Member Spotlight: The Wish Project

Member Spotlight The Wish ProjectSometimes the best way to describe the true impact of a nonprofit is through telling the stories of the people it serves. This is the case for Chelmsford-based nonprofit and MNN member The Wish Project.

The Wish Project’s mission is to help families in need establish long-term residency by providing furniture, household goods, clothing, and shoes; to provide critical immediate assistance to homeless families and victims of fire or disaster; and to support the community.

Jill Maker, once a client of The Wish Project and now its Chief Operating Officer, shared her inspirational story with MNN:

“I first found out about The Wish Project in 2006 when I helped a friend pick up a couch she had received through the organization. I didn’t know it then, but that meeting was truly a blessing: shortly after that visit, I would become a Wish Project client.

After the first meeting, my house was flooded and all my baby clothing and supplies were ruined. I was 7 months pregnant and had nothing for my new baby. I didn’t know where to turn. Then, a good Samaritan brought me a bag of new items for my baby. That woman was Donna Hunnewell, the founder of The Wish Project. She helped me turn my whole world around. I was so touched I started to volunteer at The Wish Project.

I had medical complications with the baby and lost my job and ultimately my home because I was out of work for so long.  Jobless and now pregnant with my third child, I ended up in shelter housing. The caseworker that I had worked with at The Wish Project became my own caseworker and started getting items for my children from Wish.  

Even while looking for a new job, I still spent my spare time volunteering at Wish. I hoped that the volunteering on my resume would help me secure a new job. As it turns out, it did a lot more than that. Donna later hired me as the Project Manager for the Wish Project, then promoted me to Assistant Director. Now, 12 years later, I am its Chief Operating Officer.

I always say that one thing can happen in your life that can change it forever. Every person and story that I have heard at The Wish Project is different, but one thing is the same: when their lives change for the worse, they all need to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

I understand that because I’ve been there.”

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Nonprofit members can click here to submit a Member Spotlight and share a story that best illustrates the positive impact their organization has in their community.

Member Spotlight: Martha’s Vineyard Film Society

Member Spotlight MVFSThe Martha’s Vineyard Film Society began in a way that many nonprofits do, as a dream of a dedicated group of volunteers to share their passion with the larger community. The group’s dream was to bring enriching, culturally significant films to Martha’s Vineyard.

The Film Society began with what Founder and Executive Director Richard Paradise calls “a nomadic existence.” For twelve weeks in the summer, the Society would host nightly screenings of classic films on a 16mm projector at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Word spread about the Film Society, and it quickly built an enthusiastic following across the Island. It began hosting year-round screenings in cultural centers, including the Katharine Cornell Theatre, the historic Tabernacle, and Union Chapel.

However, the early successes of the Film Society exacerbated its two challenges: technical and artistic limitations imposed by the less-than-perfect screening venues, and the lack of a dedicated home in which they could offer film-goers a first-class experience and expand their programming.

The Film Society opened its permanent home, the Film Center, in September 2012. The Film Society now showcases 150 feature films and 1,200 live performances year-round to  more than 60,000 attendees. The Film Society also hosts The Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, which recently completed its thirteenth year and drew over 2,700 attendees, the highest attendance in the Festival’s history.

The Film Society is actively involved in the community through the revitalization and preservation of the Island’s cultural and historic treasures. In 2015, the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation approached the Film Society with an opportunity to operate the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven (opened in 1913) and the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs (opened in 1915), both of which had fallen into disrepair and could only be used sparingly.

The Capawock re-opened on May 29, 2015, and The Strand Theater on June 20. Carly Simon and her family performed live music to a packed house at the Capawock Opening Ceremony, and a large crowd welcomed the Strand back to working order during a screening of JAWS!, the 1975 classic directed by Steven Spielberg that was filmed on the Vineyard.

In twenty years, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society has grown from a seasonal, volunteer-led organization into a vibrant, year-round cultural organization that has become an Island institution. The Society looks back fondly on its foundational “nomadic” years and is excited by the prospects of the next twenty.

