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HOLYOKE — Four Holyoke organizations are on the receiving end of state funding following more than $15 million announced from the state through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program.

The competitive grant program is aimed to bring positive economic outcomes to communities adversely impacted by the criminal justice system and poverty. While four Holyoke organizations have been selected to receive $800,000 of this funding, there are 67 total organizations across the state sharing the $15 million pot.

“Our administration is committed to making Massachusetts a state where everyone has access to economic opportunity. The Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program is reshaping our communities by providing resources for programs that strengthen our communities through job training, small business support, housing stability and more,” Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement on the announcement.

Project categories for the grant program include community-based workforce development, small business development, housing stabilization, community health improvement, high school dropout prevention and community organizing and leadership development.

Among these awarded projects, 37 are located in gateway cities, such as Holyoke. Of the 67 organizations, 33 self-identified as minority business enterprises. Nearly half of the organizations funded have formerly incarcerated leadership or leadership that has been impacted by the criminal justice system.

“The Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program plays a vital role in supporting communities that face significant barriers to economic growth in Massachusetts,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “This funding will provide assistance to organizations that are doing critical work to improve public health, support small and diverse businesses, engage with young people, provide education and workforce opportunities and so much more. This program will help strengthen our bond with local leaders to safeguard the well-being of all residents.”

Enlace de Familias Holyoke, or the Holyoke Family Network Inc., is the largest of the grant recipients in Holyoke, getting $400,000 to support the Community Empowerment Lab, which will engage people in developing leadership and organizing skills and improving conditions for them, their families and their community.

As part of this, 30 adults will earn a 25-credit Community Leadership Certificate through Holyoke Community College and 30 Junior Youth Leaders will complete the nine-week Youth Empowering Youth leadership curriculum, complete a 12-week Generator entrepreneurship curriculum and complete a five-week internship with a nonprofit.

The New North Citizen’s Council will receive $100,000 for its New Life/NuevaVida program that will provide culturally and linguistically competent workforce development services to formerly incarcerated Black and Latino men in Holyoke and Springfield. The program will work with the Hampden County Correctional Center, workforce development organizations, community-and-faith-based organizations, business associations, behavioral health care partners and business sponsors.

Chief Operations Officer for New North Citizens Council Jose Claudio told Reminder Publishing this funding will help set up an important program.

“We hire two individuals that work directly with these men and help in correction to make sure everyone that we work with has the opportunity to get help finding a job, resume help, housing help, whatever they need to get from point A to point B, we try to help them,” Claudio explained.

Claudio added the New Life program and this funding will allow them to work directly with clients over 90 days in helping them identify a job, get a job and then maintain that job.

“It’s a great way to stay connected and be a support for those trying to get back on their feet,” Claudio said.

Claudio added the program also helps in the greater fight of recidivism and making sure that once people are free from incarceration, they have the correct supports to avoid going back.

“One of the things that we try to do is not only help with a job, but things like finding an apartment — whatever they need to stay out of jail, and we can make it happen, we help,” Claudio said.

Claudio said through this program, he and his team can go as far as to assisting a client in family mediation if that can assist them with living a new lifestyle to avoid habits that can lead them back to jail.

“We try and take a holistic approach with them because we don’t want them to be left out and fall through the cracks and go back,” Claudio said.

Another grant impacting a city organization went to the Hampden County Career Center Inc., doing business as MassHire Holyoke, which is getting $225,000 to build on the Pillars of the Community Workforce initiative that it launched with similar funding last year. Using mobile lab equipment, MassHire Holyoke will offer employment and training services on site to agencies working within the court system, substance use disorder treatment centers, homeless shelters and other agencies in the poorest communities in Holyoke, as well as in Springfield and Chicopee.

The last organization receiving some of this Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Program funding is Pa’lante Transformative Justice who will receive $75,000 that will formalize its long-term partnership with LightHouse Holyoke, an accredited nonprofit alternative secondary school that provides a transformative educational experience to youth at the highest risk for drop out from Holyoke and surrounding areas.

Pa’lante will place a full-time, experienced restorative justice coordinator at LightHouse to serve the remainder of the school year, according to Pa’lante Executive Director Luke Midnight-Woodward.

Midnight-Woodward explained that with Pa’lante being a school-based organization, it was nice to go back to their roots as their work building youth power is not limited to just inside the hallways of a school building. Midnight-Woodward called LightHouse Holyoke a “restorative environment” due to its design and population of youth served.

“It seemed like a really good fit for our work,” Midnight-Woodward said.

He explained the coordinator hired with this funding will take time to build relationships with students and getting to know what their needs are, as much of this work is relationship based. The funding only last until the end of this current school year, but Midnight-Woodward said if able to secure future funding, the coordinator would return in the fall and start running a classroom setting for their work.

“That person will start running a class in there in which they’ll train students to become peer leaders, where then they support other youth going through whatever difficulty,” Midnight-Woodward said.

With the student population being served, Midnight-Woodward said a restorative justice coordinator could create opportunities for students to lead by example and learn forms of peer mediation to work through the difficulties of life that can impact a child’s educational experience.

“We never just throw youth by themselves into a process, but the coordinator will coordinate leaders in the process,” he explained.

Midnight-Woodward said while this is the first time that he and Pa’lante are working with LightHouse Holyoke for a restorative justice coordinator position, he has seen this implemented in other schools and has seen its positive impacts on students.

“The student leaders gain more sense of their own identity as both changemakers and leaders, and people who are able to not only get support and receive services, but to also provide for others. So one really cool thing I’ve seen is when one student helps host a circle for other students, they often connect for a really meaningful connection,” Midnight-Woodward said. “It creates a special bond so that later when a student in that circle has issues they may go back to the other kid [a peer leader] for support that they never even knew before. There are many neat connections that get formed.”

He added the sense of agency given to these students is very important as many discover they’re not only a part of a community, but also have a role in shaping it.

“Being accountable for who they are, and how they show up and for other people’s well-being is one of the main goals,” Midnight-Woodward said.
To review the full list of recipients for the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Awards visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/community-empowerment-and-reinvestment-grant-awards.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts