On a visit to the Vocational Advancement Center (VAC), Christine Heenan (right), Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications, and Amy Bell (left), executive director of VAC, talk with participants in a cooking group. The VAC, which was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund, is one of eight local nonprofit organizations to receive checks last week totaling $100,000.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

$100K in grants for Allston-Brighton

7 min read

Harvard Allston Partnership Fund supports local nonprofits

Eight local nonprofit organizations serving the Allston-Brighton neighborhood received contributions last week totaling $100,000 from the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund (HAPF), providing critical support for community-based programming at a time when funding sources remain scarce for nonprofits.

This latest HAPF grant installment marks a total of $300,000 in Harvard contributions, which over the past three years has supported 17 local nonprofits.

“Harvard Allston Partnership Fund grants bring opportunity, education, and vital services to North Allston’s residents.  As nonprofits try to meet the increased demand for their services and programs during difficult economic times, we can help more families, youth, and our most vulnerable citizens connect to these organizations,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

“Harvard is proud to be a part of a network of nonprofit organizations in Allston-Brighton that are addressing local needs and improving quality of life for residents. We’re working together on many levels to make a real difference in Allston-Brighton and beyond,” said Harvard President Drew Faust.

The Harvard Allston Partnership Fund is a $500,000, five-year program created in 2008 by Harvard University and the City of Boston, in collaboration with the Allston community, to support neighborhood improvement projects, cultural enrichment, and educational programming in North Allston-North Brighton. Funding decisions are made by a volunteer board of community members, following their careful review of the many creative and constructive applications received.

The HAPF is even more critical today.  The economic turmoil of the last two years has resulted in budget cuts for many local nonprofits.

“When the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund was created, we had no idea that funds for nonprofit institutions would dry up so quickly,” said Allston Task Force member Cathi Campbell, who is on the board of the Vocational Advancement Center in Brighton, a new HAPF recipient.  “The Harvard Allston Partnership Fund is a lifeline to these organizations in Allston-Brighton and their ability to continue to exist and provide incredibly important life-changing services.”

Critical funding for the Vocational Advancement Center

The only nonprofit organization in Allston-Brighton providing career counseling and job placement for physically and developmentally disabled adults, the Vocational Advancement Center (VAC) will benefit from a $25,000 grant to hire and expand its offerings for the first time in two years.  The center currently serves 30 people inhouse with career and job skills training, as well as group work and activities. It provides support to 150 people at their jobs around Boston.  The HAPF grant will fund a new part-time staff position, enabling the center to offer career counseling to 30 more people.

The center, which depends on the state for 60 percent of its budget needs, sustained a $300,000 funding cut in 2008-09, which was 30 percent of its operating budget. Center Executive Director Amy Bell, like so many other nonprofit leaders, responded by reducing staff and calling on others to do more. Bell has also become more creative and aggressive in her fundraising efforts.

“These funds are critical.  It is through alliances with local companies, supporters, and partners like Harvard that VAC continues to play a vital role in helping to build a strong community,” said Bell.

For the center, more financial resources mean more people with disabilities will learn critical employment and life skills, get connected to jobs, and have greater access to enriching activities. The center also provides ongoing support from a caring staff who serve as important and consistent advocates.

Providing resources to build community

City Councilor Mark Ciommo praised both the Vocational Advancement  Center and the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund. “This generous contribution from the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund will help the VAC continue its important work on behalf of so many families and individuals,” said Ciommo.  “Harvard, the City of Boston and our local nonprofits are partnering to build community and improve the quality of life Allston-Brighton.”

Other recipients in the latest round of HAPF grants include the following:

  • A $10,000 grant to the Fishing Academy to support group fishing outings for youth, which helps to reinforce teamwork, discipline, and self-confidence.  (HAPF grants to the Fishing Academy have totaled $35,000 over three years.)
  • A second $5,000 HAPF grant will help the Allston-Brighton Baby Diaper Pantry each month provide nearly 3,900 free diapers to 90 families with babies and toddlers who might not otherwise be able to afford diapers.
  • The Gardner Pilot Academy’s $24,920 grant will fund the extended learning programs that serve children and their families through after-school programs, summer enrichment, and adult education/basic English instruction.  (HAPF grants to the Gardner Pilot Academy have totaled $50,000 over the past two years.)
  • The Earthwatch Institute, a nonprofit organization new to the neighborhood, received $5,000 to support a lecture series for residents featuring environmental scientists who are doing field-work throughout the world.
  • The West End House Girls Camp’s $4,800 grant will enable five girls from Allston-Brighton to attend a two-week camp in Maine, where leadership skills, teamwork, and confidence are built through outdoor activities, educational programs, arts, and sports.
  • The Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center’s $15,480 grant will help to improve access to health care for 350 uninsured, unemployed, recently laid-off, new immigrants, or low-income residents in Allston-Brighton. (HAPF grants to the center have totaled $35,480.)
  • The Literacy Connection, a Ministry of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston will use the first-time, $9,800 grant to fund a 15-week literacy training and citizenship preparation course that has helped new immigrants from Central and South America, Pakistan, and China who live in the community to gain their citizenship.

For Sister Patricia “Pat” Andrews, who started the Literacy Connection’s citizenship class five years ago to fulfill a need among immigrant families, the HAPF grant means providing her army of volunteer tutors and their students with language texts and materials. The grant will help to sustain a place that has become a touchstone for new residents, that is providing a community space where people feel they belong, and that is giving women, who make up 70 percent of those she tutors, the confidence and language skills to help them to support their children more effectively.

“We are a community, and the vitality of a community hinges on the ability of its people to work together and be together,” said Andrews.  “Harvard’s offerings of financial support and resources help us do our work, and Harvard is working with us to build community vitality.”

Most of the nonprofits receiving HAPF grants this winter are connected to Harvard in multiple ways.  For example, the Vocational Advancement Center and Harvard have been cultivating a new jobs placement initiative with Harvard’s Dining Services department, resulting in a Harvard hire from the center in December.  Other connections range from Harvard arts and science programming for children, English as a second language scholarships, workforce development training at the Harvard Allston Ed Portal, or space for events and fundraisers.

“Some people may not realize the symbiotic relationship between the community and Harvard,” said the VAC’s Campbell.  “People need to realize the incredible positive impact that Harvard has had and will continue to have in the Allston-Brighton community through the HAPF grants and in many other ways.”

“I’m thankful for the Partnership Fund, and I’ve seen some of the positive impacts of the money within the community,” said John Eskew, a member of the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund Advisory Committee.  “At the end of each selection round so far, I’ve ended up wishing that more money was available to support the worthwhile proposals that didn’t get funding that round.”

The next round of grant making will begin in the fall.