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Streams of Assistance


Call it a flood of support at a critical time.

On July 20, the Healey-Driscoll administration and the United Way of Central Massachusetts (UWCM) announced the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund, a partnership between philanthropic organizations and private foundations intended to support Western and Central Mass. farms impacted by recent flooding and strengthen farm resiliency in the long term. Officials made the announcement at Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, which had much of its crop destroyed by flooding.

Megan Burke

Megan Burke

“We seek to ensure that this coordinated effort provides immediate relief that works for farmers and addresses longer-term food-security issues for vulnerable residents of our region.”

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources estimates at least 75 farms have been hurt by flooding, with about 2,000 acres in crop losses at a minimum value of $15 million. That number will likely climb as more damage is assessed and the longer-term impacts set in.

“As the lieutenant governor and I have visited farms across the state, we’ve been deeply moved by the devastating impacts we’ve seen and heartbreaking stories we’ve heard. We’re grateful to our philanthropic and private partners for quickly answering the call to action and creating this fund to deliver relief directly to farmers,” Gov. Maura Healey said. “This is about team Massachusetts — where we come together to support farmers and their livelihoods, build resilience for our farms and food supply, strengthen our economy, and create a stronger future for our children and families.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll added that “Governor Healey and I have heard firsthand from dozens of farmers who are grappling with the aftermath of extreme flooding and trying to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet and keep their farms. We’ve been inspired by their resilience and the pride they take in their businesses, which play an essential role in our state’s food supply and economy. The Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund will be a lifeline for so many dedicated farmers and their families.”

Several nonprofit leaders were quick to commit to supporting farmers through the fund.

“In light of the devastating impact of recent floods, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is committed to supporting the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund,” CFWM President and CEO Megan Burke said. “We seek to ensure that this coordinated effort provides immediate relief that works for farmers and addresses longer-term food-security issues for vulnerable residents of our region.”

Philip Korman, executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), added that “this month’s rains and floods, occurring in the middle of the summer harvest, will have a bigger impact on our farms than Hurricane Irene. It has been heartening to see the community rally around our local farmers, the very people who feed our families. The newly created Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund is a powerful example of what can be created when government, foundations, businesses, and nonprofits like CISA work together. The fund will be an essential piece of helping farms recover and will serve as part of the safety net to future climate change events.”

Sen. John Velis

Sen. John Velis

“The flooding has decimated folks’ businesses, jeopardized their livelihoods, and has had a tremendous impact on our Commonwealth’s agricultural sector and our food supply as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Mark Gold, director of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, praised the administration for addressing flood relief in a timely manner. “Our foundation remains committed to providing support to those farms impacted by the recent floods along the Connecticut River Valley and others to which we and our partners have provided support over the past nine years.”

Local legislators were quick to praise the joint effort between government and philanthropic community.

“Farms throughout Western Massachusetts have been devastated by the recent flooding in our region, and the full scale of damage is unfortunately expected to grow even more,” state Sen. John Velis said. “The flooding has decimated folks’ businesses, jeopardized their livelihoods, and has had a tremendous impact on our Commonwealth’s agricultural sector and our food supply as a whole. I am grateful to the Healey-Driscoll Administration, UWCM, and all the philanthropic and private foundations for their fast work in creating the Farm Resiliency Fund and for their commitment to helping our farmers get back on their feet.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais agreed. “Following the devastation caused by recent rains and flooding, the Healey-Driscoll administration stood with us, in our fields, to hear directly from farmers,” she said. “I am profoundly grateful to our community for coming together to support farms across the state, and for Governor Healey’s commitment to the long-term sustainability of agriculture and our local food systems.”

Tim Garvin, president and CEO of United Way of Central Massachusetts, called the new fund “a most beautiful demonstration of real partnership, united in compassion and united in purpose to support and assist our farmers,” adding that he is hopeful that many will be inspired to contribute.

“As someone who sees the devastating impacts of the recent flooding every day, I am extremely grateful for the quick efforts of the Healey-Driscoll administration and the United Way of Central Massachusetts to put the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund in place,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said. “We must continue to take concrete steps to help the farmers who so desperately need our quick action and sustained efforts to help in their recovery.”

Comerford also praised the state Senate the following week for passing a $513 million supplemental budget for FY 2023 that includes $20 million in assistance for farms throughout the Commonwealth impacted by recent severe weather events.

“These public funds will go out as direct grants,” she explained. “That’s money in the pockets of farmers who have experienced a massive hardship in the wake of the extreme flooding earlier this month and the frosts and freezes this past spring.”

Other organizations have stepped up to help as well, such as UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, which recently announced a donation to aid local farms impacted by the flooding, including Natural Roots Farm, Mountain View farm, Pepin Farm, Community Care Apothecary, Song Sparrow Farm, Stone Soup Farm, New Community Farming Cooperative, World Farmers’ Flats Mentor Farm, and the Grow Food Northampton Community Farm.

“We are deeply connected to our community and our members, and we understand the critical role that local farms and local food play in our lives,” said Craig Boivin, vice president of Marketing at UMassFive. “Our donation to the local farms impacted by the floods is an expression of our gratitude and commitment to helping our neighbors in their time of need.”

As for the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund, all funds will be distributed rapidly by the United Way through a deliberate selection process. More information about the fund can be found at unitedwaycm.org/farmfund.

“For generations, our farms have been part of our cultural heritage and the fabric of our local communities,” Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle said. “As heartbreaking as it has been to see our farming community hit hard, I’m truly inspired to see the community step up and rally around our farmers with this partnership that will bring much-needed relief.”


Nonprofit Management Special Coverage

Building on a Legacy

aerial photo shows the former Square One property

This aerial photo shows the former Square One property, at lower right, the day after the tornado ripped through Springfield’s South End in 2011.
Photo by John Suchocki The Republican

While early-education provider Square One has a presence in several Springfield neighborhoods and serves residents city-wide, it has always been associated with the South End.

That’s where it’s been headquartered since the beginning, in 1883, when it was founded as Springfield Day Nursery by Harriett Merriam, the daughter of Charles Merriam, of Merriam-Webster dictionary fame, to meet a critical need for childcare among the city’s working families, said Dawn DiStefano, the agency’s president and CEO.

“We’ve always been anchored in the South End,” she said. “And it doesn’t take too much effort to walk into the South End and see that it is in woeful need of some attention.”

The bond with the South End was — and is — so strong that, when the agency’s facilities at 947 Main St. were heavily damaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado that devastated a large swath of that neighborhood and eventually razed, then-President and CEO Joan Kagan quickly pledged that the agency, which soon started leasing space at 1095 Main St., would rebuild in that section of the city.

But fulfilling that pledge has proven to be an enormous challenge.

“We’ve always been anchored in the South End. And it doesn’t take too much effort to walk into the South End and see that it is in woeful need of some attention.”

Indeed, although other options were looked at early on, it quickly became clear that, if the agency was going to rebuild in the South End, it would have to be on the property it owned, DiStefano said. And this property is fraught with challenges because of its small size, odd dimensions, contamination in the wake of the tornado, and other factors.

But, in a measure of its commitment to the South End, the agency is taking on all those challenges and moving forward with plans for a 26,000-square-foot, $12 million, three-story facility that will be built on the east end of the property that fronts Main Street.

Dawn DiStefano

Dawn DiStefano stands at the site on Main Street where Square One had a facility — and will again.

Plans call for erecting a Butler-style building on the property, one that features a number of pre-fabricated elements, which serves to reduce the overall cost of designing and building a structure, DiStefano said.

“We’re savings millions of dollars because we’re not doing a traditional brick-and-mortar building,” she explained, adding that the agency is working with One Development & Construction LLC in Westfield, which specializes in Butler-style construction, on the project.

The current timetable calls for construction to begin late this year, probably November, with the new facility slated to open its doors in the fall of 2024.

The agency is in the early — also known as the ‘quiet’ — stage of a capital campaign for the new building, with nearly $3 million committed to date — $950,000 from the city in the form of ARPA money, and a $2 million commitment from the state.

DiStefano said early indications suggest a strong measure of support for Square One’s initiative, and she expects the nonprofit will be able to open its facility with little, if any, debt.

“It’s all achievable … but we’re not working with 10 acres here. We ultimately determined that we could do something with this site.”

“The most enjoyable, and most encouraging, part of this project has been how many people and institutions are compelled to give or have shown promise,” she explained, adding that the agency undertook a feasibility study on the campaign, one that surveyed 42 individuals and companies and revealed “100% intent to support the project.”

For this issue and its focus on the region’s nonprofit sector, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Square One’s building plans and how they reflect a nearly century-and-a-half-old commitment to a city and especially one of its proudest, and neediest, neighborhoods.


Building Momentum

As she talked about the many challenges with building a new home for Square One, DiStefano said it’s good to keep things in their proper perspective.

Indeed, while there has been nothing easy about this building project, and it has a long way to go, the overall degree of difficulty pales in comparison — in most respects, anyway — with coming back from the twin disasters of 2011 and 2012 — and coping with the pandemic of 2020, for that matter.

The agency was completely displaced by the 2011 tornado; staff, teachers, and students were forced from the building and never allowed to return before engineers determined that it had to be demolished. In 2012, a natural-gas explosion downtown extensively damaged another Square One learning facility, to the point where it had to be abandoned. And early in the pandemic, Square One was forced to close its childcare facilities, as well as its operations on Main Street, before having to completely revamp operations after it was allowed to reopen to meet a huge need for childcare services.

Square One’s facility

An architect’s rendering of Square One’s facility to be built in Springfield’s South End.

The agency managed to push on and meet its broad mission — it provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-aged children, and also offers an array of support services to more than 1,500 families each year — through all of that, DiStefano said, adding that the ability to do so offers strong testimony to the imagination and resiliency of its staff.

Those same qualities have been necessary for this building project, she went on, adding that, while rebuilding in the South End has always been the goal and the promise, it has proven to be a daunting challenge.

Indeed, the property that was ultimately destroyed by the tornado in 2011 was wedged into a narrow but deep lot, said DiStefano noted there was an administration building fronting Main Street and a two-story, L-shaped school building that extended eastward a few hundred feet. In a perfect world, or at least in a neighborhood with several alternatives when it comes to buildable lots and available property, Square One almost certainly wouldn’t rebuild on its former site, she added.

But this isn’t a perfect world. And Square One is building here only because there are few if any other options, she said, adding that she tried to purchase the brick property adjacent to former home of the agency, a move that would have provided considerably more frontage on Main Street, but was unsuccessful in that effort, just as her predecessor was unsuccessful in her efforts to secure other lots on which to build.

So the agency then focused its attention on building on its former home — an undertaking made challenging by the size and shape of the property as well as contamination from the demolition of the structures that once occupied the site.

“The bricks and all the materials from the homes that were razed obviously have asbestos and lead and other chemicals that have now seeped into the ground,” the explained, adding that the agency is currently working with a remediation company to determine just what is in the ground and what needs to be done to make the property ready for its intended use — as a home for programs for children.

Before even getting to that point, though, the agency had to conduct some due diligence to make sure it was feasible to build what it wanted to build on that parcel.

“This land is so awkward and small and weird that we didn’t want to buy it if we couldn’t build a building on it,” she explained, adding that Square One engaged in discussions with One Development to determine if its plan, its dream, was, in fact, doable.

Brad Miller, senior project manager with One Development, said that he and others ultimately determined that the answer to that question is ‘yes.’

“It is a challenging site because of its narrowness — it’s wedged between Hubbard and Williams streets,” he explained. “We only have so many options as far as the building footprint goes. The agency also needs a certain number of parking spaces, which we have to find a location for on that site, as well as a playground. It’s all achievable … but we’re not working with 10 acres here. We ultimately determined that we could do something with this site.”

The plans, still to be finalized, call for those parking spaces to be located on the Main Street end of the property, with the playground and building located toward the rear of the site, on a combination of the original site and a few smaller parcels acquired by the agency, DiStefano explained.

The planned structure will give the agency far more space than it has presently in the South End, she said, adding that the facility destroyed by the tornado had more classrooms than the currently facility.

Miller described what is planned for the site as a ‘Butler-hybrid’ building, a combination of conventional steel structure, with Butler components on the interior.

“This will a be steel-framed building with insulated metal panels on the outside, as well as some masonry on the first floor of the building,” he explained, adding that it will have a glass entranceway.

This pre-engineered building will ultimately save on design costs, he went on, adding that this is a design-build project, with One Development managing a large portion of the design as well as the construction.

While work continues on design aspects of the building project, Square One is proceeding with its capital campaign to raise funds to build the new facility.

As noted earlier, the agency has entered the quiet phase of the campaign, focusing on major grants from foundations and other donors, DiStefano said, adding that, by the start of 2024, she anticipates the process will enter the public phase.


Bottom Line

Returning to that feasibility study on the capital campaign and the resounding support it revealed, DiStefano said those results validate the agency’s determination to clear a long row of hurdles and ultimately build in the neighborhood where it was founded back when Chester A. Arthur was patrolling the White House.

“Those results make it enjoyable — that pushes you when you’re ready to say that this piece of land is too difficult to build on and it’s going to cost too much to do this,” she said, adding that this vote of confidence provides another dose of determination.

And even more commitment for Square One to build on a legacy that’s been 140 years in the making.


Nonprofit Management

Things Are CLICing


Jennifer Connelly shows off the wall

Jennifer Connelly shows off the wall in the wall that is the symbolic start of work to create JA’s new Career, Leadership & Innovation Center.

It was officially called a groundbreaking, but Jennifer Connelly says it was more of a “wallbreaking.”

Indeed, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, representatives of the many sponsors involved with the project, and other VIPs took turns swinging a large sledgehammer at a wall just off the entrance to the Tower Square offices of Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Massachusetts.

The hole they left behind is still there more than a month later, a poignant symbol of the work — at least the physical construction work — soon to commence on what is being called the Career, Leadership & Innovation Center, or CLIC, a facility that will focus on those first three words with a number of intriguing programs.

Indeed, the center will help students identify career options and make smart decisions regarding post-secondary education; expand their thinking and skill development, thus better preparing them to be future leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators; and provide them with the skills and knowledge that will allow them to make informed and effective decisions with their financial resources.

“For the past 10 to 15 years, the board has talked about having a center where people could come and learn about careers.”

JA is creating the center in collaboration with MassHire Hampden County, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, other agencies, and several area employers, said Connelly, and is designed to address a gap when it comes to educating young people about careers and the paths to them.

“We found that there’s a piece missing in the pipeline when it comes to inspiring young people to have careers here in the region,” said Connelly, adding that the center will enable students to learn about and then explore options in fields they may not have been thinking about. In that respect, it will help open doors for young people while also helping to put workers in the pipeline for businesses across every sector of the economy, from healthcare to manufacturing.

In a way, this is a groundbreaking (there’s that word again) new initiative for JA of Western Massachusetts, said Connelly, and in another way … it isn’t. Indeed, while the CLIC is new, it’s also a throwback of sorts to what JA was decades ago — a place where young people could come to learn about business, actually make and then sell products, and gain financial literacy.

An architect’s rendering of the new Career, Leadership & Innovation Center.

“This is what JA used to be — and that’s what I like best about the center; this will be a place that students can come to,” she said, adding that, while JA of Western Massachusetts has been going into area schools for decades now, it hasn’t had a site that young people can come to since the ’80s.

Work on the CLIC is set to commence in the coming weeks, and the facility is scheduled to open in mid-September. Over the first nine months or so of operations, more than 750 junior-high and high-school students (up to 25 at a time) are expected to visit the center, spend the better part of a day there, and gain new insight into careers, how to attain them, and much more.

The project has drawn a number of supporters, including the city of Springfield, Beveridge Family Foundation, Balise Auto Group, M&T Bank, Country Bank, PeoplesBank, TD Bank, and Savage Arms, who have helped meet the $400,000 cost of the project.

A capital campaign will be staged over the next several months to raise the balance of what’s needed for the initiative, Connelly said, adding that the agency is hoping to gain the support of more area businesses, and is scheduling site visits for those interested in learning more about its mission and how it will be carried out.


Learning While Doing

Connelly told BusinessWest that the CLIC was conceptualized in the fall of 2021 amid what she considered an obvious need for a facility that would not merely take JA back to its roots in many respects, but also help to better prepare young people for life, careers, and the many challenges involving both.

And the need has been there for some time, she went on.

“For the past 10 to 15 years, the board has talked about having a center where people could come and learn about careers,” she said, adding that the idea came off the drawing board and into reality with the help of those aforementioned sponsors and a desire for JA to play a pivotal role in helping to solve the workforce needs of employers while also putting young people on a path to not just jobs, but careers.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno takes a swing at the wall that will be coming down to make way for the new center.

As plans for the CLIC began to materialize, she said, a search commenced for a space. Many options were considered, but eventually those at JA concluded they had everything they needed — space-wise, at least — in its suite of offices on the mezzanine level at Tower Square.

The 3,045-square-foot facility will be reconfigured and furnished for the new center, she noted, adding that the CLIC will include a number of components, including:

• A learning lab that will provide student groups with what Connelly called a “starting point for their career exploration journey.” It will also be a space to promote JA’s financial-literacy curriculum;

• A collaboration hub, which will provide groups with a space for interactive work, problem solving, and critical and creative thinking. The space will include modular seating, whiteboards, breakout laptops and tablets, and a leadership library; and

• A manufacturing lab, a makerspace that will provide young adults with the tools and programs to explore and accelerate a career in the manufacturing industry. The CLIC steering committee is currently working with local manufacturers to determine the best resources for the space, Connelly said, adding that equipment may eventually include 3D printers, a flow forge, a Cricut suite, hand tools, soldering kits, and STEM kits.

Overall, the CLIC will provide experiential learning opportunities for middle- and high-school students, said Connelly, adding that, by engaging students in hands-on experiences and reflection, “they are better able to connect theories and knowledge learned in the classroom to real work situations.”

And such connections are needed at a time when many young people need exposure to careers and the paths to them, she noted, adding that, for middle-school students, visits to the CLIC may help them with the all-important decision of deciding which high school to attend.

As she talked about a visit to the CLIC, Connelly said it will be preceded by completion of JA Inspire Virtual, a career-exploration program designed to highlight careers and educational opportunities in the region. At the center, students will participate in a seminar led by guest speakers from local businesses, and then rotate through the modular-based learning experiences at the learning lab, collaboration zone, and manufacturing space — followed by a working lunch with financial-literacy activities.

The center will also be open after school for students interested in pursuing entrepreneurial interests by operating their own student company. And in the evening, the center will be available to community organizations and local employers as a hub for learning and collaboration.


Bottom Line

Turning back the clock maybe 50 years or so, Connelly noted that what is now JA of Western Massachusetts was an agency, but also a place where young people from schools across the area could come and, through its ‘company’ program, form a business, make a product, and sell it.

Through the CLIC, JA will be able to provide that kind of experience again, she said, adding that, while the center is a blast from the past in some respects, it is really all about the future — as in the future of thousands of area young people and the area businesses that will, hopefully, employ them.


— George O’Brien

Nonprofit Management Special Coverage

Confidence Games

Girls on the Run


Alison Berman recalls a girl who finished her first 5K with Girls on the Run last year.

“This was a girl who had never even walked three miles, which is true for many of our kids. And it took her two hours. I mean, everything was being packed up, and when she finished, it was the most moving thing when she came across that finish line. Her aunt was crying. It was just … something that she never thought that she could possibly do.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Girls on the Run (GOTR) really isn’t about running — at least, not in the sense that competitive runners think about a 5K.

“You have the kid who can do it in 20 minutes and the kid who can do it in two hours,” said Berman, council director of Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts. “It’s not timed. They keep their own goals.”

So, if running isn’t the main focus, what is Girls on the Run about?

In a nutshell, it’s a physical activity-based, positive youth-development program that uses running games and dynamic discussions to teach life skills to girls in grades 3-8. During the 10-week program each semester, girls participate in lessons that foster confidence, build peer connections, and encourage community service while they prepare for a celebratory, end-of-season 5K event.

“The goal, really, is for them to increase their confidence and be able to achieve something they haven’t achieved before.”

Berman explained that each session features a social-emotional life-skills lesson drawn from a nationally distributed curriculum. “There are lessons on how to stand up for yourself, lessons on choosing friends, lessons on identifying and expressing emotions, on stopping to take a breather, empathy, gratitude.”

Meanwhile, each team — there are 75 of them in the Western Mass. council — tackles a community-impact project to give back to their community, Berman explained.

“They could write letters to children’s hospitals, or they can make things for animal shelters. We have one school in Chicopee that did a project in their girls’ bathroom because it was so gross; they made all these amazing signs for it.

“And then, all the while, they’re also training to run a 5K,” she went on. “But running is really secondary to the social-emotional part of it. They can run, they can walk, but the goal, really, is for them to increase their confidence and be able to achieve something they haven’t achieved before.”

The Western Mass. council of GOTR launched in 2015 with 90 girls on six teams. Now, the chapter boasts 75 different teams — 1,030 girls in all — and 285 volunteer coaches. Molly Hoyt, the nonprofit’s program director, started out as a coach herself and can speak to why these women — about half of them teachers by trade — volunteer.

“I think it touches the heart of a lot of people, thinking about themselves at that age and what they needed and probably could have benefited from and didn’t have. So I think they’re filling a gap, and they want to give back” she explained. “And I think teachers see a lack of social and emotional learning in schools. The days are so busy. So it’s a way to give this kind of education to some kids.

From left, Molly Hoyt, Alison Berman, and Coleen Ryan

From left, Molly Hoyt, Alison Berman, and Coleen Ryan say Girls on the Run changes not only the participants’ lives, but often the culture of their schools.

“They also learn stuff from this,” Hoyt went on. “I think the reason we have coaches come back season after season is because they are also benefiting from it. I love coaching. I feel like I learned a lot from it. And there are lessons that are really great at any age; they work for all the coaches too.”


Keeping on Track

The end of the fall and spring seasons end with a 5K celebration, with the spring event typically being the larger of the two. That will take place on Saturday, June 3 at Western New England University, where about 4,000 runners, families, coaches, and supporters are expected to gather.

Registration opens at 8:30 a.m., fun events get underway at 9:30, a group warmup begins at 10, and the walk/run steps off at 10:30. The registration cost is $30 for adults and $10 for youth and includes an event shirt. Volunteers are still welcome to sign up. For more information about the event, how to register, and volunteer opportunities, visit www.girlsontherunwesternma.org.

“We have families come with coolers and lawn chairs and signs, and they set up like they’re tailgating,” Hoyt said. “It’s really fun. It’s a very special day … it’s very unifying. They feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

“It’s a group of girls around the same age going through the same things together. And when you put caring adults with them, it kind of holds them in this vessel and allows them to take risks and lean in a little bit and have these discussions.”

She emphasized that the 5K, like other GOTR activities, is not about achieving a time, but about personal growth.

“I feel like this redefines what running means to them. I think that a lot of kids think, if they’re a runner, it means they have to run marathons or win races. Here, they start understanding that anyone can be a runner because it’s super individual, and what you get out of it is what you want.”

Hoyt said her daughter took part in the program and had never been a runner, and now she runs cross country at school.

“We hear that from a lot of kids; they just did the program and really weren’t into the running piece while they were doing Girls on the Run, but discovered that actually they can do it if they want to. So I do think it redefines the whole concept of being physically active and what running is.”

Coleen Ryan, program manager at GOTR Western Massachusetts, added that, once girls develop a love for running, they find it’s an always-available pastime. “Running doesn’t cost money. Anybody can go out their door and run and be successful.”

She added that the groups at each session are kept to a healthy coach-to-child ratio, so when they’re having discussions or doing laps, they get a lot of individualized attention. “That makes a difference.”

While the girls’ personal growth is exciting, Berman said, perhaps even moreso is the impact of those changes on their families and schools.

“A lot of our coaches who are teachers tell us that they see the kids using the curriculum in the classroom, and they’re becoming leaders in school, like standing up for their friends. So we see the impact at a community level as well. We’ve had some of our teachers, coaches, and principals talk about how it’s also changed the culture of their school and how it’s even gotten guardians and parents more involved.”

end-of-semester 5K events

The end-of-semester 5K events are always celebratory, not competitive.

And it’s not only the girls who are internalizing lessons and deploying them outside of Girls on the Run, Hoyt said — so are the coaches.

“The nice thing about coaching as a parent or a teacher is that you are learning the same language that the girls are during practice, so you can really support them, at home with your own child or in the classroom with kids in the program. You have that common language and start the lessons from the same page. I think it allows adults to support kids better when they go through the experience with them.”


Mission Accomplished

As one girl stated in a video created by GOTR Western Massachusetts, “one thing I love about Girls on the Run is that it’s about body positivity and showing that I’m who I am.”

It’s a message, among many others, that has caught on over the years. The national Girls on the Run organization was formed in 1996 and has since reached more than 2 million girls, with at least one council in every state; three call Massachusetts home.

GOTR claims to make a stronger impact than organized sports and physical-education programs in teaching life skills such as managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others, and making intentional decisions. There are separate curricula for grades 3-5 and 6-8, so the lessons are age-appropriate. And the girls keep journals to track their personal goals and progress.

“That progress is what’s important,” Hoyt said. “It’s not really about how fast anyone is or how far anyone’s running, but that they’re making individual progress.”

That sense of personal growth — Girls on the Run describes itself as developing joyful, healthy, and confident girls — is an attractive quality when so many negative factors are weighing on kids’ mental health these days, Berman said.

“We’ve definitely tapped into a need. There’s a huge child mental-health crisis right now. And whatever’s going on with them, Girls on the Run is giving them this extra layer of skills to support them. And it’s not just the lessons, but having these caring adults that are outside of their school and their parents, who are hopefully building up their resilience.”

Hoyt agreed. “It’s a group of girls around the same age going through the same things together. And when you put caring adults with them, it kind of holds them in this vessel and allows them to take risks and lean in a little bit and have these discussions.”

Berman emphasized that the coaches aren’t trained in running; instead, they’re skilled in the truly important things. “They’re more trained in how to hold a group of kids and how to facilitate discussions and be aware of some mental-health stuff that might come up — because, obviously, there’s a lot of behavioral stuff that comes up in the groups as well. And they have to know how to handle that.”

Because of the importance of the program, Berman said 65% of participants are on full or partial scholarships, which defrays the $160 cost based on ability to pay. “We don’t turn anybody away for financial need. And we also provide shoes for anybody that doesn’t have shoes. We also provide a snack for everybody.”

GOTR relies on fundraising to support its work, including grants and business sponsorships, to help pay for not only the 10-week program twice a year, but also, starting this July, an annual week-long summer camp in Chicopee.

But before that is the not-so-small matter of hosting 4,000 people at Western New England University on June 3 for the region’s most celebratory 5K.

“Normally you might be cheering someone on to win,” Ryan said, “but this is just like, ‘you did it. Everybody, you did it!’”

Nonprofit Management

18 Under 18

Jennifer Connelly

Jennifer Connelly says JA’s 18 Under 18 program will recognize young people in three areas — innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement.

Jennifer Connelly says that, in many ways, the new recognition program created by Junior Achievement (JA) of Western Massachusetts was inspired by the pandemic and a recognized need to bring attention to the manner in which young people, who were impacted by COVID-19 in many different ways, stepped up and displayed true leadership and community involvement at a turbulent time.

“The past few years have been tough on everybody, but they’ve been even tougher on young people,” said Connelly, the agency’s president and CEO. “I think that being isolated, doing remote learning, having to wear masks, not being able to interact with people like they used to, like our volunteers … has challenged many of them, and they’ve felt isolated and removed from being part of the community. We wanted to do something to recognize them to help their self-esteem, but also for the community to realize what a bright future we have with these young people who are doing so much already and celebrate them.”

But these are qualities worthy of recognition at any time, she went on, noting that JA’s new initiative, called 18 Under 18 — in a nod to many regional and national recognition programs, including BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty — and presented by Teddy Bear Pools, will hopefully become a permanent fixture in the region. That is certainly the plan.

“We wanted to do something to recognize them to help their self-esteem, but also for the community to realize what a bright future we have with these young people who are doing so much already and celebrate them.”

The program, as its name connotes, will recognize 18 young people from across the region in both middle and high school. Nominees must attend school in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire County, and while involvement in JA programs is not required, it is considered favorably during the evaluation process, which is now underway. The class of 2022 will be introduced later this month, and they will be honored at ceremonies in the Tower Square food court on May 19.

Candidates will be judged in three areas, said Connelly — innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement — and the nominations that have been received, mostly from teachers, principals, guidance counselors, parents, and other students, show all of those qualities.

Connelly said the program is modeled after initiatives launched in recent years by JA chapters in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and is designed to bring attention to the accomplishments of young people, their leadership skills, and the manner in which they are inspiring others.

She said finalists for the program will be required to attend a 30-minute virtual interview with judges who will ultimately select the 18 to be honored this year.

Those who are nominated are asked to submit something “creative,” she added, be it a photo, a video, a poem or story they wrote, or, in the case of students from the Springfield Conservatory of Music who were nominated, YouTube videos.

“We’re asking these students to display leadership and entrepreneurship, but in the sense that entrepreneurship is creative thinking, the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, the ability to think outside the box, and problem solving.”

“We’re asking these students to display leadership and entrepreneurship, but in the sense that entrepreneurship is creative thinking, the skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, the ability to think outside the box, and problem solving,” she explained, adding that the exercise in creativity should certainly give the judges some things to think about.

Elaborating on that concept of leadership, Connelly said it can come in many forms and many forums, and the 18 Under 18 program should bring this out.

“You don’t have to the student president of a particular grade,” she explained. “You can be demonstrating leadership in a class, for example, stepping up when you see someone having problems in class and helping them.”

Community service is the third leg of the triangle, she said, adding that, even during the pandemic — or especially during the pandemic, as the case may be — young people across the region have found ways to help others and serve their community.

The chosen 18 will be recognized in many different ways, which is one of the hallmarks of the initiative, said Connelly, adding that she is expecting several local media outlets to introduce the honorees to the region. At the May 19 event, there will be a reception for the honorees, with 250 to 300 attendees expected, and awards given out (Country Bank is the award sponsor). There will be even be ‘18 Under 18’ lawn signs to identify the homes of the 18 honorees.

Eventually, the goal is to award college scholarships to the honorees, said Connelly, adding that this goal can be realized if the program catches on as expected and additional sponsors can be secured.

Ted Hebert, owner and founder of Chicopee-based Teddy Bear Pools and, coincidentally, one of BusinessWest’s Difference Makers for 2022, said he was approached by JA several months ago to be a sponsor of 18 Under 18. A strong supporter of youth programs and organizations committed to serving young people, from youth sports leagues to Boys and Girls Clubs to YMCAs, Hebert said he attached the Teddy Bear name to the initiative because it dovetails with other work he and his wife, Barbara, are involved with, and meshes with his values when it comes to how such agencies should serve young people.

“I like to help organizations that don’t enable people,” he explained. “I like organizations that help people, give them a helping hand, to guide them and help them through whatever they’re going to go through to make it better for them and our society. I’m looking to assist people, and this program seemed to be something that would be assisting young people in their personal lives and, potentially, their business lives. And I liked that idea.”

As with other recognition programs of this kind, Connelly said 18 Under 18 will take some time to become part of the fabric of the region. As it gains visibility and the students are recognized for their accomplishments and talents, she expects the number of nominations to steadily grow.

Over the coming years, she believes, this recognition, a word she chose over ‘award,’ is something that students and those that they inspire will come to value and strive for.

“We’re really excited about this,” she said in conclusion, adding that such a recognition program for young people has been a missing ingredient locally. “We know how special these students are. We need to let everyone know.”


— George O’Brien

Nonprofit Management Special Coverage

Growth Is on the Menu


A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

While it manages an impressive flow of food from numerous sources to the people who need it most, in recent years, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been doing that job in a space that’s not sufficient for the work. That will change with the opening, in 2023, of a new headquarters in Chicopee that will more than double the organization’s space and allow it to serve more people with more food and more nutrition and educations — in effect, expanding the menu of what’s possible at a time when the need is great.


The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was launched in a Hadley barn 40 years ago. Four years later, it relocated to its current facility in Hatfield.

Today, as one of four regional food banks in Massachusetts, the organization provides food to 172 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. Its food sources include the state and federal government, local farms — including two of its own  — retail and wholesale food businesses, community organizations, and individual donations.

The organization also provides other forms of food assistance, such as nutrition workshops, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment assistance, and education, public-policy advocacy, and engagement around issues of food insecurity.

That’s a lot of food and a lot of people being served, and not enough space to do it all. In fact, the Food Bank has had to turn away about a million pounds of food donations over the past three years, said Andrew Morehouse, its executive director.

The need for a new facility is nothing new, but the reality of one is finally on the near horizon, with a $19 million, 63,000-square-foot facility breaking ground in Chicopee next month and set to open next year, more than doubling the organization’s current 30,000 square feet of space.

Those are gratifying numbers, Morehouse said.

“This is a project we’ve been planning for probably six years, when we realized we were beginning to run out of space here at the facility in Hatfield. So we began the process of figuring out what we needed to do,” he told BusinessWest. “Do we want to expand the facility in Hatfield or purchase or build a second facility in Hampden County? Can we operate two facilities? If we can’t, are we prepared to move to the Springfield area?”

About three years ago, the Food Bank decided to move to Hampden County, for multiple reasons. “One is because it’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

“It’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

In addition, Hampden County boasts the region’s largest concentration of people facing food insecurity. “For that reason as well, we said, ‘we really need to be in Hampden County,’” Morehouse explained. “We’ve been an upper Pioneer Valley organization, even though we serve all four counties, and this affords us the opportunity to raise our visibility in Hampden County.”

More than two years ago, the Food Bank honed in on a building for sale on Carando Drive in Springfield and made an offer to purchase, but backed out after the inspection stage. “So we went back to the drawing board,” he said, and that process eventually brought the nonprofit to a parcel of land at the Chicopee River Business Park owned by Westmass Area Development Corp.

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president, when they announced pledges of $1.5 million each to the Food Bank’s capital campaign last year.

The space is plentiful — 16.5 acres, 9.5 of which are buildable, the rest protected as wetlands and greenspace. The Dennis Group had begun designing a building well before the land purchase (Thomas Douglas Architects also had a hand in the design), and C.E. Floyd, based in Bedford, will do the construction, with groundbreaking, as noted, likely to happen next month and the new facility expected to open in March or April 2023, with move-in complete by that summer.

“It’s twice the size of our current facility, which gives us the capacity to receive, store, and distribute more healthy food to more people for decades to come,” Morehouse said.


Special Deliveries

The Food Bank’s reach is impressive, serving as a clearinghouse of emergency food for all four counties of Western Mass., most distributed to local food pantries, meal sites, and shelters.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats,” Morehouse noted. “And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

Much of the food the organization collects is purchased, using state and federal funds, from wholesalers, local supermarkets, and three dozen local farms, from which the Food Bank purchased more than a half-million pounds of vegetables last year using state funds; farmers also donate another half-million pounds each year.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats. And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

“We’ve also increased our own capacity to distribute food directly,” Morehouse said. “Since the late ’80s, we’ve been providing food to seniors in 51 senior centers across all four counties, and we continue to do that. Every month, we send a truck and provide bags of groceries to 6,500 elders — about 16 food items to supplement elders who lived on fixed incomes. And in the last six or seven years, we initiated a mobile food bank where we send a truck once or twice a month to 26 sites in the four counties — 10 in Hampden County — and provide fresh vegetables and other food items to individuals who live in food deserts, neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores where they can buy healthy food.”

Andrew Morehouse

Andrew Morehouse says moving food — tens of thousands of pounds of it a day — in and out of the Food Bank’s headquarters will be much more efficient in the new facility.

The federal government responded well to suddenly increased food-insecurity needs in the first year of the pandemic, Morehouse noted, but by late 2021, many of those expanded safety-net programs were sunsetting, at the same time inflation was sending food prices soaring. “We believe that will lead to another spike in demand for emergency food.”

He intends for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to meet that demand locally.

“This brand-new building is designed to maximize the efficiency of the flow of inventory. Over the last 30 years at our current facility, we’ve been expanding in a very small footprint in any way we can; this new property allows us to maximize efficiency and store more food and move food in and out more quickly and have more bays to receive food and distribute it quickly.”

And because combating hunger requires multiple lines of attack, Morehouse plans to use the additional space for expanded nutrition education programs as well, including a large demonstration kitchen. He also plans to hire more staff.

“We have partnerships with local hospitals and community health centers to address people with food insecurity. We’ll have more staff to help people apply for SNAP benefits and have more community space to accommodate workshops and community events.”

One of the project funding sources, a MassWorks grant to the city of Chicopee for site development, requires the building to have a physical public benefit, Morehouse noted. “So we’ve entered into an easement agreement with the city where our parking lot and community room are available as emergency shelter in the event of a natural disaster.”

Speaking of funding, while the project budget is $19 million, the capital campaign aimed to raise $26.3 million, which includes financing, furniture, fixtures, equipment, legal costs, accounting, and fundraising. Of that, more than $25 million has already been pledged. Large earmarks included $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $1.6 million from Chicopee’s coffers.

“Mayor [John] Vieau has repeatedly said how proud he is that the city of Chicopee will become the hub for food insecurity for the four counties of Western Massachusetts,” Morehouse said.

Other sources of funding include a New Market Tax Credit investment program, which will raise $4.2 million from investors, as well as support from individuals foundations, and businesses, he explained. “Lastly, the Food Bank will invest the proceeds from the same of our current building to the campaign.”

When MassDevelopment issued a $9.5 million tax-exempt bond for the project earlier this month, MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera noted that “more residents of Western Massachusetts will soon be able to access nutritious food and supportive services with the construction of this bigger, modern Food Bank. MassDevelopment is proud to deliver tax-exempt financing to help the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts fulfill its mission of addressing food insecurity and empowering people to live healthy lives.”

“This is a great project to be a part of,” added Matthew Krokov, first vice president of Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank, which purchased the bond. “The Food Bank plays a vital role in alleviating food insecurities in our region, and this investment in the Food Bank’s future home will help provide better access for individuals in our community.”


Food for Thought

The project, like any large construction project these days, has run into supply-chain obstacles that have caused delay and boosted costs, but Morehouse and other stakeholders finally see it coming into focus — and not a moment too soon for an organization that provided 11.6 million meals in 2021, reaching an average of 103,000 individuals per month.

“We are excited the Food Bank of Western Mass. has chosen the Chicopee River Business Park to relocate their operations and headquarters,” Vieau said. “I can think of no better place in terms of access, efficiency, and accessibility than right here in Chicopee, at the crossroads of New England.” u


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management

Taking Things to a Higher Gear

Bob Charland

Bob Charland


While providing BusinessWest a tour of the facilities that were once home to the makers of Absorbine Jr., Bob Charland stopped at the top of the stairs leading to the huge basement.

“You want to see what 2,000 bikes looks like … there you go,” he said, gesturing with his hand toward a room absolutely crammed with bicycles of every color, size, and shape imaginable. “And that’s just a fraction of what we have here.”

Indeed, on the other side of a wall that divides the basement are probably another 1,000 bikes, he said, adding that more are stored in a facility in Palmer and still more in a trailer. Meanwhile, in other parts of the massive home for the nonprofit known as Pedal Thru Youth, several hundred bikes are in various stages of being ready for delivery to various constituencies, including 200 that are ready for delivery to working homeless individuals in Hartford.

These rooms filled with bikes go a long way toward telling the story of this unique individual known to most as simply “the Bike Man” and the nonprofit he created four years ago. But there is much more to that story as well, as his tour makes clear.

“There’s nothing in the stores; I was in a bike shop the other day, and there were maybe four bikes there, and these were the high-end models that sell for a few thousand dollars.”

There are also large supplies of clothes for the needy here, as well as backpacks filled with health supplies bound for the homeless, wheelchairs being retrofitted, and bicycles customized for those with special needs.

There’s also a bedroom that Charland adjourns to when he’s working very late (which happens often) and is simply too tired to drive home — which happens “once in a while.”

Collectively, the stops on the tour tell of the mission and the inestimable energy and passion that Charland brings to his work, which has certainly evolved since he launched Pedal Thru Youth and evolved even further in the wake of the pandemic.


Changing Lanes

Indeed, when COVID-19 shut down schools (to which this agency provides a large number of bikes), the economy in general, and non-essential businesses and nonprofits, Charland shifted to making cloth masks and distributing them to police departments and other destinations.

“I was bored,” he said when recalling those first few weeks after COVID arrived. “I know how to sew, so I started sewing face masks at home with my stepson. We then started putting the masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves in backpacks and handing them out to police departments, because those departments certainly weren’t ready for COVID — they didn’t have enough supplies.”

Just some of the thousands of bikes waiting to be repaired and prepared for delivery to children

Just some of the thousands of bikes waiting to be repaired and prepared for delivery to children, veterans, and other constituencies at the headquarters for Pedal Thru Youth in Springfield.

The story went viral on social media, and People magazine published a piece that caught the attention of Samsonite, which sent Charland some industrial sewing machines, fabric, and elastic so he could ramp up production of masks.

“We ended up having nine sewing machines out in the community,” he said, adding that he soon had more than 100 masks coming his way each day that he started distributing to senior centers, nursing homes, and a host of police departments.

Because of that initiative, Charland’s agency was deemed essential. And soon, most of the focus was back on bikes and other, more traditional aspects of its mission. But there was some pivoting as well.

With schools closed, many of the donations of bicycles shifted to the homeless and veterans groups, he noted, adding that he also teamed up with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation to bring food to veterans’ organizations.

Getting back to bicycles … this is still the primary mission of Pedal Thru Youth, and the work of repairing and readying those thousands of bikes that have been donated or collected by police departments, public-works employees, and others has gone on throughout the pandemic.

The donations have mostly been much smaller in scale — again, because most schools remain closed or not open to the public — but Charland has improvised.

“There’s nothing in the stores; I was in a bike shop the other day, and there were maybe four bikes there, and these were the high-end models that sell for a few thousand dollars.”

“We did a very large donation of bikes, 169 of them, to West Springfield, but, because the schools were closed, we had to go house to house to deliver the bikes to individual families,” he said, adding that now, as the pandemic is easing, there is greater demand and an even a greater sense of urgency — if that’s possible.

That’s because bicycles — and bicycle parts — are now firmly on the growing list of items that are in demand, but also short supply. As in very short. During COVID, with children out of school, demand for bikes soared, Charland explained, adding that manufacturers have struggled mightily to build inventory amid supply-chain issues.

“There’s nothing in the stores; I was in a bike shop the other day, and there were maybe four bikes there, and these were the high-end models that sell for a few thousand dollars,” he said, adding that this dynamic is generating more individual requests for bikes from families and nonprofits in need.

Pedal Thru Youth is better equipped to handle larger requests and bulk deliveries of a few dozen or a few hundred bicycles, but, out of necessity, it has adjusted, as with those deliveries to West Springfield families. Overall, he meets roughly 90% of the individual requests for bicycles.

He tries to meet this demand not all by myself, but pretty close.

He has some help from some volunteers, including a few individuals involved in the program called Roca, which strives to end recidivism and return offenders to society through job placement and other initiatives. They assist with basic repairs to bicycles — Charland handles the more difficult work — and getting them ready for transport.

On average, he and his volunteers will get roughly 20 bikes ready for the road each day, said Charland, adding that many of the donated bikes are in decent shape, and those needing considerable work are often stripped down for parts.

In addition to traditional bicycles, requests are soaring for bikes for children with special needs. And they come from not only Western Mass., but across the country. Charland had a few ready to go out the door on the day BusinessWest visited, but there are roughly 90 requests for such bikes on his desk.


Pedaling On

Meanwhile, as he goes about meeting these requests, he battles a number of health issues, most recently three hernias, and shoulder and kidney issues that now keep him from working for a living and waging legal battles for workers’ comp. This is addition to a head injury that has long impacted his quality of life.

He said he soldiers on because of the satisfaction he gets from his various efforts, especially the delivery of a bicycle — and a helmet, water bottle, and first-aid kit — to a child in need.

“I love what I do,” he said simply. “This is a lot of fun, and to see the look on the kids’ faces … that’s what drives me.”


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management

Y’s Plan of Action

Dexter Johnson

Dexter Johnson says the Springfield Y’s move downtown is a significant cost savings, but there are other reasons why it makes sense.

The YMCA of Greater Springfield has had a long-standing policy: once someone has logged 50 years of continuous membership, their days of paying to work out are over.

Dexter Johnson, CEO of the nonprofit, told BusinessWest that there are at least a few dozen people currently taking advantage of this benefit, including one who recently crossed that threshold. “He was counting down the days until April 15, and kept reminding us,” said Johnson. “It’s a badge of honor for them.”

Some of those in this exclusive club can trace their membership back to when the YMCA was located a few blocks to the south of its current home on Chestnut Street, in the heart of the city’s downtown. And most all of them will be turning back the clock in a way and staying with the Y when it makes its move back downtown — to Tower Square — in a matter of weeks.

Johnson hasn’t officially polled these long-time members, but he has gathered some feedback on this move, one that has been accompanied by no end of questions concerning everything from where people will park to why this relocation was necessary, to where people might be able to swim a few months from now.

We’ll get to all those later. First, back to Johnson and those in the ‘membership is free’ club.

“We’re hoping that they stay with us through this transition, and most are keeping an open mind,” he said. “They understand that transition has to happen, it has to happen in life in general, and all businesses go through it some point. Our message to them has been, ‘just wait and come check it out; there’s no need to run somewhere else.’”

And this is the mindset — especially that open-minded part — that Johnson hopes all current members, prospective members, and the community at large will take as the Springfield Y, one of the oldest such institutions in the country, embarks on what will certainly be one of the most intriguing chapters in its history.

“We’re hoping that they stay with us through this transition, and most are keeping an open mind … Our message to them has been, ‘just wait and come check it out; there’s no need to run somewhere else.’”

The lease with Tower Square is for 10 years, and the ensuing decade will be spent exploring and perhaps implementing any of a number of options for securing long-term sustainability for the Y, a nonprofit that has struggled financially not only for the past several decades, but most of its existence, said Johnson, who has researched the matter thoroughly.

However, the fiscal picture became even darker in recent years, said Johnson, adding that the Y essentially reached a point where it needed to get out from under a half-century-old facility that had become an untenable money pit.

But while the move to Tower Square will ultimately save the Y roughly $150,000 a year, the relocation and sale of the property on Chestnut Street should be looked upon not merely as a cost-saving measure, but as a real opportunity for the agency.

Indeed, Johnson estimates there are at least 2,000 people working in Tower Square and the other office buildings abutting it, and within those ranks are undoubtedly people who could benefit from having a well-equipped gym just a few hundred feet from their office or cubicle. Likewise, there are parents perhaps looking for day-care services more convenient than the one they’re using.

Meanwhile, the Y will have a front-row seat for, and perhaps play an important role in, the revitalization of Springfield’s downtown.

“There’s a lot of activity happening downtown right now, and this gives us the opportunity to be part of that rejuvenation that’s going on,” he said.

These are just some of the ‘glass-more-than-half-full’ takes that Johnson has concerning the Y’s new home. For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, he offered much more on how and why this step was taken and what it means for this institution.

Positive Steps

As he talked with BusinessWest in his office at the Chestnut Street facility, Johnson said the Y recently received an appraisal ($1.3 million) on the building — or, to be more specific, the non-residential component, with the five-story living quarters having already been acquired by Home City Housing — and said the property will go on the market later this month.

When asked to speculate on possible future uses, potential buyers, and degree of retrofitting likely to be involved, he obliged.

“If it was a school that really wanted a pool and a basketball court, then there wouldn’t be as much repurposing to do,” he explained. “But if someone wanted to turn it into office or retail space, then obviously there would be significantly more repurposing.”

But at present, Johnson has his mind on many other matters beyond what will hopefully be a quick sale, especially the work to get the Y’s new digs, especially the child-care component, ready for primetime, meaning August by his calculations.

But before we go there, we need to go back and discuss the many factors that brought us to this moment. Recapping, albeit quickly, Johnson said a number of factors and circumstances in recent years — everything from escalating competition in the fitness business to the miscalculation that was the Y branch that opened in Agawam in 2014 and subsequently closed less than two years later, to the ever-rising costs of operating and maintaining the Chestnut Street facility — brought the Y to the point where something needed to be done, and soon.

He said a number of options have been considered in recent years, from new construction — pegged at $12 million to $15 million — to renovation of the existing structure, to retrofitting another building. But the numbers didn’t seem to work with any of them.

A different kind of option presented itself when the new owners of Tower Square — even before they actually owned the property — approached Johnson about the prospects of the Y moving there.

“There’s a lot of activity happening downtown right now, and this gives us the opportunity to be part of that rejuvenation that’s going on.”

And the talks quickly escalated to action.

“The opportunity at Tower Square was chosen because it did allow us to make a quicker move than any other options we explored,” he explained, adding that, as those talks continued, a plan emerged that would bring the old Y, or at least most of it, to two different locations within Tower Square. The childcare unit would be relocated to an area on the ground floor, formerly occupied by Valley Venture Mentors, a travel bureau, dry cleaners, and other businesses. Meanwhile, the wellness center would be located in a large space across from the Food Court, perhaps best known in recent years as the home to the Boys and Girls Club’s Festival of Trees.

The two sides came to an official agreement in the spring, and work has been ongoing at the childcare facilities and, more recently, the wellness center. Meanwhile, logistics have been worked out regarding parking — members can park for free in the Tower Square parking garage — and for the dropoff and pickup of children at childcare in a designated area created along Bridge Street.

The Y will be trading its current 85,000 square feet of space for less than half that (35,000 square feet), said Johnson, but a good portion of the existing footprint is unused or underutilized anyway, including the basketball court and squash courts, which in recent years have been put to other uses. And there are options available for adding more space in the future.

The move is somewhat unusual, but not without precedent, he added, noting that, as the retail scene changes and many YMCAs face fiscal challenges and upkeep expenses at aging facilities, some have found new homes in closed malls and supermarkets, and others, like Hartford’s, have found their way back downtown.

Space Exploration

But while a move to Tower Square was the most sensible option on many levels, it obviously comes with a good amount of risk, Johnson acknowledged, noting that the downtown location brings with it questions, challenges, and limitations.

Starting with the obvious lack of a pool.

Johnson said there are a number of members who make use of the pool at the Chestnut Street location — just how many he couldn’t say — but these individuals will certainly be among those who won’t be going with the Y to its new home.

“The question about the pool is the one that’s raised the most, and that’s a loss for us, no question about it — especially for the adults who use the pool for lap swimming,” he noted. “But for us, that’s not a huge number right now. The pool sees more activity from youth swim lessons and exercise classes happening in the pool, and we’re looking to continue those at other sites.”

Elaborating, he said the Y is exploring partnerships with a number of entities, including Boys and Girls Clubs, schools in Springfield, and other facilities.

As for the membership in general, Johnson said there have been a lot of questions and some anxiety about the move, both of which were expected. But he believes when the dust settles — literally and figuratively — most will stay with the Y.

“There are a lot of great members who have been here 40 and 50 years — we have some long-term members who are used to being here,” he said. “Once they’ve seen the renderings of what the new place will look like and they understand that it’s the same great staff … they’ll realize that, if everyone goes over, then the small groups that have formed and the friendships that have formed can continue.

“We’re not looking to change any of that,” he went on. “We’d just like to change the location and create something that’s more attractive to new membership.”

Overall, Johnson is expecting an attrition rate of perhaps 20% among the Springfield Y’s roughly 1,100 members, a number he admits is a calculated guess based on the feedback he’s received.

That’s a big number, but he’s optimistic when it comes to the prospects for recovering those losses with new members, especially from the ranks of those working in and around Tower Square, a number that will climb by roughly 200 with the arrival of Wellfleet in August (see related story, page 39).

Johnson acknowledged there are already a few gyms downtown — one at the Sheraton hotel in Monarch Place and another just a block down the street at 1350 Main St. — but none right in Tower Square. And none that have the far-reaching mission of the YMCA, where dollars spent on a fitness membership ultimately wind up helping fund a number of youth programs within the community.

He’s already reached out to those at the UMass campus located on the second floor of Tower Square and plans to do the same with Cambridge College, located on the ground floor. Meanwhile, the Y is planning a membership drive and grand-opening specials, to help spur interest in the new facility, as well as half-hour classes designed specifically for business people on tight schedules.

The Shape of Things to Come

In discussing the move to Tower Square, Johnson refrained from describing the new mailing address with the term ‘temporary,’ although he hinted strongly that it probably won’t be permanent.

“As we looked to our future, we saw this as a great opportunity for more immediate stability,” he told BusinessWest. “Our options are open to continue once we get this move done and stabilize ourselves a little bit. I wouldn’t call this ‘temporary,’ but I also wouldn’t say it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to explore standalone ownership somewhere else in Springfield down the road.”

In other words, the move buys the Y some precious time and, by all accounts, a much better chance than it previously had of putting itself on better financial footing for the short and long term.

Which means that, in most all respects, this was a gamble worth taking.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]m

Nonprofit Management

In Good Company

Jennifer Connelly, left, and Dawn Creighton

Jennifer Connelly, left, and Dawn Creighton display promotional materials for the JA Inspire program’s career-exploration fair set for May 28.

The 100th Anniversary Gala for Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts will have a decidedly ’20s flair — as in the 1920s. In fact, the theme is “The Roaring ’20s are Back.”

Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to come in period dress, a challenge that Jennifer Connelly, executive director of the local JA chapter, met (with considerable help from her daughter) by doing a hard search online that yielded the appropriate dress as well as a headband with a feather.

“I’ll have the long gloves and the long cigarette holder — a full outfit; it will be very interesting to see what people come up with to mark the ’20s,” she said with a trace of understatement in her voice.

But while the gala will amount to an effort to turn back the clock in many respects, Junior Achievement, and especially its Western Mass. chapter, have been turning the clock forward, focusing on the 2020s — and the decades to follow — with a host of programs that are seemingly far removed from the organization’s original mission to introduce young people to the principles of business — but then again, not very far removed at all.

Programs like JA Inspire.

