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Collaborating for the Community


Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis likes to say Springfield WORKS serves as “a platform for change, innovation, and collaboration.”

Elaborating, she said those three ingredients, and many others, are needed to address a number of issues challenging this region, but especially the need to connect area residents with job opportunities and enable them to thrive in the workplace and outside it, and also assist employers as they contend with an ongoing workforce crisis.

“Our vision is to have thriving communities where economic opportunity, growth, and resilience is possible for all,” said Kandilis, director of Springfield WORKS, a program of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council. “Right now, not everyone is able to access the resources they need to thrive; employers are not finding the workers they need, so there’s a disconnect.”

This disconnect becomes apparent with a look at some statistics she provided to make her point: the average hourly wage in 1998 was $17 per hour; adjusted for inflation, that would equal about $30 per hour today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means wages have effectively declined in the past 20 years, she said, while the cost of goods and services has increased, making it more difficult for working families to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, the median income of Hispanic households in Springfield is roughly half that of White households, which is also true of the metropolitan region and for Massachusetts as a whole.

To address these disparities, Springfield WORKS, a community-wide initiative, is collaborating with about 40 area organizations to remove systemic and racial barriers and create pathways to real economic opportunity and family well-being.

“The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

As she spoke about Springfield WORKS and its broad mission, Kandilis characterized this area as being “rich in programs and poor in systems.” The main goal is to build such systems through those traits she mentioned earlier — especially innovation and collaboration.

Partners include organizations from the community, including Holyoke Community College, Head Start, Square One, Home City Development, Springfield and Holyoke public schools, and employers such as Baystate Health and Big Y, as well as larger national organizations like the Aspen Institute and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

Over the past few years, Kandilis and her team have been working with these organizations to start programs like the Whole Family/Two Generation model, the Western Mass Anchor Collaborative; the Ready, Willing and Able model; and efforts to counter the so-called ‘cliff effect’ (more on these later). Experience has shown that these groups can do more working together than they can individually.

“You think about the scarcity of resources, but over time, what our partners have committed to is what we’ve shown: this is not a zero-sum game. Just because you get funds doesn’t mean I won’t get funds; what we’ve done is bring more funds into the region through our collaborative work,” Kandilis said. “The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Kandilis about Springfield WORKS and its collaborative approach to creating opportunities, putting people to work, and enabling them to advance in their chosen field.


Work in Progress

Partner organizations allow Springfield WORKS to work directly with not only employers, but the people who need the resources and help the most: families and residents of Western Mass., said Kandilis, noting that the first step was to partner with 413Cares, a website for people in the 413, to increase the visibility and access to programs and services offered in the area.

The online tool allows individuals to search through lists of organizations to find the resources they need, like housing, job skills, early education, healthcare, and more. Its main goal is for everyone, no matter which door they come from, to be able to access a resource.

“We wanted to make it [our partnership] tighter so we’re actually working with them directly to create a Springfield WORKS component where we have our direct partners and our resource partners in a space that we call Ready, Willing and Able,” she explained.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work. So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility?”

Anne Kandilis

Anne Kandilis

The Ready, Willing and Able model was created to allow Springfield WORKS and other organizations to learn how to better support local families, a need evidenced by statistics showing that 40% of them didn’t know where, or to whom, to turn for resources, whether for job searching, housing and food insecurity, healthcare, or other needs.

The individual is asked a series of questions to see if they are ready, willing, and able, said Kandilis. These include: do you have the resources in place that will support your success? Do you have a reliable childcare plan? Is your transportation such that you can get to training and work now and later, not just for today, but over the long haul?

This approach allows Springfield WORKS and its employer partners to meet individuals where they are instead of having them find the resources themselves.

“Families are receiving resources, but no one partner can provide all the resources a family might need in order to set up the worker for success,” she explained. “The second step, which is what we’re doing now, is to work directly with residents and families collaboratively to see what those system silos look like and break down those silos.”

While working in a collaborative fashion, Springfield WORKS and its partners will work with 160 individuals to see what this program looks like in practice. The hope for the Ready, Willing and Able model is to promote the systems in place and create needed change in how they serve individuals and families collaboratively, trying to keep families at the center of the equation.

