With ECCF’s help, Anita and James Worden give time and support to local causes
When it comes to philanthropy, some people donate their time. Others champion their favorite causes with financial support. Then there are people like Anita Worden who jump in with both feet – because she can, and she believes she should.
“We are fortunate in so many ways for what we have, and to not see other people get the benefit of that would be shameful,” said Worden, an entrepreneur and North Andover resident who, along with her husband, James, gives to causes they care about through the couple’s donor advised fund at ECCF. “For me, giving back is about trying to elevate peoples’ stations in life and increase opportunities for everyone to succeed.”
For the Wordens, philanthropic giving became a no-brainer after they began turning a profit at their Lawrence-based business, Solectria Renewables, hatched during their days at MIT and later headquartered in a historic mill building on Merrimack Street.
They gave to Lazarus House, Bread & Roses and the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, just to name a few. But, Anita added, “one of the needs that we wanted to focus on, really because of what we saw in our own business, was ESL programming.”
Worden recalls the exact moment when supporting opportunities for non-English speakers to learn English became a “passion point” for her.
The custodian at the Merrimack Street building where she worked approached Worden to tell her about his uncle, a man who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican and had experience in technology. “He would be really good in your company,” the man told her.
“His uncle may have had the best resume, but he couldn’t speak a word of English,” said Worden. “My managers at the time were not bilingual, all of our instructions were in English and I thought, ‘Gosh, that is just such a disservice to this community.’ Here we are, we’ve got these amazing people who come here with technical backgrounds and they can’t even work here.”
It was then that they made the decision to give to organizations that were offering those opportunities for non-English speakers, like Family Services of the Merrimack Valley and the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club. It is a cause she feels just as passionate about – if not more so – today.
The Wordens have other local, regional and Global philanthropic passions too. Over the years, they have focused their giving on basic needs organizations, environmental initiatives and STEM education. (Anita and James have also endowed a fund at MIT to benefit the award-winning Solar Car Racing Team, an activity founded by James as a student.)
In the last year, the couple has put more emphasis on unrestricted gifts, a move that nonprofits say has a huge impact on their ability to be nimble in their work. The Wordens also started to include the next generation in the charitable giving process by asking their kids and nieces and nephews about causes they care about, and then substituting holiday gifts with donations to nonprofits championing those causes.
“I thought this was a great way for them to start to think about giving back in a more personal way,” Worden said.
Those donations – largely shaped by the historic events of 2020 – included gifts to the ACLU, Greater Boston Legal Services and the Massachusetts Bail Fund.
Anita is just as dedicated to her volunteer roles as she is to being strategic and inclusive with her family’s charitable giving. She serves on the boards of Northern Essex Community College and Lawrence-based Youth Development Organization. And she is actively involved with organizations such as The Lawrence Partnership and EforAll. James dedicates most of his volunteer time to the North Andover Historical Society as he leads the renovation of the 1960s museum into a state-of-the-art facility called the Stevens Center. As a visionary for the project, he has focused on getting to net zero energy which has been achieved using insulation, solar power and geothermal heat. In addition to expanded space for the Society’s collections, archive, exhibits and bookstore, he has planned space for a lobby café, 67-seat black box theater and an energy and transportation exhibit hall that emphasizes energy efficiency and renewable energy.
In 2019, Anita joined the Board of Trustees at ECCF, a position she says she is “tickled pink” about.
She pointed to a sincere belief in ECCF’s mission and dedication to community as reasons for not only joining the board, but also transferring their fund – which was formerly at a large financial institution – to the foundation.
“The first and easiest thing for me about moving our fund was knowing that the administrative fees were going to an organization where I could talk to staff and know exactly what they’re doing with the fees,” Worden said.
The foundation’s leadership during the Greater Lawrence gas disaster, Worden said, was enough of a reason to move her family’s fund to ECCF, but it is also the connections the foundation facilitates between fundholders and nonprofits that is so beneficial to her family’s giving.
“ECCF exposes us to things that are going on in the community and organizations that are having an impact,” said Worden. “And it opens your eyes.”
“This is work in our own community and to me, that’s just the most important work we could be doing,” she added.
Living a short distance away from a food pantry, seeing people line up for food each week, Anita said she is reminded often of the duality that she sees right here in Essex County, an area of vast resources but also of great need.
“Giving locally to me is incredibly important because you can see the impact you’re making,” she said. “For me personally, giving locally is about seeing how there is need right here, from many walks of life.”