Created by a coalition of education and industry leaders led by JA of Western Mass., this endeavor is designed to introduce young people to industry sectors and careers, and also provide awareness of what skills will be needed to thrive in those settings.

At the heart of the initiative is a massive career fair set for May 28 at the MassMutual Center that won’t follow the typical model for such events.

Actually, it will, but the audience will be decidedly different. Instead of people looking for jobs they can enter in a few weeks or even a few days, those roaming the aisles will be middle- and high-school students gaining information on jobs they might fill sometime in the next decade.

“We’re going to have representatives of a number of industry clusters, and we’ll also have representatives of the post-secondary schools in this area,” said Connelly, “so students can understand that there is a pathway to a career that they might be interested in.”

In many respects, JA has always been about identifying and illuminating pathways, and JA Inspire is just one example of how this nonprofit has stayed true to its original mission while also evolving over the years and expanding into programs, 23 of them in all, for students in grades K-12, said Connelly.

These programs provide lessons in everything from how government works to how large a slice of one’s paycheck the IRS takes; from how global the global economy truly is to the all-important difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ when it comes to how one spends their money, she said, adding that, to get these messages across, JA relies (as it has throughout its history) on volunteers.

“We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”

People like Sharon Dufour, chief financial officer at Ludlow-based LUSO Federal Credit Union and a JA volunteer for more than 30 years, 20 of them in this market. She has been instrumental in bringing JA programs into schools in the Wilbraham/Ludlow area, and also in moving beyond traditional school-banking initiatives — where students learn the basics of banking — and into financial literacy.

She’s taught at all levels, including seventh grade and a program called “JA is My Future,” which helps students understand the value of what they’re learning.

“It helps them understand the skills they’ll need for specific jobs,” she explained,” adding that, in the last full school year, LUSO helped coordinate 130 classes for Junior Achievement, reaching 2,810 students. “We try to make that match between what they’re learning and why it’s important, and it’s very rewarding work.”

Julie Ann Pelletier agreed. A retired transplant to the Berkshires just over a decade ago, she was looking for volunteer work to take on and certainly found it with JA — she now coordinates the agency’s programs across the Berkshires.

One of them is an initiative to promote entrepreneurship in high-school students, for which they needed a product that students could design, make, market, and sell. Pelletier helped inspire one — crocheted hats (she teaches that art).

Fast-forwarding, she said she wound up teaching a number of Putnam Vocational Academy students that skill, and a few of them went on to start their own businesses and eventually win business competitions as they moved their ventures forward.

“I’m 72, and they’re 17, so they called it ‘Twisting the Generations,’ — it was the old school teaching the new school,” she said, summing up quickly and efficiently what JA, and its volunteers, have been doing for the past century.

For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, BusinessWest examines all that JA is celebrating as its marks an important milestone — 100 years of not only teaching young people about business, but preparing them for all that life can throw at them.

Getting Down to Business

Connelly told BusinessWest that JA’s 100th birthday bash will be a year-long celebration, one that has a number of goals, from honoring the past to raising awareness of its many programs and initiatives in an effort to ensure sustainability.

It will be capped, in most respects, by a series of events on Sept. 28, when JA National, as it’s called, which is based in Colorado, will stage JA Day at the Big E, home to the first Junior Achievement building ever erected — funded by Horace Moses, president of Strathmore Paper Co., and one of three men who founded JA in 1919. There will be a parade, speeches, and a dinner, and Connelly is expecting representatives from many of the 107 JA chapters nationwide to be in attendance.

Jennifer Connelly says JA has evolved considerably

Jennifer Connelly says JA has evolved considerably over the past century, but remains true to its original mission.

Locally, the immediate focus is on the May 4 gala, to be staged at MGM Springfield, an event expected to draw more than 300 people. The list of attendees includes two descendants of U.S. Sen. Murray Crane of Massachusetts, another of the founders (the third was Theodore Vail, president of AT&T), as well as a representative of Strathmore Paper.

So there will be significant ties to the past, said Connelly, adding that the gala will honor the agency’s founders, but also all the change and evolution that has come over the past century, and there has been quite a bit of both, as her quick history lesson shows.

“When they founded JA 100 years ago, it started off with what they called the company program,” she explained. “Students came together, formed a company, and sold a product; they envisioned a way to help young people transitioning from an agrarian-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy.”

A glass display case in the front lobby of the JA’s offices on the second floor of Tower Square holds artifacts that speak to those early days of the company program, everything from ribbons awarded at a competition in the mid-1920s to a wooden lamp built by area high-school students to later sell. (Connelly isn’t sure of the date on that item, but guesses it’s from the mid-’70s.

The student-company initiative continues to this day, she said proudly, noting that a number of area high schools run the program after school, during the summer, and as part of the regular school day.

Pathfinder Regional High School, for example, has expanded its program to includes a Facebook page, she said, adding that one class is enjoying success with selling a brush designed for pets called Brush It Off.

But over the past 30 years or so, JA has taken on a broader role, one certainly in keeping with the founders’ intent, especially within the realm of financial literacy. And that role will likely become deeper still following the passage of a bill in January that allows state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy, which schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business, and social sciences.

The standards will be guidelines, not a mandate, said Connelly, adding that, for those schools who wish to adopt these guidelines, JA could become a partner in helping to bring those lessons home.

The agency already provides a wide array of financial-literacy programs to students in grades K-12, she noted, citing, as one example, something called the Credit for Life Fair, staged recently at Elms College, a program created for high-school students.

Students essentially choose a field, are given a budget, and are presented a number of options on how to spend their money — from investments to essentials like housing, a car, and groceries, as well as ‘fun’ items. They then visit with a credit counselor to review their choices and discuss the consequences of each one.

“These are great learning experiences,” Connelly said of the fair, several of which are conducted each year. “They actually get to see that, even if they get a good job and make a lot of money, that money doesn’t go too far. And they learn about the importance of having a good credit score; they can be a doctor and make a lot of money, but if they have a bad credit score, that’s going to hurt them down the road.”

The Job at Hand

While JA is providing young people with a look at life in a chosen profession through these Credit for Life programs — well, sort of — it is also introducing them to industry sectors, career paths, and specific jobs through initiatives like the JA Inspire program and the aforementioned event at the MassMutual Center.

The formal name of that gathering is the Inspire Career Exploration Fair, and that’s appropriate, because that’s what the attendees will be doing — exploring. And while they’re doing that, area employers might be getting some help with the biggest problem they face these days — securing a workforce for the future.

“Every employer in every industry sector is experiencing workforce shortages,” said Dawn Creighton, Western Mass. director for Associated Industries of Massachuetts, which came on board as a sponsor of the initiative early on and has been encouraging its members to take part. “People are not ready for the workforce, whether it’s vocational skills, technical skills, soft skills — they’re not ready.”

The career-exploration fair was conceived to help ensure that the next generation of workers is more ready, she went on, by not just introducing young people to career possibilities they may or may not have known about, but also spell out for them what it will take to land such a position in terms of skills and education.

And that’s why the event has caught the attention of businesses in several sectors, from manufacturing to healthcare to financial services, and from every corner of the 413, said Creighton, adding that all see a chance to open some eyes.

“All too often, these types of career days come during the spring of senior year, and by then it’s often too late,” she told BusinessWest. “We need to introduce young people to all the career opportunities out there, and we need to do it earlier.”

Sharon Dufour, long-time volunteer with JA

Sharon Dufour, long-time volunteer with JA, is seen here with third-graders as she provides lessons about zoning and building a city.

Thus, the fair, as noted, is an example of how JA’s mission has evolved and the agency has moved beyond the classroom in many respects. But area schools are where most of JA’s life lessons are delivered, a tradition that began a century ago and continues today through the work of teachers and especially volunteers.

Dufour has worked to recruit them for years and said more are always needed to help JA reach more young people.

“I tell every volunteer I know that it’s the most rewarding experience you can imagine,” she said. “The kids see you; they remember you. I once had a kid come flying across the Stop & Shop to give me a big hug. Her mother said, ‘my daughter does not stop talking about you.’”

Pelletier agreed, and said the rewards from volunteering come in many flavors, especially the satisfaction that comes from seeing a light go on in a young person’s eyes as they realize their potential to take an idea or a skill (like crocheting) and run with it.

“Once people get the basics, they fly,” she said, referring specifically to crocheting, but also to the many principles of business in general. “And it’s incredibly exciting to watch it happen.”

Past Is Prologue

“The future of our country depends upon making every individual fully realize the obligations and responsibilities belonging to citizenship. Habits are formed in youth. What we need in this country now is to teach the growing generations to realize that thrift and economy, coupled with industry, are as necessary now as they were in past generations.”

Theodore Vail spoke those words a century or so ago when JA was in its infancy. But they certainly ring true today, especially that part about habits being formed in youth.

Helping young people develop the right habits has been JA’s informal mission for 100 years now. There are now more ways in which in that mission is being carried out, but it’s still about pathways and putting people on the right ones.

And that’s a proud history worth celebrating.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management

Sustainable Concept

Patrick Callahan doesn’t know exactly where the image originated.

It was a Facebook post about a community overseas that had set up a refrigerator on the side of a street to provide the homeless with leftovers offered by the local community.

“I think it was in India, but I really can’t be sure,” said Callahan, adding quickly that the exact location wasn’t and isn’t really important. What is important is the concept and the proactive, imaginative response to the needs of the homeless.

And what’s more important still is the way it inspired him to not only ask what could be done in this region — a thought experiment, as he called it — but to help answer that question.

“I thought to myself, we should be doing something like that refrigerator,” said Callahan, a member of the emerging third generation involved with Palmer Paving Corp., who approached the principals there, including his aunt, Jan, about leveraging the company’s many relationships within the communities it serves and building upon its long history of giving back to address obvious needs.

That ‘something’ is an emerging and intriguing story called Nicebox, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created in 2016 to address the many needs of the homeless.

One of the original ideas — and it is still being talked about on many levels — was to install solar-powered vending machines in strategic locations that would, in exchange for a certain amount of recyclables, dispense a Nicebox, a pack filled with items the homeless can use. While discussions on machines continued, talk also focused on exactly what should go into these packs, said Pat Callahan, adding that, eventually, it was determined that several different kinds of packs are needed, including those filled with food, hygiene items, and healthcare needs.

And the newly created nonprofit set about creating some of these packs, starting with the one that has come to be called the Tidypack. It contains a host of hygiene products, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, a razor and shaving cream, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and more.

Working with the Friends of the Homeless, part of Clinical & Support Options (CSO), Nicebox has distributed more than 3,000 of these packs to date, said Pat Callahan, adding that the boxes are catching on, and so is that name, Tidypack, thanks to a true partnership with Friends of the Homeless.

“We’ve been working in close concert with them,” she explained. “Originally, we had an idea for the Tidypack — let’s give them these products. But then we took a step back and said, ‘let’s go in and see what they really need.’ So we sat down with the team at Friends of the Homeless and determined what they really needed.”

The packs can last an individual a week or more, said Jan, adding that the cost of filling one — thanks to wholesale purchases and discounts given to nonprofits — is roughly the same as that for a gourmet coffee, and this is the message Nicebox is spreading as it goes about enlisting support for its efforts.

“To help someone stay clean for a week only costs $2.50,” she noted. “When you think of an individual who’s struggling, you can help them for the same as it would cost to buy to a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Pat Callahan and his aunt, Jan, say customers and partners of Palmer Paving have supported Nicebox early on, and they want to see that support expand outward.

And the nonprofit has secured quite a bit of help, she went on, noting that while Nicebox does some fundraising — she recently conducted an appeal on Facebook — it has thus far mostly relied on the support of customers, vendors, and other partners of Palmer Paving.

“With the reach that Palmer Paving has, we’ve been sending out sort of ad hoc requests for donations within our group of friends and company friends, and they’ve been supportive of this,” she told BusinessWest.

And support is needed as the nonprofit looks to not only expand the presence of the Tidypack, but also move forward with another type of assistance package — the Healthpack.

Indeed, Nicebox is collaborating with Mercy Medical Center, which already has a strong track record for work with the homeless in and around Springfield, to introduce the packs this summer.

They will include such items as a clean pair of socks, Band-Aids, ointment, a sewing kit, and other items, said Pat Callahan, and will be distributed by the medical center to those who, for whatever reason, will not come to a homeless shelter.

Moving forward, Pat and Jan noted that those involved with Nicebox have been working diligently over the past two years to track their progress and results, with the goal of using the accumulated data to apply for grants from foundations and other entities so the nonprofit doesn’t have to rely on donations and can expand its efforts geographically and through initiatives that might include a Nicebox on wheels that can distribute packs to a wider area.

Mercy Medical Center is part of the national Trinity Health system, noted Pat Callahan, adding that this affiliation may become a vehicle for taking the Healthpacks regional and perhaps national. Already, the nonprofit has become involved with some initatives in the Hartford area.

Meanwhile, Nicebox is also taking steps to increase its visibility through a number of initiatives, including booths at events like the upcoming Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival and others like it.

Overall, Nicebox is focused on putting its mission on a rock-solid foundation and continually building — those sound like phrases that would be heard at Palmer Paving — on a concept grounded in meeting need.

Like Patrick Callahan said, he’s not sure where that Facebook post of the refrigerator on the side of the road originated from. What matters is that he saw it, he was inspired by it, and he’s working with others to find similarly unique ways to help those who need some.

— George O’Brien

Nonprofit Management Sections

Strong Foundation

By Kathleen Mellen

eureka-2The reach of Girls Inc. of Holyoke — which operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls as well as teenagers — is striking, serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach on a budget of $1.3 million. But other numbers are more impressive, such as statistics showing that Girls Inc. participants are more likely than their peers to get good grades, attend college, and find learning fun and valuable. What it all adds up to is a priceless foundation for success.

