Home Posts tagged Square One
Education

Dollars and Sense

By Mark Morris

From left: Square One’s Dawn DiStefano, Melissa Blissett, and Kristine Allard; and FP Investment Group’s Flavia McCaughey, Flavia Cote, and Peter Cote.

Given the scope of Square One’s work for children and families, it’s not unusual for the organization to receive contributions to support its efforts.

But recently, FR Investment Group offered a donation that goes far beyond writing a check.

“Instead of making a monetary donation, we’ve chosen to do something harder,” said Peter Cote, president of FP Investment Group. “We’re giving our time and services to help Square One clients and staff improve their financial literacy.”

Dawn DiStefano, Square One’s executive director, had seen similar attempts at financial education fizzle out, despite good intentions. This latest proposal was different.

“The FR group wanted to understand who we are and what we want for our clients and staff,” she said. “They were curious, inquisitive, and showed us they valued our expertise as well.”

The Empower Financial Literacy program is now a monthly offering at Square One. Flavia Cote, executive vice president of FR Investment and Peter’s wife, runs the session each month with FR staff, including her daughter, Flavia McCaughey, a vice president with FR.

McCaughey presented the idea to her parents that working with families at the lowest income levels to help them understand the basics of finance could have a huge impact on those families — and also on the community at large. The Cotes supported the idea but also offered some sage advice.

“My parents told me to be prepared that maybe only one person would show up to the meeting,” McCaughey said. “I discussed that possibility with the team, and we decided if the program makes a difference in even one person’s life, it’s worth it.”

Instead, 14 people have signed up for the program, with eight or nine regularly attending the monthly sessions.

“Given that we’re still dealing with COVID and that everyone has busy lives, I’m excited about 14 sign-ups,” DiStefano said. “The program will be here when they’re ready. It’s not a one-and-done.”

“Instead of making a monetary donation, we’ve chosen to do something harder.”

Far from it. Peter has committed his firm to running the financial-literacy program for the next 30 to 50 years.

“That’s how long it’s going to take to make real change in the financial well-being of our community,” he said. “You have to be on the ground and commit to the long term.”

 

Changing the Narrative

This kind of commitment is necessary to break what DiStefano called a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad outcomes.

“Those who grew up in a family where they worried about how they were going to eat and get to school often end up creating that same unstable environment for themselves when they are adults,” she said. “They’re not surprised when they lose an apartment or don’t care about their credit score because they feel they couldn’t buy a car anyway.”

Just like savings, tough situations also have a way of compounding and growing. DiStefano gave an example of someone who lost a job, and in order to receive housing assistance, they had to be in arrears on their rent, which would then negatively affect their credit score. “This is what people are dealing with,” she said.

Melissa Blissett, vice president of Family Support Services at Square One, asks people what’s going on that prohibits them from living a better life and uses a tool called the family-goal plan to help them.

Flavia McCaughey leads a financial-literacy session at Square One.

Flavia McCaughey leads a financial-literacy session at Square One.

“The FR folks speak the same language we use with our families, and we both use the SMART goal approach,” Blissett said. SMART, a popular goal-setting technique, is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.

Flavia Cote said her team encourages people to set a goal such as buying a reliable car, and the FR staff breaks it down to the actions needed to eventually reach the goal.

“We encourage people to try to save at least $10 a month,” she said. “Even if they can’t save $10 next month, they have started to think about saving.”

To prevent being overwhelmed by a large goal, Peter suggests taking it one step at a time. “I don’t want people to think about years from now — just think about the next 24 hours. When you bring it down to 24 hours, you help people see an attainable goal.”

In their monthly sessions, the FR staff help people with figuring the numbers and, more importantly, understanding the emotions that come with handling finances.

“If someone can’t save for one month, we encourage them to set the goal for next month,” Flavia said. “We want to bring hope and make finance simple enough for people to achieve some sort of financial independence.”

Like dedicated saving, positive actions can also have a compounding effect. Recently, a class-action case involving overdraft fees at a regional bank reached a settlement for several million dollars. Once all the claimants received their share, $23,000 remained. This final amount is usually provided to a nonprofit program in alignment with the core theme of the case and is known as a ‘cy pres,’ from a French phrase meaning ‘as near as possible.’

The plaintiff’s counsel, Angela Edwards, learned about the Square One program from Flavia Cote and thought it sounded perfect. “I recommended the cy pres for Square One, the defense counsel agreed, and the judge approved it.”

 

Making Progress

Peter Cote sees his main job not as a financial person, but as a champion for others. “We’re dealing with people who have a variety of financial challenges, and we are their champions to let them know it will be OK.”

When people attend the sessions at Square One, Flavia said, they show they are ready to make progress with their lives. “We try to help people understand their situation is not permanent and there is a way to change it.”

While a term like financial literacy might sound academic, Peter offered a few different terms that might better describe the course.

