As I travel around the state, seeing the impact stimulus awards have had on agencies, schools, towns and most significantly, people, I have come to appreciate one of the most powerful features of the stimulus program: it’s ability to get new programs -- new ideas, new ways of helping people – developed, implemented and self sustaining.
This was most evident to me on a recent visit to the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Baystate is one of the largest employers in this region with 10,000 employees at 93 locations and, Paula Squire, its senior vice president for human resources, told me the Medical Center is committed to hiring employees reflective of the communities they serve.
Paula and Jean Jackson, Baystate’s director of workforce planning, were thrilled to tell me about a stimulus-funded on the job training program the Medical Center is participating in with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. The program involves providing training to people with disabilities over a course of about 15 weeks in anything the Medical Center needs support in – retail, food preparation, food delivery are just a few of the areas I heard about – with a salary provided by MRC, thanks to the stimulus funds. At the end of the training, either the Medical Center can hire them or not but the participant at least has the experience they need to get a job.
This small program, done with a minimal investment, is so simple and so successful and is making everyone – employer, employees -- happy. The MRC is investing about $55K in this program with Baystate (statewide the MRC invested $300K in the on the job training programs ) that put 23 people with disabilities through the training. So far, with 16 graduates, 10 of the participants got jobs – 8 of them at Baystate – and one is continuing with his education. “We are talking about real people with real jobs in the real world,” Terry Hodur, a job placement specialist with MRC, told me. She added something else: “These are people who now have a skill, with many hired into their first job.”
The success of this program is being replicated across the state. So well, in fact, that Kaspar Goshgarian, MRC’s deputy commissioner said they plan on keeping it going.
I went to Baystate’s impressive food operation to meet Helen Denarris, one of those who completed the program and just got a job in food service. Helen was a victim of domestic violence and had been living in transitional housing before she started this program. She has been employed by Baystate since January and is living on her own now. She was excited to describe how she helps the patients by “inspiring” them to eat their meals. “This program has been really helpful,” she told me.
I thought of something Cheryl Marrewa, MRC’s area director, said to me. “Work is the cornerstone of life and we’re giving people that opportunity.” For Helen, and the others, this program is giving them an opportunity – to get trained, to build up their resume, to get a job and to build a life around that. Obviously the fact that so many of these participants are now working, tax-paying citizens is economically important. But equally important is that Helen and so many people like her have jobs they like and that they feel good about doing. I’m not sure how to quantify that but I’m pretty sure its value would be high.