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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield College Office of Spiritual Life is hosted its 15th annual adopt-a-family program over the holiday season. Members of the campus community purchased gifts for 20 families that are part of the Teen Parent Program, which is part of Open Pantry Community Services Inc., located in Springfield.

Members of the Springfield College campus community were able to participate in this program either as individuals or as part of a group. Faculty, staff, students, clubs, and athletic teams throughout the campus collaborated in purchasing gifts for Teen Parent Program families, with the Office of Spiritual Life assisting in collecting and matching the gifts with the appropriate families. Gifts included gift cards, food donations, clothing, and toys.

The Teen Parent Program is a residential program dedicated to providing teenage parents and their children a safe place to live while also seeking to bridge access to resources, life skills, and the development of achievable, long-term self-sufficiency goals.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration recently announced that five Massachusetts farms with land permanently protected from development through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program — including three in Western Mass. — have been awarded $400,000 in grant funding for infrastructure improvements.

“These agricultural investments help create jobs and make Massachusetts’ farms more competitive in the national and global marketplace,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Our administration is committed to supporting Massachusetts’ vibrant agriculture industry, which provides fresh, healthy food for the Commonwealth’s residents.”

The local grantees include Burnett Farm in Adams, $50,000 for barn expansion; Luther Belden Farm in Hatfield; $100,000 for dairy infrastructure improvements; and the Kitchen Garden in Sunderland, $75,000 for produce packing and storage building.

“The grants awarded will ensure that land protected for agriculture continues to support commercially viable farm businesses for current and future generations of Massachusetts farmers,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “Through this year’s awards, farmers in the Commonwealth will be able to upgrade and expand their agricultural buildings, keeping their businesses safe and competitive.”

The APR Improvement Program, established in 2009, is funded by the federal Farm and Lands Protection Program and is administered by the Department of Agricultural Resources. The program also provides recipients with technical and business-planning assistance to identify the best use of funds to improve farm infrastructure and productivity.

Since 2009, AIP has provided more than $3.5 million in total grants (average $66,509 per farm) and $330,150 in technical assistance (average $6,229 per farm) to Massachusetts APR farms that own a combined total of more than 7,000 acres of protected farmland.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums’ monthly lecture and tour schedule continues in January with the popular Museums à la Carte lectures, which take place each Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

Admission is $4 ($2 for members of the Springfield Museums), and visitors are invited to bring a bag lunch (cookies and coffee are provided). For more information about Museums à la Carte, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 488. This month’s lectures include:

Jan. 7: “The Last Blasket King, Pádraig Ó Catháin, An Rí,” a talk by Gerald Hayes, co-author of the book of the same name that he wrote with Eliza Kane, the great-great-granddaughter of the last king of the Great Blasket near Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland.

Jan. 14: “Why, How, and the 343:  Better Angels, The Firefighters of 9/11.” Dawn Howkinson Siebel, artist and creator of the “Better Angels” exhibit, shares her personal journey in creating this fascinating and powerful exhibit.

Jan. 21: “Leaving Our Mark: In Celebration of the Pencil — Artist’s Words and Views.” Steve Wilda, artist and organizer of “Leaving Our Mark,” will be joined by other artists featured in the exhibit, including Doug Gillette, Bill Simpson, Lesley Cohen, and Luciana Heineman.

Jan. 28: “The Klondike Gold Rush: A Chicopee Man Goes to the Yukon in 1898 (and Back).” Robert Romer, professor emeritus at Amherst College, brings to life the story of Chicopee’s John Gibson, an Irish immigrant who set out for the Klondike to seek his fortune.

As part of the Museums’ members-only “Continuing Conversations” series, museum docent Jim Boone will lead a guided gallery discussion immediately following the Jan. 14 talk at the Wood Museum of Springfield History, and docent Pat McCarthy will lead a post-lecture gallery discussion on Jan. 28 at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame recently announced the eligible candidates for the class of 2016, with Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, and Shaquille O’Neal among the headliners. A complete list can be found at www.hoophall.com.