Member Spotlight: CitySprouts

Member Spotlight CitySproutsNonprofits in the youth and education sub-sector provide critical services and programming to kids across the state. In addition to student-centered programming, another important dimension to the work of nonprofits like Cambridge-based CitySprouts is the support they provide to teachers.

The CitySprouts mission is to cultivate wonder for all children with hands-on learning through urban gardening. CitySprouts partners with 21 elementary and middle schools in Cambridge and Boston and makes hands-on, minds-on learning in the school garden accessible to children of all backgrounds and homes.

This fall, early grade teachers at the Henderson Inclusion School and Winthrop Elementary School are participating in CitySprouts’ year-long series of site-based professional development workshops. CitySprouts’ professional development workshops give teachers time to reflect on the science standards and practices, and then explore the school gardens to find evidence of these concepts.

Teachers are encouraged to approach the school garden as if they themselves were kindergartners. They explore milkweed plants, roots and all, discovering the milky sap that oozes out of the plants’ stems, and the fluffy seeds that poured out of pods when cracked open.

CitySprouts professional development workshops instil confidence and content knowledge in the teachers. “I feel that the CitySprouts workshop series made me, someone who doesn’t feel quite competent in science, very comfortable with teaching science,” said one teacher who is participating in the workshops.

Whether in the classroom or in the garden, CitySprouts shows that exploring living things is a perfect opportunity for students—and their teachers—to practice the scientific method and to build a relationship to the natural world.

CitySprouts is one example of a nonprofit that addresses their mission area holistically, putting into practice solutions that will have the deepest impact on the future of our Commonwealth.

Member Spotlight: United Way of Greater New Bedford

Member Spotlight The Innovation FundThe nonprofit organizations that operate in the nine communities of the Greater New Bedford area play an important role in helping residents to overcome the challenges they face and helping to strengthen their communities. Through a new initiative, MNN nonprofit member United Way of Greater New Bedford is providing critical support to three nonprofits to pilot new and different projects so that they can deepen their impact.

Historically, the United Way of Greater New Bedford operated like a traditional United Way, where select “member” agencies were the recipients of funding every year.  After going through a strategic planning process in 2012, their model began to shift, and they created new funding opportunities to help nonprofits do their work with greater efficiency and impact.

In September 2017, the United Way of Greater New Bedford launched The Innovation Fund, a new program created for projects that experiment, target, or test new ideas and approaches that can lead to promising breakthroughs in the target areas of Health, Education, and Financial Stability.

The competitive application process for The Innovation Fund was unique for the area’s nonprofit community. Nonprofits were previously unable to apply for funding for their innovative and untested ideas. The process represented a rare moment where busy nonprofit staff could take a step back from the demands of day-to-day operations to think through the specific supports they would need to design and implement a new and effective project.

The three nonprofit organizations that were awarded funding through The Innovation Fund are now piloting projects that serve their clients and communities in unique ways. The Greater New Bedford Youth Alliance is working a project that aims to connect youth service providers through a technology platform that enables them to track their participants and their community impact over time. The Greater New Bedford Community Health Center’s project is transforming the delivery of opioid treatment services by integrating those services into primary care practice. Finally, an at-home security project from The Women’s Center helps women who are victims of domestic violence stay in their homes and children in their schools. In addition to the financial support, these nonprofits are receiving additional technical assistance and support from the United Way of Greater New Bedford to translate their ideas into successful projects.

The projects supported by The Innovation Fund are now entering the second year of support. Staff overseeing the initiative have enjoyed watching them take shape.

“It’s been exciting to see how the organizations’ projects have been progressing over the past year,“ says Anne Nichelson, Vice President of Community Impact for the United Way of Greater New Bedford. “We’ve been learning over this past year, and looking forward to the next phase of The Innovation Fund.”

Click the video below to learn more about The Innovation Fund.

Member Spotlight: The Art Connection

by Connor Dale, MNN Intern

Member Spotlight The Art ConnectionOur nonprofit members pioneer innovative programs and services, including those that use art to empower communities across Massachusetts.

