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United Way of Pioneer Valley Seeks Requests for Funding

Basic needs grant funding available for local organizations

United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) is seeking Requests for Funding (RFFs) for its Basic Needs Grant Program.  These grants will support programs and services in the Pioneer Valley that provide temporary and short-term food, shelter, and heating assistance to stabilize individuals and families faced with an emergency due to loss of employment, housing, natural disaster, domestic violence, etc.

Priority will be given for programs that serve seniors, veterans, residents living in communities with limited access to short-term emergency basic needs programs (e.g. rural communities), and residents ineligible for public assistance programs (e.g. fuel assistance) but in need of short-term emergency help to stabilize their situation.

Organizations should not approach this application with the expectation of ongoing annual operating support.  Grants will be awarded for a period of 12 months from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.  The purpose of the Basic Needs Grant Program is to support and sustain strong communities in Hampden County, South Hadley, and Granby, Massachusetts.


Application deadline is March 10, 2017. For more information contact LaTonia Monroe Naylor, Senior Manager of Community Investments, 413-693-0215 or




About United Way of Pioneer Valley
United Way of Pioneer Valley fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community by finding new solutions to old problems, mobilizing the best resources and inspiring individuals to join the fight against their community’s most daunting social crises.


United Way of Pioneer Valley Announces Personnel Changes

United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) is filling out its team as they expand services and bring new energy to staple positions. Today, they announced the addition of Jennifer Fernandes of South Hadley, as the new Case Coach for Thrive Financial Success Centers in Westfield and Holyoke, Chris Woods of West Springfield, as the new part-time Volunteer Coordinator, as well as the promotion of LaTonia Naylor of Springfield, from Community Impact Manager to Senior Manager of Community Investments.

Jennifer FernandezFernandes will coordinate the UPWV’s Thrive program, which serves to strengthen the financial capacity of community college students and residents. Through community collaborative efforts, Thrive promotes and supports activities related to financial literacy, including access to a one-stop financial resource center, workforce development services, and public benefit screening and enrollment. Fernandes has a B.A. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and a M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lesley College. She has been working with the Adult Basic Education program in Holyoke, and has been involved in financial literacy, academic and career counseling.


Chris WoodsWoods earned his B.S. in Marketing from Bentley University. Following graduation, he became an Americorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) member for a year and traveled across the country working on volunteer projects. For the past year, he has been a math tutor with Springfield Math Fellows, and he continues as an assistant swim team coach with the West Springfield Torpedoes. Woods will be coordinating volunteer activities for United Way Youth Generate, Stuff the Bus, and Day of Caring programs, among other projects.


“We are thrilled to welcome Jennifer and Chris to our team,” said Jennifer Kinsman, United Way Director of Community Impact. “They both bring the type of enthusiasm and talent we need as the United Way continues to fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community across the Pioneer Valley.”

LaTonia Naylor HeadshotNaylor’s promotion to Senior Manager of Community Investments will have her overseeing grants management for the education, basic needs, small grants and emergency food and shelter programs. She’ll also provide technical assistance to United Way grantees and community partners and become the UWPV community liaison for education initiatives.

Latonia is a strong and extremely capable employee. Her passion for and commitment to the mission of the United Way and the communities we serve make her the perfect choice for this position,” added Kinsman.



About United Way of Pioneer Valley
United Way of Pioneer Valley fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community by finding new solutions to old problems, mobilizing the best resources and inspiring individuals to join the fight against their community’s most daunting social crises.

United Way of Pioneer Valley President & CEO Dora Robinson to Retire in June

United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) today announced that the organization’s President and CEO, Dora Robinson, will retire effective June 30, 2017, starting an orderly leadership transition over the next six months. The Board of Trustees named Jeffrey Ciuffreda as the organization’s interim president and chief executive officer, effective immediately. Robinson will continue to serve UWPV as president emeritus.


Robinson’s decision will bring to a close a remarkable career of over 40 years of non-profit leadership in the Greater Springfield Community, the last 7 with UWPV. “We thank Dora for her years of service, celebrate her contributions, and are excited to build upon them,” said Bennett H. Markens, president of the UWPV Board of Trustees. “It is our sincere hope that she enjoys this well-deserved retirement.”