“You could call it financial well-being, or Life 101,” he said. “Maybe Figuring It Out 101.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Enterprise Holdings Foundation donated $12,143 to Square One in support of its Campaign for Healthy Kids.

The contribution is a piece of the Enterprise Holdings ROAD Forward commitment to allocate $35 million to more than 70 global Enterprise operating teams to drive local impact as part of its broader commitment to donate $55 million over five years to organizations that advance social and racial equity in the communities where it operates. The local grants program empowers employees to take the lead on identifying organizations that are best equipped to address social and racial equity gaps in their own communities across three areas: early-childhood development, youth health and wellness, and career and college preparation.

“We are proud to support Square One in its commitment to providing opportunities for children and families in Greater Springfield,” said Shawn Fleming, Group Human Resources manager. “Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is a company-wide priority for Enterprise Holdings, and we’re committed to strengthening our community with the help of outstanding organizations like Square One.”

This summer, Enterprise Holdings awarded its inaugural local ROAD Forward grants to nearly 700 nonprofits addressing social and racial equity gaps facing youth and families in local communities. Combined, the grants total more than $7 million.

“We were beyond excited to learn that Enterprise selected Square One to receive this very generous gift,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication for Square One. “Our success in serving the children and families in our region is dependent upon the generosity of business and individuals who recognize the need to support our important work. We are so grateful to the Enterprise Holdings Foundation for this amazing gift.”

The Campaign for Healthy Kids is a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on Square One’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment. All funds raised will directly support the children and families who rely on Square One to help meet their early-learning and family-support service needs. The campaign includes numerous opportunities for businesses and individuals to become involved as donors and partners.

Square One currently provides early learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family-support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. To make a donation, visit www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mail Allard at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Smith & Wesson is once again lending its support to the children and families served by Square One. The company recently committed $20,000 in corporate giving, in addition to funds donated by employees as part of their commitment to social responsibility.

The gift marks the latest addition to a long list of contributions made over the years. The company has supported the agency’s early-education and care initiatives and programs to support victims of domestic violence. It was also among the first businesses in the region to fund Square One’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Smith & Wesson and its employees are proud to support Square One’s efforts to offer tools and resources to local families,” said Mark Smith, president and CEO of Smith & Wesson. “We recognize that a strong foundation is the key to the development of all children. Through their programs, the staff at Square One has enhanced the lives of many children and families in our community. We’re happy that our partnership makes a difference.”

The funds will support Square One’s Campaign for Healthy Kids, a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on the agency’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment.

“Square One has long relied on support from Smith & Wesson to support our programs and services,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication for Square One. “They are quick to recognize and respond to the changing needs of our community and take responsibility to support our work whenever possible. We are truly grateful to have them as our community partners.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield-based Smith & Wesson is once again lending its support to the children and families served by Square One. The company recently committed $20,000 in corporate giving, in addition to funds donated by employees as part of their commitment to social responsibility.

The gift marks the latest addition to a long list of contributions made over the years. The company supported Square One’s early-education and care initiatives and programs to support victims of domestic violence. It was also among the first businesses in the region to fund Square One’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Smith & Wesson and its employees are proud to support Square One’s efforts to offer tools and resources to local families,” said Mark Smith, president and CEO of Smith & Wesson. “We recognize that a strong foundation is the key to the development of all children. Through their programs, the staff at Square One has enhanced the lives of many children and families in our community.”

The funds will support Square One’s Campaign for Healthy Kids, a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on the agency’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment.

“Square One has long relied on support from Smith & Wesson to support our programs and services,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication for Square One. “They are quick to recognize and respond to the changing needs of our community and take responsibility to support our work whenever possible. We are truly grateful to have them as our community partners.”

A check presentation will be held on June 30 at 11 a.m. at Square One, 1095 Main St., Springfield.

Square One currently provides early learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family-support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Square One announced the promotion of Melissa Blissett to vice president of Family Support Services.

A native of Springfield, Blissett joined Square One in 2014 as a Springfield College School of Social Work intern. Upon graduation in 2015, she joined the agency’s Healthy Families and Supervised Visitation programs. In 2017, she went to work as a Child and Family Law Division social worker for the Committee for Public Council Services in Springfield. In 2018, she returned to Square One as assistant vice president of Family Services.

“We conducted an extensive search to fill this important role,” said Dawn DiStefano, Square One president and CEO. “It came as no surprise that Melissa rose to the top of the applicant pool. She brings the perfect balance of compassion, expertise, and solid leadership to every project and program she touches. It is an honor to have her on our team.”

Blissett graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in psychology and developmental disabilities. She earned her master of social work degree from Springfield College, where she currently serves as an adjunct professor. She is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and actively volunteers for the Reading Success by 4th Grade initiative.