The class of 2016, including those selected by the direct-elect committees, will be unveiled on Monday, April 4 at the Men’s NCAA Final Four in Houston. Enshrinement festivities will take place in Springfield on Sept. 8-10. Tickets for the various class of 2016 enshrinement events are on sale at www.hoophall.com.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito Administration announced that 19 more cities and towns have been designated Green Communities by the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and will receive more than $3.1 million for local clean-energy and energy-efficiency projects.

The Western Mass. communities added to the list, and their funding, include Adams ($166,865), Bernardston ($131,290), Egremont ($138,570), Stockbridge ($139,625), West Springfield ($222,765), and Windsor ($137,880).

“The Green Communities program demonstrates state and local governments can work together to save energy and taxpayers’ money, while making the Commonwealth a healthier place to live,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “These 19 communities will be able to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, reducing energy costs and reducing their carbon footprints.”

Added Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, “helping cities and towns reduce their energy consumption allows them to channel their financial savings into other municipal needs, like public safety, education, and municipal buildings. These grants further reiterate the Commonwealth’s ability to work with municipalities to ensure Massachusetts continues to be a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency.”

The 155 Green Communities are cities and towns of all sizes that range from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and are home to 54% of Massachusetts’ population. All Green Communities commit to reducing municipal energy consumption by 20% over five years.

“Through the Green Communities program, DOER is able to work with municipalities to find clean-energy solutions that reduce long-term energy costs and strengthen local economies,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The commitment and hard work of these 19 communities to reduce their energy use and undertake clean-energy projects will help Massachusetts continue its leadership in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and emissions reductions.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Partners for a Healthier Community (PHC) has confirmed Jessica Collins as its executive director.

Collins is a nine-year veteran of the Springfield-based nonprofit, where she previously served as interim executive director and deputy director. She will be leading the institute’s expansion of services in research and evaluation, coalition-building, and policy advocacy.

“Communities of color, members of the LGBT community, and people with disabilities face significant disparities in health in our region, Collins said. “Our mission is to address these inequities so that all people will have what they need to lead healthy lives.”

PHC was recently awarded the contract to lead the Community Health Needs Assessment for the 10 regional hospitals in Western Mass. in collaboration with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Collaborative for Educational Services. “This assessment documents the existing health needs of each community and provides the data necessary to develop effective strategies to address health inequities,” Collins said.

Added Rev. Karen Rucks, PHC’s board chair, “having a local public-health institute to serve Western Mass. is invaluable. The staff of Partners for a Healthier Community bring an understanding of the context and communities in our region to their services. They are committed to building capacity in our region to better understand how to use data and to collect and report on specific issues that are worthy of collective attention.”

Prior to coming to PHC, Collins led community-based participatory research projects including the Shape Up Somerville program focused on the prevention of childhood obesity in Cambridge and Somerville. Other nationally recognized community-health initiatives led by Collins include efforts to address substance abuse and suicide prevention, as well as preschool oral health.

In addition, Collins announced the hiring of Jessica Payne as senior research associate. Payne brings 25 years of experience in program development, evaluation, and needs assessment. She has extensive knowledge of regional communities and public-health initiatives, and collaborates with partners and informants of varied backgrounds relative to age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, occupation, and region. Since 1988, her company, Jessica Payne Consulting, has provided research and evaluation services in the healthcare, education, community-development, marketing, and culture and arts industries.

Daily News

GREENFIELD — The Rural Community College Alliance has awarded a $25,000 grant to Greenfield Community College (GCC), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), and the Franklin Community Co-op (FCC) to fund a new collaborative College Farm Market Project (CFMP).

GCC farm and food systems and business majors will work as interns with CISA and FCC to enhance and expand on existing opportunities with farmers’ markets in the Pioneer Valley. The project’s goal is to develop a replicable model for coordinating food- and farm-focused education, marketing, and sales that support the growing sustainable farm movement in Western Mass.

The RCCA grant will fund six three-credit paid internships for GCC students while the costs of the credits earned are covered by other grants the college has won. Three interns will work at FCC, and three will work at CISA. The grant also provides funds to defray some of the partner-agency staff time needed for this project and for staff to attend national and regional conferences to share information about the project with other colleges and organizations. This grant brings together three organizations that have significant impact on regional farm and food systems and will enhance coordination around food justice and development of farmers’ markets.

