PITTSFIELD, Mass. – The City of Pittsfield was awarded $95,000 through the state’s Urban Agenda Grant Program, funding that will support workforce development in the city. Gov. Charlie Baker and state officials announced the grant recipients and initiatives at an event on Wednesday, Feb. 19 in Boston.

In celebration of this news, a small contingent traveled to Boston for the announcement. The group included Carolyn Valli, CEO, Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity; Alisa Costa, Initiative Director, Berkshire Bridges Working Cities; Linda Kelley, member of the Executive and Steering committees for Working Cities, and Huff Templeton, a member of the Executive Committee for Working Cities.

Launched by the Baker-Polito administration in 2015, Urban Agenda program grants are competitive one-year grants that offer flexible funding for local partnerships to implement programming and projects that are based on creative collaborative work models with the goal of urban communities achieving economic progress. The administration announced a total of $2 million in community grants at the announcement on Wednesday.

In Pittsfield, funding will support Habitat for Humanity’s Workforce Development Program to prepare workers for building careers by providing direct workforce skills training with the supports that include training certifications and connections to apprenticeships. The grant will also support Berkshire Bridges Working Cities in the development of an Employer Resources Network which places success coaches within businesses to support new hires and under-resourced workers that have typically had difficulty in obtaining and retaining employment.

“Our administration is committed to partnering with local leaders and community organizations that are on the ground in urban neighborhoods to encourage collaborative, high-impact projects that directly impact the quality of life and access to opportunity of residents,” said Gov. Baker, in a Statehouse News press release. “The flexibility of the Urban Agenda program enables investments in a wide-range of initiatives that train unemployed individuals for jobs, assist local entrepreneurs and prepare small businesses for success.”

“Urban Agenda grants are one of the tools that allow our administration to tackle local challenges around workforce training and provide support to urban small businesses and entrepreneurs that have the potential to create strong and vibrant downtowns,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, also noted in the state’s press release. “Our administration has always emphasized collaboration and homegrown solutions, and today’s awards embrace innovative projects that will expand access to economic prosperity.”

Mayor Linda Tyer said the award represents an investment that will yield an invaluable return in the lives of Pittsfield residents.

“I am thrilled to know that the City of Pittsfield has been awarded this funding that will support the critical work of our partners, Habitat for Humanity and Working Cities. These are organizations that have diligently worked with and helped some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. This award continues to build on their good work so that all residents in our city can experience and enjoy a thriving quality of life,” Tyer said.

Valli said the award will widen the pathway of access to good jobs in the region.

“The demand for trained workers in the construction field is high across the country and right here in the Berkshires. People that have experienced barriers to employment are longing for the opportunity to enter a career with family living wages,” she said. “Central Berkshire is in a unique position to be part of the solution for both identified needs. The community by product is affordable housing for hard working families. We are thankful for the opportunity to work with the City on this important endeavor.”

The Employer Resource Network will serve as a valuable benefit to both employers and employees, said Costa. For employees, however, the network will offer a pipeline of crucial assistance.

“After years of developing strategies to meet the needs of under-resourced residents, we know that traditional human resources cannot always address personal crises that are bound to impact employees' work-life balance. We are excited to launch an Employer Resource Network to help support our workforce, said Costa. “The ERN is an established program being used across the country that has significantly improved retention rates, especially for vulnerable employees.”

A former business owner, Kelley said she would have greatly welcomed a resource like the ERN when her businesses were in operation.

“How I wish I had had an Employee Resource Network when I was running businesses. I could help my employees navigate business-related issues but when it came to family issues such as having a sickly child or ageing parents I was at a loss as to what to do. Of course these kinds of issues command attention of people struggling to deal with them. They also affect coworkers who want to help but don't know how and still need to get their own work done,” she said.

“Over the past few years I’ve seen how much the Berkshire Bridges Working Cities Community Navigators have been able to help community residents get access to the resources they need. I’m excited to be part of bringing the ERN to Berkshire County employers, enabling employers to offer these supportive resources navigation services to their employees.”

Other grant recipients include Attleboro, Barnstable, Greenfield, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, North Adams, Revere, Salem, Springfield, and Worcester.

For more information, contact Roberta McCulloch-Dews, Director of Administrative Services, Office of the Mayor, 413-499-9322.

(press release and article iamge sent to the radio station from the City of Pittsfield for online/on-air use)