community-based alternative education program that provides classroom instruction and occupational skills training to youth ages 16 to 24 who have been in the juvenile justice system, are aging out of foster care, have dropped out of high school, or are otherwise at-risk of failing to reach key educational and career milestones.

“YouthBuild offers thousands of young people the tools, resources and opportunities they need to punch their ticket to the middle class,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “These federal grants are part of our broader effort to invest in the future of our nation’s youth and help them climb the ladder of opportunity.”

A mission-driven organization that makes a difference every day in the lives of the people we serve, Just-A-Start is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) community development corporation. JAS focuses on three major program areas: the development and operation of affordable housing; stabilization of existing housing; and education, training and job placements. Each year hundreds of individuals and families are served by Just-A-Start and given the tools and resources to grow.

Biogen Idec and Just-A-Start Announce Program To Help Unemployed Teens

CAMBRIDGE – Biogen Idec and Just-A-Start are collaborating on a program to address the problem of teenage unemployment during the summer in the Cambridge community.

Biogen Idec has committed $18,000 to Just-A-Start to fund youth programming that will match a dozen teenagers between the age of 16 and 19 with job placements at local non-profit organizations.

“Biogen Idec is a true supporter of the Cambridge community and acts such as these show that the company really does care about the well-being of young adults and the non-profit community also,” said Deborah Ruhe, executive director of Just-A-Start. “We’re thankful of Biogen Idec’s support of Cambridge youth and support of Just-A-Start.”

Through its youth programming, JAS will identify Cambridge teenagers between the ages of 16-9 and prospective employers for job placements. The placements will be for six to seven weeks, beginning July 7th.  Most positions will be for 25 hours per week at $8.25 per hour.  Just-A-Start staff will provide program support to both the teenagers and the employers.

“Building strong communities is a foundation of Biogen Idec’s corporate philanthropic philosophy,”  said Chris Barr, associated director of community relations for Biogen Idec. “Providing an opportunity for local teens to gain meaningful employment experience, while impacting their communities in a positive way benefits everyone.”

About Biogen Idec

Through cutting-edge science and medicine, Biogen Idec discovers, develops and delivers to patients worldwide innovative therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, hemophilia and autoimmune disorders. Founded in 1978, Biogen Idec is the world’s oldest independent biotechnology company. Patients worldwide benefit from its leading multiple sclerosis therapies. For product labeling, press releases and additional information about the Company, please visit

Van Spanos leaving Cambridge better than she found it


After 45 years of community building, Spanos retiring from Just-A-Start

CAMBRIDGE – For Evangeline “Van” Spanos, it has always been about building community.

Ms. Spanos, who began working at Just-A-Start in 1969 as the community organization officer for the Wellington Harrington Neighborhood Renewal Program, said helping people achieve their dreams through education, training, and employment made coming to work every day truly enjoyable.

This month, after 45 years, Ms. Spanos announced her retirement from Just-A-Start, the Cambridg-based non profit dedicated to creating opportunity, strengthening community, and improving lives.

“I think if I had to name a highlight of my career, you know, it would be two things: JAS’s YouthBuild and Biomedical Careers Programs,” she said. “It has been pretty exciting and gratifying to see the impact those two programs have had and continue to have on the community.”

Ms. Spanos graduated from Boston University in 1964, and earned a master’s degree in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University in 1969 before coming to Cambridge.

Through the years, Ms. Spanos was a founding member of Cambridge’s Out of School Youth Committee, a member of Cambridge’s Adult Employment Alliance, the Governance Board of the Metropolitan School to Career Partnership, and the Reaching All Youth Statewide Steering Committee. She served on the board of Cambridge Community Services, and has been secretary and then treasurer of the Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition since 1999.

“Van Spanos has been instrumental in helping make Just-A-Start the success it is today,” said Deborah Ruhe, executive director of the Cambridge-based non profit economic development agency. “Our success over these many years, our record of creating opportunity, strengthening community, and improving lives in Cambridge and beyond is because of the work of people like Van. She has been a pillar of this organization, a valuable resource to colleagues, and she leaves very big shoes to fill.”

There are not many areas of JAS that Ms. Spanos has not impacted during her tenure. She served as youth program director of JAS, overseeing the Summer Program and after-school youth programs. She developed a program for out of school youth that was a precursor to YouthBuild, involving youth in renovating affordable housing while preparing for the GED.

“I also established the Futures for Young Parents Program and took over administration of the TeenWork Program from Cambridge Community Services, which had established it in the early 1980’s,” she said. “I became Director of Training and Education in 1982, and continued to develop funding for and establish a number of other programs, including Biomedical Careers, YouthBuild and Career Connection which are still operating. Over these many years she has been instrumental in leveraging millions of dollars in federal and state funds to support these programs that have served hundreds of youth and adults from Cambridge and surrounding communities. During 9 months of 2013-2014 she also served as Interim Executive Director of Just-A-Start.

Ms. Spanos, who plans to travel and spend times with friends and family after her retirement in June, said the thing she will miss most in retirement is the people she worked with and the people she helped. “The people really are the best part of the job,” she said. “I’ve met so many people, made so many friends, I think that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

JAS Biomed Grads Celebrate Success

CHARLESTOWN – With big bright smiles and an air of confidence that comes with earning a degree, newly-minted graduates of the JAS Biomedical Careers program celebrated on Tuesday morning the first step toward a successful life.


