SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A community organizer and her team spent the pandemic researching and applying for grant resources to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 in Springfield’s economy and education system by providing funding opportunities and technical assistance.

The funds will be used to create and maintain the efforts of the Springfield Creative City Collective. As a coalition of economic development stakeholders, the Springfield Creative City Collective aims to transform and revitalize the Springfield cultural and creative economy by implementing sustainable and culturally competent initiatives that include advocacy, racial equity, social justice, professional development, and strategic resources. Funding is going towards addressing the intersecting systemic issues that are limiting the growth and prosperity of the overall creative and cultural economy.

Springfield Creative City Collective community organizer, Tiffany Allecia said, “we know as a majority Black, Brown and low income community we were disproportionately affected by the aforementioned consequences, which is why we have worked together to identify our needs and seek financial support to develop sustainable solutions. The process of raising $690,000 was dynamic, strategic and a collective effort.” 

According to Allecia, their goal was to design meaningful and sustainable solutions to address the intersecting inequities and disparities of Springfield. One way they accomplished this was through organizing a planning committee to engage local citizens in the process of identifying crisis points in Springfield, researching the history of Springfield, and developing preliminary solutions. This was in effort to strengthen the Springfield economy while raising the quality of life for their community.

Community participants include:

Allecia gathered her team weekly to update them on their progress towards a healthy and thriving Springfield, and this helped them develop solutions for addressing racial inequality, trauma, and the needs of the creative economy.

Why this program is different than others

Allecia told 22News what their collaborative ensures, “historically informed and evidence based efforts sets this program apart from other organizational efforts.”

She added, “our priority is the healing and development of our community. That’s it. We do not concern ourselves with political and historic issues that has limited the authentic collaboration and maximization of collective efforts in this city. We are no longer operating in silos nor intimidated by the funding culture of this community. We are young, empowered and grounded individuals that thoroughly understand we are stronger together and move accordingly.”

Helping the Springfield economy

Over the last year, multiple programs and events were hosted to empower the community; which gave greater insight into the depth of economic needs of Springfield. Springfield Creative City Collective created culturally competent and economically meaningful experiences for local businesses and economic development stakeholders with the help of Massachusetts Senator Adam Gomez. “This work directly motivated us to apply for more resources to continue efforts and the MassDevelopment 2022 Creative Cities grant seemed like a perfect financial resource to access,” said Allecia.

Through the sponsorship of Art for the Soul Gallery, Allecia was able to submit a robust application identifying the systemic and oppressive nature of arts and culture funding in Springfield, defining the current needs and limitations of the Springfield Creative economy, and finally, offering innovative, multifaceted and collaborative solutions to be implemented through the potential grant funding.

Specifically, she developed a plan to Heal, Empower, Invest and Sustain the Springfield economy through the ongoing collaboration of economic development stakeholders of western Massachusetts; and with the support of this initial funding from MassDevelopment. The grant program awards recipients $223,000 in the first year of the funding cycle, and $312,000 in year two.

In order to develop this implementation plan, the planning committee has mixed decades of expertise and multiple educational backgrounds with decades of experience in the Springfield economy. The team will manage and seek additional partnerships within Springfield organizations and economic development stakeholders to complete the work that has begun. “Starting this programming is extremely meaningful to myself as a Springfield community member. I love this city and plan on being a lifelong resident. I plan on enjoying a high quality life while raising my family and engaging with my community here. “

Implementing educational opportunities for the Springfield community

She also learned how to find and apply for grants through her job as the Assistant Director of Extended Learning and Professional Development for Holyoke Public Schools.”I have been able to design educational programs and secure federal funding to finance them. Under the leadership of the Director of Extended Learning, I was given permission to apply to two Department of Secondary and Elementary Education grants. The grant opportunities were allocated to support summer enhancement programming for school districts and 21st CCLC programming specifically. After collaborating on grant request ideas, I was tasked with writing both grants.”

Allecia decided that the first summer enhancement should be expanding access to their Summer Learning Academies. She was able to win a $100,000 grant to fund Summer Learning Academy classrooms for preschool aged HPS students through this application. “We will now be providing inclusive and dual language programs for our pre-K students this summer because of this grant.”

Another fund will expand enrichment opportunities for upper elementary school campers as well as to facilitate an internship program. 

