Federal grant supports campus alliance with Holyoke

UMass Extension is leading a coalition of area colleges and grassroots community groups in addressing tough urban problems in Holyoke.

Low-income neighborhoods in the city will be the focus of a community-based effort that will draw on university research and outreach to help residents broaden educational opportunities, highlight cultural resources, increase home ownership, and revitalize Holyoke’s downtown without outside gentrification.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing $400,000 for the three-year project under its Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) Program. The effort is being coordinated by Karen Barshefsky of UMass Extension’s Communities, Families and Youth Program, working in collaboration with the Holyoke Planners Network, a coalition of academic and community groups promoting a community-driven approach to sustainable development. The network is an advisory body for the grant.

“This is a real first for us,” said Barshefsky. “It’s where applied research and community outreach come together to make an important difference. It is the result of a very rich collaboration between academic institutions and community partners.”

The UMass Amherst/Holyoke Planners Network Community Outreach Partnership Center will target Holyoke’s growing Latino and low-income populations with a variety of research and outreach activities in four major focus areas: education, economic development and community planning, capacity building, and fair housing and lending.

Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan said that his city’s collaborations with UMass Amherst have been particularly fruitful, and that he is looking forward to strengthening that tie through the COPC grant.

“We’re really excited at the prospect of this new partnership,” said Sullivan. “The concepts and plans put forth in the grant proposal could benefit Holyoke greatly. UMass is a great partner, and we are eager to work more closely with all the participants in this project.”

Along with UMass Extension, the initiative will involve the Center for Public Policy, University Outreach, Community Outreach Partnership, and Community Service Learning.

Neighborhood participation has been key in identifying the issues to be addressed by the program and will be instrumental in shaping its impact, said Barshefsky. Participating organizations include El Arco Iris Youth and Community Arts, Nuestras Raices, Nueva Esperanza, Enlace de Familias, Avanza!, and the Community Education Project along with the Holyoke public schools, Juntos ABE Advisory Project and the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center. Holyoke Community College and Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges are also collaborating on the project.

With just under 40,000 residents, Holyoke has experienced a decline in its overall population in the last 20 years; at the same time the Latino population has increased by 170 percent. Latino residents accounted for 41 percent of the population in 2000, compared with 14 percent in 1980.

Education

Families and Parents: Leaders in Education
A series of leadership development workshops for families and parents on issues of higher education (with the Community Education Project and Enlace de Familias).

College Prep and Youth Development
Extends campus/community partnerships through tutoring and mentoring programs, a series of information sessions on college preparation, and field trips for high school students and parents (with El Arco Iris, Nuestras Raices, Rise Up Now (RUN), the After School Program of Markin Properties, Girls, Inc. and Holyoke High School).

Economic Development and Community Planning

Envisioning South Holyoke
A series of community-wide meetings with stakeholders in south Holyoke and a participatory community envisioning process whereby resident and minority small business owners contribute their visions for the neighborhood through economic and cultural surveys, community dialogues and innovative artistic projects. Outreach activity will focus on Main Street (with Nueva Esperanza, El Arco Iris, Nuestras Raices, and partner colleges).

Cultural and Media Asset Inventory and Creative Entrepreneurship
Outreach within the Holyoke arts community and the compilation of a comprehensive survey of cultural organizations, educational opportunities, activities, public and commercial media outlets and arts sites within the city. The inventory will be made available to the Holyoke ARTeS Alliance and the Holyoke Department of City Planning and Economic Development to promote awareness of cultural offerings and suggest new cultural economic development projects.

Main Street Redevelopment Project
Detailed analysis of properties on Main Street and the potential for purchase, renovation and/or development as mixed-use properties.

Design and building opportunities, as well as small-scale construction and interventions will be explored (with Youth Build and Nuestras Raices).

Small Business Development through Converting Urban Lots to Gardening/Farming
Addresses the problem of site contamination. Researchers from UMass Amherst will join Nuestras Raices to measure soil texture, quality and contamination at several sites and depths.

Capacity Building

Extension of community/university partnerships
Including a clearinghouse for information on college and university engagement in Holyoke, and for requests from community organizations for research, volunteers, interns and work-study students; also provides for a continuation of the Puerto Rican Studies Seminar in Holyoke to promote knowledge and understanding of Puerto Rican history and culture among area faculty and students.

Fair Housing and Lending

Financial Education and Sustainable Home Ownership
Provides the basis for a series of community financial education and sustainable home ownership workshops with support material in English and Spanish through the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center in Holyoke.