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Company Notebook

PeoplesBank Named Among Best Banks In Massachusetts

HOLYOKE — PeoplesBank has again been honored as one of the Best Banks in Massachusetts in the seventh annual America’s Best Banks list from Forbes, and is the only bank headquartered in Western Mass. to make the list. The bank was similarly honored in 2023. The results were compiled from survey data from more than 26,000 bank customers, as well as online reviews and ratings from 2021 to 2024. Larger banks and credit unions with branches in 15 or more states — including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase — were excluded. Top regional banks and credit unions — which populate this year’s lists — have learned how to build a loyal customer base despite being smaller and having fewer resources than their larger counterparts with branches spanning the country, and often the world.


475 Canal St. Converted into CubeSmart Self Storage Facility

HOLYOKE — 475 Canal MA LLC announced the conversion of 475 Canal St. in Holyoke into a CubeSmart Self Storage facility. The project is spearheaded by principals James Quinn, Gary Youm, and Richard Lee, who bring a wealth of experience and vision to this development. CubeSmart, a $12 billion real-estate investment trust (REIT) known for its leadership in the self-storage industry, will oversee both the asset management and property management of the new facility. This partnership promises to bring state-of-the-art storage solutions to Holyoke residents. The facility features modern, climate-controlled units designed to meet a variety of storage needs, from personal to business use.


Edwards Church Invests $500,000 in Affordable-housing Fund

NORTHAMPTON — Edwards Church of Northampton has made a $500,000 investment in Way Finders’ Development Capital Fund via a low-interest loan that will provide pre-development funding for affordable-housing projects the agency manages throughout Western Mass. In 2019, the Edwards Church congregation was surveyed on their preferences for church support in the community. Results indicated that members had a strong interest in supporting affordable housing as an alternative investment of the church’s invested funds. Its investment committee subsequently sought out an affordable-housing development partner in which to invest and learned that Springfield-based Way Finders, an affordable-housing organization dedicated to bringing home stability to people across Western Mass. since 1972, manages its own Development Capital Fund, which is open to outside investors. Way Finders puts money into the fund, as do outside investors, including churches. Edwards Church is now one of those investors. The $500,000 is a loan to Way Finders, not a grant or gift. The funds earn an annual, below-market interest rate; the funds can be repaid to the church in six years if the church so chooses.


Monson Savings Bank Named ERC5 Business of the Year

MONSON — Monson Savings Bank was recently named the East of the River Chamber of Commerce (ERC5) Business of the Year. The announcement was made at the chamber’s 2024 annual meeting awards and reception event held at Twin Hills Country Club. “Monson Savings Bank’s unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have left an indelible mark on the lives of countless individuals in our communities,” said Grace Barone, executive director of the ERC5. “The transformative influence of the Monson Savings Bank team under the team’s exceptional leadership is undeniable.” The community bank was chosen as the ERC5 Business of the Year by the ERC5’s board members and ambassadors, based on the bank’s achievements and contributions to the communities.


ArchitectureEL Awarded Contract with Holyoke Housing Authority

EAST LONGMEADOW — ArchitectureEL Inc. (AEL) has been awarded on-call architect contract for the Holyoke Housing Authority for a two-year period. The firm also continues to fulfill its obligations as the current on-call architect for the city of Holyoke and Holyoke Public Schools. ArchitectureEL Inc. provides professional design services on a wide range of projects, from renovating existing buildings to designing new. The firm has significant experience in accessibility, historic preservation, educational, and commercial design, as well as both private and multi-family residential development. AEL has developed strong local connections and provided services for the city of Holyoke and Holyoke Public schools as their on-call architect for the past two years, completing a roof and skylight replacement for the DPW, a roof and skylight replacement for the City Hall Annex, a roof replacement for the Holyoke Children’s Museum and Volleyball Hall of Fame, heating upgrades for the McMahon VRF, historical renovations on the City Council chambers located at City Hall, HVAC system replacements in the city’s elementary schools.


