Innovation Grantees tackle issues of housing, hunger and educator diversity

$341,000 of funding granted to further propel three “outside the box” projects

February 28, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, MA – The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’ (CFWM) Innovation Grant Program has awarded a total of $341,000 to three changemaking nonprofit organizations to continue creating innovative solutions around these critical issues facing our region. CFWM’s Innovation Grant Program was launched in 2016 to encourage nonprofits to develop and execute novel ideas in partnership with other entities, as well as allow organizations to construct inventive solutions with measurable impact.

In January of 2018, CFWM awarded first year funding to Five Colleges Incorporated, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity to implement innovative projects that were refined and tested during a planning period in 2017. Now entering their third year of funding, these grantees are seeing the tangible impact of their work. Twenty paraprofessionals of color are making their way toward receiving their licensure to become a full-fledged teachers; food insecure patients are being identified and referred to healthy food opportunities; and small homes have been built and are being occupied by first time homebuyers.

Five Colleges, Inc. will continue to develop the “Paradigm Shift” initiative and bring in new partners. This initiative is focused on creating a more diverse teacher workforce in Western Massachusetts by helping para-educators of color overcome obstacles to obtaining licensure to become teachers in area schools. The 25+ member organizations that make up the Paradigm Shift Coalition have laid the groundwork for breaking down barriers that para-educators face, including identifying the steps involved in obtaining licensure and the types of individualized support participants need, helping enroll para-educators in courses in local colleges, and providing mentoring and tutoring for MTEL tests. The coalition has also been able to offset costs associated with these steps to help make it affordable through its partnership with local colleges. A key success in 2019 was Paradigm Shift’s convening of 113 district and school administrators from Holyoke and Springfield for a day-long professional development opportunity to gain knowledge and skills for building a diverse teacher workforce, such as recruitment and hiring practices. Paradigm Shift currently has 33 participants enrolled in the program, and they are on target for graduating at least 20 by the end of 2020 (and the remaining 13 in 2021).

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will spend their third year expanding and analyzing the impact of their Food Insecurity Screening and Referral Initiative that conducts and tracks food insecurity screening and social service referrals at the Holyoke Health Center and their Chicopee location. Additionally, they will partner with West Mass Elder Care and Springfield Senior Services to address the food needs of patients who screen positive for food insecurity and have a specific medical condition. With a simple in-person questionnaire, the initiative screens for food insecurity at adult and pediatric practices, and then connects patients with food assistance resources—and, equally important—referrals to additional resources that patients may need, such as housing, employment, education, etc. These referrals are tracked in a database which allows for follow-up with patients to identify any changes in behavior and additional needs.

Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity will continue with a third year of their “Big Enough: The Small Home Revolution in Western Mass” initiative, which aims to launch more individuals and families into the middle class by empowering them to become first-time owners of small simple, affordable, energy-efficient homes. Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity’s work brings together partners such as local banks to conceive creative financing, cities to implement new zoning regulations, and builders to design small, innovative and energy-efficient housing concepts, as well as to pilot modular construction and alternative land use models. The first two years of funding allowed for three low-income families to become homeowners in Hampshire County, a dream that likely wouldn’t have been possible within the current housing market. Over this third year, two more sites will be developed in Northampton and Pelham and Habitat will share its learnings to that other areas can look at adopting these innovative strategies.