Member Spotlight: Just-A-Start Corporation

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Haile and his classmates attend a class in the IT Careers program.

When Haile arrived in Cambridge from Ethiopia 10 years ago with his family, he struggled to balance multiple jobs while pursuing higher education. He had a degree and a background in construction engineering in Ethiopia, but found that the cost and schedule of continuing his education in Boston was prohibitive. “As a parent and working adult, it was difficult to continue my education in college due to overlapping schedules in both my class and work,” Haile explained. To sustain his family, each day he would wake up before dawn and arrive home late every night after commuting to several jobs across the city.

Haile’s hopes for education were dashed. But they were rekindled when his wife shared a flyer for MNN nonprofit member Just-A-Start (JAS) Corporation’s Information Technology Careers program.

The IT Careers Program is a nine-month, tuition-free training program for low- to moderate-income adults looking to enter quality careers with opportunities for upward economic mobility. Through classwork, paid internship placements, and career counseling, students learn the hard and soft skills necessary for success in an IT user support position in an encouraging, supportive environment. In January, JAS launched their inaugural class with Haile and five other men and nine women from seven different countries.

Haile enthusiastically took the opportunity to further his education and develop his career while still being able to balance his work and family obligations. Today, Haile still juggles a busy schedule, attending the IT Careers Program in the morning and afternoon and continuing on to work for a parking company in the evenings, but his goals for his future are finally in sight. After program graduation, he hopes to secure a single steady job and continue his education by taking college courses at night in engineering and IT. “The beginning was hard, but I got through it with hope and hard work,” Haile said. “Now I have a bright future. I’m flexible, and I won’t give up.”

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, JAS is dedicated to building the housing security and economic stability of low- to moderate-income people in Cambridge and nearby communities. The launch of the IT Careers Program is a step forward for increased access to workforce training programs in different industries, allowing JAS to help even more adults achieve their goals of economic stability and career growth. Modeled after their Biomedical Careers Program, graduates of JAS programs have increased their earnings, accessed new employee benefits, and earned promotions, securing their financial futures and helping them to achieve their long-term goals. This past month, JAS received a $500,000 grant from ECMC Foundation–the largest philanthropic gift it has ever received–to grow its IT Careers Program.

Nonprofits like JAS build a bridge to stable, sustaining careers for thousands of low-income Massachusetts workers every year. The dedication of JAS is seen in every MNN nonprofit member. They are essential players in efforts to build brighter futures and stronger communities.

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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: Jewish Family Service of Metrowest

War and poverty have displaced millions of people across the globe on an unprecedented scale. In Massachusetts, nonprofit organizations and the people that power them are working on the front lines with families living in our communities seeking refuge from this strife.

MNN nonprofit member Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Metrowest is engaged with Jewish Family Service Syrian Refugee Humanitarian Project. The project is a coalition across eastern Massachusetts that includes synagogues, Islamic centers, academia, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, HIAS, and the medical community to provide safety, hope, and opportunity to Syrian war refugees. These are stories of victims of war, including young children, who have experienced great hardship after fleeing for their lives to Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey.

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JFS of Metrowest worker (second from left) with children from refugee families.

Lucia Carballo Panichella, LICSW, is one of the people working to make refugees feel at home. She is the Director of Immigrant Services at JFS and the project leader for the JFS Syrian Refugee Humanitarian Project. Lucia leads the full operations team of staff and volunteers. There are over 250 volunteers working on the project at multiple synagogues, Islamic Centers, Syrian-American organizations, and JFS. Several dozen of these volunteers are directly involved with the lives of Syrian refugee families. All aspects of creating the various pathways to stabilization and success fall under Lucia’s capable leadership. Every parent, child, and volunteer has direct ties to Lucia.

Last spring, Lucia, Marc Jacobs, CEO of JFS of Metrowest, and Edward and Barbara Shapiro were honored with the Sharp Prize from the Joukowsky Family Foundation. The work of Sharp Prize recipients exemplifies the value that each individual has to step forward, transform, and even save a life.

Now more than ever, those involved with the support and resettlement of refugees deserve to be recognized. The number of people across the world forcibly displaced from their homes last year was at its highest level in recorded history: at present, it is estimated at over 65.6 million people.

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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: The Dignity Institute

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Siena is pictured above with Alex Diaz (center), champion break dancer and Dance Artist at The Dignity Institute.

“I want to be invisible.”

These were the first words that staff at The Dignity Institute heard spoken by 11-year-old Siena when they met her at a Boys and Girls Club. Hidden in the protection of the back row, sinking into the comforting cave of the hoodie that covered her face, it was clear that Siena meant every word.

Staff at the Dignity Institute are no strangers to hard-to-reach kids like Siena. Their mission is to connect underserved youth to college, a career, or entrepreneurship by awakening their purpose and passion through learning life skills and the urban arts. They approach this mission from the principle of respect: everyone, no matter their life circumstances or background, deserves to be treated with dignity.

Over the course of their 8-week hip-hop dance program, Siena was transformed.

Her hoodie was pushed back to reveal a contagious smile. Her spot in the back row was slowly abandoned in favor of a position at the front of the stage. Siena became a leader among her peers, offering suggestions for improvement and giving hugs of encouragement. By the day of the final performance, Siena had transformed into a vibrant, curious individual confident that her presence matters, her voice matters, and that she is worthy of being heard.

Learn more about The Dignity Institute at www.thedignityinstitute.org.

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This is the first in a new series, Member Spotlights, that aim to promote awareness of the impact of our nonprofit members. All members are encouraged to share stories that best illustrate the positive impact they have in their community. Nonprofit members can click here to submit a Member Spotlight.