This model is part of the list of strategies that goes into the Whole Family/Two Generation approach to careers — a model in which children’s and parents’ needs are addressed together.

“Oftentimes, there’s programming for parents and programming for children, but parents can’t focus on making the most of their education or job-training opportunities without early education or a safe place for their children,” said Kandilis, adding that partners for this model are mostly education institutions, such as Holyoke Community College, Tech Foundry, Head Start, Square One, the Department of Transitional Assistance, Springfield Partners for Community Action, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, Springfield public schools, and Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, which delivers a career-readiness program called Foot in the Door.

Through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant, $400,000 was dedicated to helping facilitate systemic socioeconomic changes in the city of Springfield; the main goal is to mitigate the negative impacts of incarceration by identifying those most at-risk individuals at a younger age.

Nearly half of people with criminal backgrounds, nationally, are still jobless a year after leaving prison, and a criminal record can reduce the chances of a second interview by 50%, said Kandilis, adding that the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. (27%) is higher than at any other point in the nation’s history.

“We realized that there just wasn’t any data in the system about the barriers for after incarceration or the families that are connected to somebody who is connected to the justice system,” she noted. “The issue is not only inside, but outside of the justice system within the families. So when we started the project a year ago, Springfield WORKS administered a survey directly to those connected to the system through their partners.”

Roughly 200 people answered that survey — 51.7% of local adult respondents were formerly incarcerated, while 90.8% have family members who have been incarcerated — indicating exactly what they needed to move forward, and Kandilis said she certainly wasn’t surprised by the two biggest needs identified: employment and housing.

Springfield WORKS came up with the solution of creating programs that kept the family at the center, addressing the needs of both the parents and children.

“It can start with being parent-focused first and then the child, or child-focused first and then the parent,” Kandilis said, “so if we work with Springfield public schools or Head Start, they’re working with the child, but they also have family engagement, so now we can connect — we are connected — to those organizations so that we’re not increasing the burden of work in those institutions.”


Stepping Away from the Ledge

This past year, Springfield WORKS and its partners were given another $500,000 through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant so it can expand on these two strategies and build onto it with the Anchor Collaborative, which is a way for employers to look at their policies related to investing in upward mobility.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work,” Kandilis said. “So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility? How do I get a better job in the company I’m already working for? That’s a win-win for employers because they’re looking for retention.”

This reality motivates the employer to invest in its own workforce, not leaving it completely up to those outside of the system, whether it’s the workforce board or the state or other resources, she added.

When partners can collaborate, it allows for the families to be at the center, holistically. Using the Whole Family/Two Generation model, institutions are working together to relieve the burden on individuals navigating complex systems, instead shifting the navigation to the partners.

Meanwhile, the Anchor Collaborative blends workforce dollars, training dollars, and resources to support workers and worker access to opportunities. This is just one of the ways to help break the ‘cliff effect.’

In Springfield WORKS’ early days, Kandilis and her team learned that the benefit system can be a disincentive to work. The cliff effect is a phrase used to describe what happens when someone is receiving benefits — housing subsidies, food support with SNAP, childcare support — and they are working either part-time or full-time, but are doing just enough to still receive the benefits they need to make ends meet. They go over the cliff when they earn too much to qualify for such benefits, or receive a reduced amount, thereby creating a disincentive to work and advance.

“Many of the systems aren’t connected, so there is a lot of complexity in those systems; housing systems are not connected to the SNAP program, so the more money you make, the less benefits you get,” she explained. “So there is a point in time, and it happens very quickly, where, if you’re making a certain amount of money and you’re receiving a certain level of support to pay your basic needs, just a dollar more [per hour] might gain you $3,000 or $4,000 in income, but you might lose $1,200 in benefits.”

Springfield WORKS and its collaborators successfully proposed legislation to create a pilot that asks what would it look like if the government paid an individual what amounts to an earned- income tax credit or another kind of payment, “so that they’re no worse off as they start moving up the income scale beyond the cliff.”