“Working at Square One is truly fulfilling,” Blissett said. “Not only can I support families in our community as they work to become more independent, I can also influence the professional and educational growth of our staff and the agency’s commitment to addressing racial equity. My background at Square One has allowed me to develop the skills and passion to help realize the vision of the agency and the goals of our Family Services programming.”

Square One currently provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. The large majority of Square One families come from situations involving poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, and other significant barriers that may inhibit their ability to get their children off to a good start in life.

Education

Balance Sheet

Dawn Forbes DiStefano

Dawn Forbes DiStefano

For Dawn Forbes DiStefano, it was the quintessential all-or-nothing proposition.

As the search for a successor to Joan Kagan, Square One’s long-time president and CEO, commenced last summer, Forbes DiStefano knew what few outside the organization — and probably few inside it, as well — knew: if she did not prevail in the nationwide search, she would no longer be working for the Springfield-based provider of childcare and other services for children and families.

That’s because the position she held at the time — executive vice president — was to be eliminated as the agency continued on a course of restructuring its top management.

But Forbes DiStefano, one of roughly 60 candidates to apply for the post, certainly had a leg up on the others — in large part because she was in that position. But also because she and Kagan had entered into what she described as a ‘shared management’ situation, one that familiarized her with all aspects of this operation and fully prepared her for the role she was seeking.

“I don’t think it was a shock that I was able to answer questions with more detail and probably more insight than other candidates, because I worked here,” she told BusinessWest. “But I worked really hard over the past 30 years to position myself to apply for a position like this.”

By that, she was referring to a lengthy career in the nonprofit realm, most of it at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, but the past five at Square One, where she has displayed what she and others consider perhaps her best strength — an ability to combine a passion for the agency’s mission with a strong business sense and attention to the bottom line needed to make sure a nonprofit can survive and carry out that mission.

It’s a mindset that embodies a quote she attributes to Sr. Mary Caritas, the long-time president of what is now Mercy Medical Center, and uses often: “no margin, no mission.”

Her outlook on nonprofit management, and her take on her own management style and the need for that balance between business and mission, are further summed up as follows:

“My management style is direct, it’s collaborative, it’s mission-focused, with an acknowledgement that we’re running a business. And to a certain extent, as a nonprofit, that’s a tax status — it’s not a way to do business.”

Forbes DiStefano, who took the helm in late December, leads the agency at a time of perhaps unprecedented challenge — most of it brought on by COVID-19, although it was a difficult time for nonprofits even before the pandemic reached Western Mass. While coping with the pandemic and its day-to-day decision making, execution, and ongoing efforts to create an environment “not in crisis,” she is also planning for the long term and life after COVID.

“My management style is direct, it’s collaborative, it’s mission-focused, with an acknowledgement that we’re running a business. And to a certain extent, as a nonprofit, that’s a tax status — it’s not a way to do business.”

She admitting to disliking the word ‘normal,’ at least in the way many are using it now, and told BusinessWest she isn’t sure what ‘normal’ will mean moving forward. She will help create at definition, at Square One, anyway, while also continuing to build on the legacy and broad portfolio of programs she’s inherited.

“When Joan arrived, we were the expert in early education and care, and we remain the expert in early education and care,” she explained. “She knew that she wanted to focus on families and a holistic, family approach; she knew that children would thrive and families would stabilize and become self-sufficient if we were serving whole families. We have the foundation, and we want to keep building on it.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked at length with Forbes DiStefano about her new role, her long career in nonprofit management, and how she intends to apply all she has learned to effectively write the next chapter in this agency’s long history.

 

School of Thought

In many ways, Forbes DiStefano said, her career has come full circle. Well, sort of.

Indeed, she went to Boston College and then UMass Amherst with the goal of becoming an elementary-school teacher, although she never really made it into the classroom as an instructor, as we’ll see in a minute.

But she is now leading an agency specializing in early-childhood education, but not devoted to that exclusively, as it was decades ago.

Dawn Forbes DiStefano

Dawn Forbes DiStefano wants to build on Square One’s foundation of serving whole families, not just children.

Flashing back to her college years, or just after she graduated in 1993, to be more precise, Forbes DiStefano said she encountered a challenging job market and had trouble breaking into the profession locally. She recalled a conversation she had with the superintendent in Southwick, who happened to be her high-school principal in West Springfield, about her struggles.

“He told me that it might have been worthwhile for me to do my student teaching here in Western Mass. instead of in Boston — we hire local.”

After spending some time at home thinking about what to do with her life and career, she decided to take what she could find, and this was a job at the YWCA of Greater Springfield as a receptionist. She didn’t take it expecting to stay more than 23 years, but that’s what happened, because, well, “I found my home … I found my calling,” she explained. “I was just smitten by being surrounded by women and girls whose mission — and passion — was to make life better for women and girls.”

