Trio of grants to bolster workforce training in Franklin County, North Quabbin region

Greenfield Community College’s main campus. GCC will use a $27,864  grant to scale up a current Certified Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide training program to adapt the curriculum and include support for English for speakers of other languages.

Greenfield Community College’s main campus. GCC will use a $27,864 grant to scale up a current Certified Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide training program to adapt the curriculum and include support for English for speakers of other languages. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MAX BOWEN

Staff Writer

Published: 12-03-2023 12:28 PM

A handful of Franklin County and North Quabbin organizations were among the recipients in the latest round of workforce development planning grants from the state, including an Athol-based organization aiming to develop a program to train those who want to work with people with autism.

The Polus Center for Social & Economic Development, which recently relocated to 527 Main St. in Athol, received a $25,000 grant from the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Theresa Kane, executive director for U.S. programs with the Polus Center, said this award will help the center carry out focus groups, surveys and interviews for the new training program.

The organization has also applied for a $500,000 Workforce Planning Grant to create the program, partnering with Fitchburg State University and the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity. She expects to hear if the grant will be issued by Christmas.

Kane said one example of a career for someone who wants to work with people with autism is as a school paraprofessional.

“School systems are very much needing paraprofessionals,” Kane said. “The agencies have people on waiting lists because they can’t find those who want to do this work.”

Founded in 1979, the Polus Center is a non-governmental organization that supports people with disabilities. This includes the development of prosthetics clinics, rehabilitation programs and vocational training. While a program to help people with autism would be a new direction, Kane said, it falls in line with the center’s ongoing work.

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In November, the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced more than $355,000 in Scaling Capacity and Leveraging Employers (SCALE) Planning Grant awards to 13 initiatives to support economic recovery, growth objectives and workforce strategies across the state, with a focus on aligning public and private resources to create education-to-employment pathways. In addition to the Polus Center, Greenfield Community College and the Franklin Hampshire Employment and Training Consortium also received grant funding.

“The entire Healey-Driscoll administration is focused on driving equity within our workforce and training workers for high-demand skill sets that employees and employers both need to succeed,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Lauren Jones said in a statement. “Organizations like these are critical to achieving our goals and these grants will help them make a significant and positive impact on the community they serve.”

Greenfield Community College will use its $27,864 grant to scale up a current Certified Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide training program to adapt the curriculum and include support for English for speakers of other languages, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Franklin Hampshire Employment and Training Consortium, also based in Greenfield, will use its $29,988 grant to work with employer partners to provide opportunities in several career pathways in food and beverage. These opportunities include moving from front-end staff or wait staff to general manager, or from a line cook to head chef, for example.

Participants may also explore career pathways into opening their own restaurants, food trucks or other culinary-related businesses.