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Agenda

Real-estate Sales Licensing Course

Feb. 20 to March 25: The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley will sponsor a 40-hour, 14-class sales licensing course to help individuals prepare for the Massachusetts real-estate salesperson license exam. Tuition costs $400 and includes the book and materials. The course curriculum includes property rights, ownership, condos, land use, contracts, deeds, financing, mortgages, real-estate brokerage, appraisal, fair housing, consumer protection, Massachusetts license law, and more. Classes meet Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. at the association office, 221 Industry Ave., Springfield. For an application, contact Joanne Leblond at (413) 785-1328 or [email protected] or visit www.rapv.com.

‘Living Contemplatively in a Busy World’

March 3: Elms College will host a day of reflection titled “Living Contemplatively in a Busy World” on Sunday, March 3 from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Decice Hall at the Marian Center, 1365 Northampton St., Holyoke. “This day of reflections, personal exploration, and prayer invites you to respond, from the busy-ness of your days, to God’s desire for deeper life with you,” said Virginia Collins-English, a certified spiritual director, retreat director, writer, and psychotherapist who will lead the day of reflection. All are welcome, including those who are ‘spiritual but not religious,’ those who feel marginalized by the church, and those of all faiths. Attendees should bring a bag lunch. Beverages and dessert will be provided. Sponsored by the Religious Studies Department and the Institute for Theology and Pastoral Studies, this event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, call (413) 265-2575 or e-mail [email protected]

 

Outlook Luncheon

March 4: Margaret Carlson, columnist for the Daily Beast, will be the keynote speaker at the Springfield Regional Chamber’s annual Outlook luncheon, to be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm. at the MassMutual Center, 1277 Main St., Springfield. Presented by Health New England, the Springfield Regional Chamber Outlook is the area’s largest legislative event, attracting more than 700 guests and presenting expert speakers on local, state, and federal issues. The event is sponsored by platinum sponsors Eastern States Exposition, Eversource, MassMutual Financial Group, and United Personnel; and gold sponsors Bulkley Richardson and Berkshire Bank. Program/reception sponsors are Comcast, Mercy Medical Center, BusinessWest, the Healthcare News, and the Republican, with Zasco Productions as sound sponsor. Carlson was formerly chief political columnist for Bloomberg News and White House correspondent for Time. She appeared on CNN’s Capital Gang for 15 years. Speaking about the federal outlook will be U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, whose new role is chair of the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. He will provide his insights into the committee’s work, the 116th Congress, and front-burner issues facing the American people. In addition, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy will offer the state outlook. Tickets cost $60 for Springfield Regional Chamber members and $80 for general admission. Reserved tables of 10 are available. Reservations must be made by Wednesday, Feb. 20 by visiting www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or e-mailing [email protected] No walk-ins will be accepted, and no cancellations will be accepted once the reservation deadline has passed.

Difference Makers

March 28: BusinessWest launched its Difference Makers program in 2009 to celebrate individuals, groups, organizations, and families that are positively impacting the Pioneer Valley and are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. The class of 2019 was profiled in the Feb. 4 issue and will be feted at the Difference Makers Gala on March 28 at 5 p.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets are on sale now for $75. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected] The presenting sponsor is Baystate Health/Health New England, and other event sponsors include Royal, P.C., Burkhart Pizzanelli, P.C., Development Associates, Tommy Car Auto Group, and Viability Inc.

