Valley Gives Opens Registration to Nonprofits
WESTERN MASS. — Valley Gives, the highly successful fund-raising event launched in 2012, has opened registration to nonprofits in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Set for Dec. 10, Valley Gives is a 24-hour e-philanthropy program that encourages supporters of nonprofits based in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties to log on and contribute via www.valleygivesday.org — a centralized, web-enabled, mobile giving platform. The initiative is organized and hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Joining the effort as partners are eight of the leading funding organizations in Western Mass., including the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, the Jewish Endowment Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, United Way of Hampshire County, United Way of Franklin County, United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, and the Beveridge Family Foundation. In its first two years, Valley Gives has raised more than $3 million from more than 15,000 donors. “This year’s goal is to encourage as many people as possible to donate to their favorite group or groups. Our survey last year indicated that an overwhelming 99% of participants that completed our survey want to donate again this year,” said Kristin Leutz, vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “Could we get to 20,000 participants this year? We think this is a realistic and exciting goal.” Nonprofits that participate this year will find some changes with the way the event is organized. Based on suggestions of past participants, nonprofits will find a more flexible sign-up period with easier registration, a new prize-pool structure making it easier for nonprofits of all sizes to win, and even more training opportunities that will be provided on an expanded schedule both in person and online. Nonprofit organizations that serve Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties have until Nov. 14 to register to participate. Interested nonprofits may register at www.valleygivesday.org. Nonprofits that register by Sept. 1 will be eligible to win one of three randomly selected $500 awards donated by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.
UMass President Announces Science and Technology Awards
BOSTON — UMass President Robert Caret announced $865,000 in grants to faculty members from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support several promising research projects. They range from using big-data analytics in climatology and healthcare to developing radar-like laser technology known as LIDAR to study wind energy and ocean and forested environments. The initiatives showcase a range of innovative research being undertaken by UMass faculty members that contribute to the growth of the Commonwealth’s economy, especially in the science and technology areas, and extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants help accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects. “With the level of the federal government’s support of R&D still in question, we must do all we can to support the university’s role in the state’s innovation economy,” Caret said. “We are committed to strengthening our economic engagement in strategic areas such as clean energy, the environment, life sciences, and big data, and these grants are another step in that direction.” This is the 11th year of awards from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund, one of three funds that Caret supports to help advance the work of UMass faculty members. The other two are the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property Technology Development Fund. Since 2004, the Science and Technology fund has provided $10 million to UMass researchers, which in turn has helped to generate $240 million in funding from federal and private sources. These science and technology investments have been one of the factors in helping the university grow its research and development budget to nearly $600 million. The investments have helped to establish some of the most important R&D centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst; the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston; the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth; the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell; and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Worcester. Nearly 80 projects representing the breadth of academic inquiry at UMass have been funded to date. This year’s projects receiving grants from the Science and Technology Initiatives Fund include:
• UMass Cancer Avatar Institute, Dale Greiner and Giles Whalen, UMass Medical School: a proposed multi-campus institute that would provide mice engineered as ‘avatars’ of individual human patient tumors, enabling technology developed for diabetes research to be used to integrate biomarker identification platform for multiple cancer types. The initiative has three components: establishment of a tumor bank, which has already begun via internal funds; clinical pathology evaluation of tumors in these specialized mice; and a new ‘humanized mouse core’ to link the tumor bank to individual investigators in multiple cancer-research fields. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).
• Center for Computational Climatology & Paleoclimatology, Robert DeConto and Raymond Bradley, UMass Amherst: an effort that brings together academic scientists and engineers, industrial researchers, and users of high-performance computing resources to the issue of climate change. The grant will help develop a center for climate-related computation and numerical modeling of value to the Commonwealth, and contribute to the field of climate science by applying big-data computational analysis, modeling, data mining, and visualization to climate-change research. Award: $104,000.
• Center for MicroBiome Research, Beth McCormick, UMass Medical School: a project that proposes to develop a center of research and education for the ‘microbiome,’ the term used to describe the ecosystem of the 100 trillion bacteria in the human body, in collaboration with UMass Amherst’s new Life Sciences Laboratories and the UMass Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research. The exploration of the microbiome — and its role in health, development, and disease — is a vast, mostly untapped area of biomedical research and therapeutic potential. The center proposes to use big-data analysis (advanced computational and bioinformatics) to research microbiome-related genomic and clinical data, and involves multiple industry partners. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).
• Mass. BioFoundry, Center for Discovery & Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules, Elizabeth Vierling and Susan Roberts, UMass Amherst: an initiative establishing a ‘biofoundry’ with the goal of discovering valuable molecules from unique plant and microbial species and developing processes, either biological or chemical, by which they can be produced in quantities sufficient for medical or industrial applications. This research center will include a natural-products library (3,500 plant species) donated by an industry partner, along with related research equipment, valued at more than $1 million. The team will work with the medical school’s Small-Molecule Screening Facility and Northeastern University’s Antimicrobial Discovery Center. Award: $150,000.