This would give individuals and families the comfort and support they need to move from an $18-per-hour job to a $30-per-hour job over time and get them beyond that so-called cliff.

If the cliff problem isn’t solved, Kandilis added, people are going to keep being stuck in what is called the ‘benefits plateau,’ making enough money and working enough hours to be able to pay their bills, but also still receive their benefits.

Overall, Springfield WORKS is dedicated to serving families and individuals who need it most. In this economy, it’s not always easy to build oneself up when the price of everything is also going up. Meanwhile, employers continue to struggle with finding enough qualified help to fill open positions and keep their operations humming.

“What we’re doing is bringing resources to support the rest of the family,” Kandikis said in summarizing the ongoing efforts at Springfield WORKS. “That’s how we create the best families and prosperity.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield WORKS, a community-wide initiative with the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) announced in May they had received a $400,000 Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant that will help facilitate systemic socioeconomic changes in the city of Springfield. The goal is to mitigate the negative impacts of incarceration.

Part of the process of implementing the program was administering surveys, collecting that data, and determining how the seven subgrantees will become better situated to aid in the necessary changes. The results from those surveys are in. “As we continue to examine the data collected, we want you to know that the information gathered from local community members is truly staggering,” Springfield WORKS announced. “It shows the work that needs to be done, and more importantly, it emphasizes the need to help the families of those who are justice-involved.”

The seven subgrantees include Children’s Study Home, Home City Development, HCS Head Start, Springfield School Volunteers, Square One, MassHire Springfield Career Center, and Holyoke Community College.

As the data is analyzed, more information will be provided in the weeks to come on the key takeaways and learnings. The purpose of this effort is to hear directly from the community about barriers and obstacles that are experienced due to the negative impacts of incarceration and identify effective, sustainable, and long-term solutions to support neighbors who are most at risk.

Close to three-quarters of Springfield residents identify as Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic, and other people of color. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by incarceration due to systemic inequalities rooted in policies and practices that affect the likelihood of being arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. The majority of racially diverse residents live in communities with historic patterns of segregation and disinvestment in Springfield, which have effectively blocked opportunities for many residents.

“Over half of the survey respondents were previously jailed or incarcerated, and more than 90% had at least one family member justice-involved,” said Anne Kandilis, director of Springfield WORKS. “They reported myriad financial, employment, housing, and mental-health challenges suffered. Our goal is to work together with families, connecting resources to support economic and family well-being.”

When someone is incarcerated, their family suffers, and they lose out on basic needs others take for granted. That’s where Springfield WORKS and the Western Massachusetts EDC, along with the seven subgrantees, will come together.

After the data is analyzed, Springfield WORKS will lead the design of an action plan in collaboration with the subgrantees and other partners to begin impacting real change to promote a holistic approach to working with families. The focus will be on increasing cross-sector collaboration to break down barriers to program engagement, financial stability, and quality jobs. Springfield has a long history of innovation, and solving old problems in new ways is critical to helping Western Mass. adapt to new circumstances and become economically resilient.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — A $100,000 Urban Agenda Grant was recently awarded to Springfield WORKS, the lead applicant in a team including Home City Development Inc. as the primary partner. The funds will be used to facilitate a community-wide collaboration, with the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council to manage, coordinate, and support the work of numerous participating program partner organizations, in efforts to help families in Springfield achieve economic stability.

The funds will go toward the 2Generation/Whole Family Approach to Pathways to Careers and Home Ownership Program, which is a holistic, creative, and collaborative approach that helps low-income families access career-development tools and training to successfully position individuals on a positive career trajectory. This program will focus on adults and children, addressing the gaps and barriers within multiple systems, including the ‘cliff effect,’ which makes transitioning out of state assistance programs challenging. This project also brings a gender- and racial-equity lens to workforce strategies.

“This is an important partnership that helps families achieve economic gains without fear of losing an important safety net like housing,” said Tom Kegelman, executive director of Home City Development Inc.