Women’s Leadership Conference

March 29: In celebration of women everywhere knocking down doors and breaking through glass ceilings, Bay Path University will host its 24th annual Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. This one-day event, which has become the region’s prime women’s leadership event for professional networking and enrichment, will challenge women seeking to make career or life changes to look at the power within to make their dreams a reality, and to dare to ask “why not me?” instead of “why me?” Delivering the keynote address will be award-winning actress, dancer, and singer Rita Moreno, one of only four women who have achieved the EGOT, the grand slam of entertainment-industry awards, by winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Throughout her 70-year career, Moreno has had memorable roles in the musical films The King and I and West Side Story, and in 2004 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Mel Robbins, a serial entrepreneur, best-selling author, life strategist, internationally recognized social-media influencer, and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the world, will deliver the conference’s luncheon keynote. She is the CEO and co-founder of the Confidence Project, a media and digital learning company working with Fortune 500 brands to help employees build habits of confidence and courage. The conference’s opening keynote speaker will be announced soon. In addition to the three keynote speakers, breakout sessions focused on reimagining the narrative around women in leadership will be led by Cy Wakeman, drama researcher, global thought leader, New York Times best-selling author, and president and founder of Reality-Based Leadership; Kim Meninger, certified executive and leadership development coach and president and founder of Executive Career Success; Dr. Kristina Hallet, board-certified clinical psychologist, and associate professor of Psychology at Bay Path, executive coach, and best-selling author; and Kim Lear, founder of Inlay Insights, storyteller, writer, and researcher. For further information on the conference and to register, visit www.baypathconference.com.

Springfield Art Stop

April 26: The Springfield Cultural Partnership (SCP) announced the return of Art Stop, a pop-up gallery/street festival hybrid, from 5 to 8 p.m. The SCP is partnering with venues downtown to open galleries in unexpected spaces simultaneously. Additionally, several existing Springfield art galleries along this year’s route will also participate as stops along the Art Stop. Between the galleries, which will have the typical artist talks and receptions, there will be street performances. Art Stop was designed to activate underutilized community spaces with colorful art, create economic opportunity for artists, and bring communities together. Galleries will all be located in downtown Springfield. Each individual gallery opening will have an reception with the artist on site to both sell and talk about their work. This year, the SCP has also partnered with several downtown restaurants that will offer a discount on food to Art Stop attendees who present their Art Stop ‘passport’ on April 26. The SCP, along with organizing the curation of art in the pop-up spaces, is hiring unique buskers to encourage attendees to walk from place to place. Guides will be strategically placed to guide attendees along the Art Stop route. The performers will showcase an array of dance, music, and entertainment. All locations are within a walkable area.

Briefcase

Massachusetts Unemployment Drops Slightly in December

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.3% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 5,600 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector added 5,500 jobs as gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; other services; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; manufacturing; financial activities; and information. Construction and trade, transportation, and utilities lost jobs over the month. From December 2017 to December 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,800 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Preliminary estimates show an addition of 184,700 residents to the labor force during 2018 — the largest yearly increase in the labor force since the beginning of the series in 1976. These labor-force gains, alongside the 65,800 jobs added to the economy last year, are indicators of the continued strength of the job market in the Commonwealth,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force increased by 5,000 from 3,837,000 in November, as 8,800 more residents were employed and 3,800 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — increased one-tenth of a percentage point to 68.1%. Compared to December 2017, the labor-force participation rate is up 2.8%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; information; other services; and education and health services.

HCC Secures Grant to Create Hotel Training Lab

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) secured a $35,000 grant to establish a hotel training lab on the second floor of the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute. The award, announced by Gov. Charlie Baker and other administration officials, comes from the Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant Program, which funds the purchase of new equipment for educational initiatives linked to workforce needs. The lab will be set up like a hotel reception area with front desk and adjoining guest room and equipped with up-to-date technology and software. It will be used for non-credit workforce-training programs as well as credit-based associate degree and certificate programs in Hospitality Management. The lab is expected to be up and running in February. The competitive Skills Capital Grants require institutions to partner with local businesses and align the curriculum to meet industry requirements. HCC’s partners include the Log Cabin Delaney House, the Tower Square Hotel Springfield, and MassHire career centers in Holyoke and Springfield. Over the past three years, HCC has been awarded nearly $400,000 through the Skills Capital Grant Program, including $127,741 in 2016 to expand and enhance its EMT Training Program and $229,500 in 2017 for kitchen equipment at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in January 2018 on Race Street in the Holyoke Innovation District. This new round of Skills Capital Grants mainly targets educational programs for people who may need help overcoming barriers to employment — those who may be unemployed or underemployed, lack English proficiency, or do not yet hold college credentials and want to develop new skills.