Despite this enthusiasm, boredom quickly settled in. However, she would soon take on a new and rewarding role, somewhat by accident.

“We would get piles of mail every day with grant applications, RFPs, and proposals, and told the executive director at the time, Mary Reardon Johnson, ‘we should be applying for some of these grants; we’re doing amazing work here,’” Forbes DiStefano recalled. “She sort of flippantly said, ‘I don’t care what you do, just don’t lie too much; practice, do whatever you want to do, stay busy.’”

She did all of that and started responding to grant applications, and in short order, she started to get some approvals. And this eventually led to a role as grants manager, and then as director of Resource Development, playing a lead role in a capital campaign and raising funds for a number of building projects and new-program creation.

“It was an exciting time to be a part of the YWCA,” she said, adding that, while her teaching degree came in handy in many ways, she never did enter the classroom.

In late 2015, with a change of leadership at that agency, she decided it was time to seek a new challenge, and to get some advice on what the next chapter could and should be, she invited Kagan out for coffee.

“With 100% of our families experiencing something, whether it’s poverty, hunger, or homelessness, we know that the majority of our children have experienced some level of trauma at some point in their life.”

In that conservation, she told Kagan she liked grant writing and knew there were opportunities for people with that unique and coveted skill. But she said she couldn’t write grants for just anyone or anything.

“I told her that the magic of grant writing comes because it’s something I care deeply about,” she recalled. “I told her I wanted her help because I had been offered a few opportunities, but wasn’t sure I could make it with those agencies.”

She wasn’t expecting to be given a job offer, especially because the agency had recently hired Kris Allard as vice president of Development and Communications, and wasn’t — at least initially. But she credits Kagan with sensing, and then seizing, an opportunity to strengthen Square One by bringing her on as a full-time grants officer.

But her role would soon involve much more than that.

Indeed, she would take a deep dive into the agency’s financial status, which at that time was “very unique and somewhat worrisome,” as she put it, and would eventually take on a broader role as chief Finance and Grants officer.

Over the next several years, she and Kagan would guide the agency through some difficult but necessary steps to stabilize the agency financially. These included closing Square One’s early-childhood education center in Holyoke in early 2017 — the agency still has a presence in that city with other services — and also a consolidation of services focused on infants and toddlers, with a greater emphasis on preschool.

“It was a very methodical and financially driven decision-making process,” she recalled. “And this is where Joan and I started finding a balance between the two of us. Joan is a social worker; she understands people and the strengths people bring to an organization, and she is phenomenal at program development. I think what I brought to her is an equal understanding of people and certainly the same amount of passion for children, but I really came to it with a fiscal mindset that we need to get this business financially viable.”

Through a hard focus on maximizing enrollment, creating efficiencies, and reducing expenses (often, again, as a result of difficult decisions), the agency, which was seeing annual deficits of $1.5 million or more only a few years ago, was at the break-even point for fiscal 2019.

“We have seen a massive improvement in our financial stability,” she said. “And we did that while keeping children and families at the core of what we do.”

 

Successful Succession

Forbes DiStefano told BusinessWest that she credits Kagan with taking a number of steps to successful transition to Square One to new leadership, work she believes will create a seamless passage of the baton.

“Joan reorganized Square One back in the fall of 2019,” she explained. “One of the senior-level administrators was leaving, and she [Kagan] took the opportunity not to announce her retirement, but certainly organize and structure the agency so it would be ready for when she was ready to announce.”

As part of that organizing and structuring, Kagan created an executive vice president’s role for Forbes DiStefano, one she said would enable her to make a desired transition away from the finance side of the operation and into a shared leadership role.

“From the fall of 2019 to the summer of 2020, we enjoyed that relationship,” Forbes DiStefano explained. “Joan was very mindful, very practical, and extremely generous in that space; I think some leaders want to be in a shared-leadership position, but then, when it really comes to fruition, they don’t want to be. Joan really lived it.”

As noted, there was a nationwide search for a successor, something the agency’s board, Kagan, and Forbes DiStefano all thought was necessary. In the end, she said her 30 years of experience with nonprofits, her five years in Square One in roles that exposed her to all aspects of its operation, and especially that time in that shared-leadership role, positioned her to excel in that search.

Moving forward, she intends to use all that experience and learning, both on the job and in the classroom — over the years she has added a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management and a master’s degree in nonprofit management and finance — to guide Square One through the next chapter in its long history.

While doing so, she must first contend with the pandemic, which has tested the agency in myriad ways. Overall, she said it has been Square One’s goal to create a calm, safe place in the midst of the pandemic, and in most all ways, it has been successful in that mission.

“We’re making decisions minute by minute about the health and safety of everyone at Square One,” she said. “What we have done very well is read, digest, interpret, and then operationalize all the CDC and DPH guidelines for health and safety. We don’t want you to be in crisis when you’re here at Square One. We understand that there’s a crisis going on our world, but our job, every single day from 7:30 to 5:30, is to create a stable, warm, non-crisis, non-traumatic environment for children to be able to learn and thrive.”