You could call it a lunch break on wheels.

Every Monday through Friday during the school year, Dianette Marrero uses her lunch hour to drive her daughters, Jasminn, 7, and Tatianna, 10, from their hometown of Chicopee to 52 Nick Cosmos Way in Holyoke, where the girls attend a licensed after-school program for ages 5 to 12, sponsored by Girls Inc. of Holyoke. And when her workday is done, Marrero returns to pick her daughters up.

Marrero says she doesn’t mind the drive in the least. She’s been sold on the nonprofit organization that educates and empowers girls from underserved communities ever since her daughters started attending its girls-only after-school program nearly two years ago. Through the program’s breadth of activities — including an in-depth literacy program, educational field trips, outdoor activities, and experiential, hands-on learning opportunities — she says her daughters are learning to be confident and motivated young women.

“Girls Inc. allows the girls to be confident with their peers,” Marrero told BusinessWest. “We’re a girls-only family, so this has been great for my daughters.”

Stella Cabrera, 16, has had a similarly positive experience: she has participated in nearly every program offered by Girls Inc. of Holyoke since joining up in the fifth grade. She first heard about the organization from a friend, and pleaded with her mother to let her attend.

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education

The Girls Inc. Eureka! program is a STEM-based approach to education that places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training.

“I was getting bullied by boys at school, and I wanted to try something new,” Cabrera said in an interview at the Girls Inc. administrative office and teen center at 6 Open Way in Holyoke. “It was really exciting because I’d never been in a place where it was just girls.”

Since then, she’s become more confident, and she credits Girls Inc. with the transformation.

“When I started out, I was a really shy person; I didn’t talk to many people,” she said. “Now I make friends with everybody. I don’t judge people. I’ve learned to accept people for who they are.”

Testimonials like these are music to Suzanne Parker’s ears.

“It’s our mission to inspire girls,” said Parker, the organization’s executive director. “The work that we’re doing, helping them to be successful, is really important.”

Girls Inc. of Holyoke, formerly the Holyoke Girls Club, operates programs for elementary-school-aged girls, as well as Holyoke’s only teen center just for girls. Serving more than 1,750 girls each year through programs, peer education, and community outreach, the organization aims to equip girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up to be healthy, educated, and independent. It is one of more than 90 Girls Inc. affiliates of a network across the U.S. and Canada that serves more than 138,000 girls, ages 5 to 18.

“The programs we provide are developed to meet the very specific needs of girls,” Parker said. “Having the research and the support of the national organization really helps us with that.”

Why Girls Only?

Girls live in a society with different expectations about success for boys and girls, Parker said, and Girls Inc. aims to close that gap. By teaching personal-development and communications skills, conflict resolution and problem solving, and how to make healthy choices relating to their bodies and relationships, it aims to “inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold by offering life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face,” according to its website.

“We work to build up their confidence, making sure they have self-esteem, but first and foremost, we make sure they’re exposed to opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Parker said. “All of those things are best done, we feel, in a girl-only environment, where they feel safe. They know they have a sisterhood here.”

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

From left, Girls Inc. of Holyoke participants Brandy Wilson and Stella Cabrera with Executive Director Suzanne Parker.

The organization’s hallmarks are its mentoring programs, the girls-only environment, and its research-based, hands-on approach to learning. It also advocates for legislation and policies to increase opportunities for all girls.

The staff includes 11 full-time and four part-time professionals year-round, as well as an additional eight to 10 staff members who work in the full-day summer programs. In addition, more than 100 community members volunteer with the organization in a number of ways.

Nearly 70% of those who attend programs at Girls Inc. of Holyoke live in households earning $30,000 a year or less; one in 10 lives below the $10,000 line. The majority of members are Latina, Parker noted. While most live in Holyoke, some come from Chicopee, like Jasminn and Tatianna, and others live in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, South Hadley, Westfield, and West Springfield.

The organization’s newest strategic plan includes initiatives to broaden the organization’s reach, with in-school programs now being developed in Holyoke’s Peck Middle School, as well as Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori Magnet School and M. Marcus Kiley Middle School, both in Springfield.

In April, the organization was one of 17 Girls Inc. affiliates to receive a three-year grant award of $100,000 from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to expand strategically to serve more girls growing up in low-income communities.

“Girls Inc. of Holyoke has a strong track record of making a measurable difference in the lives of girls,” said Judy Vredenburgh, president and CEO of Girls Inc. “As a well-run, sound organization, they are poised for expansion and growth, preparing more girls for responsible and confident adulthood, economic independence, and personal fulfillment.”

The programming reflects those initiatives, and its successes are measurable. For example, according to a national survey, one in six girls will not finish high school; by contrast, three-quarters of high-school girls who attend Girls Inc. programs report earning As and Bs on report cards, and 85% say they plan to attend college.

Finding Their Voice

Still, Parker said, girls who do well in math and science can pay a price socially at school, where they are often teased, even bullied, by other students. “We hear it from girls all the time. Bullying continues to be a major issue with girls across the country. And when you’re in school and you’re facing that, it’s hard to be successful.”

Girls Inc. addresses these gender-specific problems — and, more importantly, crafts solutions — in its girls-only environment.

“In order to be successful, girls have to have confidence, and they have to understand they have a voice and that they have the tools needed to be successful in that co-educational world we all live in,” she told BusinessWest. “There’s a need to provide a space for girls where they can come together, where they can take risks, try things they wouldn’t otherwise try.”

To that end, the organization fashions programs that promote academic success for girls in fields previously thought to be the domain of males. Chief among them is the Eureka! program, a STEM-based approach to education for eighth- through 12th-graders, which places girls in labs and classrooms at UMass Amherst for intensive training in science, technology, engineering, and math.

More than 100 girls are currently involved in Eureka!, attending the program for four weeks in the summer and on one Saturday a month during the school year, where they work with UMass professors who volunteer their time to offer hands-on experiences in fields like nanoscience, robotics, DNA research, and forensic science. In addition, the students are active daily in physical fitness and sports training, healthy living, and financial literacy.

Data shows that girls participating in Eureka! stay engaged in math and science throughout high school; many go on to higher education, often becoming the first in their family to attend a college or university, Parker noted. According to a recent survey, the percentage of girls participating in the program who identify themselves as “smart” increased by 13%, girls who think math is fun and interesting increased by 10%; and girls who feel comfortable in science class increased by more than 20%.

“Exposing girls to STEM skills and proficiencies is absolutely critical,” she went on. “While they might not all go into traditional STEM careers, the types of skills they’re learning, and the exposure they’re having, is absolutely critical. I believe that to the core.”

In the same survey, more girls also reported a positive body image, and nearly 90% of Eureka! girls see school as an opportunity “to learn as much as I can.” It also showed that the percentage of girls planning to go to a four-year college increased more than 10%.

Cabrera, now a high-school junior, and one of the original Eureka! scholars, wants to be a math teacher, and plans to attend college after she graduates from high school.

“I’ll be the first grandchild [in my family] to graduate and plan to go to college,” she said, adding that the program has significantly bolstered her confidence. “I really thrive, and I’ve gotten so much support for being strong. It’s a really inspiring program, and it really does help girls to understand their power and their impact on the world, and the amount of strength they have in themselves that they probably haven’t tapped yet.”

Avenues of Support

Girls Inc. of Holyoke’s annual budget is about $1.3 million, with between 55% and 60% of funding coming from the state. As a licensed after-school provider, it receives some funding from the state Department of Early Care. The teen center also receives support from the state Department of Public Health to run programs in pregnancy prevention and youth violence prevention. Specifically, the organization’s Healthy Relationships module helps girls learn to “identify, establish, and cultivate healthy relationships through assertiveness and negotiation skills,” and Project Bold works to “ensure that girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to be safe and reduce their risk of experiencing violence.”

But, Parker says, those funds don’t begin to cover the cost of providing a high-quality experience. For the past 10 years, the organization has held a Spirit of Girls breakfast, its signature fund-raising event; this year, on April 4 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, a record crowd of about 450 people donated more than $140,000.

The organization also relies on foundation grants, as well as corporate and private donors. Indeed, Parker says there’s been a significant uptick in recent years in support from individuals. For example, participation in the three-year-old Champion for Girls initiative, through which individuals donate $1,000 or more, has risen from 15 annual donors to close to 100.

The organization also launched a program this year for ‘corporate champions,’ which is also seeing growing success, Parker said, with recent donations from CheckWriters Payroll, MassMutual, and PeoplesBank.

“Companies are definitely seeing the value of partnering with Girls Inc.,” she added. “We have to work hard; we’re always looking for people who are interested in investing in our work. We can’t do it alone.”

That work continues to enrich the lives of its members, from the STEM education of Eureka! to myriad teen-center programs offered on a drop-in basis, including art, creative writing, spoken-word expression, computer coding, and entrepreneurship, among others, as well as myriad field trips, classes, and workshops.

The success-based programming is not just reserved for the older girls. Last year, for example, a group of younger students, including Jasminn and Tatianna, developed a business model for a lemonade stand and put it into practice; the girls tested their lemonade recipe, did a market survey, and created a business plan to determine how much were they would charge for the lemonade. Then they launched their business in a real-life setting, setting up their stand at Celebrate Holyoke. Finally, the girls deposited the proceeds into a bank account and, together, decided how they would spend it.

That program, like others at Girls Inc. of Holyoke, builds a knowledge base that is useful in the real world, while building self-confidence, said Brandy Wilson, director of middle- and high-school programs.

“It’s all about exploring their options. So many times, girls who come in from what we consider an underserved community don’t know what their options are,” she explained. “We’re giving the girls experiences that make that lightbulb go off — that makes them realize, ‘I can do this.’”

Nonprofit Management Sections

Growing Opportunities

Peter Gagliardi

Peter Gagliardi says Way Finders’ mission comes down to helping people solve problems, not just getting them into homes.

When the Housing Allowance Project opened its doors in 1973, the idea of providing people with assistance to pay their rent was a novel concept.

“Giving people a housing allowance was a radical concept, but poor people were concentrated in projects and high-rises that had become real problems, especially in large cities,” said Peter Gagliardi, president and chief executive officer of Way Finders in Springfield and Holyoke. “Many were poorly built and filled with children who had no place to play other than the hallways and elevators, so the idea was to stop building projects where the poor were all housed in one place, and give people choices about where they could live.“

HAPHousing, which changed its name to Way Finders on March 31, was one of 10 sites across the country selected to host a three-year experimental federal pilot program to provide this rental assistance. The project led to the creation of Section 8 housing, a federal program that provides vouchers to low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities to help them afford decent, safe places to live in the private market.

When the pilot program morphed into Section 8, HAPHousing was tasked by the state to administer it in Hampden and Hampshire counties. But today, that is only a small part of the scope of its work, which has extended into many arenas.

The organization holds periodic strategic planning sessions, and in 2014 it became clear that its name and narrative did not convey the agency’s purpose and may have led potential clients to believe they couldn’t find the help they needed from their staff.

“Our old name didn’t provide a sense of the magnitude of our work,” Gagliardi said, noting that, although the Section 8 housing program still exists, 28,600 people in Hampden and Hampshire counties and more than 100,000 people across the state are on waiting lists. Since new vouchers are not being issued given today’s turnover rate, the statewide wait equates to 166 years.

“People need better options than vouchers that don’t exist,” he continued, explaining that the agency’s clients have needs ranging from finding jobs to getting an education, improving their credit scores, and other measures that open up opportunities for a better life.

“Getting people into homes is important, but having a roof that is affordable over your head is just the beginning,” Gagliardi noted, as he spoke about difficulties homeless families face and the multi-faceted approach Way Finders takes to connect clients to appropriate resources.

The organization’s history has been marked by many twists and turns as it responded to crises caused by changes in the economy, so choosing an appropriate new name was important to everyone who worked there.

HAP hired TSM Design in Springfield to facilitate the effort. The name Way Finders resulted from a collaborative brainstorming effort by staff members dedicated to ensuring their moniker reflected their mission, coupled with the creativity of TSM Design, which was responsible for suggesting names that matched the passion and commitment of the staff. Every employee participated in a survey that asked them about the most important part of their job, and a committee of 12 was eventually formed to represent the findings and share the thinking of the staff as a whole.

“Our mission came down to finding a way to help people solve problems. It begins by finding them a decent place to live, but we wanted to let the public know that we offer a wide range of programs through collaborations with partners that include finding jobs for people who don’t know where to start,” Gagliardi said, noting that, in the past three and a half years, the agency has helped place 480 people into jobs as an alternative to those non-existent housing vouchers he talked about.

Indeed, the new name is fitting because clients literally need help finding their way to a better life.

“We started out with a staff of about 20, and this year we have 250 employees who are very mindful of our philosophy,” Gagliardi said. “When they go home at the end of a day, they know that someone has a better home or opportunity in life than they did when they arrived.”

Over the past four decades, the organization has grown from an experimental housing-assistance program to an agency that provides rental assistance, housing-support services for homeless families as well as prevention, education about home ownership, foreclosure counseling, real-estate development, property and asset management, and community building and engagement in neighborhoods to improve health and safety.

For this issue and its focus on nonprofits, BusinessWest looks at the storied history of Way Finders and how the agency stepped in to help people and improve the community through the many changes in the economy.

Critical Response

When the Housing Allowance Program morphed into the Section 8 housing program, the state Department of Housing and Community Development hired eight regional agencies to administer it, including HAPHousing.

“For the first time, people in every town and city in the state had an opportunity to live where they wanted,” Gagliardi noted.

During the early ’80s, HAP added a program for first-time homebuyers that included information about how families could strengthen their credit so they would be eligible for bank loans. Some were purchasing multi-family houses, so they also needed to learn how to become a good landlord, and HAP published a manual that contained all of this and more, which has undergone multiple revisions and is sold on Amazon.

