Grants awarded to 3 Springfield colleges to support community initiatives
The money comes from Springfield's Higher Education ARPA Fund
Three private colleges in Springfield, Massachusetts will receive funds for initiatives that seek to help the ongoing pandemic recovery effort.
American International College, Springfield College, and Western New England University will share $750,000 from a special fund the city set up with a small part of its allotment from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Each will use the money in different ways such as expanding mental health resources and helping students who dropped out during the pandemic resume their studies, said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.
“You get that higher education, it is going to open doors to not only provide for you and your family but also the community,” Sarno said.
The special fund was announced by Sarno last July and higher education institutions were invited to apply for grant awards.
“This a really unique, important, one-of-a-kind initiative,” Sarno said.
Each of the winning grant applications did have one thing in common: a community component, said Tim Sheehan, the city of Springfield’s chief economic development official.
“We asked the schools to explain to us what the impacts they had relative to COVID, what needs were not being met, and we provided additional consideration if their programming ultimately went off the campus and into the community,” Sheehan said.
AIC will use its $270,000 grant to create a new program that will offer a multitude of support services – and in some cases direct financial aid -- to bring students back to complete certificate and degree programs in fields with critical workforce shortages such as health, education, and public safety, explained AIC President Hubert Benitez.
“There are many individuals with many (college) credits but no degree and that is not a good recipe for the workforce or the city, so we are trying to reinvigorate and bring back that community of students or potential students or prior students,” he said
If successful, the program could be replicated across the country, said Benitez.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Western New England University had a mental health first aid program that has taught administrators, faculty, staff, students and even some parents to identify and assist people having a mental health crisis. The university will use its $240,000 grant from the city to train more of the campus community and eventually expand it to the Springfield Public Schools, said Margaret Boyle, the university’s Vice President of Community and Governmental Affairs.
“There are also programs for first responders, EMS, court officers and down the road we look forward to getting our mental health first aid responders certified in those programs so we can be a hub and resource for mental health training in the greater Springfield community,” Boyle said.
Also receiving $240,000 is Springfield College. It will use the money to hire two case workers to help both the college’s students and Springfield Public School families navigate available mental health resources, hire a shared psychiatric nurse practitioner, and provide additional community mental health services from the college’s counseling programs.
The grants from the city should fund the colleges’ initiatives for the next 2-3 years, said Sheehan.
“We think this is going to be a great foundation that ultimately can be funded by the state and federal governments,” he said.
Springfield received a total of $123 million from the APRA program and through 13 rounds of funding announcements by the Sarno administration has now allocated nearly all of it.