UMass Amherst Study Looks at Drought, Virus Impact on Plant Roots and Soil Carbon

AMHERST — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded biogeochemist Marco Keiluweit, assistant professor of Soils and the Environment in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst, along with his collaborators elsewhere, two grants to study how climate change affects the capacity of soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere and retain enough nutrients for food production. In particular, the teams will investigate climate-change-related effects of drought and virus infection in plants, and their interaction with soils. Keiluweit and colleagues received $200,000 and $300,000 exploratory research awards from DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research program, which supports “high-risk, high-reward” research, the soil-chemistry expert says. Keiluweit’s collaborators include Zoe Cardon at the Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory, the principal investigator on one of the grants, and Malak Tfaily at the University of Arizona, Carolyn Malmstrom at Michigan State University, and William J. Riley at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Their drought-focused research will look at plants in an alpine watershed near Gothic, Colo., where root-soil interactions are key regulators of ecosystem carbon storage and downstream nutrient loadings, the researchers say. These areas have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, they point out. For this work, Keiluweit says he and collaborators will make “very fine scale measurements of what is happening at the interface between roots and soil” in both greenhouse and field experiments. They want to explore what they call “elusive mechanisms” driving root-soil interaction, which may mobilize a “vast pool of organic matter that has been stabilized by associations with minerals for centuries or millennia.” Such mechanisms are missing from conceptual and numerical models of carbon cycling in soils, they note.

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke Opens New Boxing Program Space

HOLYOKE — In its heyday, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke was the boxing capital of Massachusetts. Its boxing program attracted seasoned and novice fighters as well as spectators from all over the Commonwealth, as well as Connecticut, New York, and other surrounding states. Some of the more prominent names even included Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson. After years of planning and six months of buildout, the Boys & Girls Club opened its new boxing program space, equipped with a regulation, 20-foot boxing ring and a variety of punching bags and workout stations. The club will reintroduce the sport as a non-contact youth-development program for after-school and summer-camp members. All activities will focus on mentoring, character development, teamwork, and discipline. Coaches will include members of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, the Holyoke Police Department, and past club alumni.

Company Notebook

Smith Brothers Insurance Merges With the Partners Insurance Agency

EASTHAMPTON — Effective Jan. 1, Smith Brothers Insurance, with offices in Easthampton and West Springfield, and the Partners Insurance Agency, an independent insurance agency located in Vestal, Owego, and Waverly, N.Y., have merged together. This merger expands the Smith Brothers Insurance footprint into upstate New York, where the Partners will maintain local presence while leveraging the resources of Smith Brothers Insurance, one of the nation’s top 100 independent brokers. Owners of the New York offices — Don Patterson, Bill Soprano, Phil Wiles, John Carlin, Michael Constantine, and Chris Hutchings — will stay fully engaged in client service and business development. Constantine will run the New York region, continuing to serve clients with the same team of insurance professionals who have also become employees of Smith Brothers Insurance.

Florence Bank Opens Second Branch in Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD — Florence Bank opened its second Hampden County branch at 1444 Allen St. in Springfield on Dec. 19. “We’re very pleased to be expanding our presence in Springfield,” said John Heaps Jr., Florence Bank’s president and CEO. “Our focus is on providing great customer service and helping to reinvigorate the community.” The Allen Street branch has an open floor plan with two teller pods and innovative technology for quick cash handling. The location will also feature a drive-up ATM with SMART technology for easy depositing and a comfortable waiting area inside with a coffee bar and free wi-fi. Nikki Gleason serves as branch manager for the new location. Other employees include Candice Somar, assistant branch manager; Bianca Hyde, customer service representative (CSR) and teller operations manager; Mario Nascimento, CSR and senior teller; Magdalis “Maggie” Sierra, CSR and senior teller; and Carolyn Ware, community relations director. In August 2017, Florence Bank opened its first branch in Hampden County at 1010 Union St. in West Springfield. The Springfield branch marks the second of several anticipated branches in the region, Heaps said.