Meanwhile, Forbes DiStefano said she, Allard, and other members of the leadership team are focused on “expanding what we do well.”

That broad phrase includes early-childhood education, obviously, but also other services, including those focused on the mental health of children, needs that have only grown during the pandemic.

“With 100% of our families experiencing something, whether it’s poverty, hunger, or homelessness, we know that the majority of our children have experienced some level of trauma at some point in their life,” she explained, noting that Square One has, in recent years, expanded what would be considered traditional mental-health services — referrals to therapists — with an early-childhood mental-services center called Cornerstone.

Launched as a pilot program, the center has grown in size, scope, and services.

“It’s designed to be both a physical and a social/emotional space — you can’t help but feel calm when you walk in,” she explained. “And I think it’s the most outstanding achievement we’ve made at Square One in the last five years.

“What we’ve created is a space where children can come with their peers,” she went on, adding that, instead of one-on-one therapy, there are group activities, such as games and book reading. “Everyone is experiencing some level of healing; it’s children helping each other learn how to cope, have healthy reactions, and reduce the triggers. And teachers are learning as well; they’re watching the therapist engage with the children.”

 

Bottom Line

Moving forward, Forbes DiStefano said it’s her goal — and now her job — to build on the solid foundation that’s been built at the agency and continually look for new ways to carry out the overriding mission: to improve quality of life for children and families. And there are many aspects to that work.

“It’s my job to welcome everyone to the table, make sure that our services are working seamlessly, and then find opportunities to bring new partners, new donors, new investors, and new ways of thinking to build on the good work that exists here,” she said.

That’s all part of managing Square One with that mindset, and with that balance, she described earlier.

As she said, ‘nonprofit’ is a tax status; it’s not a way to do business.

 

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Balise Auto, a long-time supporter of Square One, recently committed $15,000 toward the agency’s Adopt-A-Classroom initiative.

“We have been so impressed by Square One’s dedication and ability to find creative and effective ways to support the education of children and families in our community,” said Alexandra Balise, director of Marketing at Balise Auto. “Balise is proud to support Square One and their ongoing efforts to shape the leaders of tomorrow.”

Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication at Square One, added that “Square One, like so many other nonprofits in our region, is a better organization because of Balise Auto. For years, the leadership team at Balise has taken the time to understand our needs and has responded creatively and generously to support the children and families we serve.

“As we continue to navigate our way through the COVID-19 crisis, having the support of our business community is absolutely critical to our ability to respond to the changing needs of our children and families,” she went on.

Square One’s Adopt-A-Classroom program is part of the agency’s Campaign for Healthy Kids, a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on the agency’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment.

The gift from Balise comes at a critical time, as Square One continues to provide full-day remote-learning support for children in kindergarten through grade 5, in addition to its traditional preschool classrooms, childcare offerings, and family-support services.

Square One currently provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, as well as family-support services to 1,500 families each year. To make a donation, text ABC123 to 44-321, visit www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mail Allard at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On the heels of the recent retirement of Joan Kagan, Square One has named Dawn Forbes DiStefano its new president and chief executive officer.

The announcement follows an extensive national search lead by the agency’s board of directors, staff and members of the community.

Following a 25-year career with the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, DiStefano joined the Square One team in January 2016 to lead the agency’s grant research, grant writing, and program-compliance efforts. She was quickly promoted to chief finance and grants officer, where she added oversight of the agency’s financial team to her list of responsibilities. In 2019, she was promoted to executive vice president where she took on oversight of the agency’s early-education and care programs and family-support services, and management of operations, including transportation, food service, and IT.

“We received nearly 60 applications and interviewed impressive candidates from across the country for this position,” says Peter Testori, board chair. “Not surprisingly, Dawn rose to the top of the list. Her breadth and depth of experience in the non-profit sector, her outstanding reputation throughout the Commonwealth, and her extensive knowledge of Square One’s programs, services, and staff make her the ideal person to continue to build on the success of Joan Kagan’s leadership.”

“Just as we pride ourselves on developing the leaders of tomorrow through our own programs and services, I am privileged to have experienced the leadership of Joan Kagan. “It is an honor for me to continue to navigate the path that Joan and those before her have paved.”

Kagan, who led the agency for 17 years, announced her retirement plans last summer. She continues to serve as an advisor to the leadership team during the transition.

“There is no one better suited for this role than Dawn,” says Kagan. “Square One has an amazing history of responding to the changing needs of our community through our programs, services and partnerships. I have every confidence that Dawn’s great determination, passion for serving children and families, and the tremendous respect that she has earned will allow her to continue that legacy.”

