In 1997, when Kitty Bowman came to Revere to lead a fledgling community benefits organization sponsored by Mass General, she never thought the community would rub off on her in the way it has.
The long-time director of RevereCARES has retired from her post and said that even though she is leaving Revere for retirement in her home neighborhood of Allston, she’ll always carry Revere with her.
“Revere has made me part of them, but Revere is always going to be very much a part of me,” she said. “The community has affected my life in tremendous ways and has changed me as a result of that experience.”
Bowman is the first retiree in Mass General’s Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI), which includes organizations like RevereCARES and other counterparts in Charlestown and Chelsea. In 1997, she came to head up RevereCARES, which was designed to address alcohol and drug use amongst young people in Revere. That focus was decided upon after extensive community surveys and input meetings.
After more than a decade of fighting the good fight, the agency has changed its focus to meet the needs of the community – including starting the Power of Know club, the anti-tobacco campaign in restaurants, the sea kayaking program, addressing the opioid crisis and educating parents about the dangers of allowing kids to drink in their homes.
Now, with those and many other accomplishments under her belt, Bowman said people should feel the organization is in good hands.
“The coalition is in good hands and really ready to go to the next level,” she said. “The city has turned around from being reactive to proactive, which puts it in a really, really good place going into the future.
“In reality the transition has been going on for four to five years,” she continued. “It was very intentional because I wanted my staff to be the face of RevereCARES so the community would feel that it was in good hands and that it wouldn’t take a step backward. That’s exactly how it’s going to be.”
Looking back, Bowman points to statistics taken by the schools in the late 1990s about young people drinking or doing drugs. The numbers were very high, but in most every category, the graph over time looks like a staircase going down to the first floor.
However, the most meaningful things, she said, are not the declining numbers.
She recalls when a mother in RevereCARES did not want her daughter’s graduation party to have alcohol served for the adults. Her husband disagreed with her and included alcohol. The woman decided not to go to the party to set a positive example.
“There have been individual acts of courage like that we’ve seen on all levels, from our kids to our parents to our leaders in the community,” she said. “I have had the privilege of seeing what’s best about people. I’ve seen people do extraordinary things because they cared – a basic goodness in people that often gets overlooked. When you can tap into the goodness you can do an awful lot in a community.”
That’s good news for the community in many ways, but Bowman said there will be challenges, particularly if marijuana is legalized and particularly with the opiate epidemic.
“We have put a lot in place with very limited results to address opiates,” she said. “It’s overloaded all of our systems. Unfortunately for RevereCARES, we put 90 percent into preventing opiate overdoses and only a small percentage into stopping the pipeline of addiction. We’ve done a lot of good work, but despite that overdoses are skyrocketing…This is going to be a huge challenge for the city and I’m truly worried about that.”
And on marijuana legalization, “If it becomes legal, we better have in place the same protections we have for underage drinking and right now there’s nothing. That also worries me.”
Bowman grew up in Allston and was married at the age of 19. She and her husband had their first child when she was 20 and their second when she was 24.
Later in life, Bowman went back to college and graduated from Boston State (UMass-Boston) with a psychology degree. She got her master’s degree in counseling from Harvard Graduate School. She also is a former member of the Boston School Committee.
Now, she said she will take it easy, concentrating on her grandchildren and her gardening.
“I’ll probably do a little consulting
,” she said. “It’s time for me to take what I’ve learned and mentor other coalition members and other communities. I’ll also be doing a lot of housework, spending time with my grandchildren, working in my garden, and of course, cooking.”