Developer Sought for Tornado-damaged Elias Brookings School
SPRINGFIELD — The city of Springfield has released a request for proposals seeking a developer for the former Elias Brookings School building located on Hancock Street in the Six Corners neighborhood. “We’re very excited about the potential of this property and bringing new life back to a former school building,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. “There has been significant interest in this opportunity, and we expect that will translate into strong competition for the property.” The former Elias Brookings School site is an important part of the overall revitalization of the Six Corners and Old Hill neighborhoods. The building is located in the midst of significant infrastructure investments planned for the next two years, which include roadway improvements, upgraded streetscapes and lighting, a new middle school, a renovated park, and new, single-family homes along Central Street. The city has already committed $13 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds for several projects in the neighborhood. Construction of the new Elias Brookings School has already begun, and the school is scheduled to open in 2015. Further, infrastructure-improvement projects such as the realignment of Central Street and installation of streetscape improvements are anticipated to begin in the next construction season. The RFP is available in the Office of Procurement, Springfield City Hall, 36 Court St., Room 307. Proposals are due on Sept. 12 by 2 p.m.
Community Foundation Awards Team Jessica $25,000 for Playground
BELCHERTOWN — Team Jessica Inc. has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Credit Data Services Inc. Fund and the Edwin P. and Wilbur O. Lepper Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Team Jessica will use these funds to support the building of Jessica’s Boundless Playground (JBP), an effort that has been ongoing for the past four years. JBP will be the only 100% all-inclusive playground in the area. It is designed to be a multi-generational activity structure that engages people of all ages and abilities. JBP will also allow wounded veterans in long-term rehab to experience the healing power and simple joy of playing with their own children. The playground equipment and poured-in-place rubber surfacing will cost approximately $405,000. Team Jessica has hosted several fund-raising events over the past four years, and the effort has raised more than $300,000, including three Community Preservation Act grants from the town of Belchertown totaling $140,000, and a $40,000 grant from the Beveridge Family Foundation. This $25,000 Community Foundation grant will bring the fund-raising total to $325,000. “We’re in the last phase of fund-raising, working very hard every day,” said Vicky Martins Auffrey, Team Jessica president and mother of the playground’s namesake. “We plan to order the equipment on Aug. 1 and start the community build Sept. 13. Being awarded this grant is such an honor and makes all our plans closer to reality.” Added Patti Thornton, Team Jessica’s grant writer, “these final weeks before ordering the playground equipment are crucial in regard to fund-raising. We are waiting to hear back from a few key players, so getting the letter from the Community Foundation was something we needed. It is helping us keep the momentum into the home stretch.” To learn more, visit www.teamjessicaonline.com, www.facebook.com/teamjessicainc, and www.twitter.com/teamjessicainc.
State Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.5% in June
BOSTON — The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, citing preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported that Massachusetts added 3,700 jobs in June for a total of 3,409,500 jobs, and the total unemployment rate edged down one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.5% from the May rate. The rate is the lowest since August 2008. Since June 2013, Massachusetts has added a net of 48,900 jobs, with 49,400 jobs added in the private sector and 500 jobs lost in the public sector. The total unemployment rate in June was down 1.6% from the June 2013 rate of 7.1%.
State Announces Grants for Water Protection, Habitat Restoration
BOSTON — Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary (EEA) Maeve Vallely Bartlett announced $429,239 in grants from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) for projects to protect and restore rivers, watersheds, and wildlife across the Commonwealth, including two awards in Western Mass. “The Massachusetts Environmental Trust has been a critical conservation leader in protecting the vital waterways of Massachusetts for over 20 years,” said Bartlett. “By communities and conservation partners collaborating and working together with the Commonwealth, we can develop important projects for maintaining and protecting our clean waters for generations to come.” Ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, the grants will help support 13 projects in Amherst, Great Barrington, Ipswich, Lee, Lincoln, Methuen, Newton, Plymouth, Provincetown, Taunton, Wareham, Weston, and Westport. The local projects include:
• Town of Amherst, $36,100 to study the contamination of Fearing Brook, and to develop and begin to implement remedial strategies to improve the water quality of the brook.
• Town of Great Barrington, $30,000 to study water quality in Lake Mansfield.
• Housatonic Valley Assoc. in Lee, $15,911 to design and install stormwater vegetative buffers to reduce roadway runoff into Churchill Brook in Pittsfield.
Since it was founded in 1988 as part of the Boston Harbor cleanup, MET has awarded more than $19 million in grants to organizations statewide that provide a wide array of environmental services, from supporting water projects in communities to protecting coastal habitats.