DiStefano serves on the boards of directors for the Massachusetts Council on Gaming Health, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, Springfield Regional Chamber, Baystate Community Benefits Advisory Committee, and Businesses to End Human Trafficking. She also serves as a Commissioner on the Hampden County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and her master’s degree in public administration and nonprofit management from Westfield State University.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Six Flags New England will donate more than 200 toys valued at more than $1,000 to Square One’s children.

“Six Flags New England is honored to support Square One this holiday season,” said Jennifer McGrath, the park’s Communications manager. “Now more than ever, we need to rally as a community and support causes and families here in Western Massachusetts and beyond. We are thrilled to be able to provide these toys to ensure a happier and brighter holiday season for families and kids alike. Our mission is to provide smiles both inside and outside of our park, and we wish Square One and the families they serve a beautiful, safe, and healthy holiday Season.”

Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communications for Square One, added that “we are so grateful to our friends at Six Flags New England for keeping the holiday spirit alive for our children and families. This year, more than ever before, our children need to experience the magic of the holiday season. We are so fortunate to have community partners like Six Flags who are helping to ensure that happens.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Liberty Mutual Insurance is the latest corporation to lend its support to Square One’s Campaign for Healthy Kids — a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on the agency’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment.

The $3,000 gift comes at a critical time as Square One recently expanded its early-education program to include full-day remote learning support for children in kindergarten through grade 5, in addition to its traditional preschool classrooms, family childcare offerings, and family-support services.

“The vital services the Square One team provide to the community on a daily basis have taken on a whole new level of importance during this unprecedented time,” said Beth Green, Liberty Mutual Insurance Contact Center Operations associate. “Early education is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s long-term security and well-being, and the services offered by Square One are core to Liberty Mutual’s values of being there for people when they need us most. We are honored to help them fulfill their commitment to provide high-quality early education and a safe and healthy community for Springfield’s children.”

Added Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication at Square One, “having the support of our business community is absolutely vital to our success in supporting children and families. We are so grateful to Liberty Mutual for recognizing the importance of our work and the need to support us financially. The past few months have greatly reinforced the demand for our programs and services. With that growing demand and the unanticipated COVID-related expenses — including providing full-day support during remote learning — we have a tremendous need to expand our donor base.”

Square One currently provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family support-services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. To make a donation, text ABC123 to 44-321, visit www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mail Allard at [email protected].

Daily News

BOSTON — As a way to celebrate STEM Week in Massachusetts last week, the Red Sox Foundation and the Museum of Science in Boston partnered to distribute nearly 650 at-home science and engineering design-challenge kits to children at Springfield’s Square One, the Lawrence YMCA, and the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club.

“From the start of the pandemic, we have worked to support children with their distance-learning needs,” Red Sox Foundation Executive Director Bekah Salwasser said. “The Museum of Science has designed and developed incredible online and at-home resources for children specifically focused on science and engineering, and we were thrilled to partner with them to get their Try It! kits in the hands of kids in Lawrence and Springfield.”

The Try It! kits are a part of the virtual learning resources the museum has developed through its curricular division, EiE, and its MOS at Home digital platform, to provide families with all the materials needed to enjoy fun and engaging science education any time, any place. An extension of its award-winning “Engineering Is Elementary” curriculum, the Try It! kits are available in both English and Spanish.

“The Museum of Science’s mission is to instill a lifelong love of science in everyone. Through our digital platform, MOS at Home, and with our at-home EiE Try It! Kits, we are able to engage with the public beyond our walls and bring the museum directly to them,” said Tim Ritchie, president of the Museum of Science. “In celebration of Massachusetts STEM Week, with support from the museum’s generous annual fund supporters, and with the help of trusted community partners like the Red Sox Foundation, we are able to break down barriers to science and empower our community to see themselves in STEM.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For the fourth consecutive year, Excel Dryer has committed an annual gift of $5,000 to support Square One’s Adopt-a-Classroom initiative.

The gift comes at a critical time as Square One recently expanded its early-education program to include full-day remote learning support for children in kindergarten through grade 5, in addition to its traditional preschool classrooms and family childcare offerings. The funds will be used to offset expenses associated with classroom supplies, meals, and professional development.

“I am a strong proponent of in-person learning, and I applaud the efforts of Square One to reopen its preschool programs back in June, with appropriate protocols in place,” said Denis Gagnon, president of Excel Dryer Inc. “However, not all children have been able to return to school in the fall, which has created additional expenses to provide these children with remote learning support.”

Square One’s Adopt-a-Classroom program is part of the agency’s Campaign for Healthy Kids, a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on the agency’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment.

“Having the support of our business community is vital to our success in supporting children and families,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication at Square One. “We are so grateful to Denis and his team at Excel Dryer for once again recognizing the importance of our work and the need to support us financially.

