Our history and mission

Born from local community action during the civil rights movement, NorthStar Learning Centers remains grounded in our original vision to provide individualized, strength-based, family-focused programs that help children, youth, and families realize their strengths and dreams. Founded in 1974, we have grown from one neighborhood-based preschool center to a constellation of programs that serve New Bedford area children from birth to adulthood. In all our programs, we are committed to serving the underserved, reaching the "hard-to-reach," and treating the “hard-to-treat.” Our mission is:
to help young people overcome poverty, discrimination, educational disadvantage, violence, and other adversity through learning essential competencies and hopefulness with which they can transform their lives and communities. In advocacy and public policy, we as a minority-led nonprofit organization advance diversity as a strength and resource to open pathways to create a better life.

We are the people we serve

NorthStar is a multiservice minority nonprofit organization. We are a leader in hiring, promoting, and retaining staff who represent Greater New Bedford’s different cultural communities. Our staff diversity and fluency in the languages spoken in our community send a strong message to the people we serve that they can achieve success in our programs.

Our Values/Priorities

Values that run through all our programs include:

  • Building on strength. We focus on what’s right with children, youth, and families instead of what’s wrong with them.

  • “Doing what it takes to get it done.” We meet children, youth, and families “where they’re at.” Our youth-serving programs include “24/7” availability; after-hours mediation in a family conflict can prevent a youth being removed from their home.

  • School success. Where schooling is the most reliable route out of poverty, we focus on school enrollment (keeping youth in regular schools whenever possible), consistent attendance, more positive attitudes toward school, higher grades, grade promotion, and educational goal-setting beyond high school.

  • Cultural competence. We bring the special challenges facing children, youth, and families of color to the policy tables—such as disproportionate minority representation in juvenile justice, special education, school discipline, and foster care. Beyond ethnicity, cultural competency includes recognizing the strengths of youth culture.

  • Building partnerships.Recognizing that the multiple issues disadvantaged children, youth, and families face cross professional, bureaucratic, and agency boundaries, we have has long been committed to teaming up with other organizations to expand, improve, and integrate services and supports.

  • Creating opportunity for all. In addition to providing community-based programs, we work with families, government agencies, and other organizations to remove historic barriers to educational and economic opportunity, to increase our society’s investment in children, and to open pathways for all children and families to achieve a better life.

Our name: NorthStar
Our name refers to a powerful symbol of freedom in our national and local heritage. Following the North Star on their dangerous journey northward, many escaped slaves sought refuge in the New Bedford area. The famous ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived his first years as a free man in New Bedford. In 1847, he launched a newspaper called North Star. The use of “learning” in our name refers to not only school learning, but also lifelong learning in all aspects of one’s life – personally, aesthetically, professionally, socially, and spiritually.