Kennedy Center Ready for Leadership Transition This Summer

The Kennedy Center social service agency – a 50-year-old institution in the Town – is proceeding through a transition in leadership this summer as Director Terry Kennedy heads toward retirement and new Director Thara Fuller steps in to begin leading the agency forward.

The Kennedy Center is a beloved organization in Hayes Square, and has served generations of residents in the Town over its 50-year history – doing everything from providing pre-school to summer lunch to fire victim aid to senior activities.

Kennedy has led the organization for the past seven years, taking it to a new level of financial and programmatic stability, and now he is ready to pass the baton to Fuller.

“This is a good time for a transition,” he said. “It’s a good time from my perspective. The agency is in good financial shape. We have interesting things going on programmatically…I had approached the Board last year and we put a deadline for my retirement at the end of this month. Last spring we began a search for a new director. We put all the candidates through a rigorous process and a good process. We had great candidates and at the end of the day, I think we found a great new director.”

That new director is Thara Fuller, who comes to the Kennedy Center after working for an Open Circle social-emotional learning program in Wellesley. She hails from Vermont, and before Wellesley, was the director of after-school programming for a public school district there. She was also a fifth-grade teacher, and comes from a family of teachers, she said

“I want to hear the sentiment from people about the Kennedy Center and I want to know what the community wants now,” she said. “I’m very happy to be here, and the community has been really friendly from the start. The agency is in really good shape and it provides very high-quality programs for the children.”

While Fuller has started already, Kennedy will continue on through July and stay in a part-time role to help strategize for the future and apply for grant money.

One of the key elements, he said, was stepping up as the Kennedy Center has always done, to attract new families to the programming. The Kennedy Center, both said, will be a Charlestown location for the City of Boston’s new Universal Pre-K program – meaning that there will be Boston Public Schools Pre-K classrooms in the Center. That effort, combined with the pressing need for families in Charlestown to have affordable early education, will be an initiative for Fuller.

“Thara will be looking at just how we can expand our offerings,” Kennedy said. “We added two toddler rooms a couple of years ago. We’re looking at options in our physical plant, in our buildings, and the land we own. That’s in the early exploratory stages, but we know the need is there. Over our 50 year history, we’ve always seen the needs and stepped up to fill gaps. We’ll continue doing that.”

Kennedy also said one concern was to have a new director as the One Charlestown project starts at the Bunker Hill Development. With a groundbreaking predicted for next year, the Board and Kennedy did not want a transition during that critical project – which will affect the Center and the buildings around it profoundly.

“I think it’s important to have a director here from the beginning to the end of that project,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts. I didn’t want to move on four years into the construction.”

Fuller said she would be scheduling coffee hours and lunches soon with the community to learn the needs and gaps that need to be filled. One area they are definitely moving towards is enhancing senior services, including public- and private-pay home care services.

That, and many other things, will be on the docket to speak about.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Kennedy. “I’ve really enjoyed my time and made good friends here. I hesitate to say this, but I guess I could be considered an honorary Townie. I might need a hundred more years to be a real Townie, but maybe honorary.”

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