By the mid-’80s, homelessness had become a glaring problem, and HAPHousing opened Prospect House in Springfield, which was the first family shelter in Massachusetts funded by the state.

“We started out with nine families and a manager,” Gagliardi said, noting that the shelter is still operating and the program has served thousands of people.

In the ’90s, when the U.S. entered a recession, HAP took action again and focused its efforts on distressed properties on Byers Street in Springfield. Its work led to the creation of the Armory Quadrangle Civic Assoc., which still exists and plays an active role in the neighborhood.

HAPHousing continued to acquire properties and create affordable housing as the years went on, and eventually became involved in the Old Hill neighborhood after a Springfield College study showed it was home to 4,500 people and 150 vacant lots and boarded-up buildings.

“About 10% of the residential properties were blighted, and we worked with the neighborhood, the city, Springfield College, and our housing partners, Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity, to renovate properties that could be saved and replace housing that couldn’t be repaired. We also filled in some of the vacant lots with new homes,” said Gagliardi, adding that the collaboration between Springfield College, HAPHousing, and Habitat resulted in 50 new or renovated homes.

After the recent recession hit in 2008, HAP again took the lead in helping homeless families. It created a new partnership with the Center for Human Development and New England Farm Workers Council in anticipation of the state’s new HomeBASE program, and when the tornado hit in 2011, representatives from all three groups were able to work with the city and others to help more than 400 displaced families.

“These groups had never joined forces before, and the way everyone worked together was unprecedented. By the time FEMA showed up, we were already getting people into housing,” Gagliardi noted.

After that was accomplished, HAPHousing began implementation of the state’s new HomeBASE program, which offers an alternative to living in a shelter for families at serious risk of becoming homeless. It provides them with time-limited assistance that allows them to find long-term accommodations and get help from stabilization services, which is paid for buy the state.

But this avenue wasn’t new to HAP, because it had pioneered a program in the ’80s that worked with landlords and tenants to negotiate settlements to prevent homelessness. It had attorneys on staff and was able to resolve many situations that would otherwise have resulted in eviction.

Programs to prevent homelessness continue to be offered, although they have changed over the years. Gagliardi said many clients have lost jobs and fallen behind in their rent, missed work due to illness, or been part of a family breakup that led them to get behind in their rent. “These situations can easily spiral out of control if they are not addressed,” he told BusinessWest.

The current program, known as RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), serves 600 to 700 families a year at an average cost of $2,500, which is a small investment compared to the $3,000 a month it costs the state to house a family in a shelter, especially since the average length of stay is six months.

But HAP has always stepped in when it was needed, and in 2008, it played a significant role in the formation of the Western Mass. Foreclosure Prevention Center.

“The number of people losing their homes was staggering, and we helped families through a partnership with the attorney general’s office that saved their homes or allowed them to make a graceful exit without completely ruining their credit,” Gagliardi said.

He noted that the agency has assisted thousands of property owners over the past eight years, and although the worst of the crisis has passed, over the past year, it helped 85 homeowners. “Thirty-five managed to preserve their homes, 25 were successful loan modifications, eight were able to bring their mortgage current, and two refinanced into more sustainable mortgages,” he continued, adding that another 43 were referred to legal assistance, and only two lost their homes.

Over the years, HAP also became involved in developing affordable housing and managing rental properties. Today, it has its own management company that oversees 700 units in towns and cities including Amherst, Hadley, Southwick, Southampton, Easthampton, Northampton, Charlton, Ware, Wales, Springfield, and Holyoke. It has also built and renovated properties, and has 10 projects underway, including construction of a $19.9 million, four-story, mixed-use building on Pleasant Street in Northampton that will have 2,600 square feet of retail space on its first floor and 27 studio apartments and 43 one-bedroom units in its upper stories.

“We also played a leadership role in creating the Western Mass. Nonprofit Housing Developers Group 20 years ago, and partnered with Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke and another organization to restore a number of four-story apartment buildings in South Holyoke,” Gagliardi said, as he recounted decades of work in Hampden and Hampshire counties.

Growing Enterprise

The mission of Way Finders continues to expand, and Gagliardi said its new name belongs to the next generation of leaders.

“We found that the best way to create affordable housing and revitalize a neighborhood is to collaborate, and in several situations organizations have become our affiliates,” he noted, explaining that news of the name change was accompanied by an announcement that Way Finders is forming strategic partnerships with Common Capital Inc. of Holyoke and MBL Housing and Development LLC of Amherst that will allow the parties to develop and finance projects that will benefit area residents, businesses, and communities.

Common Capital provides small loans to help businesses, while MBL Housing consults with developers interested in building affordable housing. That group was in danger of closing because the owner wanted to retire, but Way Finders found a way to allow it to stay in business.

“We know that no organization can do everything, but we have played a leadership role, and collaboration has always been important to us,” Gagliardi said. “Stable housing is a starting point, not an end point, and we have seen many former voucher holders move into new homes.”

So, although the sign in front of its Springfield office reads “Way Finders Housing Center,” the hope is that this rebranding will attract people in a variety of situations who need help finding a path to a better life.

Nonprofit Management Sections
Colleges Tout the Value of Degrees in Nonprofit Management

Melissa Morriss-Olson

Melissa Morriss-Olson says nonprofits increasingly recognize the need to be more business-savvy.

“No money, no mission.”

That’s a commonly heard saying in the Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy graduate program at Bay Path College, a catchphrase repeated by professors and absorbed by students, many of whom already work for nonprofit organizations.

“You have to be able to manage the bottom line to fund your mission,” said Melissa Morriss-Olson, a professor in the program and Bay Path’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “If you lose sight of that, all the good you want to do is not going to happen. You can’t have one without the other.”

Nonprofit organizations face tough sledding these days — with the economy sluggish and societal needs on the rise, fund-raising and program implementation is more difficult than it used to be (see story, page 16), and nonprofits increasingly realize that to compete and thrive in this environment, they have to run like for-profit businesses. One way that trend manifests itself is a proliferation in college degree programs centered on nonprofit management.

“I had founded a similar program in Chicago, one of the first academic centers for nonprofit management in the country,” Morriss-Olson said. “At the time, there were maybe 30 graduate programs in that field, and now there are well over 100 — and more than 300 colleges offer some kind of course in nonprofit management.

“That increase reflects a growing awareness of the nonprofit sector,” she continued. “It used to be that you fell into a job in the nonprofit sector; now it’s a much more well-defined career path for people who want to work in the sector. It’s everywhere in our country; in this area alone, probably once a month, a new nonprofit is starting.”

Kathryn Carlson Heler, director of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Springfield College, said such programs are attractive not only to executives and employees of nonprofits who want to advance their skills and improve their organizations, but young people and older career changers alike who are looking to launch new enterprises or take roles in established ones.

“It’s a wonderful time for people to get an education in the nonprofit world because there are so many upcoming openings in the field,” she noted. “So many of the executives are looking forward to retirement, and there’s no one behind them.”

That said, “I’ve found that a business background is a perfect background for people in the nonprofit realm, because a nonprofit is a business — a business with a mission — and having the knowledge and skills to run a business is so important.”

Bay Path and Springfield are two area schools that have created graduate programs in nonprofit management, launching their efforts in 2006 and 2010, respectively. In this issue, BusinessWest examines the different shades of such programs — and why nonprofits, and those who lead them, are starting to take notice.


Different Flavors

Bay Path actually offers two separate degree programs for nonprofit professionals and those who want to get into some aspect of that world.

“One is an MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy, and one is an MS in Strategic Fundraising and Philanthropy,” Morriss-Olson said. “They are distinct, both in the type of student who enrolls and the careers that each leads to.

The MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy, she noted, is geared toward those who see themselves in a management role, such as executive director, director of operations, or chief financial officer. “It gives you a really good foundation for understanding the unique management and operating context that nonprofits have.

“When I came here,” she explained, “rather than just taking the Chicago program and dumping it at Bay Path, we convened a group of about 30 nonprofit leaders in the region. We invited them to campus and discussed what they saw as the more critical leadership needs of their organizations. We took that and turned it into an advisory group, and the courses are a direct response to what those leaders told us.”

Class topics range from board governance to strategic management; from finances to law and policy matters.

“One of the biggest issues we heard is the need to know how to manage a double bottom line — being not only financially viable, but also effective in realizing the mission,” Morriss-Olson said. “In the business world, you just worry about the bottom line, but in the nonprofit world, that’s not enough. You need to be mission-driven but also smart from a financial perspective.”

That unique perspective, she explained, informs the foundation of all the courses offered. “That emphasis is the focus of every single course you take, so when you graduate, you really are schooled in management issues through the lens of that unique operating context.”

Bay Path’s other track in nonprofit education is an MS in Strategic Fundraising and Philanthropy, and it was developed after the first degree program after students began requesting more coursework in fund-raising,” she explained. The program certainly provides that, with classes in communication and relationships, donor behavior, grant writing and foundation relations, capital campaigns, planned giving, and more. “Fund-raising and getting revenue is so critical for these organizations, and they want to know as much about it as they can.”

Springfield College included Nonprofit Management as a concentration in its MBA program launched just two years ago. The track is attractive to people eyeing opportunities in health care, recreation, youth, the arts, sports, and as fund-development officers, to name just a few possible career paths.

In creating a two-pronged MBA program, “we looked at what areas would be common between a for-profit business and a nonprofit, and we have a number of courses that both types of students take,” Carlson Heler said. “Those include courses on entrepreneurship, financial management, accounting, economics, and marketing. And then there are a couple of areas that are very specific to nonprofits; one is fund-raising and philanthropy, and another is governance of an organization, so we developed courses that focus on those.”

The overlap is natural, she said, at a time when nonprofits need to become more bottom-line-driven to survive.

“Foundations and corporations that donate are beginning to say, ‘we want the nonprofits who receive our money to be run like a business; we don’t want our money to be wasted,’” she noted.

Citing the research of Dennis Young of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Carlson Heler noted that there are two different classes of nonprofits. One comprises bodies that come together to meet an immediate need over a finite period of time; the groups that responded to Springfield’s tornado destruction last year are a good example.

“Then there’s the nonprofit that’s a real business. They need all those business skills because they’re competing not only for dollars, but also for customers.”

Even colleges that don’t specifically offer nonprofit management degrees recognize the overlap. David Stawacz, assistant vice president for Marketing and External Affairs at Western New England University, said MBA programs in general are valued in the nonprofit world.

“It’s the most recognized degree,” he said. “The skills you pick up in an MBA are readily transferable to running a nonprofit — strategic planning, qualitative analysis, leadership, finance, marketing, even organizational behavior. It’s not the same as running a for-profit business and going to shareholders, but you still need to have all those pieces of the puzzle in place.”

WNEU has seen the interests of the business and nonprofit communities interlock in other ways, too, including its eight-week Leadership Institute offered from February through April each year in conjunction with the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

“A lot of our MBA faculty teach the workshop. Once a week, people take one afternoon off a week and go downtown and focus on leadership and strategic thinking,” Stawacz said. “It’s open to all, and it was geared in the beginning toward business, but a lot of nonprofit organizations found it valuable, and it has grown quite popular with some of the nonprofits.

“It has a lot of the same principles behind an MBA, but in a much shorter time, with a much broader view of things,” he added. “In eight weeks, you can only accomplish so much, but there are definitely a lot of skills you can take back to a business or nonprofit. It also helps with networking opportunities between the nonprofit world and the business world.”


Moving On Up

Morriss-Olson said many nonprofit employees see a degree in philanthropy studies as a sort of career ladder.

“We get a lot of people, in both degrees, who have worked their way up, then got to the point where they realized they needed a graduate degree to jump to the next level. And we have executives who may not need the degree, but want to add to their experience,” she said, adding that they’re finding it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

“They tell me, ‘finally I’ve got a vocabulary to help me understand the work I’ve been doing all these years.’ The coursework has helped them frame their own experiences in a way they find very helpful.”

It also helps them develop new strategies for dealing with the myriad demands placed on nonprofits today.

For many just entering the field, she said, “what surprises them is how much time and attention they have to spend managing constituencies, whether it’s community leaders, board volunteers, donors, client families — it goes on and on. We have a course in the curriculum on board governance and volunteer management; it focuses on how to recruit and then effectively manage a board, but also how to effectively deal with the volunteers who will help you with your mission.”

But it’s not only established professionals who are signing up for the degree. “A number of our students want to start nonprofit organizations, and they’ve found that enrolling in this program is a great way to get help doing that,” she continued. “One of the wonderful things about our country is, if you have an interest and want to do some good, it’s very easy to get together and get state and federal recognition for your cause,” she said.

In either case, Morriss-Olson said, it helps that many courses are taught by actual nonprofit executives who bring real-world experience to the classroom. “That’s helping us marry theory to practice.”

Carlson Heler said enrollment in the nonprofit side of Springfield College’s MBA program is low, but growing steadily. “As I go around and talk about it, more and more individuals are interested in the degree and see its worth,” she said, adding, however, that efforts to boost the numbers encounter two problems.

“One is that the nonprofit world has, in the past, relied heavily on workshops and conferences to pass along the knowledge that is needed to run a nonprofit,” she explained, “and people have the attitude of, ‘well, I can just go to a workshop on how to do an audit, or a workshop on how to market my program,’ instead of thinking, ‘hey, how about a degree?’

“The second thing,” she continued, “is that it costs money to get a graduate degree. It can be expensive, and a lot of nonprofits do not have the funds to send their people back to school.”

She hopes that’s changing. “I have a wonderful student out of Connecticut who is an executive director; her board is paying her whole way because they do see the benefit.”