Home City Development is the main partner in this project, which means all program participants are Home City Development residents. The program will incorporate the Springfield WORKS’ 2Generation/Whole Family Approach with Home City Development’s HUD Family Self Sufficiency program. Other partners include Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, HCS Head Start, EforAll, Families First, Springfield Partners for Community Action, and MassHire Springfield.

Springfield WORKS leverages employer partners including Baystate Health, MGM Springfield, United Personnel/Masis, Springfield Public Schools, and others for career pathway opportunities.

“Collaborative partnerships that include wraparound supports, employers, and training partners help remove barriers to ensure that pathways to quality jobs are open and accessible,” said Anne Kandilis, director of Springfield WORKS.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Since 2016, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC), through its Springfield WORKS initiative, has brought together employers, educators, community leaders, the city, and residents to address how to meet the economic needs of both Springfield residents and local businesses. As a result of this collaboration, it became clear that there was a need to increase employer engagement to hire locally and invest in upskilling for worker advancement.

To that end, a partnership developed between the EDC and Baystate Medical Center (BMC), the largest employer in the region, to bring such strategies to fruition in Springfield. The BMC/EDC team was awarded $125,000 from the Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s Family Prosperity Innovation Community for a project that seeks to engage more employers in identifying and addressing institutional practices and policies that will support their growth and development of low-wage, entry-level employees and better access to career pathways, and simultaneously provide ready access to employment for residents from surrounding limited-opportunity neighborhoods.

The funding will support Baystate Health’s ‘anchor institution mission’ to support and revitalize low-income communities though inclusive local hiring through deliberate action and meaningful collaboration with community workforce-development and training organizations affiliated with Springfield WORKS. ‘Anchor institutions’ have traditionally been nonprofit, place-based entities, such as universities and hospitals, that are able to leverage their resources for the benefit of the local community in hiring, investment, purchasing, and more.

What is unique about what is happening in Springfield is that a traditional anchor, Baystate Medical Center, is joining with the EDC’s Springfield WORKS and Parent Villages, a community-based parent organization, to establish a network of organizations that move children and their parents toward educational success and economic security. Springfield’s Family Prosperity Innovation Community initiative is an innovative, two-generation approach focusing on employees, their families, and children together with a gender- and racial-equity lens.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we needed innovative economic-development models to meet the needs of employers and job seekers in our region. That is even more true today,” said Rick Sullivan, thre EDC’s president and CEO. “This anchor strategy is an effort to more strategically and effectively harness the power of local institutions to become the social and economic engines of our communities.”

Springfield’s Family Prosperity Innovation Community initiative will engage all employers in committing to develop and set measurable goals around local hiring, internal workforce advancement and pathways to living-wage jobs, and diversity and inclusion.

“Baystate’s participation in the Aspen Institute’s Ascend Family Prosperity Innovation Community is a strategic investment that promotes economic dignity for low- and moderate-income workers and equitably strengthens their families,” said Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health at Baystate Health. “Simply put, economic dignity means changing how we support workers to have a financially stable family life that brings with it fair access to opportunities and makes it easy for their children to live healthy lives.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield WORKS leads local employers, educators, community leaders, and job seekers in developing innovative solutions to meet the economic needs of area residents and local businesses. A founding member in the Springfield WORKS collaboration, Springfield Partners for Community Action, recently received a second $50,000 award from the Baker-Polito Community Services Block Grant Special Projects Fund to support Springfield WORKS financial-wellness strategies.

“We are grateful to Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox for this award, which will provide financial training and one-on-one coaching to low-income working families who are impacted by the cliff effect,” said Springfield Partners for Community Action Executive Director Paul Bailey. Cliff effects occur when wages do not make up for a family’s loss of public benefits, putting the family in a worse financial situation.   

This award comes on the heels of a recent $100,000 Baker-Polito Urban Agenda Grant to Springfield WORKS and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. The funds will enable families to achieve economic stability as they navigate workforce-development training into a career pathway.

Springfield WORKS project partners include HCS Head Start, Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, Springfield Partners for Community Action, EforAll, Educare Springfield, Springfield Public Schools, Holyoke Community College, Springfielf Technical Community College, Springfield College, Martin Luther King Jr. Center, and United Way of Pioneer Valley.

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