UMass President Awards $270,000 for Creative-economy Initiatives
BOSTON — President Robert Caret announced $270,000 in grants from the President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund to support eight projects by UMass faculty members in the arts, humanities, and social sciences that will bring new creative resources to Massachusetts communities. The initiatives include supporting an LGBT community archives and education center in Northampton, developing a marketing toolkit to help nonprofit arts and cultural organizations involved in the creative economy in the Fall River-New Bedford area, and collaborating with the Peace Institute in the Dorchester section of Boston to assist victims of violence. “The Creative Economy Initiatives Fund provides us with a unique opportunity to contribute the talent and resources of the University of Massachusetts to communities and organizations across the state that are helping to enrich the quality of life in the Commonwealth,” said Caret. “These projects — and the partnerships with nonprofits and creative industries that stem from them — are foundational to our role as an institution that is committed to making a difference wherever and whenever we can.” The fund was created in 2007 to complement the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund. In its eight years of operation, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund has made 73 awards totaling more than $2 million. It has supported preservation of the W.E.B. Du Bois boyhood home in Great Barrington and established both the Lowell Youth Orchestra and a permanent Jack Kerouac education and tourism site in Lowell. It has brought UMass Dartmouth students together with Durfee High School students to create a photographic history of Fall River’s neighborhoods, helped establish a women artisans’ cooperative in New Bedford, developed a workers’ upholstery co-op in Springfield, and sponsored numerous music, dance, and theatre performances in Boston, Amherst, and Lowell. This year, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund will provide $270,000 in grants to the following local initiatives and faculty members:
• Judyie Al-Bilali, Gilbert McCauley, and Priscilla Page, Theatre Department, UMass Amherst: “Art, Legacy & Community.” Project staff will work with community groups in the Greater Springfield area to produce an original theater production and develop Du Bois Performance Workshops for education in multicultural theater, with both activities to take place in Springfield. Amount awarded: $32,000.
• Mitch Boucher, University Without Walls; Julio Capo Jr., History Department and Commonwealth Honors College; and Jessica Johnson, History Department, all at UMass Amherst: “A LGBTQI Community Archives and Education Center.” This project will support the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA) in Northampton, helping SMA preserve, build, and provide wider access to its resources; develop regional walking tours and other interactive programs; and establish greater national and international community links for these unique and valuable historical materials. Amount awarded: $29,334.
Construction Industry Adds 6,000 Jobs in June
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. construction industry added 6,000 jobs in June, according to the July 3 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, non-residential construction added only 700 of those jobs, and the heavy and civil engineering sector lost 700 jobs. “Although non-residential construction’s performance is somewhat disappointing, the general tenor of today’s employment report is upbeat. It is worth noting that non-residential construction tends to lag that of the overall economy,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Today’s jobs numbers are largely a reflection of the softer growth recorded by the U.S. economy for much of last year and during the initial months of 2014. Given that the economy added over 200,000 jobs for the fifth consecutive month in June, there is some optimism about improvement in the second quarter; however, the lack of monthly construction employment growth, particularly in the non-residential sector, is troubling.” Although the national construction unemployment rate stands at 8.2% on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, there are parts of the nation in which unemployment is far lower, Basu added. “In fact, there are emerging shortages of industrial construction workers in growing segments of the south, which will trigger large increases in wages and per diems during the year ahead. By contrast, there are communities in which construction unemployment remains well above the 8.2% average, suggesting that wage inflation will be meaningfully experienced only in certain communities.” According to the BLS household survey, the national unemployment rate fell to 6.1% in June, reaching its lowest level since September 2008. The civilian labor force expanded by 81,000 in June. Individual sectors saw the following changes:
• Non-residential building construction employment increased by 2,100 jobs for the month, but is up by 22,200 jobs, or 3.3%, since June 2013.
• Residential building construction employment rose by 4,500 jobs in June and is up by 50,600 jobs, or 8.3%, on an annual basis.
• Non-residential specialty trade contractors lost 1,400 jobs for the month, but employment in that category is up by 29,500 jobs, or 1.4%, from the same time last year.
• Residential specialty trade contractors gained 2,100 jobs in June and have added 55,700 jobs, or 3.6%, since June 2013.
• The heavy and civil engineering construction segment lost 700 jobs in June, but job totals are up by 28,300, or 3.2%, on a year-over-year basis.
Home Prices Up,but Sales Slower
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. home prices rose 8.8% in May compared with a year earlier, but the pace of gains has slowed as more homes have come onto the market, data provider CoreLogic reported this week. On a month-to-month basis, prices rose 1.2% from April to May, but CoreLogic’s monthly figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal patterns, such as warmer weather, which can affect sales. Prices increased the most in western states, including Hawaii, California, and Nevada.