WNEU Announces $35 Million ‘Campaign for Our Second Century’

SPRINGFIELD — Western New England University (WNEU) announced plans for a comprehensive fundraising campaign designed to enrich the student experience inside and outside the classroom. Named the Campaign for Our Second Century, the philanthropic endeavor launched publicly on 1/9/19 — a nod to the university’s founding year of 1919. Western New England University aims to raise at least $35 million in private support for a range of priorities that will build on the institution’s historic first century and shape its future progress. Those priorities fit into five overall fundraising objectives: growing scholarship aid, building and enhancing campus facilities, creating impactful opportunities for student life, boosting academic initiatives and experiences, and strengthening the President’s Fund for Excellence. Current and future Western New England students will be the direct beneficiaries of the most ambitious fundraising effort in the university’s history. The number-one priority of the campaign is to increase student aid through donor-funded scholarships. In recent years, full-time undergraduate enrollment has grown to record levels, with more than 98% of students receiving financial aid through scholarships, grants, and loans. The university has already secured more than $29 million in new gifts and commitments to advance Western New England during the campaign’s pre-launch phase, which began in 2016. Lead gifts were made by two of the university’s most ardent supporters — Kevin Delbridge ’77 and Janet Johnson Bullard ’69, both university trustees who are serving as the campaign’s honorary chairpersons. To date, more than 4,000 individual alumni, friends, and foundations have made commitments. Each gift made to WNEU during the campaign counts toward its goal. This is Western New England’s second comprehensive campaign. Private philanthropic support is not intended to replace university sources of revenue, but rather provide the margin that enables greater access to scholarship support, state-of-the-art technologies, outside-the-classroom experiences, faculty development, and other critical learning services. For details about the Campaign for Our Second Century, visit wne.edu/campaign.

Community Chooses Recipients of Monson Savings Bank Philanthropy

MONSON — For the ninth year in a row, Monson Savings Bank asked the community to help plan the bank’s community giving activities by inviting people to vote for the organizations they would like the bank to support during 2019. The top vote getters include Wilbraham United Players, Scantic Valley YMCA, the Women’s Empowerment Scholarship Fund, Rick’s Place, River East School-to-Career, Greene Room Productions, Boy Scouts of Western Massachusetts, Link to Libraries, Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, and Old Post Orchestra.

HealthSouth Rehab Hospital Unveils New Name, Brand

LUDLOW — HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts has unveiled its new name and brand as part of its management company’s name change and rebranding initiative. As of Jan. 1, the inpatient rehabilitation hospital is known as Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts. It will continue to provide the same post-acute care for patients overcoming a variety of major illnesses and injuries. Birmingham, Ala.-based HealthSouth Corp. launched its new name and brand on Jan. 1, 2018 and will be transitioning its 130 inpatient rehabilitation hospitals and 273 home-health and hospice locations serving 36 states and Puerto Rico through 2019. All of the company’s post-acute-care service locations in Massachusetts migrated to the Encompass Health name and branding last week.

Advocacy Network Donates $17,000 to Whole Children

HADLEY — The Advocacy Network, a local organization with a mission to promote and protect the health, human rights, and safety of people with developmental disabilities, recently donated $17,000 to Whole Children. The donation was one of the last acts of the group, which announced it is dissolving after more than 60 years of work. The late Benjamin Ricci, an Advocacy Network member, was the father of Belchertown State School patient Robert Ricci. He filed a class-action lawsuit against the school in 1972, claiming that its residents were living in horrific conditions. The judge assigned to the Belchertown case, Joseph Tauro, who died in November, spearheaded a major overhaul of Massachusetts’ state facilities as a result of the lawsuit, which ultimately ended in the closing of the institution. Amherst resident Bob Ricci, the man named in the lawsuit against Belchertown, came to Whole Children with members of the Advocacy Network to deliver the check to director Maggie Rice. Whole Children was started in 2004 by a group of parents looking for after-school programs for their children with intellectual disabilities or autism. It joined with Springfield-based Pathlight in 2010 and has expanded to serve some 600 adults, teens, and children each year in a variety of recreation, performing-arts, and enrichment programs.

