Julia Gavin, Jen Myers, Kerry Regan Jenness, Sako Long, Yun-Ju Choi, James Ostis
It’s a good thing that the Coalition for a Better Acre recently acquired its own van.
There was certainly a full van-load of people who wanted to make the trip from Lowell to Fitchburg on Thursday January 17th to celebrate the news of CBA being awarded $75,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of the 2019 cycle of the Urban Agenda grant program.
In addition to CBA staff and board members, representatives of the offices of Mayor William Samaras and State Senator Ed Kennedy were also in attendance for the ceremony.
An initiative of Governor Charlie Baker’s administration overseen by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Urban Agenda program offers flexible grant funding for local partnerships to implement projects and programming that are based on creative collaborative work models with the goal of urban communities achieving economic progress. Projects and programming leverage existing economic assets to respond to and deliver on defined economic development and quality of life goals.
CBA’s grant application for the 2019 funding cycle was to support an expansion of its ongoing STEP program.
STEP Students on Tour
STEP (Supported Training Education Program) is a five-week workforce training program serving low-income individuals, immigrants, and refugees with a high school diploma or equivalent. Participants work on basic skills like verbal and written communication, active listening, and teamwork as well as complex skills like conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.
STEP also addresses barriers to employment. Graduates are guaranteed job placement at a medical device manufacturing company in Devens, receive financial education and coaching, free shared transportation to and from work for a year, and 18 months of case management and wrap-around services.
Since the program’s launch in January 2017, 49 people have graduated from STEP–85 percent of whom continue working full-time. The Acre News Blog has more about the program including several great write-ups on recent STEP program graduates.
The Urban Agenda grant award will allow CBA to implement an expansion of the existing program called “STEP UP.” This new social enterprise addition to the existing training program adds a nonprofit staffing agency component, expanding the list of manufacturing companies reached by CBA, while generating revenue to make the program self-sustaining. The program will also protect low-income individuals, immigrants and employers from predatory staffing agencies, and strengthen the impact of CBA and its partners in Working Cities Lowell.
The businesses CBA serves will pay training and placement fees, making the enterprise self-sustaining. As noted in the CBA press release about the grant, this program will focus on the manufacturing field, which remains the 5th largest employer in Massachusetts. The sector employs over 250,000 workers, according to a 2015 report from Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based policy think tank. Yet the sector is also greying; the average highly-skilled manufacturing worker in the state is in their 50s.
“We are very grateful to the Commonwealth for this award, which will support the ongoing good work done by our workforce development staff as they prepare residents for a better future,” said CBA Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi. “Additionally, the companies who employ these workers will be strengthened by having well-trained, well-supported employees on staff.”
The STEP Program had previously received $50,000 in Urban Agenda funding last year.
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Sako Long, Shaun McCarthy, Julia Gavin, former Secretary of EOHED Jay Ash at the 2018 Urban Agenda award ceremony in Revere
The 2019 Urban Agenda Award Ceremony was held at Fitchburg State University’s IdeaLab. Speakers included Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale, Fitchburg State University President Dr. Richard S. Lapidus and local community and business leaders. Representing EOHED was Assistant Secretary for Communities & Programs Juan Vega.
“When we empower local leaders and projects that thoughtfully address the unique issues facing our urban centers, we have an outsized impact on the lives of residents,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito noted in a statement, “The Urban Agenda Grant Program relies on the strong partnerships between local government, non-profits and the business community that are critical to fostering economic success and building stronger neighborhoods in every region in Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
In addition to Lowell and the CBA, 8 other organizations received Urban Agenda funding for a total of $500,0000. Lowell’s $75,000 was tied with Lawrence and Springfield for the largest grant awards.
The other eight communities to receive funding were:
Barnstable – $10,000 for the Cape Cod Culinary Incubator to establish a food service education program for at risk youth. The program will develop skills for young people with an interest in food service professions and ultimately bolster the workforce in an area with a major tourism economy.
Boston, Back Bay – $25,000 for the African Bridge Network to provide orientation for skilled immigrants who have recently arrived in Boston. Working with the Mayor’s Office for Immigration Advancement, African Bridge will hold quarterly workshops at the Boston Public Library and set up information centers at branch libraries to provide career counseling and related support for recently arriving job seekers.
CBA representatives open the acceptance letter with the $75000 award
Boston, Roxbury – $50,000 for English for New Bostonians to offer support for immigrant entrepreneurs that speak English as a second language. ENB will provide English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) small-business intermediaries that will help small business owners with marketing, customer service, finance and technological skills.
Chelsea – $65,000 for the Chelsea 500, which engages the city, businesses, and non-profits to create a workforce pipeline so that 500 or more residents can gain the skills necessary to apply for positions at Encore Boston Harbor, with a goal of at least 200 of them gaining employment. Although initial efforts are focused on the casino, the long term goal is to sustain workforce development that will extend to other businesses.
Fitchburg – $60,000 for Fitchburg State University’s Activate Fitchburg initiative. The funding will support programs at FSU’s ideaLab, which will provide resources for creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, creating a business development pipeline and ultimately revitalizing the downtown area.
Lawrence – $75,000 for Lawrence Community Works’ Working Family Initiative. The Initiative will advance infrastructure to support public and nonprofit service providers and develop targeted training programs to build employer-workforce pipelines.
Springfield – $75,000 for the Economic Development Council of Western Mass’ Springfield Works and Head Start to launch a Whole Family Approach to Jobs initiative. This will be the first two-generation pilot and will include early education and workforce development components. Overcoming the family challenges posed by poverty will act as a catalyst to the region’s economic growth.
Worcester – $65,000 for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Launching Diverse Food Entrepreneurs program. The program builds on existing partnerships created through the Regional Food Hub project, but Launching Diverse Food Entrepreneurs will add targeted, in-depth support to urban food entrepreneurs. Supports will include ServSafe training, access to a commercial kitchen, business plan development and seed money.