The Art Connection is a nonprofit member in the Boston metro area that enriches and empowers underserved communities by providing them access to original works of visual art. Its latest program, Artful Seeds, is a collaborative partnership between community-serving agencies that engages clients with creativity and reflection through customized and immersive art-making workshops. The Art Connection staff design and lead customized art-making experiences that support clients as they navigate their way to new horizons—from homelessness to housed, from substance misuse to recovery, or from trauma to healing.

In a recent installment of Artful Seeds, The Art Connection staff hosted a “Purposeful Patterns” workshop for the women at Project Hope in Roxbury. Project Hope provides low-income women with children access to education, jobs, housing, and emergency services while working for broader systems change. Participants incorporated patterns of West African Adinkra symbols and collages into visual representations of their best selves. The initiative culminated in a community curation process where Project Hope staff and clients selected 26 original artworks for permanent onsite exhibition.

Donna Henderson, Director of Adult Educational Services at Project Hope, praised the Artful Seeds initiative for providing moments of reflection and release through art-making for the women served at Project Hope.

“Some of these women have experienced many struggles and traumatic things, so to have an opportunity to do something like this is just really wonderful. It’s a break from their everyday and gives them an outlet for things that can be difficult to talk about,” she said. “There were so many who not only tried new things, but also smiled for the first time in a while.”

Member Spotlight: City Year Boston

Member Spotlight City YearAt the start of the school year, City Year Boston AmeriCorps member Derek Edmonds told his 8th graders, “If you ever need to talk, I got you.” Derek served in an English classroom at the McKay K-8 School in East Boston. He supported his students with their reading fluency and essay writing, but found his most important role was being a mentor.

Jessie* was one of the students who came to Derek to talk and they bonded over their families and personal challenges. When Jessie struggled in class, Derek would encourage Jessie to believe in themselves.

Slowly, Derek began to see a change in Jessie; they raised their hand more often in class and completed assignments without help. Recently, Jessie wrote an article for a contest judged by editors from the New York Times. The winning submissions appeared in Teens in Print Boston magazine – and Jessie was published! Derek was so proud to see Jessie’s newfound confidence in themselves. He knew Jessie had not only the writing skills, but the confidence for high school and beyond.

Today, Derek is serving a second year with City Year Boston, and leading a team of first-year AmeriCorps members as they mentor students at East Boston High. City Year understands that students can’t achieve what they don’t believe. They place AmeriCorps members like Derek into classrooms, where they mentor students and build bonds that facilitate learning. This year, City Year Boston is celebrating 30 years of service in the Boston community and is partnering with with Boston Public Schools to help empower student success.

*Student name has been changed to protect privacy.

Member Spotlight: Girls Inc. of Worcester

Member Spotlight Girls Inc.Our nonprofit members work tirelessly to open the doors to opportunity for people across Massachusetts. For Selam, MNN nonprofit member Girls Inc. of Worcester helped her to pursue her dreams.

Selam emigrated to America from Ethiopia after being adopted when she was eight years old. Selam joined Girls Inc. the summer after she arrived. She enrolled in the “Eureka”! program, a 5-year, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-based capstone program that engages and empowers girls in grades 8-12 in a variety of college preparatory, leadership, and STEM opportunities.

Girls Inc. of Worcester works to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Eureka! Helps girls prepare for and attend college. In 2017, the first group of 18 girls that went through the program were accepted to more than 80 colleges across the country. More than $600,000 per year in college scholarships were awarded to these girls, 73% of whom went on to major in STEM-related fields in college.

Selam was recently chosen as a 2018 Girls Inc. National Scholar and was awarded the prestigious $20,000 Girls Inc. Lucile Miller Wright scholarship. She was selected from girls across the country and Canada for her outstanding academic achievements, community service work, and dedication to the Girls Inc. mission.

In addition to opening the door to opportunity, Girls Inc. opened a different, yet equally important, door: the one to a community.