The internships housed at FCC will continue the work of fall 2015 GCC interns to create a mid-week farmers’ market in Greenfield, seeing its development from its opening this spring through the remainder of the summer and fall. At CISA, the GCC interns will focus on broader regional issues that affect farmers’ markets in general, further food justice and SNAP matching efforts, provide replicable templates for building market business structures, and expand the customer base for locally grown foods that promote sustainable models for farm viability. Staff and administrators from the three organizations will meet regularly to develop long-term structures for interorganization collaboration for strengthening agricultural cooperative supports in the region.

“This project enhances the learning of our students in farm and food systems and in business through work experience in which they can apply their academic work,” said Christine Copeland, SAGE assistant and internship coordinator at GCC. “It’s great for their career prospects, and they also make professional contacts and network with people in their field. Not least, they work in the farm and food sector, about which many of them feel passionately.”

Daily News

CHICOPEE — The Athletics Department at Elms College will add men’s and women’s outdoor track teams in 2017.

“I’m excited about the prospect of adding this new sport to the 15 other men’s and women’s sports we already sponsor,” said Ellen McEwen, director of Athletics at Elms. “This addition to our Athletics Department can be very successful in this geographical area, especially under the leadership of our cross-country coach, Matt Dyer, who has a very strong background in the area of track. He put together the program proposal for us, and will be coaching both the men’s and women’s teams.”

The team will be about more than sport, according to Dyer. “We really care about giving back and carrying out the mission of Elms College and the Sisters of St. Joseph,” he said. “Our cross-country team does a multi-day, overnight service trip each fall, and I’m sure we will continue some similar mission and service work with our track programs. We really love and enjoy the process of working hard and growing together not only as students and athletes, but as people trying to serve a higher cause.”

Dyer has just completed his fourth season as head coach of the men’s and women’s cross-country programs at Elms. Hired in August 2012, he has helped direct both teams to successful finishes in the New England Collegiate Conference; the women’s team came in second in 2013 and 2014, and the men’s team was third in 2015. He was named NECC Women’s Coach of the Year in 2013.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight: Ware

Stuart Beckley

Stuart Beckley says Ware is on the cusp of a rebirth.

“Ware is somewhere worth investing in.”

That’s the new tagline for this Hampshire County community of nearly 10,000 people. That statement is already true, said town officials who spoke with BusinessWest, but a host of initiatives are underway to make it even more so, and to make the slogan resonate with those who hear or read it.

Indeed, major efforts are underway in Ware to stimulate growth and economic development, projects focused on everything from increasing access to higher education to expanding public transportation.

“There’s a lot going on, and it’s an interesting story, but no one entity is responsible; it’s a core effort aimed at revitalization,” said William Braman, president of the Ware Business & Civic Assoc., or WB&CA.

Tracy Opalinski agreed, and said several initiatives were initiated or advanced last year, when the Edward and Barbara Urban Charitable Foundation decided it wanted to do something to make a significant impact in the town.

Opalinski, a trustee of the foundation, told BusinessWest it gave the town $45,000 to hire community marketers to provide a visioning statement, community branding, wayfinding, and economic-development services, and since that time, the foundation has donated another $50,000 for execution of the wayfinding system, which includes logos and new signage.

Progress began after the initial donation was made, and Arnett Muldrow & Associates Ltd. was chosen via a request-for-proposals process.

“They’ve done this for more than 180 mill towns in the country,” Opalinksi noted, adding that the firm mailed a survey to business owners and got a 65% response, held 15 focus groups, and conducted 50 interviews with a cross-section of people from the community that included representatives from businesses and industries, youth, retired residents, outdoorsmen, and artists, to discover what they wanted and needed in terms of services.

Arnett discovered an untapped potential for new and expanded restaurants to make $24 million and small to medium-sized businesses to make $139 million in sales each year.

“They found a need for a small, independent furniture store, a family and women’s clothing store, and an outdoor store,” Opalinski said, adding that Ware is a hub for the surrounding 15 towns in the Quaboag region.

The project was completed in April, and one of the most significant suggestions involved establishing a community-college satellite program, since education and workforce development are critical to economic stability and growth. Coincidentally, the WB&CA had begun working on the same goal four months earlier.