SmartDollar Names OMG Inc. Company of the Year

AGAWAM — The statistics are alarming: 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. At work, stress over finances can take a toll on employee performance and impact productivity. Almost 10 years ago, OMG Inc. saw this as a factor limiting employee success and took action. OMG used SmartDollar, the financial-wellness program created by money expert and best-selling author Dave Ramsey, to teach employees how to take better care of themselves financially. More than 300 employees have taken advantage of the program to create a financial plan for themselves and their families. Using SmartDollar, the average OMG participant has paid off more than $8,000 in debt and saves more than $5,000. Collectively, participants have achieved a positive swing of almost $1 million through debt reduction and savings contributions. As a result, SmartDollar recognized OMG as its 2018 Company of the Year.

Company Notebook

White Lion Brewery Moving into Tower Square

SPRINGFIELD — White Lion Brewery has signed a long-term lease to occupy 10,000 square feet of space at the former Spaghetti Freddy’s location in Tower Square. The space was vacant for close to 15 years, but will now house a full-scale production and packaging facility with a taproom. Brewing equipment and mechanicals arrived at Tower Square on Dec. 20. The ownership at Tower Square has taken another step to show its commitment to the city of Springfield by becoming a strategic equity partner in White Lion. The agreement provides further support and financial assistance during the brewery’s growth. White Lion acquired its brewing, mechanical, and refrigeration systems from Rooster Fish Brewing out of Watkins Glen, N.Y. The system will allow White Lion to brew approximately 10,000 barrels, or in excess of 100,000 cases, of beer annually from the downtown Springfield location. The company expects to invest approximately $1 million in the project, which includes expanding its independent distribution model and hiring up to 20 employees. The brewery is expected to open in the spring of 2019.

TommyCar Auto Group Adds Volvo Franchise

SOUTH DEERFIELD — TommyCar Auto Group announced its ownership of the Volvo Cars Pioneer Valley dealership, formerly Pioneer Valley Volvo. Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group, noted that Volvo Cars Pioneer Valley will bring amenities that all TommyCar Auto Group dealerships offer, including Click.Drive.Buy, a new way to buy a car online; TommyCard Rewards, through which customers can earn 15% back of every dollar they spend; and efforts to support the local community; the company has contributed more than $4 million to local organizations, schools, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Volvo Cars Pioneer Valley will commemorate the new ownership with an “Eat.Meet. Greet” event on Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Customers can get an early look at the long-awaited 2019 Volvo S60, hors d’ouevres from Seth Mias Catering, cocktails from Hitchcock Brewing, and giveaways.

Dress for Success Receives $10K for Mentoring Program

SPRINGFIELD — Dress for Success Western Massachusetts received a donation of $10,000 in continued support of its Margaret R. Fitzgerald mentoring program. This program was initially launched with a $10,000 donation from this anonymous family member in 2017, and this new donation is intended to continue and expand the success of the mentoring program. Fitzgerald was a secretary in the Physics department at Mount Holyoke College in the 1970s. The only woman who worked in the department, she became a point of support for the students enrolled in the exclusively male-led department. Affectionately called ‘Mom’ by many of the women enrolled in the department, the students looked to her for advice, help, counsel, and encouragement. She was known to intervene with certain professors to advocate on behalf of students when there were issues or problems. She reminded students that they were clearing the way for future generations of scientists. Because of her, many of the women achieved advanced degrees from prestigious universities all over the world. Dress for Success Western Massachusetts is currently accepting applications for mentors interested in the Margaret R. Fitzgerald program. Contact Tantillo at (860) 638-8980.

Webster Bank Rated Best Overall Bank in Northeast

WATERBURY, Conn. — Webster Bank was named best overall bank in the Northeast in Bank Director’s annual RankingBanking study released late last month. The 2019 RankingBanking study identifies the top public U.S. retail and commercial banks between $10 billion and $250 billion in assets within each region — the South, the West, the Midwest, and the Northeast. In addition to placing first overall in the Northeast, Webster was also the top bank in the Northeast in three key categories: Best Technology Strategy, Best Board, and Best Small Business Strategy. The rankings were calculated using Bank Director’s proprietary algorithm, which incorporates more than 60 critical data points to measure banks’ relative strengths and weaknesses. The data points used were both qualitative and quantitative, including case studies and analyst opinions. Many factors went into Webster’s top rankings, including the bank’s high-level focus on digital banking and user experience, the diversity and expertise of its board, and its small-business loan growth and volume. “We also noted Webster’s robust selection of products and services tailored for small businesses, the fact that customers can apply for loan and deposit products online, and Webster’s ability to generate online loan decisions within 48 hours,” said Emily McCormick, Bank Director’s vice president of Research. Bank Director is a leading information resource for the directors and officers of financial institutions across the nation.