Speaking about her peers in Eureka! and the staff of Girls Inc., Selam says, “They became a second family to me starting on the first day I participated in their programs. They have provided me with unwavering love and support over the years.”

“Winning the Girls Inc. national scholarship is validation that I have so many people who believe in me and my potential to carry out my goals in life while having a positive impact on the world,” she says.

Success stories like Selam’s are happening everyday in nonprofits across Massachusetts. Nonprofits like Girls Inc. that nurture and leverage the hard work of young people are the key for many to a better life.

Member Spotlight: The Immigrant Learning Center

Member SpotlightQuynh-Anh came to the United States in 2007 to be with her husband. By nature, she’s an outgoing person, but it was hard to feel like herself in the States because she knew no English. She learned what she could by watching TV, going to a night class two days a week, and trying to talk to people. Because she knew how important it was to learn English and how valuable an intensive program is, Quynh-Anh went to The Immigrant Learning Center. She quit her day job at an electronics manufacturer and worked at a nail salon on the weekends so she could attend classes.

The Immigrant Learning Center, based in Malden, Massachusetts, gives immigrants like Quynh-Anh a voice in three ways. The English Language Program provides free, year-round English classes to immigrant and refugee adults in Greater Boston to help them become successful workers, parents and community members. The Public Education Institute informs Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society. The Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University, conducts research on the economic contributions of immigrants.

Quynh-Anh made the most of her experience at The Immigrant Learning Center. She participated in the Theater Class, worked on the student newsletter, and volunteered in the Senior Conversation Class. Her English improved enough for her to go to university and complete her BS in Biology. She’s currently working at Brigham & Women’s Hospital doing kidney research and studying for the MCAT so she can attend medical school.

Perhaps most importantly, because of the services of The Immigrant Learning Center, she feels more like herself.

Member Spotlight: Improbable Players

When it comes to talking about the impact of the nonprofit sector in Massachusetts, perhaps some of the best authorities on the subject are the people who work on the front lines to change lives and inspire hope.

This MNN member organization has brought engaging theatrical performances centered around the issue of substance abuse prevention and recovery to schools and communities throughout Massachusetts. Improbable Players uses theater to address addiction, alcoholism, and the opioid epidemic. They show what addiction looks like, what seeking help looks like, and what recovery looks like. In just 34 years, they’ve held shows in front of over a million people and have employed over 200 actors in recovery.

Meet Elizabeth. She’s an actor and board member at Improbable Players. In the video below, Elizabeth recounts the story of one student who made a profound change after participating in Improbable Player’s programming. Click below to learn more.

Member Spotlight: Thrive Support & Advocacy

Jmatthew i can thriveohn Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” This definition of leadership can apply to many who work in nonprofits, as well as whose lives are improved because of nonprofits.

Matthew is a 2017 graduate of MNN nonprofit member Thrive Support & Advocacy Leadership Experience And Development (LEAD) initiative. The LEAD initiative empowers young adults who live with intellectual and developmental challenges to better the world around them. Supported by staff who provide a dynamic range of activities such as public speaking tutorials and collaborative group projects, future “LEADers” that participate in the program gain the knowledge, practical skills, and confidence to become leaders in their communities.

Matthew has been participating in Thrive’s programming for more than six years and currently works part-time at Hannaford’s Supermarket in Marlborough, where he applies the leadership skills he learned in the LEAD initiative. “The number one thing I have gained [by participating in LEAD] is confidence,” he says. “This confidence has helped me take on more responsibility with my family and at work.”

In addition to applying the skills he’s learned in his work and family lives, Matthew is giving back to the program that gave him confidence by serving as a mentor for current LEADers. “As a mentor, I enjoy working with the LEADers to teach them about making good choices and setting goals. It’s been great to see them develop their skills as I have.”

Thrive Support & Advocacy’s LEAD initiative is revolutionary in that it challenges societal expectations of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities by instilling them with confidence, purpose, and a sense of their own potential to improve their communities. Matthew’s story is one of countless others whose lives have been transformed because of a nonprofit.