As those benefits become more apparent, expect enrollment to rise — not only locally, but across the country. After all, knowledge is power, and nonprofit organizations fighting for every dollar can never have too much of that.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Nonprofit Management Sections
Nonprofit Managers Face a Host of New Questions — and Challenges

Sarah Tsitso at the new outdoor play area at the Boys & Girls Club Family Center in Springfield.

Sarah Tsitso at the new outdoor play area at the Boys & Girls Club Family Center in Springfield.

Sarah Tsitso has been spending a lot of her recent spare time on eBay, looking for 1920s garb.
She needs a dress and some accessories for a Nov. 17 fund-raiser at the Museum of Springfield History that she has created for the Boys & Girls Club Family Center, which she serves as executive director. It’s called ‘Jazz Fantasia,’ billed as an opportunity to experience the so-called Harlem Renaissance (which Tsitso has studied extensively) with jazz music, dinner, and both live and silent auctions.
“It’s something really different — which you definitely need these days,” said Tsitso, adding that, when it comes to raising funds for the family center (or any nonprofit, for that matter), a large dose of imagination and a willingness to look well beyond the traditional golf tournament or the usual event venues are certainly necessary.
And that’s just one of the many ways in which the lives of nonprofit managers have changed in recent years, she told BusinessWest. New challenges range from heightened competition for available funds to a need for far greater accountability when it comes to how funds are expended; from a critical need to create partnerships and collaborations with a host of constituencies to simply securing the operational funding to keep the lights on.
“The new buzzword is ‘measurable outcomes,’” she said, adding that most all donors are seeking (or demanding) them these days.
Kirk Smith, executive director of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, agreed, and used the phrase “new questions” to describe what nonprofit managers are facing these days, adding quickly that, to succeed, they need thoughtful, specific, and effective answers.
“Before, you could put together a good mission statement, and people would give you money based on just that — but those days are long gone,” he explained. “Now, what they want to know is your track record — how have you demonstrated that what you’re doing is effective?
Kirk Smith

In this new environment for nonprofits, Kirk Smith says, organizations and their leaders must do many things well, but above all else, they must be able to effectively communicate.

“They want to know how efficient you are, how strong your organization is, and who it’s collaborating with,” he continued. “And then, there’s the bigger question, which comes in two parts: ‘how are you going to use my support to leverage further support?’ and ‘when that funding runs out, what’s next? How sustainable is that program or initiative?’”
These are questions that nonprofits are not used to answering and didn’t have to answer until maybe a decade or so ago, he continued, adding that, overall, this responsibility is a good thing for all parties involved, because greater accountability helps an organization stay on mission, and statistical evidence of success is far more effective than anecdotal evidence when it comes to gaining additional support.
To succeed in this changed environment, organizations and their leaders must do many things well, said Smith, adding that, above all else, they must be able to effectively communicate. And there is much that goes into this, he went on, adding that it means everything from relaying an organization’s mission to conveying how well it is meeting stated goals, to sustaining a dialogue with funders about what they see as priorities and would like to accomplish.
“Today, it’s not about asking for money, but asking for a conversation,” he said. “Donors are not just people who give you money; you have to understand them and tap into what’s important to them, not what’s important to you.”
Summing it all up, Dora Robinson, executive director of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, said today’s nonprofit managers must wear many hats, and, in a word, be “generalists.” Elaborating, she said, while they still must be devoted to the mission — that part won’t change — they must also develop new programs, be well-versed in financial matters, be effective managers of employers and groomers of talent, and, overall, be visionaries.
“People have to manage from soup to nuts,” she explained, “ and it’s a real challenge keeping all those balls in the air while at the same time looking for new opportunities. Now, you have to be a solid fiscal manager; the new leadership requirements for nonprofits are to not only be a good friend- and fund-raiser, but also a good manager.”
The phrase ‘operate like a business’ is overused and somewhat of a cliché when it comes to nonprofit management, said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food bank of Western Massachusetts, but it’s quite accurate.
A recent graduate of the MBA program at the Isenberg School of Management, Morehouse said nonprofit managers today must be adept in everything from strategic planning to teamwork building to Stephen Covey’s famous seven habits.
For this issue and its focus on nonprofit management, BusinessWest talked with several administrators about the changed — and still changing — landscape, and what it means for their organizations.

Exercise in Creativity
As she talked with BusinessWest about her organization — which traces its roots back to 1899, when it was a settlement house in Springfield’s North End — and the many challenges involved with nonprofit management, Tsitso took a break for a tour that helped her get several points across.

To be successful today, Dora Robinson says, nonprofit managers must be “generalists.”

To be successful today, Dora Robinson says, nonprofit managers must be “generalists.”

She stopped in what she called the “library in progress” to talk about partnerships — in this case, one with the organization Link to Libraries, which has helped the family center stock its shelves and put books in the hands of children who don’t have many, if any, at home.
She pointed out the large kitchen, and, while doing so, talked about how the center doesn’t just feed children, but engages in educational programs about proper nutrition — a reflection of changing times, heightened awareness about the problem of childhood obesity, and a broader mission. And while traversing the hallways, she mentioned her desire for a capital campaign aimed at expanding the nearly 50-year-old Acorn Street facilities.
The highlight, though, was a new outdoor play center that was almost ready for prime time. An addition to the offerings at the family center, the facility was created in response to several recognized needs and goals — especially a desire to provide outdoor recreation to children who have limited access to both playground equipment and fresh air.
“My daughter goes to Springfield public schools, so I know first-hand how little time they get outside,” Tsitso noted. “Recess is nothing — if they get it at all, it’s 10 minutes, and there’s very little playground equipment. And most of the children in this neighborhood live in apartments, and oftentimes, it’s not safe to walk around.”
So she applied for a grant through the Boston-based Amelia Peabody Foundation to build a playground, and she admits that this was somewhat of a hard sell.
“It was a tough one, because they don’t typically fund playgrounds, and they weren’t interested in funding this one,” she recalled. “But the pitch I made to them was about childhood obesity and diabetes, and the fact that we need to provide opportunities to keep children active in any way we can. I convinced them that this was important.”
Together, Tsitso’s commitment to creating an outdoor play area and her success in securing the funds to get it done reflect many of the challenges facing nonprofit managers today — everything from the need to be creative and persistent in the pursuit of funds to fully knowing and understanding what drives those who eventually open their checkbooks.
“Years ago, many of the managers of nonprofits were former corporate executives,” said Tsitso as she attempted to sum up the new environment. “They would go to their corporate contacts and very passionately pitch the cause … and people would just start writing checks.
“It worked — for that time and that purpose — but it doesn’t work anymore,” she continued. “I can’t just waltz into MassMutual and ask them to cut me a check for a $1 million. That’s not going to work; I wish it would, but it won’t. You really need to spend time and steward donors and figure out how your mission and what you’re trying to accomplish falls in with that corporation and the goals that they’ve set for themselves.
“It’s all about finding that symmetry between nonprofit and business,” she went on. “What businesses really want to support at-risk youth in our community? Some are very interested in the arts, some are into cancer research; you have to find the right match for you.”
Using different words and phrases, Smith said essentially the same thing, putting heavy stress on the need for nonprofits large and small to be accountable, while also providing something else for donors: bang for their buck.
“Donors want to understand how their support is making an impact,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, to help in this process, nonprofits must provide more quantitative (rather than qualitative) evidence than ever before, meaning those measurable outcomes. “Accountability is much greater — there’s no more ‘here’s $10,000, go help some kids.’ The conversations have to be at a much higher level than that, and I think that’s appropriate.
“Charitable giving is up in America,” he continued. “But it’s more competitive in terms of fund-raising, and you need to be prepared to be held accountable, moreso than you did in the past.”

By the Numbers
As an example, he pointed to the Y-AIM Program, which matches at-risk teenagers with mentors, with the goal of keeping them in school and seeing them through to graduation. The initiative was created with the initial support of Big Y, and First Niagara and Health New England have been more recent backers, said Smith, noting that all those involved have been looking for evidence that it’s working.
“People need to see some specific numbers,” he said, adding that, with Y-AIM, there are some.
“This program is about addressing at-risk high-school students who have very low GPAs, are repeaters, and have low attendance and behavior problems,” Smith explained. “We started at Sci-Tech [the High School of Science and Technology] with 40 kids, and we graduated 39 of them; 36 went to college, one went into the military, and one went into the Job Corps.”
With those numbers in hand, program administrators have been able to gain the attention and support of other donors, said Smith, adding that Y-AIM has expended from one school to three and now four. “If we weren’t able to demonstrate success and track the data, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
But quantifying results is often difficult for smaller nonprofits, said Tsitso, and especially with her organization, where the goal is often prevention.
“It’s harder to measure the ‘don’ts’ than the ‘dos,’” she explained. “Our outcomes are really non-outcomes; we start with a child who’s 6 or 7 years old, and through the services we provide, they don’t get pregnant at 14, they don’t join a gang, they don’t drop out of high school, they don’t engage in risky behavior, and they don’t end up in jail.
“We can measure our children, but it’s a long-term measurement,” she continued. “We’re talking about a 6- or 7-year-old; let’s see where they are at 20. It’s not something we can measure on a one-year grant cycle.”
Beyond this dilemma, however, the advent of greater accountability has brought other challenges for nonprofits, said Robinson. Elaborating, she said that, in this changed environment and its greater emphasis on programming and measurable outcomes — what she called “moving the needle” — basic operating costs often get overlooked.
“One of the big questions today for organizations like the United Way is, how do we keep the infrastructure in place to really support and promote our mission and our work?” she explained. “You need to have an administrative infrastructure in order to do the kind of work that needs to be done in communities — so who pays for that?”
This challenge is compounded by unfunded mandates at both the state and federal level, she said, as well as by new reporting requirements dictating that work be done electronically, which constitutes a major burden for many smaller agencies.
“Some can’t meet these costs,” she told BusinessWest, “and while some can, often they do it at the expense of direct services.”
And this brings her back to that notion about nonprofit managers being generalists and keeping a large number of balls in the air at the same time, especially when so much emphasis is on programs and quantifying the results they’re generating.
“The funders want to provide funds for the programs, but not necessarily the operations,” she explained. “And that makes it almost impossible for some nonprofits; those organizations then have the additional burden of doing fund-raising. Not only are they trying to manage and bring in resources through contracts from state and federal foundations, they now have to do fund-raising to cover the gaps.”
Meanwhile, they have to be able to attract and effectively manage talent and get a team to move in the same direction, she went on, adding that, for many, this requires additional education, such as an MBA, or work in college programs specifically tailored for nonprofit managers (see related story, page 22).

Getting the Mission Accomplished
While acknowledging that some things have indeed changed for nonprofits, Morehouse said many aspects of effective management in this realm have simply been “rediscovered.”
At the top of that list, he told BusinessWest, is that all-important element of trust, and the need to establish and maintain it with all constituencies, including the many different funders of the organization, from corporations, individuals, and foundations to state and federal government.
“There are certain basic elements of humanity that make social enterprises work, whether be it a for-profit business or a nonprofit business,” he explained. “We’re social enterprises where human beings have to interact to create a product or service to get it out the door — and trust is a very important element.
“Employees want to be able to trust one another; partners in a business relationship want to be able to trust one another,” Morehouse continued. “And when you have that trust, respect, and fairness in a relationship, you can create a lot more productivity, whether it be producing a good or providing a service, because people want to do it; they feel good about it and they’ll go the extra mile, not just because they believe in a mission, but because they believe in their peers and their partners.”
Another element that has in many ways been rediscovered, or re-emphasized, he went on, is the need to create and strengthen relationships and partnerships at all levels.
These include the organization’s board, donors, the communities being served, other nonprofits, and especially the internal partners — emergency providers (pantries) that distribute the food to clients. Such relationships help stretch available funding, he explained, while also enabling organizations to take their missions in new directions and become something else that nonprofits must be in this day and age: nimble.
“One of the efforts that we’re undertaking for the next few years is to work with our network of emergency providers to create efficiencies through better collaboration and cooperation, and some of that will result in reducing duplication of effort,” Morehouse said.
Tsitso echoed those comments, noting that the family center has successfully forged partnerships with groups ranging from Link to Libraries to Rick’s Place (which counsels children who are grieving lost parents) to Girl Scouts of America (there’s now a troop at the center) to broaden its mission and better meet it.
“These partnerships are allowing us to do a lot more with less,” she explained. “They allow us to offer far more than homework help and free gym time; we can really put together a slate of programs that kids enjoy.
“Because these other organizations are willing to work together with us, we’re able to expand our reach, expand our visibility, partner on some grants, and share important information, because we’re serving basically the same population.”
This talk of partnerships and collaboration brings Smith back to his comments about how nonprofits shouldn’t be asking for money these days, but instead asking for conversations. And these talks have changed, he went on, noting that, instead of asking how a corporation or foundation can help the Y, the Y is asking how it can help those entities reach their stated goals.
“First, we explain to them who we are, and detail the depth and breadth of our work,” he said, “and then we ask, ‘what do you want to see addressed in the community?’
“That’s the question we ask funders, whereas in the past, we would say, ‘we have a menu of programs — pick one.’ Now, it’s ‘what do you want to see addressed in the community?’” he continued. “‘Is it education, childhood obesity, teen pregnancy … what needs to be addressed?’ And then we ask them, ‘if we’re able to put something together consistent with meeting that need, will you fund it?’”

Changes of Note
For Jazz Fantasia, Tsitso and her staff at the family center will give the history museum the look and feel of the Roaring ’20s for an event that will be a decidedly different kind of fund-raiser.
For her and other nonprofit managers, though, there is no turning back the clock when it comes to what is expected — and demanded — of them, and the myriad challenges they face.
This is a different era, a time for those new questions, as Smith called them, and for terms such as accountability, measurable outcomes, partnerships, and collaboration.
And they will define the landscape for the foreseeable future.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]