Lee Bank Foundation Awards $56,700 During Second Grant Cycle of 2024

LEE — The Lee Bank Foundation announced the allocation of $56,700 in grants to 10 organizations serving the Berkshire region, marking its second funding round of 2024. These grants, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, will bolster local initiatives addressing critical community needs. The following organizations are recipients of the Lee Bank Foundation grants: Berkshire Bounty, Berkshire South Regional Community Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western Massachusetts, Blackshires, Community Access to the Arts, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Focus Is Our Children, Greenagers, Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires, and Roots Rising. Established in 2021 to uphold Lee Bank’s commitment to community reinvestment, the Lee Bank Foundation has awarded a total of 150 grants amounting to $759,600 since its inception.


Connecticut Insurance Agency Joins Smith Brothers Insurance

NORTHAMPTON — Monroe Insurance Center Inc., an independent insurance and risk-management agency located in Monroe, Conn., has merged its operations with Smith Brothers Insurance, which has an office in Northampton, as well as offices across Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. The leadership team at Monroe Insurance Center, including John Rodrigues, Anna Rodrigues, Peter Lozier, Gary Freeman, Alan Helfer, and Paul Ackert, will continue to serve clients and, along with their team, join Smith Brothers Insurance. They will maintain their office in Monroe while leveraging the resources of Smith Brothers.


Baystate Health Awards $500,000 in Better Together Grants

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health, in partnership with the Community Benefits Program, announced the recipients of the 2024 Better Together Grants. This year, proposals considered focused on advancing youth well-being through strategic interventions that seek to decrease adverse youth mental-health outcomes. Projects funded by Better Together must apply a framework of social determinants of health, be evidence-based, include routine performance evaluation, and align with Baystate’s community health needs assessment. The grantees are Community Legal Aid ($100,000 for its Family Preservation Project); Follow My Steps Foundation ($100,000 for its Steps to Empowerment Program); Latino Counseling Center ($100,000 for its Mindful Connections/Conexiones Conscientes); Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services ($100,000 for its Beat the Odds Project); and Springfield Pride Parade Organization ($100,000 for its Safe Space Program). Funding for the Better Together grants is made possible through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s determination-of-need requirements. In addition to funding the grantees, Baystate Health has also contracted with the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts to provide technical assistance and evaluation support to the grantee cohort over the next one to two years.


Springfield Boys & Girls Club Receives $20,000 from Keybank

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Boys & Girls Club announced that the KeyBank Foundation, the charitable foundation of KeyBank N.A., has awarded the Springfield Boys & Girls Club a $20,000 grant to support its Summer Brain Gain program. This funding supports the administration of a comprehensive program run on one-week modules and fun-themed activities that are aligned with common-core standards, focusing on learning through discovery, creative expression, and collaborative group work. The program helps the club’s members avoid learning loss over the summer, ensuring they stay on track for the upcoming school year. The vast majority of children being served by the Springfield Boys & Girls Club are from low-income families, with 65% of them raised in homes where English is a second language, putting them at a disadvantage in terms of reading, retention, and school learning. Members of KeyBank presented a ceremonial check to Borello and members of the club on June 26, when local bankers conducted a Banking Basics financial-literacy course to about 40 teen members. In addition to philanthropic support through its charitable foundation, KeyBank also provides financial resources to nonprofits within the bank’s service areas that help students achieve academically, with a particular focus on minority and low- and moderate-income populations.


Unify Against Bullying Accepting Grant Applications

SPRINGFIELD — Unify Against Bullying Executive Director Christine Maiwald announced that the organization is accepting grant applications online. The organization will be awarding $15,000 in microgrants, which can be anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Paul Mitchell and its Neon product line will award an additional $1,000 grant. “Our number-one goal is to inspire youth of all ages and to ignite their ideas as to how to prevent bullying,” Maiwald said. “We encourage parents, guidance personnel, teachers, administrators, and charity partners to also apply. Their programs must be dedicated to anti-bullying education and furthering the Unify mission: to bring an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity.” In addition to providing the seeds for children to come up with ideas on how to prevent bullying, Unify’s high-school students attend events and are given the opportunity to speak with younger students on the value of celebrating differences. The students are also bringing education to their younger peers in school to explain what bullying is and the effects it has on an individual. The organization has a committee of volunteers who will select the applicant initiatives that best reflect and advance the organization’s mission.

