Source: ABCD

Champion for the poor came to ABCD “start-up” in 1971

Renowned antipoverty agency now serves 100,000 annually;

Board Chair Sean Daughtry says Drew leaves ABCD “stronger than ever”

(BOSTON, MA) — John J. Drew, President/CEO of Action for Boston Community Development and longtime fighter for the low-income and underserved, will step down from his top role at ABCD on June 30, 2022. Drew has served in leadership positions at the renowned antipoverty/community action organization since 1971. The Charlestown, MA native has been ABCD President/CEO since 2009.

“I have had a long run supporting ABCD and its many all-important programs, as well as playing a role in significant national, state and local initiatives to combat poverty and provide opportunities for those who are low-income and disadvantaged to get on the escalator to a better life,” said Drew, age 85. “I came in when ABCD was a start-up – something new – an organization dedicated to combating poverty during tumultuous times.”

Drew noted that he worked for decades alongside former President/CEO Bob Coard as well as first-lady of Roxbury Melnea Cass, business leader Robert Gardiner and other dedicated community, corporate and political leaders.  “I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with these committed trailblazers and hundreds of others over the years to make a difference for those in need,” he said.

ABCD was a start-up in the fight against poverty in America, taking off in 1962 with a $1.9 million grant from the Ford Foundation and help from other funding sources. When Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, ABCD was designated as Boston’s official antipoverty agency. Suddenly grass-roots community-based ABCD centers were serving every neighborhood, kids were signing up for summer jobs, seniors were becoming Foster Grandparents. Fuel assistance, job-training, Head Start, childcare sprang up.

Since the 1960s, ABCD has built institutions including the community health center movement; the Women, Infants & Children program; Roxbury Multi-Service Center; Urban College of Boston and many more. It spearheaded community participation, leadership building, community engagement. In 1973, ABCD and three other community action agencies filed a successful class action lawsuit to prevent President Nixon from abolishing the Office of Economic Opportunity.

“ABCD was a leader in a revolution for poor people,” said Drew. “And we never stopped growing.” Today ABCD serves more than 100,000 low-income people annually with programs and services providing help and support for individuals, families, seniors, those with disabilities – whoever is in need.

Sharon Scott-Chandler, Esq. will take over

Drew pointed out that his successor, Sharon Scott-Chandler, Esq., currently ABCD Executive Vice President/COO, has been approved by the 50-member ABCD Board of Directors to take the reins upon his retirement.

“Sharon has the experience, expertise and commitment to take ABCD to the next level,” Drew said. “I am proud and privileged to pass the baton to her, the first African-American woman to lead this extraordinary organization.”

Sean Daughtry, Chair, ABCD Board of Directors, stated that Mr. Drew is a tireless advocate, champion and warrior for all those needing a hand up in our city, state and nation.  “John is determined, tenacious and relentless in pursuing goals that give people in need opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their children, and live with dignity,” he said. “His leadership at ABCD has been a force for good for all concerned and he leaves the organization stronger than ever.”

Another key ABCD leader, Bob Elias, Director of ABCD Government & Industrial Relations, said,

“I have worked side by side with John Drew for decades, always inspired by his drive, his commitment, his vision for the future and ability to mobilize forces to make a difference for those in need. He’s a creative thinker and passionate leader who is also an entrepreneur, savvy about leveraging economics to meet human needs. During difficult times, ABCD has prospered under John’s unwavering leadership. We will miss him,”

Reporters call ABCD for Drew’s strong sound bites on situations involving lack of heat, food and housing – sound bites that regularly initiate public attention and policy change. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic he kept ABCD services running, providing new and expanded programs to respond to the needs of the communities devastated by the pandemic.

A national leader in the community action and non-profit sectors, Drew is the founder of several national and Massachusetts-based non-profit organizations. As the Northeast region board member of the National Community Action Foundation, he has spearheaded national policy impacting low-income people and communities.

He also oversaw expansion of Head Start programs, particularly early Head Start, and initiated several new youth programs, including WorkSMART, a year-round paid work and learning experience for disadvantaged youth, and YEA! Youth Engaged in Action, a summer program for low-income 13-year-olds who are too old for camp and too young for traditional summer jobs programs.

 Drew acquired significant real estate property for ABCD and initiated renovation and high technology updates to produce state-of-the-art facilities that enhanced program stability for Head Start, neighborhood programs, ABCD’s two alternative high schools, Urban College and more.  His efforts supported neighborhood development and strengthened non-profit programs, expanding services and opportunities for low-income residents.

In 2015, ABCD expanded to also serve the Mystic Valley region, receiving federal Community Services Block Grant and other funding designated for that area and successfully providing vital services and programs.

Drew’s passion for the underserved stems in part from his experiences living in public housing following a back injury and, in the early days of the antipoverty movement, sending his two young children to Head Start. “Head Start turned our lives around,” he said. “From day one it has been a beacon of light for struggling families.”

Drew studied at Bentley College in his mid-30s and went on to complete his MBA at Suffolk University. After being licensed as a Certified Public Accountant, he worked as an auditor for Peat Marwick and was assigned to audit ABCD. He soon joined the organization’s finance team and the rest is history. Before long he was serving as second-in-command at ABCD and in 2009 was named President/CEO.

John J. Drew


About ABCD

A nonprofit human services community action organization, ABCD provides low-income residents in the Boston and Mystic Valley areas with the tools, support and resources they need to transition from poverty to stability and from stability to success. Each year, we’ve served more than 100,000 individuals, elders and families through a broad range of innovative initiatives as well as long-established, proven programs and services. For 60 years, ABCD has been deeply rooted in every neighborhood and community served, empowering individuals and families and supporting them in their quest to live with dignity and achieve their highest potential. For more, please visit bostonabcd.org.


May 19, 2022

Susan Kooperstein                                    

Lee Phenner