Winthrop resident, Justin Pasquariello will be honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps with the Embracing the Legacy award on May 11, during the organization’s annual virtual celebration.
Deemed as a champion for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, Pasquariello learned the importance of family, community, and access to opportunities during his youth growing up in the foster care system. While he was fortunate to have a positive experience in the foster care system, the 41-year-old father of two is well aware that not all children from similar backgrounds are quite as lucky, which is why he’s made it his mission to create opportunity for communities and families.
“While the U.S. has generally continued to grow wealthier, happiness, close relationships, and trust amongst Americans have recently been on the decline,” says Pasquariello. “As a society, we must catalyze joy, trust, and connection, starting at an early age, to rebuild trust and hope in our democracy so we continue to thrive.”
Bolstered by his belief in the power of joy and community, Pasquariello set out on his career path focusing on bridging the gaps in early education access, basic support needs, and social services for low-income families.
Pasquariello’s career was inspired by Sociology 96, a class he took during his senior year of undergraduate studies at Harvard College. The course required students to engage in ten hours of community service each week coupled with classroom work. This experience showed him the power of working together to create meaningful change. Community action quickly became his calling. After graduation, he founded Silver Lining Mentoring, a Greater Boston organization that empowers foster care systems to flourish through committed mentoring relationships and the cultivation of essential life skills. Pasquariello met his wife, with whom he now shares two beautiful children while working at the organization.
“There are nearly 2,000 young people in foster care in Greater Boston and over 10,000 across Massachusetts,” says Pasquariello, who was the nonprofit’s executive director for six years before stepping down to pursue an MPA at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and MBA from Harvard Business School. “Young people in foster care enter the system through no fault of their own. Once in the system, they face frequent disruptions in homes, schools, and communities, moving multiple times per year. With each move, young people can lose as many as four to six months of academic progress and access to natural mentors in their lives, like teachers or coaches. Silver Lining Mentoring has been recognized as a national leader, providing critically needed consistent relationships through all those changes.”
Following grad school, Pasquariello served as the executive director for Children’s HealthWatch, a data collection, research and policy center that works to improve children’s health in America by informing policies to address and alleviate economic hardships, such as hunger and housing. During his tenure, the organization was recognized for helping to minimize cuts to the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program and created a collaboration which led to an increase in the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit of more than 50 percent, positively impacting more than 400,000 working families. In 2015, Pasquariello was recognized for his work by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce as one of ten outstanding young leaders.
The strong community of East Boston taught Pasquariello that joy lives in community. A desire to directly serve children and families while helping to influence and shape systems in that community is what led Pasquariello to his current job as Executive Director for East Boston Social Centers. The multi-service agency serves culturally diverse families and individuals of all ages in East Boston and throughout Greater Boston, offering early education, out-of-school time (OST), teen leadership, family engagement, parent leadership, and older adult programs—and serving as a community hub for everything from ESL classes to indoor soccer to recovery support groups. Of families in early learning/ OST programs, 90 percent received subsidy or vouchers to attend based on income or other needs. The Social Centers is proud to host Every Child Ready: a movement to ensure all East Boston children enter Kindergarten joyful, thriving and ready to learn. In all programs, its intended impact is to be the catalyst for a tight-knit, joyful, and thriving community. Its motto: When all give, all gain.
“The families we serve are hardworking, inspiring and dedicated to their community,” says Pasquariello. “We are proud to be in the tight-knit, “island” community of East Boston and serve diverse families from Eastie, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.”
Pasquariello serves on the boards of Silver Lining Mentoring and MADCA (the Massachusetts Association for Early Education and Care) and is on the advisory boards for Neighborhood Villages and a friend of Children’s HealthWatch. He also represents East Boston Social Centers on the Common Start Coalition.
As a Winthrop resident since 2017, Pasquariello hopes that his work will increase joy and well-being among his neighbors and he’s grateful for the support he’s received from Senator Joe Boncore and Speaker of the House Bob DeLeo. He believes that the past year has highlighted the many vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the early education and care system.
“Coming out of the pandemic we have a unique opportunity to build a better, more resilient system to meet the need of family, children, and teachers.”