Casey Starr

by Lia
casey starr

MKI Affiliation:

MKI Steering Committee


Director of Community Initiatives


Main South CDC


When Casey Starr first joined Main South CDC in Worcester, her first priority was to listen to the community around her. She set her priorities in learning the background of the neighborhood, history of the organization, and the people that keep the community going. By putting herself in a place of constant learning, she quickly discovered the many roles and initiatives she had to take on.

“That’s one of the things about a small nonprofit,” Casey said. “You wear a bunch of different hats, and in doing so you end up learning so many different types of skills.” 

By listening and learning about the different assets and challenges in her community, Casey was able to understand the goals of residents and other members approaching the CDC. Originally from New York, Casey wanted to fully understand the problems facing the community of Main South, especially from those who have resided there for their entire lives. This, she believes, was the most successful approach in succeeding in such a multicultural organization.

“My first approach was really to learn about the neighborhood, and that it was really inappropriate to come in and automatically have my own thoughts and opinions,” Casey said.

Casey originally joined Main South CDC in 2007 as a member of Americorps VISTA, working as a liaison for college students to close the divide between the community and nearby Clark University. There she realized the power of community activism and organizing, and that the residents of Main South are the most important experts on the issues surrounding their neighborhood.

“I think the best leaders are the ones that are lifting up other people around them,” Casey said. “My job is to just make sure that residents in this neighborhood feel like they have an avenue to address the issues in their organization, connect with the organization, and connect with the city,” Casey said.

As the Director of Community Initiatives, Casey often represents the organization in class-sector partnerships. This means that she utilizes public spaces and engages and facilitates dialogue between community members. One particular project that Casey is passionate about is the Youth-Police Dialogue Program. In a multi-year community plan, Casey began a course where young people in Main South would have intimate and meaningful discussions with members of local law enforcement. This program, Casey describes, has been extremely beneficial in building trust between officers and the young communities they serve. 

Although the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the way Casey interacts with the community on a daily basis, she has still found ways to learn about the problems facing Main South. Casey and Main South CDC have stepped up immensely to provide the community with the emergency resources they need.

One of Worcester’s emergency initiatives is the Hot Meals Program, for which Main South CDC is the fiscal agent and engaged partner. The program is a way to utilize Main South’s struggling BIPOC-owned restaurants to provide hot meals to the COVID-positive members of the community. 

“Individuals and families who have tested positive for COVID-19 can register to be provided with a restaurant-cooked meal for everyone in the household for two weeks,” Casey said. “Then all of the business that were about to shut down, all Main South restaurants and all owned by people of color, were paid to create these meals. Then [The Hot Meals Program] provided a service for a no-contact delivery.”

Casey emphasized that this was a win-win all around, helping Main South’s struggling businesses and the COVID positive community members. The program grew to serve about 17,000 hot meals to the community and raised about $170,000 to provide to diverse restaurants in Main South. The program is still currently serving 80 meals daily, a point that she stresses means the pandemic and its effects are far from over.

“The numbers are still showing that we need to continue through the summer,” Casey said. “For us, it’s a little difficult to think completely post-pandemic because we are not quite there yet.” 

Casey described how the several trainings reminded her of the importance of her work and the positive impact it can have on the community. Through programs like the Community Development Intern Network, Casey gets the chance to see what the future of local leadership looks like. Although the space of community organizing has changed during the pandemic, Casey has repeatedly found ways to remain resourceful and continue with her philosophy of constant listening and learning.

“They remind me that I am part of a larger moment and part of something bigger,” Casey said. “For smaller organizations like us at Main South CDC, we get so much out of events and meetings.”

The training sessions help Casey connect with the different community organizations across the state. As a member of the Board of MACDC, she looks at how policies and programs can help not just her community in Main South, but for the entire state as well. She also serves on the Mel King Institute Steering Committee, staying connected to the priorities that drew her to nonprofit leadership.

“Not only do I learn so much, but I think it re-energizes you and recommits you to the cause,” Casey said of the training sessions.

With her previous experience linking the academic world of Clark University with the community of Main South, Casey is excited to see how the field is opening to integrate other professional tracks to benefit those they serve. She sees real collaboration and communication going on between different fields and professions, spreading the awareness of affordable housing and other issues facing Bay State communities. Especially with the onset of the pandemic, it was clear that the connections made with neighborhood-based organizations and institutions was more important now than ever.

“The work that we do at the neighborhood level is so important,” Casey said. “I’m hoping that CDCs continue to be lifted up and recognized for all of the work that we do, which is much more than housing.”