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Giving a Hand Up

 

On April 30, representatives from Holyoke Community College and the Springfield-based nonprofit I Found Light Against All Odds agreed to work closely to increase educational and workforce training opportunities for young women at risk for homelessness. 

HCC President George Timmons and Stefan Davis, CEO, president, and founder of the Springfield-based I Found Light Against All Odds, met at the college to sign a memorandum of understanding outlining the terms of the agreement.  

I Found Light Against All Odds provides support services for young women to help address social and economic issues that can lead to poverty and homelessness. Specifically, by signing this memorandum, HCC and the foundation agree to broaden support services for area women, ages 18-20, to help them obtain safe housing and career opportunities through education and training. 

“This agreement is firmly in line with HCC’s mission and vision to remove barriers to student success, to break cycles of poverty, and provide opportunities for education and training that will allow more young women to be successful, earn a livable wage, and enjoy all that life has to offer,” Timmons said.

According to statistics cited in the memorandum of understanding, Hampden County has a poverty rate of 16.9%, which is higher than the national average of 11.5%. Meanwhile, the poverty rates in Springfield and Holyoke are even higher at 25.5% and 26%, respectively. 

“This agreement is firmly in line with HCC’s mission and vision to remove barriers to student success, to break cycles of poverty, and provide opportunities for education and training that will allow more young women to be successful, earn a livable wage, and enjoy all that life has to offer.”

“At the same time, research shows that many community-college students in Massachusetts experience hunger and/or homelessness, as well as other types of basic needs insecurity that can serve as barriers to degree completion and thereby limit economic sustainability and mobility,” the memorandum states.

Davis thanked Timmons and HCC faculty for the partnership. “We look forward to working with you and your staff to help these young women that are in darkness, searching for light and education. These women have dealt with a lot of trauma throughout their lives and are looking for ways to end the cycle of poverty. This collaboration proves that we care about them and that they have our support.”

Through the agreement, the foundation is looking to connect with HCC’s existing academic support services, such as admissions and financial-aid counseling, as well as career and transfer advising and more. 

“It’s a natural fit between an agency that works to support young women and a college, HCC, which is known for its wraparound support model,” said Jeff Hayden, HCC’s vice president of Business and Community Services.

Before the signing, Davis introduced a video about I Found Light Against All Odds that featured interviews from two of its consumers. One of them was Alisandra Pantoja from Springfield, who attended the April 30 event. 

Pantoja also stood beside Davis as he put pen to paper. She will be taking advantage of all the opportunities outlined in the agreement as a student at HCC starting in September, and plans to major in human services. “I like working with people,” she said.