The Extended Learning Department believes in strategically partnering with community organizations to enhance the quality of Springfield educational programming. One of their after-school sites implemented a culinary enrichment program this year, and we wanted to provide it for the summer as well. She was able to win $20,000 to contract Breaking Bread Kitchen to facilitate a culinary arts program for 4th and 5th grade Summer Learning Academy students.

An additional $35,000 was also awarded to implement a pilot internship program through this grant as well. The grant application for this project was designed by Allecia to create an internship program that enables HPS high school students to attend one of their Summer Learning Academy sites to participate in work-based learning programs. Their work based experiences are maximized as they also complete 20 hours of professional, identity and career development programming throughout the summer.

“I designed the social and emotional and leadership development elements of the program based on the MA Department of Education My Career and Academic Plan resource. I am motivated to continue to seek grant opportunities for the varying needs of all communities I’m associated with. I have found, that we often have the heart and willingness to create change but struggle with the resources to sustain it. The overall healing and growth of our community will continue to be an essential motivational force of this work,” she said.

“We have designed a two year initiative to heal, empower, invest and sustain the varying needs and solutions of our current economic plight. The program design of our strategic plan was a culmination of expanding our existing efforts and developing community centered solutions to our additional problems.”

Springfield Creative City Collective Community organizer, Tiffany Allecia
Courtesy of Tiffany Allecia.

In terms of the educational grants at Holyoke Public Schools, $100,000 goes to providing summer learning opportunities to rising Kindergarteners. Summer camps first began at rising first grade, but students who had already completed Kindergarten were the youngest eligible students. However, preschoolers now will be able to be safely introduced to a classroom in the summer before entering Kindergarten. “We know that COVID-19 and social isolation has drastically affected the social-emotional development of our youth. Early childhood aged youth were especially effected,” she said.

Another educational opportunity to launch is an academic based experience for preschoolers as a community resource for Holyoke families this summer. “I collaborated with the Holyoke Public Schools Director of Early Childhood Learning to outline the structure and needs of a potential Pre-K Summer Learning Academy program,” Allecia said, “I then wrote the grant to request funding for the implementation, materials and staffing costs associated with the program. “Families will be notified that enrollment is available for preschoolers in the upcoming weeks. We anticipate that this program will benefit a plethora of Holyoke families seeking academic-based student-centered programming for their youngsters this summer.

Courtesy of Tiffany Allecia.

A total of $20,000 will go to a culinary arts program for 4th and 5th graders enrolled in the 2022 HPS Summer Learning Academy. While, $35,000 will go to implementing a pilot paid internship program for Holyoke Public Schools high school students.

Breaking Bread Kitchen (BBK) is a multi-service business which specializes in meal prep, catering, personal cheffing, and culinary enrichment programming. Allecia began working with BBK over the last two years on various community and economic development opportunities for Springfield.

“I was able to contract BBK for our after school program but could not afford to contract him for the summer. This grant afforded us to do that. The BBK curriculum requires high student engagement and provides daily student culinary projects for our participants. Furthermore, the BBK enrichment program is designed to help students harness their creative capabilities within the culinary arts field specifically,” Alecia said, “because of this funding, the Breaking Bread Kitchen staff will now provide our upper elementary Summer Learning Academy participants with exploratory activities that focus on healthy food choices, identifying food groups, practicing cooking techniques, working with recipes, and practicing kitchen safety and hygiene. BBK has thoroughly incorporated project based learning elements throughout the design of their program, including within its reflection elements which will help with student learning and overall growth. “

The paid internship pilot program will be a multifaceted beneficial experience for our participants. Allecia explained that interns will have consistency work based and identity development opportunities throughout the summer. The Summer Learning Academy (SLA) Internship Program participants is to serve as a supporting role throughout the SLA daily schedule. “This internship program was designed to provide participants with meaningful roles through each aspect of the SY2022 Summer Learning Academy Schedule. Interns will have the opportunity to earn a total of 130 hours of work-based learning experience,” said Allecia.

Behind Allecia’s role, dual life

“Desperate, exhausted and discouraged….,” are the three words Allecia used to describe her experience as a mother living a dual life between work and taking care of her three sons on her own. “My life was and in many parts is overwhelmed by the intersecting reality of being a Black single mother in America,” she said, “it’s emotionally painful and often physically unbearable to experience systemic trauma while trying to solve each intersecting inequity maintaining it. Somehow the oppressed have become responsible for dismantling the system that is oppressing us. Somehow in between past due bills, navigating food insecurity, battling the housing crisis, being gentle and active parents, maintaining our spirituality and working full time and more, we’re supposed to find the time and emotional capacity to dismantle and replace centuries of systemic racism and its institutionalized consequences.”

