Registration for Camp Hale Summer 2024 is now open - Enroll Today!

USES Staff Share Their Stories

Four story brick building with adjacent courtyard

USES staff answer the question:

What does USES mean to me?

Jump down to the individual stories:

Dolores Ortiz, Vice President of Programs
Tamare Gordon, Lead Toddler Teacher
Ana Belanger, Lead Preschool Teacher
Melody Valdes, Coaching Manager (previously Preschool Teacher)
Lauren Allen, Food Service & Nutrition Coordinator

Dolores Ortiz, Vice President of Programs
Serving USES since 2019

Twelve years. That’s how long it took me to graduate from undergraduate and graduate school while working full time and raising two children on my own. To accomplish this goal, I needed affordable housing, support services, before and after school programs, and a network of friends who believed in me. I understood the systemic oppressions that laid the path ahead for me to simply follow despite my inclination that I, we, deserved so much more. I’ve built my career around fighting barriers that prevent access to resources and opportunities. I raised two children that are doing the same. 

I work for United South End Settlements to be part of its deep community roots, history, culture, and tradition of supporting mothers, children, and families. Mothers like me. Who better to symbolize the idea of pulling someone towards a better life than Harriet Tubman? USES is not betraying Harriet Tubman’s legacy. On the contrary, USES wants her legacy to stay alive through service and love that go beyond the walls of a building. USES is not the cause of gentrification or lack of affordable housing in the South End but, we are caught in the crossfire of something bigger. We must bring light to the issues that hurt the most vulnerable and marginalized, but not at the expense of an organization that has shone that light brightly for over a century.

Tamare Gordon, Lead Toddler Teacher
Serving USES since 2004

My name is Tamare Gordon, and I was a long time resident of the South End. Growing up in Tent City with my parents and two brothers exposed me to the realities of mixed-income housing, and although there were challenges, it gave me the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This experience gave me a new perspective, allowing me to challenge my own preconceived notions around the “haves” and “have-nots” of our community, and to start seeing people for who they are, not for what I thought they were. Working at United South End Settlements has solidified my belief that exposing our children to cultural and socio-economic diversity will enable them to grow into adults that value and respect differences. This is why I feel committed to this organization, and believe that our presence in the South End is not only valuable, but also necessary.

Ana Belanger, Lead Preschool Teacher
Serving USES since 2002

Hi, my name is Ana Belanger. I've been working for United South End Settlements for many years, and one of the things that I like about working here is the diversity. We serve families from many different cultures and backgrounds, and I particularly enjoy seeing how families here embrace each other; their children get invited to birthday celebrations, play dates, and all kinds of activities regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic backgrounds. I love to see children that once I taught as preschoolers come back to visit after graduating from high school and now attending college. 

I also have seen United South End Settlement struggle throughout the years to keep its doors open and continue serving our community. It is hard to keep on going when your expenses are way bigger than your income, and that's why we came to the conclusion that to keep our doors open, sadly we have to sell one of our buildings. After several meetings and conversations with teachers, staff and board members, we decided to sell the Harriet Tubman House. This building represents history that is true, but let's not forget that this was not the original Harriet Tubman House, and will not be the last; we will build it again and we will continue the legacy of helping one another, just as Harriet Tubman would have dreamed it. Please listen to our story; we don't want to close our doors to the future for our children.

Melody Valdes, Coaching Manager (previously Preschool Teacher)
Serving USES since 2009

My name is Melody Valdes and I work for United South End Settlements because I believe in the importance of our work – our ability to positively affect the lives of those we serve and the critical need to close the opportunity gap for ALL families in our community.

I first came to USES as a volunteer over 10 years ago, eager to change the world but painfully unaware of the many challenges that low-income, underserved families faced. This reality turned what was supposed to be a summer opportunity into a lifelong passion and career.  From my first day until today, I continue to be inspired by this community and its incredible resilience, and strive each day to make a difference and honor the legacy of those that came before me.

As an immigrant myself, I recognize the profound impact that my neighbors, relatives, and mentors had on my ability to adapt to a new country and fulfill my dream of graduating from college. I know how painful it is to “lose” a part of our identity, but also know that a community is not bound by land or bricks, but by the people and values we share. USES is committed to this community, and to continue the work that was started 127 years ago. Our building might look different, but our values and mission remain intact.

Lauren Allen, Food Service & Nutrition Coordinator
USES since 2017

My journey here at USES started two years ago when my son began club48. And since then, all of my kids are here! Two in the club48 afterschool program and one in an Early Childhood Education preschool classroom. This is probably one of my kids’ favorite places to come! They can hardly wait for me when they run up the stairs in the morning to their program, and they never want to leave when I come get them, always asking to stay just a little bit longer!  If I ask my preschooler if she wants to stay home for the day, she will tell me, “no, I need to go to school so I can learn!”

USES, and especially Camp Hale, are places where I know my kids feel safe and accepted. They are at a point in their development now where they are trying to find their own identity and where they fit in. And because of the diverse population here at USES, having people from all sorts of backgrounds, they can find that sense of belonging. My son told me this summer, right before he left for Camp Hale, that he loved camp because he “is around people that are just like me!”  As a parent who is trying hard to raise my kids to accept everyone, regardless of what they look like or what they have, it is important to me to have them in a diverse place. I believe diversity is priceless and contributes to the raising of accepting and well-rounded children. It would be a boring world if everyone is the same,if everyone had the same thoughts and views and beliefs. This is what USES is –people from all walks of life are welcome!

I am so grateful to have USES as part of my family. Having a place where my family can feel accepted is invaluable. And in this day and age, that should not be taken for granted.


Last news

USES Celebrates Harriet Tubman Day
Each year, USES recognizes Harriet Tubman Day (March 10th) to honor and remember Harriet’s bravery and heroics. During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 enslaved people to freedom. Although Harriet Tubman never lived in Boston, she had connections to the city through other abolitionist friends. One friend […]
Read more
Entrance to Camp Hale denoted by the sign in the shape of the logo in front of a beautiful line of trees, established 1900
Meet Camp Hale’s New Director
Trish Fogarty : Trish joined the USES and Camp Hale team in January 2024. We’re excited to have her onboard and meet all the campers this summer at Camp Hale! Get to know Trish through the Q&A below: Q: Where are you from/where did you grow up?A: I grew up in Wilbraham, MA, but have lived […]
Read more
club48’s NEW 3D Printing Club
This January, a new and exciting activity opened up for the kids of club48: 3D Design and Printing. Previously working on photography during the fall with USES’ community partner and friend, Pete Johannsen, the kids switched over to this new field with him as the changing seasons left them with less daylight for photos. Pete, […]
Read more