Grant awards to support Franklin County nonprofits helping women

  • Andrea Chesnes is founder and executive director of the Root Studio in Turners Falls, which will offer yoga- and meditation-based healing to low-income teens and young women, as well as help them meet their basic needs such as a place to shower, wash their clothes and safely store their personal belongings. Contributed photo

  • The Root Studio had planned to open at 51 11th St. in Turners Falls at the end of March before the pandemic altered plans. The nonprofit will offer services to low-income teens and young women. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2020 1:39:53 PM

A pair of $10,000 grants from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts will benefit two Franklin County organizations that seek to support low-income teens and currently or formerly incarcerated women.

With the funding, The Salasin Project at 474 Main St. in Greenfield plans to intensify its work with incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, according to Director Becky Lockwood. That work has primarily been through its support group at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction that helps women work through trauma, teaches them about healthy relationships and helps them develop coping skills. The grant will allow The Salasin Project to offer financial support to women upon their release.

The Root Studio, which had planned to open at 51 11th St. in Turners Falls at the end of March before the pandemic altered plans, also received $10,000. The grant “will help facilitate getting the doors open,” according to founder and Executive Director Andrea Chesnes, after which the nonprofit will offer yoga- and meditation-based healing to low-income teens and young women, as well as help them meet their basic needs such as a place to shower, wash their clothes and safely store their personal belongings.

The Salasin Project

The Salasin Project, which is part of the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium, is primarily funded through the Department of Public Health and the Department of Children and Families. Though its support group for women within the jail is well-established, Lockwood said the nonprofit applied for the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts grant to further help women “rebuild their lives” upon their release.

What that will look like will depend on each woman’s situation, Lockwood said, but examples include buying them a tablet or a phone to provide them with reliable access to technology or providing them with money directly.

“Instead of just seeing those women at groups, we’ll be able to offer individualized support and offer things like tablets and material goods, which is pretty critical to them,” Lockwood said.

She said the goal is to help about 50 women, some of whom are released from jail with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“We can work in collaboration with the case managers from the jail to help women get into recovery, to help them find safe places to live and to help them rebuild community in Franklin County by participating in groups or volunteering with Salasin,” she said.

Because The Salasin Project believes in the peer support model, Lockwood said, the women are encouraged to co-facilitate additional groups through The Salasin Project, which she said not only helps them build community, but also provides them with job skills and a reference.

Root Studio

Chesnes, who has been working on establishing the Root Studio for 2½ years, said she learned about the $10,000 grant award about three weeks ago.

“There was a lot of screaming and jumping up and down when we found out,” she said.

Combined with a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and about $35,000 from fundraising efforts, the money will help the Root Studio get established at 51 11th St. She said the nonprofit will be run largely by donations.

“There’s so much support for it,” she said. “I think women are ready now to get some healing.”

In addition to offering yoga- and meditation-based healing and helping young women meet their basic needs, Chesnes said she plans to collaborate with farms to ensure students have access to healthy food. Once the brick-and-mortar location opens, at a date to be determined, she said she also hopes young women can connect with older women and find role models.

Chesnes, who grew up in Chicopee and Springfield, was raised by a single mother, and recalls not having a lot of supportive adults around. She observed the impact poverty and addiction had on the community, and was able to find healing through meditation and yoga, eventually opening her own yoga practice.

“I know (this model) works, because it worked for me,” Chesnes said of her plans for the Root Studio.

When she moved to Turners Falls, Chesnes recognized teens with similar upbringings and welcomed them into her home to help them meet their basic needs, like a place to shower. Observing her own life progression, Chesnes asked herself “Can I offer that change to other women?”

The result was the Root Studio, through which she hopes to “give girls a real shot at life.”

“They’re some of the strongest members of our community. They’ve had to figure things out since they were very young,” Chesnes said. “These women can be our next leaders. They really know what’s not working in the system because they’ve been living with it.”

Other grant recipients

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts awarded three other grants, for a total of $45,000. The other recipients are:

■Safe Passage in Northampton for its Say Something program, a skills-focused training grounded in strategies of bystander intervention and self-defense;

■Human in Common for a training project at Chestnut Middle School in Springfield, which will teach participants to challenge rape culture by helping them identify harmful beliefs and behaviors, providing them with tools for effectively interrupting harmful behavior and providing them with skills for working in the community to develop safe and inclusive social norms;

■And the Elizabeth Freeman Center for its Berkshire Believes program to increase awareness of sexual violence in Berkshire County, build community capacity to identify and prevent sexual violence, and give front-line responders enhanced knowledge and skills to help survivors of sex trafficking.

Reach Shelby Ashline at 413-772-0261, ext. 270 or


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