People’s United Foundation Gives $105,000 to Nonprofits

SPRINGFIELD — People’s United Community Foundation, the philanthropic arm of People’s United Bank, N.A., announced it awarded $105,000 to nonprofits located in Western and Central Mass. during its third grant cycle of 2018. Funding was allocated to 21 nonprofit organizations in support of activities that ranged from basic needs services and affordable-housing initiatives to education and workforce-development programs. Some of the grant recipients included the Literacy Project, the Gray House, YMCA of Greater Springfield, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Entrepreneurship for All, Roca, and Veterans Inc. In total, People’s United Community Foundation awarded $875,500 during its third grant cycle of 2018 to 171 organizations throughout the communities it serves in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The grants were disseminated in alignment with the foundations’ three areas of focus, including 43% to community and economic development, 37% to youth development, and 20% to affordable-housing initiatives. For a detailed list of organizations that People’s United Community Foundation supported during the final grant cycle of 2018, visit www.pucf.org.

Holyoke Community College Celebrates Success of Arrivals from Puerto Rico

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College recently celebrated the success of 30 evacuees who left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and have just completed a five-month program to help them improve their English literacy skills, adjust to life on the U.S. mainland, and find jobs. The celebration and recognition ceremony was held on Dec. 20. The festivities included a feast of traditional Puerto Rican food for participants, their families, and program staff. The Puerto Rican New Arrivals Program started July 23. The HCC division of Business and Community Services offered the free ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) program specifically for residents of Puerto Rico who left the island after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and relocated to Western Mass. The classes were held Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and funded through a National Dislocated Worker grant administered by the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board in partnership with the MassHire Holyoke and MassHire Springfield career centers. The purpose of the program was to help individuals improve their English writing, speaking, and comprehension skills; adapt to U.S. culture; and successfully transition to jobs or continued educational opportunities. Classes included civic lessons from guest speakers including Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and state Rep. Aaron Vega, who talked about local and state government.

Comcast Selected for Broadband Project in Town of Worthington

WESTBOROUGH — The Mass. Broadband Institute at MassTech (MBI) formally approved an award of $2.2 million to Comcast to support the construction of a broadband network in the town of Worthington. The grant, which was approved by both the MassTech Executive Committee and the MBI board of directors, followed a majority vote at Worthington’s town meeting in May choosing Comcast and supporting the construction of its advanced fiber network to deliver broadband to the town, including approval of a project coverage map. Comcast and Worthington also signed a formal cable franchise agreement on Dec. 11. The proposed broadband network will deliver expanded connectivity to more than 96% of Worthington’s residential and business premises once the project is complete. Under the grant agreement, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will provide an award of $2,213,809 from the Last Mile program, funds which will supplement Comcast’s capital investment in the construction of the Worthington network. The MBI will utilize Worthington’s original Last Mile allocation of $1,070,000, with the remaining funds coming from additional investments from both the Commonwealth and the town, utilizing an agreement which will allow the town to contribute year over year without having to use municipal bonds.

Smith Brothers Insurance Helps Local Children

EASTHAMPTON — Smith Brothers Insurance sponsored 25 children in need this holiday season and raised $5,000 for the 2018 Holiday Bear Project. For 12 straight years, Smith Brothers’ team members donated money and time for this annual gift-giving program for needy public-school children. Team members individually sponsored a child, donated money, and coordinated company fundraising activities. Hundreds of gifts were purchased and wrapped for students ranging in age from 5 to 17. More than 10,000 public-school students have benefited from the holiday program since the Holiday Bear Project began in 1998. The Smith Brothers team also conducted a toy drive for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and a food collection for a local food bank.