Opioid Overdose Deaths Decline in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts have fallen steadily over the past three quarters even as the presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths reached an all-time high. The presence of fentanyl in the toxicology of those who died from opioid-related overdose deaths rose to nearly 90% in 2018, underscoring its impact as the driving force behind the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The report illustrates the changing nature of the epidemic, with cocaine now surpassing heroin in the toxicology for opioid-related deaths, beginning with the fourth quarter of 2017 (October through December). DPH officials reissued a June clinical advisory to all medical providers to warn them about the increase of fentanyl in cocaine. Overall, 2017 saw a 4% decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths from 2016. The data also shows that the Commonwealth has experienced a 30% decline in opioid prescriptions since the launch of the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program (MassPAT) in August 2016. Between April and June 2018, searches by registered prescribers to MassPAT increased by 100,000 searches over the previous quarter, making it the largest increase in searches conducted in a single quarter.

Teach Western Mass Awarded License to Certify New Teachers

SPRINGFIELD — Teach Western Mass (TWM) was recently ​approved as a sponsoring organization for teacher licensure ​by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to train and certify new teachers in the region through the Teach Western Mass Residency. ​TWM completed a rigorous program-approval application process that demonstrated it is able to meet all the requirements for teacher-preparation programs, ​and expects to certify 20-50 aspiring special-education and ESL teachers annually to serve in partner schools in Holyoke and Springfield. Launched in 2015, TWM represents a network of 29 schools serving more than 11,000 students in Western Mass. Collectively, TWM and partner schools work to recruit, prepare, and support effective teachers in the region. The TWM Residency was established in 2018 in partnership with the nonprofit education organization TNTP and funded by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help build high-quality, diverse teacher pipelines for hard-to-fill teaching positions. An accelerated, affordable alternative to traditional certification programs, the program targets recent graduates, career changers, and professionals already in the education sector, including paraprofessionals and substitutes, seeking to earn their initial teacher certification. Once accepted into the program, participants will complete an intensive summer training and teach in classrooms under the guidance of an experienced coach. Their training is focused on the most important skills they’ll need to be successful in their first year of teaching and beyond. Only those who show that they’re on the way to mastering those core instructional skills at the end of training will be recommended for certification. The application for the 2019 cohort launches on Nov. 1​. Aspiring teachers can apply for the program by visiting ​www.teachwesternmass.com​.

Institute for Applied Life Sciences Boosts Industry Relationships

AMHERST — In addition to directing the Human Testing Center at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), Michael Busa is managing the new class of research relationships emerging for the state’s largest public university campus, with corporate partners in biotech and healthcare. “It’s a new world for research academics,” said Busa, “because, even though we are a public university, when companies come to us looking for research support, they want to retain their intellectual property. There are new rules, and we now have an example of successfully navigating those new rules and relationships.” He is referring to a recent collaboration with Novartis that will see IALS researchers use the Human Testing Center’s living-science, sleep-monitoring, human-motion, and other facilities to evaluate behavior- and movement-monitoring technologies now in development. He says it is the first of what he expects to be many “big collaborations” between IALS and biotech and healthcare firms. Specifically for the Novartis collaboration, IALS researchers will assess the validity of a Novartis device in capturing detailed aspects of human motion and behavior such as walking, balance, and sleep. Busa, who has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and training in mechanical engineering, exercise physiology, biomechanics, and physical activity, will work with kinesiologists Katherine Boyer, John Sirard, and Stuart Chipkin; neuroscientist and sleep expert Rebecca Spencer; and 10 supporting students and staff.