“The past few months have greatly reinforced the demand for our programs and services,” she added. “With that growing demand and the unanticipated COVID-related expenses — including providing full-day support during remote learning — we have a tremendous need to expand our donor base.”

Square One currently provides early-learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. To make a donation, text ABC123 to 44-321, visit www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mail Allard at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As working parents continue to navigate the unchartered territory surrounding remote education, Square One is answering the call for help.

The agency is now providing full-day remote-learning support for children in kindergarten through grade 5, in addition to expanded offerings for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Enrollment is available at three Square One early-learning centers in Springfield, as well as the agency’s network of home-based child-care providers who operate throughout the region.

Through the generosity of funders, including the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and Square One’s corporate and individual donors, all locations are outfitted with the technology and staffing needed to accommodate each student’s remote-learning needs. All guidelines surrounding social distancing, cleanliness, and personal protective equipment will be strictly enforced. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks will be provided.

“It is our mission and our responsibility to do everything we can to support families during this very challenging time,” said Dawn DiStefano, executive vice president. “We hope that, by expanding our services, we are offering parents peace of mind and confidence that their children are learning and cared for in a safe, healthy environment.”

For more information, parents are urged to contact the Square One enrollment office at (413) 732-5183.

“We are thankful to have the support of our state officials, foundations, corporations, and individual donors who make it possible for us to provide the resources our staff and children need to ensure success,” said Joan Kagan, president and CEO. “But with the growing demand for our programs and services comes a great need for additional financial support. It is critical that we expand our donor base in correlation with our expanded offerings.”

Donors are asked to support the Campaign for Healthy Kids by texting ABC123 to 4432, visiting www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mailing Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communication, at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — When Square One shared plans to launch its latest fundraising campaign by producing a public-service announcement highlighting its critical work with children and families, a team of community partners eagerly stepped in to lend a hand.

“I’ve seen firsthand the incredible and beneficial work Square One does for children,” said political consultant Anthony Cignoli, one of several high-profile community partners with a role in the initiative. “I’ve been a long-time supporter because Square One is essential in the lives of so many families. When I heard about the campaign and their creative approach, I was eager to join so many other great supporters in championing this effort.”

The Campaign for Healthy Kids is a multi-year fund-development initiative focused on Square One’s commitment to providing healthy meals, physical fitness, social-emotional well-being, and a healthy learning environment. All funds raised will directly support the children and families who rely on Square One to help meet their early-learning and family-support needs.

With funding from Pride Stores, the campaign will kick off with a PSA that features preschoolers transitioning to adult leadership roles. The video will appear in the mainstream media, as well as social-media platforms. It will be complemented by a series of print and radio promotions.

“We are thrilled and grateful to have such high-level, talented community support for this undertaking,” said Kristine Allard, vice president of Development & Communications for Square One. In addition to receiving funding from Pride and the agency’s board of directors, she cited the in-kind efforts of Balise Auto, the Springfield Thunderbirds, New York Sound and Motion, Chikmedia, Springfield Police, Crystal Vazquez & Co., Leonard Underwood Photography, as well as all the volunteers who participated in the production of the campaign.

“When we first developed this campaign, we had no idea that our world would be dramatically changed by the COVID-19 crisis,” Allard said. “The past few months have greatly reinforced the demand for our programs and services. With that growing demand and the unanticipated COVID-related expenses — including providing full-day support during remote learning — we have a tremendous need to expand our donor base. We are excited for this opportunity to raise awareness of our important work and the funding we need to continue to develop the leaders of tomorrow.”

To make a donation, text ABC123 to 44-321, visit www.startatsquareone.org, or e-mail Allard at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Following a human-services career spanning more than 45 years, Square One President and CEO Joan Kagan has announced plans to retire.

Kagan has served in her current role since 2003. Although her retirement will take effect on Dec. 31, 2020, Kagan will continue to serve the agency as an advisor to support the leadership team during transition.

“When you think about the nonprofit community in Western Massachusetts, the name Joan Kagan immediately comes to mind,” said Peter Testori, chair of Square One’s board of directors and dean of Academic Support Services and assistant Title IX coordinator at Bay Path University. “For decades, Joan has been a champion for the well-being and education of our region’s children. Her passion and commitment have positively impacted the lives of thousands of children and families.”

Under Kagan’s leadership, Square One (formerly known as Springfield Day Nursery) expanded its offerings from providing child care exclusively to a full menu of family-support services. This expansion was built upon Kagan’s experience as a child and family social worker and her in-depth understanding of the need for all children to have a high-quality early education, nurturing adults to care for them, and a safe and healthy community in which to live.

“Joan’s passion for children and families is what has made our collaboration with Square One so effective,” said Suzin Bartley, executive director of Children’s Trust of Massachusetts. “She understands that children do not grow up in early-childhood programs — they grow up in families, and families need support. Being a parent is the toughest job we ever embark on, and yet it is the most important role in the life of a child, and Joan understands that all parents, myself included, have at times needed access to information, skills, and support in order to grow as a parent.