“Their initiative included the Ware Literacy Group, the Ware Business & Civic Association, Country Bank, the Behavioral Health Network, Quabbin Wire, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, the town, the Franklin and Hampshire Regional Employment Board, Pathfinder Vocational Technical High School, and, most importantly, the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation in Ware, which helps businesses start, stabilize, and grow,” Opalinski said.

She added that the WB&CA has a number of teams, including one that does advocacy work for businesses, and another group focused on helping property owners on Main Street fill empty space. That subcommittee contacted Greenfield Community College, Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, and Holyoke Community College, and asked if they were interested in establishing a satellite site in Ware.

The reaction was positive, and since Ware falls under HCC’s geographic territory, it has taken a lead role in the project, although the other two schools and Springfield Technical Community College are involved and contribute to what will be known as the Community College Educational Incubator.

“This is the first time in history that four Massachusetts community colleges have worked together on a project like this,” Opalinski said, noting that many businesses have contributed to the effort, and the facility will open in February in a space donated by a business in a prime location on Main Street.

“Businesses in this area are starved for qualified employees, so we’re trying to create our own feeder program and build a base so people can live and work locally instead of having to move far away or commute to find employment,” she noted.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many initiatives taking place in Ware and how, collectively, they make that new marketing slogan ring true.

Solid Growth

As officials in Ware noted, progress is being made on a number of fronts.

Town Manager Stuart Beckley noted that an international manufacturing firm known as G&G Medical Products recently purchased an underutilized mill that was owned by American Disposables and is investing about $1 million in the building.

He said the structure was run down, and the town just approved a 10-year tax break for the company to rehabilitate it and move in. That equates to about $6,500 each year, in addition to assistance the company will receive from the state.

“The purchase took about a year,” Beckley noted. “We worked closely with the company, and they told us they plan to add 70 employees over the next five to 10 years, which is huge for Ware.”

He added that workforce development is a primary focus for officials.

“This is a working-class town with lower incomes than most of Hampshire County, so jobs are important,” Beckley said, adding that some businesses are in the process of downsizing. For example, Kanzaki Specialty Papers recently put in a new treatment plant that allows for more efficient operations.

“Over time it will set them up for new products, but it has cost us 25 jobs in the last year,” he noted.

In addition, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital may move its inpatient services to Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, which would eliminate 35 more jobs.

However, hospital officials have approached the town and are working with them and local service agencies to identify other potential uses for that space.

“We hope that, since Baystate owns other hospitals, it will bring its services here or enhance the emergency room in Ware; it’s very important to the town as well as to the other 15 communities in the Quaboag region,” Beckley continued, explaining that Ware is one of the major commercial and service hubs for these small, outlying towns.

While efforts are being made to retain and create jobs, other initiatives, and especially the program involving area community colleges, are designed to help ensure that a qualified workplace is in place.

Initial offerings will include free basic education classes and workshop-training certificate programs in culinary and hospitality, which will run for eight to 12 weeks. Organizers hope to add a certified nursing assistant program in the spring, along with a bank of computers next fall that people can use to register for college or to take classes, since not everyone in the region has access to a computer.

“The goal is to offer coaching, enrollment, and certificate programs to students in the Quaboag region because towns such as Hardwick and West Brookfield have the same transportation issues as Ware. It’s located at the outermost corner of Hampshire County, so there is no viable transportation between Springfield or other cities aside from a car,” Braman said.

Opalinski added that many working people already travel a half-hour or more to get to work and are unlikely to drive an additional hour back and forth to college classes in the evening, even though it could improve their lives. Meanwhile, although people can take online courses, only 30% of students complete programs on their own. However, studies show that adding an instructor and fellow students, which will happen in Ware, pushes the graduation rate to 90%.

Meanwhile, other forms of economic development are taking place. As one example, efforts are being made to market Ware as a place with great recreational opportunities, since the access points to the southern portion of Quabbin Reservoir are in town.

“We plan to stage a fishing tournament in 2017 in partnership with the Quabbin Reservoir; it’s a hidden jewel and has been named the 37th-best spot in the country for bass fishing,” Beckley noted, explaining that the tournament is one of a number of activities on the drawing board that will focus on the outdoors and scenic beauty of the town.

