Interview Series 3

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USES 130 Anniversary: Interview Series 3
Profiles in Leadership: Ken Kruckemeyer and Carmen Duarte

Collectively, Ken Kruckemeyer and Carmen Duarte represent nearly 50 years of service to USES, bound by sharing the same South End block and neighborhood friendship. Ken’s relationship with the South End began in the 1960s when he and his wife, Ann, moved to a house on Holyoke Street. Drawn in by the architecture and affordability, the budding architect and EMT were rapidly captivated by the depth and breadth of the community they found there.

Across the street at #25 was the Harriet Tubman House, one of the original local settlement houses that had evolved into United South End Settlements. It was the meeting place for the Cosmopolitan Neighborhood Association, a group of neighbors, mostly women, “who were the real backbone of the neighborhood,” according to Kruckemeyer. They met monthly to address everything from intolerable city services to housing abandonment. Working with them, he learned the depth of neighborhood challenges, and techniques for self-advocacy.

“Across our back alley at #9 Braddock Park was the Robinson family,” Kruckemeyer recalled, “Virginia Robinson moved to that house with her family in the 1920s. When I met her, she was in her 90s. People sat on the stoops of their houses in those days, and I recall sitting there with my daughter while she told us about working with Harriet Tubman in the early 1900s. It brought the power of individual action from the 1840s to my front door.”

“We were immigrants, in a sense, from Cincinnati. Our neighbors were a wealth of support and connection and knowledge for us,” Kruckemeyer said. “That’s where USES excels – at providing a place and ways for people to learn and connect and become engaged members of society.” USES and its people inspired Kruckemeyer to put his technical training and energy into work to benefit his neighbors and their neighborhood.

That opportunity came out of an initiative by the men at the Tubman House, Robert Fortes and Isaac Graves. They were working to stop the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s plan to demolish housing to make way for a new highway which would have ripped through the neighborhood at the end of Holyoke Street.

In 1970, Kruckemeyer and his neighbors formed the Tubman Area Planning Council to resist the proposed highway and advocate for new housing. After the highway plans were cancelled, he became the Project Manager for the Southwest Corridor Park and Orange Line tunnel that were built in place of the planned highway. The park ends at Tent City Housing, which was the result of a 1968 protest, led by Mel King, and a continuation of the advocacy to build affordable housing for area residents. Kruckemeyer served as the chair of the Tent City Task Force.

“My chosen family was the many people who were right here; representing many different heritages, experiences, incomes, and education, and each of them was important in their own way.” said Kruckemeyer. “That’s what I think a settlement house has to offer, this connection to other people. That ability to talk to anybody, to smile at anybody, to not be afraid of anybody, is an essential part of doing the right things in your life.”

In the 1980s, Kruckemeyer was invited to join the USES Board by then-Executive Director Frieda Garcia. Serving on the Board gave Kruckemeyer a voice to advocate for the people of the South End. Initiatives included divestiture from South African investments, improved early childhood education and after-school services, housing repairs for elderly homeowners, and a girls’ program at Camp Hale.

Carmen Duarte was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the U.S. as an infant. Moving to Boston for graduate school, she spent years of commuting from Rhode Island, moving to the South End in 2016. She first heard about USES because she rented an apartment from a former Board member. When she bought a condominium on Holyoke Street, she met her new neighbor Ken Kruckemeyer, who would eventually play a role in her becoming USES’ Board Chair.

Her involvement with the organization started with another coincidence. “During Covid, I went to a virtual holiday party, and on that Zoom event, there was a former USES Board member,” says Duarte. “Afterwards she messaged me and said, ‘I think you need to meet Jerrell Cox.’”

Jerrell and Carmen immediately hit it off, and Duarte volunteered the skills from her professional role as head of marketing and communications for Intact Insurance Specialty Solutions to facilitate webinars on social media marketing for Jerrell and the USES development team.

Duarte also established an ongoing relationship with USES, as part of her company’s corporate community engagement initiative, which connects Intact employees to sustained volunteering with nonprofits uplifting economic resiliency. Soon afterwards, she readily accepted an invitation to join the USES Board of Directors, coinciding with her new role at Intact, leading its DEI and Social Impact efforts across the U.S.

Six months after joining the Board, then-Board Chair Julia Johanssen announced she was stepping down. Duarte, along with Kruckemeyer, was appointed to the committee tasked with selecting Johanssen’s successor. Early in the process, Kruckemeyer expressed to Duarte that he believed she’d be an excellent candidate for the position. Though she was initially surprised by the idea, Kruckemeyer’s enthusiasm convinced her to put her candidacy forward, which was readily supported by the committee and the full Board.

Building on her initial experience as a volunteer, then joining the Board, and now as Board Chair, Duarte appreciates the opportunity to help shape USES for the future, given its mission of disrupting the cycle of poverty through the two-generation model.

“When you serve on a board and, certainly as board chair, it’s your responsibility to, first and foremost, be an advocate and ambassador for the organization,” said Duarte. “Secondly, you naturally have to become much more aware and engaged with the actual business, the impact, the mission, and what’s happening in the society at large, to provide guidance and support so the leadership team can thrive.”

Similar to Kruckemeyer, Duarte has her own set of leaders to serve alongside, enacting meaningful and welcome change for the community USES serves.

“From an impact perspective, I think it was good fortune that I stepped in as Board Chair closely following Jerrell’s appointment as CEO and Melody Valdes’ becoming Chief Program Officer. We were all newly empowered leaders, which provided the opportunity to take a fresh approach to everything. It allowed us to revisit how we work together as a board and as a leadership team. I’m proudest and most excited about that element.”

Holyoke Street neighbors Carmen and Ken share more than a street–they both passionately believe in the powerful future of USES.

“I think the whole settlement house movement, which connects people across income, education, race, continues to be alive at USES,” said Kruckemeyer. “It’s important for everyone who is a part of USES to do everything they can to learn, communicate and advocate, something the organization has a good history of, is working hard at, and is primed to continue to do for a very long time.”

As Board Chair, Duarte is using her position to help build that future.

“USES is well-positioned to affect the advancement of economic and opportunistic equity for the less advantaged members of our community,” said Duarte. “The 130-year history, our position as a persistent anchor nonprofit in the South End, and our dynamic leadership makes me optimistic that we’ll have the doors of opportunity opened to us.”