Youth and Elders Well-Served by CDCs

September 8th, 2020 by Don Bianchi

In July, MACDC released the 2020 GOALs Report, to highlight the collective work that CDCs across the Commonwealth accomplished during calendar year 2019, including that CDCs collectively served over 70,000 families in 2019.  Readers can see tables with detailed information in the GOALs Appendix.

The data tells many stories: more than 1,500 homes created and preserved, almost 4,200 jobs created and preserved, more than $918 Million invested in local communities. The Families total itself reflects a broad array of programs- from programs to assist renters and homebuyers, to assistance with tax preparation and asset building, to adult education and workforce development. In comparing the results from 2019 to 2018, one thing stands out: programs to aid the eldest and youngest in our communities collectively served more than 10,400 people in 2019, an increase of 74% from the prior year.

This is an opportunity to highlight the work of two CDCs, in particular, One Holyoke CDC and Hilltown CDC. At first glance, beyond both being based in Western MA, these CDCs appear to be polar opposites: in their target areas (a dense urban community versus a sparsely populated rural region) and in the age of the populations targeted (the young versus elders in their post-retirement years).  Yet these two organizations share a passionate commitment to serving their communities, and something else: a spectrum of programs designed to serve challenges specific to the areas they serve.

Youth Programs:

In 2019, CDCs collectively served 6,643 youth, a 56% increase from 2018. There are childcare and afterschool programs.  Summer jobs and construction skill training.  Sports and other recreation. College readiness and scholarships.  Mentoring and leadership development.  The breadth of these programs is almost as impressive as the young people they benefit.

The youth programs administered by OneHolyoke CDC are suited to two distinct features of the City of Holyoke: a high incidence of poverty, and a high proportion of young people. According to U.S. Census data, in 2019, 29.7% of the population in Holyoke lived in poverty, almost 3 times the statewide poverty rate of 10%. Median household income in the City of $40,656 is about half the statewide income of over $77,000.  With nearly three children under 5 years old in Holyoke for every two children in that age range statewide, the importance of youth programs cannot be overstated.  OneHolyoke CDC is more than up to the task.  Three programs in particular stand out.

The Holyoke- A City that Reads campaign is a platform to encourage reading, childhood literacy development, and community connections.  Despite a long-standing early literacy crisis in Holyoke, this is a positive campaign to highlight the reading and learning that does happen. Dozens of participants offered short narratives to highlight the program.  Since schools closed in March, OneHolyoke CDC has regularly shared recordings of high-quality children’s books, read by many notable figures locally and nationally, on social media.   

Last year, OneHolyoke CDC launched the Nature & Nurture Program,  a six-week course in cooperation with multiple organizations in the greater Holyoke area where youth participants, ages 12 to 16, attend weekly educational workshops, with projects centering around the planting of twelve trees in the Flats neighborhood in Holyoke. Through the Commonwealth’s Greening the Gateway Cities Program, and supported by the Boys and Girls Club of Holyoke, young residents of the Flats learned to be stewards of these trees, and contributed to increased shade and reducing summertime air temperatures.

Through a third OneHolyoke CDC youth program, called "Conociendo Mi Barrio/Knowing my Neighborhood", youth in grades 8-10 explored the arts and their neighborhood. The goal was to have youth discussing and making art and design projects as they get to know their neighborhood better. In the most recent program, eight youth met with eight UMASS students and their professor to design their Utopian City of Holyoke and create the artwork.

Elder Programs:

CDC programs for seniors also grew in 2019, with 3,804 elders served, more than twice the 1,745 elders served in 2018. CDCs provided seniors in their communities with home care, exercise classes, volunteer opportunities, transportation, meals, and grants for home repair- just to name a few!

The elder programs administered by Hilltown CDC address two distinct features of the hilltowns of Western MA: a rural population dispersed across a wide geography, and a high proportion of seniors. The majority of towns served by the CDC have populations of less than 50 people per square mile![1]  In Massachusetts rural communities, 17 percent of people are 65 years of age or older, compared to 15% statewide- and many rural communities have over 20% of their population in that age category.[2] Furthermore, the average of median ages in 7 towns in the Hilltown CDC region is 48.4 years, compared to a statewide median age of 39.4 years.[3]

Hilltown CDC has long been a leader in serving seniors, in many cases delivering services to seniors in their homes. On a personal note, when I worked at Hilltown CDC from 1995 to 2004, the Hilltown Elder Network (HEN) Program  was already a well-established and highly regarded program.  Then, and now, HEN provides rural elders with in-home services, such as home chore assistance, cleaning and laundry, food shopping and meal preparation- even snow removal. Likewise, Hilltown CDC’s Health Outreach Program for Elders (HOPE) is a longstanding program, where the CDC partners with the Hilltown Community Health Center to provide in-home medical services to homebound elders.

In 2019, Hilltown CDC served 352 elders, almost four times the 90 seniors served in 2019! This huge jump in impact is due in part to the expansion of its “Hilltown Easy Ride” Senior Van Program, a demand response service in coordination with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority. As there is no public transportation in this rural region, the program provides seniors transportation to their medical appointments, grocery shopping, and social outings.

Hilltown CDC’s newest service is its Mobile Market, which coordinates with Councils on Aging and local farms to provide fresh produce, between July and October. This program was piloted in two towns in 2019 and has now expanded to four towns.  According to Hilltown CDC Executive Director Dave Christopolis, the primary focus of the Mobile Market is to serve the needs of seniors, who need access to healthy food options.


Of course, so much changed in early 2020, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the health and economic crises it spawned.  Elders, particularly those with other health problems, suffered the most serious adverse health impacts.  The lives of young people, and their parents, were greatly disrupted as schools had to adjust to remote learning. Communities of color and low-income communities were disproportionately impacted: these communities typically had less access to the technology that is essential for remote learning, experienced higher rates of infection and death, and experienced more economic dislocation.

With their programs for elders and youth, these two CDCs, and many others, are positioned to address the impact of the pandemic. 


[1] Hilltown CDC Community Investment Plan 2020-2023

[2] Rural Policy Plan for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, October 2019

[3] U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, December 2019

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