“With job offers, internships, and interviews lining up for you, doors are beginning to open for you,” said Deborah Ruhe, executive director of the Just-A-Start, the Cambridge-based community development corporation that in conjunction with Bunker Hill Community College, administers the 9-month certificate program.

Since its inception in 1993, the JAS Biomedical Careers program has produced more than 500 graduates and placed many in the biotech and biomedical industry in Cambridge and Boston.

The JAS Biomed Careers Program is to provide comprehensive biotechnology skills training to adults who do not have access to higher educational programs due to financial constraints, and provide well-trained entry-level technicians and lab support members for biotechnical, research, and medical industries.

Ms. Ruhe reminded the audience that the mission of JAS is to create opportunity and help people improve their lives, and realize the unique pathways provided by the American dream.

“You are an amazing group, expanding your options and opportunities through dedication and hard work,” Ms. Ruhe said. “I wish you well as you continue your life’s journey.”

State Senator Sal DiDomenico lauded the graduates for their dedication to themselves and each other, and noting that his first official act as a state senator was to secure funding for JAS, a program he said he values very much.

Other featured speakers included Mark Wigfall, Associate Director of Workforce Development for Bunker Hill Community College, Stephen Meunier, Associate Director of Public Affairs for Genzyme, and Dr. Pam Y. Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College.

Dr. Eddinger told the graduates she wished the JAS Biomedical Careers Program existed when her family came to America from Hong Kong when she was a child. She said her father worked as a waiter and her mother as a seamstress so she could have a professional career.

“It is a joy for me to work in a place like this that partners with an organization such as Just-A-Start,” she said. “It is an honor. Congratulations.”

Van Spanos, director of education and training for JAS presented the Warren P. MacEachern Memorial Award to Manoj Acharya for his contributions to the JAS Biomedical Careers Program, and Teachers James Kim and Kari Jensen introduced co-valedictorians Brian Jewell and Indrani Nandi.

John Witt, program director for JAS, encouraged the graduates to use the network of fellow JAS Biomed alumni and not to forget about the instructors and others rooting for them at JAS. “Our program is all about you,” he said.

The 2014 JAS Biomed Careers Program graduates are: Manoj Acharya, Nasima Akter, Maryam Aqchour, Kenny Beauzille Marcellus, Stanley Bernard, Romuald Cabrol, Misgun Ghebreselasse, Woubshet Hailu, Hussein Hare, Andre Henriques, Mark Hines , Brian Jewell, Shamima Khahan, Rachel Marshall, Indrani Nandi, Angella Pottinger, Brentha Sathyuendra, and Sarah Thomas.

Life Sciences Center awards $46K grant to Cambridge’s Just-A-Start

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has awarded a $46,000 capital grant to Cambridge-based Just-A-Start to support the organization’s Biomedical Careers Program.

The funds will be used to purchase a bioreactor, autoclave, and support tools including computer, camera, and monitor equipment and accessories. The grant also provides management and staff with training for using the new equipment.

The JAS Cambridge Biomedical Careers Program has been providing occupational skills training to individuals in partnership with Bunker Hill Community College for 23 years. The program is free to income-eligible candidates and graduates earn 19 college credits. The program has placed more than 400 graduates in entry-level positions in the biomedical and biotechnology arena.

The bioreactor and autoclave will enhance laboratory curriculum for an anticipated 25 participants in next fall’s academic class, as well as class members for five more classes, reaching 125 students over the next six years. The TV, camera and computer will be utilized to enhance student’s communication skills, whether it is to improve their job interview competencies or to effectively communicate as a team once they secure employment. Many participants are immigrants who possess impressive backgrounds and skills, but at times are limited in their verbal skills. The equipment will help bridge that gap.

“We are so grateful to MLSC for these equipment grant funds that will enable our students to practice cell culture using an industry-standard bioreactor,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, JAS program manager. “This grant award will make pharmaceutical manufacturing standards come alive at the Cambridge Biomedical Careers Program.”

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Bassett Furniture Donates $10,000 in Furniture to Just-A-Start House

Faces lit up, smiles broadened, and tears came to the eyes of four teen moms as they watched their shelter get a makeover.

“Honestly if feels good: somebody actually came here and they actually care how we’re living,” said 18-year-old Jocelyn Collazo.

Bassett Furniture donated $10,000 worth of furniture and items to revitalize two rooms in Just-A-Start’s Somerville’s shelter for pregnant and parenting teen women yesterday.

The fact that Bassett Furniture cared enough resonated with most residents of the program, and it brought tears to 20-year-old Angelica Dume.

“This is a home for most of us,” said Dume, mother to 8-month old Anthony, “it means a lot, now we can just sit there and play with the kids and stuff.”

The living room was once full of old shabby couches and books worn from years of being handled by children’s curious hands. Now, it’s a room with a dark beige sectional, two chairs, an ottoman, an end table, artwork and new books.

Having the furniture means more than just having a room look better, said Just-A-Start Executive Director Deborah Ruhe. “It raises their self esteem to think they are worthy to be in a place they think is attractive.”

Just-A-Start is a multi service non-profit agency helps people get back on their feet and independent. The shelter has room for 12 mothers, and up to 18 children.

“This is not a one and done,” promised Bassett’s Director of Advertising, Jay Moore, “This is something we are going to support; we want to be a good part of this community and this will be on going in the future.”

Surprise deliver, teen shelter gets makeover