Helping Hundreds of low-income Students Achieve a Brighter Future

May 4th, 2016 by

Long before Kendall Square’s emergence as the center of the Biomedical Industry in Greater Boston, Just-A-Start (JAS) was an engine of its own. JAS’s Biomedical Careers Program has prepared 25-30 low-income students annually since 1992. With over 500 graduates placed in industry jobs and a 77% in-industry placement rate, JAS’s success has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, the Biomedical Careers Program received a $200K grant from J.P. Morgan Chase and JAS acquired new equipment for the program.

Even though the industry is filled with young people, most of JAS’s students are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some found the program through Cambridge Housing Authority outreach and others are unemployed individuals with training vouchers. Many are immigrants, some have college degrees, and all of them make a commitment to participate in the program five hours a day, Monday through Friday, for nine months. They cover subjects like genetics, immunology, human anatomy, and chemistry, in addition to hearing from guest speakers and going on facility tours. For Sajan, after emigrating from Nepal in 2009, the program offered a way to build his skills and familiarity with the latest technology, so that he could get a job in a cancer research position. As a cancer survivor himself and former pharmaceuticals researcher in Nepal, Sajan says he is now much more optimistic about establishing a career here. 

According to Program Manager Felipe Gomez, it is not uncommon for students to emerge with a transformed sense of self. They are more confident and knowledgeable when it comes to their abilities in math and science. But more than that, Gomez remarks that students feel respected, empowered, and proud of their work. For Jennifer O’Donnell, one of the program’s teachers, the strength of the program lies in the connections that students make with each other, alums, staff, and industry leaders. O’Donnell knows that the family atmosphere JAS creates is one of the reasons the students feel ready to persevere despite the challenging curriculum. Students know that there is a place for them at JAS and in the industry.

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A new housing voucher program in the works in Waltham

May 2nd, 2016 by

With rents rising and unspent funds set aside to help with housing, we knew we had to act,” says Daria Gere, Executive Director at Waltham Alliance to Create Housing (WATCH).  The city of Waltham passed its Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 2005.  In the past 10 years, between the local property tax surcharge and state distributions, Waltham’s CPA generated $30 million, at least 10% of which is for affordable housing. WATCH and its Tenant Action Group (TAG) decided it was time to organize to create the political will and pressure to spend CPA funds to help low-income tenants living in Waltham. 

TAG and WATCH wrote a proposal for a CPA-funded Tenant-Based Rental Voucher Program. With almost 6,000 households income-eligible for the voucher and 5% of the City’s residents living in overcrowded or substandard housing, the need in Waltham is pressing. Fueled by their own experiences, tenant leaders organized phone banks and a letter writing campaign. WATCH sent hundreds of letters to the Waltham City Council from residents, allies, and 15 organizations. On 3 different occasions, WATCH brought over 20 tenants and allies to testify to City Council.

One resident to testify was Getty, a mother of a 9-year-old child with special needs who wanted to help the City Council understand the difficult choices she faces. “I work 20 hours a day to support my son and myself. Right now, I am about to be homeless because I couldn’t find [a new] place to live,” she said, noting that she was unable to pay her rent after her roommate moved out. Because her son has special needs, she can’t move to another town and put him in a new school environment. Other residents, like Getty, also shared their stories.  And the City Council listened. 

On January 26th, 2016, the City Council passed the CPA Voucher program. Upon approval of the contract between the City and the Waltham Housing Authority, Waltham will provide a 3-year rental voucher to 50 of the City’s lowest income households. The voucher will ensure that tenants’ rents are only 30% of their income. While more permanent low-income housing options are needed, this was a huge step forward that only happened because of the community organizing efforts of WATCH, and the residents of Waltham.

Check out the complete 2016 GOALs Report and past GOALs Reports

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