“I felt pain constantly.”

Springfield Creative City Collective Community organizer, Tiffany Allecia

In the last 20 days, she had to navigate a variety of challenges such as managing her continued stress of the divorce process and co-parenting through separation experience. “We often are convinced to not share the realities of our personal life, but I have learned that there is healing in discussing the parts of life that are difficult. This truth helps me authentically connect to the work I do for the community. While applying to grants, meeting with varying organizations to strategize implementation and maintain the work of my full time job, I was under what continues to feel like insurmountable stress at home. “

“The ancestral pain of never having enough to become the true masters of our own fate weighed heavy on my identity and behavior, but there’s no solutions in simply being engulfed in the pain of our reality. With this understanding, we used that raw energy to learn more about what we are experiencing and began collectively designing and supporting solutions to help create a community of peace and joy instead of the survival mode we’ve suffered under for as long as we can remember. I will always honor these initial feelings which ignited a movement for economic development and financial security for the greater Springfield community.”

Allecia mentioned that her current circumstances of being homeless, she had to move in with her parents who currently care for two school aged children and multiple college aged children who are frequently at home. “I struggle with housing and food insecurity on a daily basis. The depth of my personal exhaustion directly influences my motivation to provide economic solutions to our community. While o don’t have solutions for all challenges I’m currently facing, I know we have the expertise and capacity to build economic solutions that benefit us all. It is my hope that helping develop a more financial secure community will help to lesson some of life’s other intersecting problems.”

Allecia has three young boys, Adrian, Andre and Adonis, along with a daughter that came into her life 5 years ago, Geleydie. “I am blessed with a shared parenting schedule and a dynamic and supportive village that loves my children. I live in a multigenerational household that’s full of love, laughter and consistent meaningful support. My baby brothers drop off my son to school as often as my mother cooks diner etc. I am blessed in my current hardship to have a familial group that is functioning as an engaged and present support system.” 

In spite of the exhaustion of motherhood, Allecia knows that mothers can relate to creating change for the greater well-being of their children despite the exhaustion. Mothers have always been leaders in the fight for equity and Springfield continues to maintain this well known tradition, according to Allecia.

Courtesy of Tiffany Allecia.

“My children are my biggest inspiration in completing this work. I want their quality of life to be higher than my current wildest dreams. I don’t want them to struggle under the weight of systemic oppression in their adulthood. I want them to experience true freedom. That is the foundation of my work. My children are brilliant and often attend my programs and events,” Allecia said, “the boys lead an organization called Dem Porter Boyz and they have lots of ideas on how to make the community better. My daughter is a fashionista and has a heart for providing creative opportunities for our community. I believe in youth voice and support their creative development; that work is essential in my parenthood as well.”

“It feels fulfilling to begin securing the necessary resources to heal and develop Springfield. Our community deserves a fair chance at sustainable growth and strategic investment. Our community deserves to be prioritized and financially liberated. I’m proud to play a role in ensuring there is resources specifically available to help solve the depth of our interconnecting complex issues. “

Springfield Creative City Collective Community organizer, Tiffany Allecia
Courtesy of Tiffany Allecia.

Future goals for Springfield City Collective

As another upcoming project for the Springfield City Collective, a website and social media pages will be available in the future for interested parties to contribute to the Art for the Soul Gallery Springfield Creative City Collective fund. “Giving back is as blessing and we are grateful for all donations however, we aren’t particularly interested in stressing our financially exhausted community for resources. That’s why we are focused on accessing public and private financial resources instead of crowdsourcing and creating an additional financial burden for our already struggling community.”

To maintain the varying efforts that will initially be funded with these grants, they plan to acquire additional funding. “We will be working towards applying for matching funds as well as developing and maintaining strategic partnerships to share and maximize existing resources also. Furthermore, we will be researching and applying for local, state and federal resources that will progress our goals as well. This work involves our current reactionary efforts as well as the prioritization of a sustainability plan to ensure that the community impact is long lasting and benefits the Springfield community for the foreseeable future.”

Allecia has developed a five, ten and fifteen year plan to address the varying and intersecting systemic issues of the Springfield community. “I’m planning for extensive and meaningful collaboration for the next 15 years as it’s truly the core of our healing. This work will not be successful without our community strategically healing and developing together. There is much much more to come!”