“Her leadership style, eagerness to collaborate, and her high standards have helped set Square One apart,” Bartley added. “She will be missed, but we also know that she has built a solid organization that will continue to grow as it serves the children and families of Springfield.”

A committee of Square One staff and board members, as well as other community leaders, will conduct a search to determine the next president and CEO.

“There are very few initiatives surrounding early education and family services in this community that don’t somehow connect to Joan Kagan,” said Mary Walachy, former executive director of the Davis Foundation. “Her collaborative approach to providing opportunities for children and families to be successful is truly unmatched. The impact of her work will be felt for many generations to come.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continues to mount, Square One is responding to growing concerns about the health and well-being of the region’s most vulnerable families.

“In addition to helping our families meet their basic needs, we know that, during times of isolation, there is an increase in domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and mental-health crises,” said Joan Kagan, president and CEO of Square One. “It is absolutely critical that our staff maintain a steady presence in the lives of our children and families to help protect them from any harm.”

Under normal circumstances, Square One educators, therapists, social workers, and home visitors are a constant physical presence in the lives of the community’s children and families. They are trained to notice signs of distress and respond appropriately. But the COVID-19 pandemic and call for social distancing has changed the way the Square One team is meeting their responsibilities.

Over the past three weeks, the Square One family-services team has conducted 150 virtual home visits, 300 check-in calls, and made deliveries of emergency supplies of diapers, baby wipes, and formula to more than 80 families throughout the region.

Square One’s preschool and school-age educators are personally communicating with all 500 children and families in its learning programs. They are performing virtual story readings, fitness demonstrations, and other lessons via social media.

Likewise, the Square One Cornerstone Therapy Center team continues to perform virtual therapy sessions for the agency’s most vulnerable children who have experienced trauma in the past and now during the pandemic.

“Our constant presence is needed more than ever before to keep our children and families safe. We are seeing families struggling with parental stress, depression, and anxiety,” said Jenise Katalina, vice president of Family Support Services at Square One. “In particular, our families who are parenting while in addiction recovery are facing tremendous struggles. This is not an easy time for anyone, but for those who were already challenged and vulnerable, the need for support and potential for danger is heightened to a greater degree.”

Square One currently provides early learning services to more than 500 infants, toddlers, and school-age children each day, and family-support services to 1,500 families each year, as they work to overcome the significant challenges in their lives. The large majority of Square One families come from situations involving poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, incarceration, substance abuse, domestic violence, and other significant issues that may inhibit their ability to provide a quality early learning experience for their children, if the proper services are not made available to them.

To make a donation, visit www.startatsquareone.org or contact Kris Allard at [email protected] or (508) 942-3147. If you are in need of emergency support, call the emergency on-call number, (413) 478-5197.

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — As one of the region’s largest providers of childcare and family-support services, Square One is continuing to provide essential services to support the children and families who rely on them.

“This is a very unsettling time for everyone,” said Joan Kagan, president and CEO. “But for families who rely on us, and other social-services agencies, to meet their basic needs, the stress and fear they are experiencing is heightened. It is critical that they know where to go to access what they need. Most importantly, we want to make sure they do not feel isolated.”

The large majority of Square One families come from situations involving poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, incarceration, substance abuse, domestic violence, or other significant issues, Kagan explained. 

Square One’s case workers and home visitors remain connected with the 1,500 families in its family-support programs virtually and over the phone on a regular basis. The agency is regularly providing families with resources and tools, such as food availability, homeschooling support, and emergency supplies of diapers and baby formula.

Programs such as support groups for parents in addiction recovery are being held virtually. The agency’s therapists and social workers are also holding virtual or phone appointments to support their continued social emotional health and well-being.

Square One’s preschool and school-age teachers are personally communicating with all 500 children and families in its learning programs, while the early learning centers and family childcare providers remain closed. They will be performing virtual story readings, fitness demonstrations, and other lessons that the organization will be sharing via social media.

For families who work in essential job functions, such as hospitals, grocery stores, and others, and who may be in need of emergency drop-in childcare services, childcare providers approved by the state Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) are available to provide emergency care for children. The list of providers can be found on the EEC website. Square One’s team is available to help families navigate that list and the rules surrounding these emergency services.

“We are grateful to everyone who has reached out to us to see how they can be supportive to the families we are serving,” Kagan said. “What we need most are cash donations, so that we can continue to provide our families with the programs and services they need right now. This is particularly important as some of our anticipated funding streams have been postponed or canceled altogether.”

To make a donation, visit www.startatsquareone.org or contact Kris Allard at [email protected] or by calling (508) 942-3147. Those in need of emergency support can call Square One’s emergency on-call number at (413) 478-5197.

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