New leader to take helm of The Care Center

Family law attorney and longtime Pioneer Valley resident Oona Cook has been named to lead The Care Center.

Family law attorney and longtime Pioneer Valley resident Oona Cook has been named to lead The Care Center. Paul Teeling

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 02-28-2024 3:49 PM

HOLYOKE — Family law attorney and longtime Pioneer Valley resident Oona Cook has been named to lead The Care Center, which supports young mothers in achieving academic success, personal growth and economic independence, effective Friday.

She succeeds Anne Teschner, who has led The Care Center for the past 25 years and has been instrumental in building many of its programs, bringing the power of education, arts and culture to young people and their families in Holyoke.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Connecticut School of Law, Cook spent many years working as a family law attorney. She has served as chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, a statewide educational advocacy organization. A 30-year resident of the Pioneer Valley, she has an extensive history of community engagement, including as a five-year member of The Care Center board of directors and former chair of the Tapestry Health board of directors.

“As a former teen parent and long-term board member, I am deeply committed to The Care Center’s mission and excited to collaborate with such a dedicated and talented team in providing the resources and support needed for young women to achieve their goals while navigating systemic barriers, parenthood and college,” Cook said in a statement.

At The Care Center, Cook will lead the organization’s efforts to provide comprehensive educational and support services to young mothers.

“It feels like a full-circle moment,” Cook said in an interview, bringing together her lived and professional experiences.

She sees The Care Center as “a revolutionary social justice organization,” providing teen mothers with limited resources the same opportunities offered to their more affluent peers.

“The Care Center is removing barriers so that life outcomes aren’t determined by race, gender, socioeconomic status or ZIP code,” she said.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Next 5-story building cleared to rise in downtown Amherst
‘Our hearts were shattered’: Moved by their work in Mexico soup kitchen, Northampton couple takes action
Hampshire County youth tapped to advise governor’s team
Amherst-Pelham schools look to address school absences with new plan
Northampton School Committee takes stand for budget increase during emotional meeting
Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses inclusion, broad expertise

With funding from 40 different sources, including state and federal grants, foundations, local donors and its endowment, the organization provides all services, including day care, transportation, food and counseling, free of charge.

Teschner, who said she is moving on but not necessarily retiring, said The Care Center, founded in 1986 as a support program for teen mothers, is now officially a campus of Bard College. It works with 120 young women a year, most of whom have dropped out of school.

“We take them where they’re at and move them toward an associate degree,” she said.

The rigorous academic program is supplemented by instruction in the arts, humanities and athletics, Teschner said. Day care for 25 children and health care are provided on site.

A pressing concern Cook sees as she takes the reins is the need to address housing insecurity and homelessness. Not only will this allow women to focus on parenting and school, but finding a path to home ownership is key to building financial security for the future.

Cook said she was honored and excited to join The Care Center as its next executive director.

“I’m grateful to be part of the western Mass. community and looking forward to partnering with the many other organizations and individuals who are equally committed to education and social justice,” she said.

Cook also encouraged anyone interested in learning more to reach out to her at 413 532-2900 or ocook@carecenterholyoke.org and schedule a time to visit.

Besides supporting young mothers through comprehensive educational programs, holistic support services, and a nurturing community environment, The Care Center is also home to the Bard Microcollege, the first college in the country specifically designed for young mothers and low-income women. More information can be found online at https://carecenterholyoke.org/

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.