When Lori Lander was fresh out of college, she helped create a program to engage young adults in Miami’s urban challenges. That program hooked her on the power of convening and civic engagement, and today, Cambridge benefits.

Lander, who is on our board of directors and co-chairs our Program and Special Initiatives Committee, is a powerful advocate for community building in Cambridge. She is one of the founders of Cambridge’s MLK Day of Service. This year, in its eighth year, the event drew more than 3,200 people of all ages and from all walks of life to work on projects that benefit others, in honor of Dr. King. Lori also hosts monthly conversations about urgent issues in Cambridge, in her living room!

“I care deeply about how to get people active and engaged in their community,” said Lori. “It’s what Tip O’Neill said… ‘All Politics is Local’. We’re all responsible for the community we live in and we need to engage to become the community we want it to be.”

The monthly Breakfast Gatherings at Lori Lander’s house started in 2010 when she was thinking about how to coordinate the MLK Day of Service. She invited people she knew from all areas of her life—her Temple, her kid’s soccer teams, families from school, friends and friends of friends. Seventy people were invited to the first one and 60 showed up. People are still coming.

Over the past eight years, she’s convened people to discuss a wide range of topics: women on the margins; local action on climate change; victims of domestic abuse; social entrepreneurship, people transitioning from homelessness to jobs; financial literacy; how to talk about and plan for the death of a family member; race and education in Cambridge; hunger; caring for aging parents and being the aging parent cared for; the challenges facing immigrants; reducing gun violence and many more.

This May, the breakfast focused on a pressing local and national issue – a conversation on Immigrants in Crisis: The Increasing Need for Legal Assistance. Lori had an impressive line up of speakers, because one speaker led her to others – the way the breakfasts function in people’s lives. Those who joined on a sunny morning included Mojdeh Rohani, executive director of Community Legal Services and Counseling Center, Elena Noureddine, senior detention attorney at the PAIR Project, Mayor Marc Mc Govern, Manny Lusardi, liaison for Immigrant affairs, Sarah Kianovsky, BIJAN, and Susan Church, immigration attorney, and our President Geeta Pradhan. The conversation highlighted the deep challenges immigrants face, including deportation, trafficking, lack of legal representation. The overflowing crowd in Lori’s living room asked many questions to build their own engagement in Cambridge and beyond.

Lori picks issues that are large and broad and her speakers present them through a local lens.

“The breakfasts bring people together to learn more about issues, to meet other people who are interested in those issues and inspire people to get involved,” said Lori. “My hope is those who come can find a point of contact– a nonprofit, our community foundation, a group organizing to help neighbors – into a community and find new ways to make a difference.”

Lori Lander is the co-founder of Many Helping Hands, a volunteer organization that brings together Cambridge residents of all ages to help those in need in Cambridge.