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Growing up in Biddeford, Maine, Craig Welton of Peabody, who serves as the chief development officer at Northeast Arc, experienced first-hand the importance of community and helping others in need. When Craig was 5 years old, Welton’s older brother, Scott, was diagnosed with leukemia.  

After Scott got better, the family began fundraising and volunteering at events for Maine Children’s Cancer Program and other charities as a way to give back to the people and organizations that helped their family during their time of need.

“The importance of helping people was a value instilled by my family at an early age,” says Welton. “As I got older, I started seeking out ways to help my community and that continued when I attended Saint Anselm College.  As a student, I volunteered to help kids working on their GED or diploma and it had a profound impact on me. I was able to see how you could make a significant impact through direct work.”

After college, the current Peabody City Councilor moved to California and had his first interaction with Best Buddies International, an organization that works to enrich the lives of youth and adults with developmental disabilities.

A job at the Best Buddies Boston chapter brought him back east. He went on to attend Northeastern University for his master’s degree and work at Boston Medical Center. Welton then moved with his wife, Emily, to South Carolina while she worked as a traveling nurse. Best Buddies, however, drew Welton back to Boston as director of its Massachusetts and Rhode Island offices.

When the 2008 recession hit and the organization lost all its state funding, Welton was tasked with finding $1 million to keep it viable.  

Enter his secret weapon … Tom Brady. As Best Buddies was struggling, Brady’s profile was rising. Brady had supported the organization’s annual Boston-to-Hyannis Port ride for several years, but Welton knew there was an opportunity to utilize Brady and his affinity for the organization even more.

Welton was instrumental in the organization’s launch of a touch football game with Brady the night before the ride that mixed corporate sponsors, celebrities, and people with disabilities. The event raised significant funds and helped Best Buddies become a household name in the Greater Boston area.

“Craig not only worked for Best Buddies for nearly 15 years but lives the mission every day,” said Anthony Shriver, founder of Best Buddies International. “He uses his creativity and dedication to engage as many people as possible to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be successful.”

Making a difference in his own backyard

Welton wasn’t looking for a new job when Jo Ann Simons, president and CEO of the Northeast Arc, contacted him. Working for Simons, who Welton knew to be a bold and innovative leader, was appealing, as was making a difference in his own backyard where the father of five had quickly immersed himself in the community.

“I was impressed with everything happening at Northeast Arc, and when Jo Ann starting talking about a ground breaking project that would create an inclusive community for people with disabilities, there was no way I could say no,” says Welton.

That venture was the Center for Linking Lives, a $3 million project, which was constructed during the pandemic, before Welton was able to develop a capital campaign to secure funding because “it was too important to wait.” Now complete, the Center at the Liberty Tree Mall, serves as a gathering place, where individuals with disabilities can reach their full potential.

“The COVID-19 pandemic helped us understand what people with disabilities have long understood: isolation hurts,” says Jo Ann Simons. 

While some may wonder how he manages to raise a large family and serve as a city councilor while balancing a demanding job, Welton, who is also a member of the Peabody Rotary Club and coaches Little League, smiles and shrugs it off. Perhaps the reaction is not too surprising from a man that has completed 15 marathons, including 7 Boston Marathons, 12 of which were run while pushing his friend, Alosha, in a racing wheelchair.

“Fighting for inclusion for people with disabilities is something that is embedded in my day-to-day life,” says Welton. “If there’s any opportunity to make a meaningful impact in someone’s life, I want to take it.”