Campus & Community

Community Gifts supports work of local environmental rights group

4 min read

This is the first in a series of Gazette articles highlighting some of the many initiatives and charities that Harvard affiliates can support through this month’s Community Gifts Through Harvard campaign. The Community Gifts campaign allows you to donate to a charity of your choice through cash, a check, or a payroll deduction. For more information or to pledge online, visit

What began as an environmental dream for two Roxbury-based lawyers has blossomed into a reality.

In 1993, Charlie Lord and Bill Shutkin founded Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), an environmental rights group that combined their legal expertise with their passion for environmental and social justice. Their goal: to create a means for the disenfranchised to fight for their right to a healthy environment.

Together the pair envisioned a grassroots organization that would sustain itself through broad community involvement and support. Fourteen years later, the two men have their wish.

Today the organization is divided into three separate programs, has 500 dues-paying members, and has assisted countless people in the Greater Boston area with a variety of environmental justice concerns.

The group’s Services to Allies division includes an extensive network of pro bono attorneys and environmental professionals who work with low-income residents to address environmental and public health issues in their local communities. The work ranges widely, from the monitor and cleanup of hazardous waste sites, to neighborhood revitalization projects.

ACE also runs the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, a youth-led movement that promotes youth involvement in environmental issues. To limit diesel pollution, considered largely responsible for the state’s high rates of child asthma, the group helped craft legislation that would require state-owned diesel vehicles as well as diesel-run municipal garbage and recycling trucks be retrofitted with special filters. In 2001, ACE successfully helped press for a similar measure that required the MBTA to purchase 350 buses that run on compressed natural gas.

“Seeing a young person … leave the program … really feeling like their voice is important; it matters; it’s valid” — that, said ACE Youth Educator/Organizer Brandon McDowell, is the best reward.

The third division of ACE, The T Riders’ Union, advocates for better public transportation in Greater Boston. The program focuses on making public transportation reliable, affordable, and accessible.

Daniel A. Goodenough, Takeda Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, serves on ACE’s board of directors and is the chairman of its development committee. He said the organization provides an invaluable service to the community, giving voice to those who suffer environmental injustice.

“It’s a wonderful organization that believes in the power of the community. It is totally defined and driven by community people.”

Over the years ACE has come to rely on donations from organizations like Community Works, one of the beneficiaries of the Community Gifts Through Harvard campaign.

“Community Works is a portfolio of social-justice-oriented organizations,” said Fran Froehlich, the group’s co-founder. “Within that portfolio are 30 organizations that address many of the critical issues facing society. Our 30 member groups are committed to applying the values of community, inclusion, and self-determination to the problems they address. ACE is a perfect example of those values. We are proud to have them as part of Community Works.”

Holly Unger, ACE’s development and major gifts coordinator, said support from institutions like Harvard means financial assistance as well as important public exposure.

“Because places like Harvard have these campaigns, people that we never would have been able to reach have the opportunity to learn about our organization and the issues that we are working on and how they can help and be a part of it.”