$155K to expand workplace training for inmates, formerly incarcerated

Employee Gigi Gomes and Director of Operations Liz Buxton work on a batch of fudge at the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center on Wells Street in Greenfield in December 2022. A $155,000 state grant will allow the center to further its work with inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals.

Employee Gigi Gomes and Director of Operations Liz Buxton work on a batch of fudge at the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center on Wells Street in Greenfield in December 2022. A $155,000 state grant will allow the center to further its work with inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-09-2024 1:14 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin County Community Development Corporation is expanding its work helping incarcerated and recently released individuals enter the workforce, thanks to a $155,000 grant from the state Executive Office of Economic Development’s Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program.

This is the second consecutive year the CDC has received this grant, having gotten $94,000 last year. However, Executive Director John Waite and Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center Director of Operations Liz Buxton said this money will be used a little differently as it is supporting the organization’s “After Incarceration: Ending the Cycle Through Workplace Training and Entrepreneurship” program.

“This year, we’re concentrating a lot more on going into the jails to do training and classes on entrepreneurship,” Buxton said. “We’ve been doing that for entrepreneurs and this round we’re hoping to include that population in this kind of training.”

The CDC has been working with former and currently incarcerated people, as well as local re-entry programs, in this way since 2015.

“We think it’s a good option for people coming out of there. … We want to show we can support and give them a place to start,” Waite said. “Some of our current staff are people who came through this program. The results are there.”

The grant will fund two additional staff members at the Wells Street food processing center through June, with a strong likelihood of full-time employment after that period; support the development and implementation of workshops at the Franklin and Hampshire county houses of correction; recruit formerly incarcerated individuals to participate in a two-day food safety and product development course with the University of Massachusetts Amherst; and allow the CDC to partner with local organizations to educate folks and businesses on the benefits of employing formerly incarcerated individuals.

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In working with those who have been involved in the criminal justice system, Buxton said people who find steady employment coming out of jail are often more successful and the CDC can provide flexible opportunities for them.

The CDC, for example, is a “recovery-supported workplace” and can work around people’s schedules if they have appointments or other obligations. The agency also works with organizations such as Community Action Pioneer Valley and Working Fields to provide more resources to people working with the CDC.

“If they come through one of the programs, we’re giving them job skills and training,” Buxton said. “Housing and transportation are two of the biggest issues with a lot of these guys and a lot of them are in recovery. … We want them to succeed and support them in any way we can, and flexibility is important with that.”

“Liz talks about second chances and that’s what we’re about,” Waite added. “Some of our current staff are people who came through this program. … We can’t hire everybody, but we can give them work experience and then we can give them references.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.