“Ware is a great place to live; housing is very affordable, and our public schools are about to get a very positive accreditation. The report will show how much has been done in the past five years in terms of creating quality education,” he continued, explaining that, in the past, Ware lost many students to regional school systems due to a lack of programs, but that is expected to change due to the addition of new technology, advanced-placement courses, and strengthening of basic coursework.

In addition, new streetscape and infrastructure improvements are planned for 2019. “We’ll repave roads and install new lighting and sidewalks on Main Street,” Beckley said.

Future Outlook

The town manager describes Ware as a “community that cares,” which is highlighted by the amount of effort residents and businesses are putting into current revitalization efforts. “There is a lot of local pride and belief that the community can and will grow,” he said.

Along with measures taken to create a new master plan for the town, which is expected to be complete next year, marketing the Quabbin Reservoir as an ideal place for recreation that includes fishing, hiking, hunting, and boating will continue.

“Ware regularly celebrates the Quabbin’s history, and two years ago we held a 75th Anniversary Ball commemorating its creation,” Beckley said.

Improving public transportation is also a recognized priority. “There’s also an effort underway to collaborate with a group called Growing Transit & Growing Communities that is made up of businesses and municipal leaders from the 15 towns in the Quaboag region,” Opalinski said, adding that the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., Ware Business & Civic Assoc., Behavioral Health Network, Citizens for Palmer Rail Stop, and two regional planning commissions have banded together to improve and add to public transportation offerings and meet on a regular basis with the state Department of Transportation Rail & Transit Division to explore existing models and develop unique solutions for transportation.

“Ware is a special place that’s about to undergo a rebirth and blossom,” Beckley said as he summarized all that is taking place and might transpire in the years to come.

Opalinski concurred. “People and groups were doing good things on their own, but now we are supporting each other and working together,” she said. “As a result, Ware is poised for tremendous growth and development.”

Ware at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 9,872 (2010)
Area: 40.0 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $19.65
Commercial Tax Rate: $19.65
Median Household Income: $36,875
Family Household Income: $45,505
Type of Government: Open town meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Mary Lane Hospital; Kanzaki Specialty Papers; Walmart; Quabbin Wire & Cable Co Inc.
* Latest information available

Daily News

The Commonwealth’s defense-contract work supported more than 88,000 workers and contributed more than $20 billion to the Massachusetts economy, while Massachusetts military installations directly or indirectly supported more than 57,000 jobs with a total economic contribution of more than $13 billion in fiscal year 2013, according to two new University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute reports. Massachusetts companies exemplifying the crucial and beneficial connections between the defense sector and small businesses include Holyoke’s Meridian Industrial Group, which does machining for portable MRI equipment; Southampton’s J&E Precision Tool, which produces components for Black Hawk helicopters, periscopes, and F-22s and F-35s; and CPI Radant Technologies Division in Stow, which develops components for military aircraft.

“The Commonwealth’s six bases and defense-related firms continue to have a major impact on the Massachusetts economy, both in terms of jobs and dollars,” said Gov. Baker. “Academia, business, and technology – three of the Commonwealth’s top sectors — play a role in our installations and defense contracts, helping this industry serve as an economic driver. We look forward to their continued growth and contribution to Massachusetts.”

The Massachusetts Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force and MassDevelopment commissioned the reports. The first studied the impact of the Commonwealth’s six military installations – Barnes Air National Guard Base, the Fort Devens Reserve Forces Training Area, Hanscom Air Force Base, Joint Base Cape Cod, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, and Westover Air Reserve Base — and the Massachusetts Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve. To view the full report, click here.

“Massachusetts is on the cutting edge in helping our military modernize,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “The work that goes on at military installations and by defense contractors across the Commonwealth is critical to our national security and to our state’s economy, and I am glad to partner with our local industry to make certain that Washington recognizes and supports the excellent work done here.”

The second report studied the defense industry’s contribution to the New England economy, finding that in fiscal year 2013, New England defense contracting generated nearly $49 billion and more than 218,000 jobs.