“It has been an honor to lead this organization alongside our dedicated volunteers, staff and board members,” said Robinson. “I look forward to working with Jeff, the board and the management team during the six-month transition period.”


Robinson began with UWPV in 2009. Under her leadership, UWPV launched several new strategies to diversify revenues contributing to education, homelessness, basic needs and financial security programs, among others. During her tenure she co-founded the UWPV Women’s Leadership Council to engage local women leaders in supporting financial literacy and health initiatives for women and girls. She also led the effort to establish UWPV as a support organization for local and regional disaster recovery efforts.


With Ciuffreda managing day-to-day operations the board of directors will conduct an exhaustive search for Robinson’s successor. “As the search for a permanent replacement moves forward, we know that UWPV is in good hands and that there will be no interruption in the critical services we provide in our community,” said Markens.


“The United Way has been providing key support to families and organizations across the Valley for 94 years and has operated at a high level in this role,” said Ciuffreda. “It is my hope to not only maintain the organization’s success, but also build upon it. I am honored to lead an organization with such an impressive legacy.”

Ciuffreda becomes interim president and chief executive officer of UWPV after his August retirement from the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, where he served as president for five years. Ciuffreda joined the Chamber in 1987 as vice president of legislative affairs and became president in 2011. Prior to his work at the Chamber, Ciuffreda served as an aide to Congressman Silvio O. Conte for eight years and prior to that, served as deputy director of the United States Peace Corps program in the country of Lesotho in Africa. Ciuffreda has served as a board member with the Food Bank of western Massachusetts, the Friends of the Homeless, and the United Way of Pioneer Valley. A native of Pittsfield, Ciuffreda was a selectman in Williamsburg for 17 years, where he still lives with his wife, Mary Ann. They have two adult children.




About United Way of Pioneer Valley
United Way of Pioneer Valley mobilizes people and resources to strengthen our communities. We envision a thriving, caring region where individuals have opportunities to realize their potential, become economically self-sufficient, and contribute collectively to improve the quality of life in their communities.

Club Connect comes to the Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer

club_connect-story02For most of us, there are two key ingredients for developing a life-long love of reading: a good book and a quiet, comfy corner to curl up into. Sometimes an ordinary classroom setting isn’t the ideal place to get swept away in a story or lose yourself in dialog. That’s where United Way Club Connect comes in.

This year, the United Way of Pioneer Valley was chosen nationally as one of ten United Ways to participate in Club Connect. They selected the Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer as an ideal place to give their students an even better shot at reading success. With club membership, comes the following benefits:

  • A Scholastic Reading Oasis, with more than 1,000 books and a comfortable, inviting space for children to read in throughout the year.
  • Access to an online website engaging children in a variety of reading activities 365 days a year.
  • Parent engagement, including emails and corporate incentive programs to reach parents and increase their involvement in their child’s reading.

This May, the Old Mill Elementary school opened their Reading Oasis, situated on the stage in the school cafeteria. A faux fireplace is circled with colorful beanbags and flanked by shelves teeming with books for all ages and reading levels.

On a recent Monday morning, as students streamed into the space, selected a book and plopped down in beanbag, Mrs. Jacqueline Haley, the school’s principal, was beaming. “I’d never imagined this space could be used this way,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without United Way’s support.”

Steve Lowell, President of Monson Savings Bank, was also present. As a United Way board member, he understands the importance of early literacy and wanted to see for himself how the Reading Oasis worked. Joining students on the rug, he agreed it was an ideal place for young children to “get wrapped up in a good book. This can really make a difference in students’ lives.”

Beyond the pleasure reading can bring, it’s a fundamental building block of any student’s education.

“Research tells us that children who can read proficiently by third grade are much more likely to successfully graduate high school,” said Sylvia De Haas Phillips, Senior Vice President of Community Impact and Engagement for the United Way of Pioneer Valley. “That’s why United Way Club Connect is such a game changer for schools like Old Mill Elementary School in Palmer.”

United Way Club Connect is part of a broader effort to increase area graduation rates. United Way volunteers also tutor students and help with homework. Providing children with greater access to books, as well as a supportive environment where they can read, will help ensure they don’t fall behind. In fact, having regular access to a large book collection and a reading role model has a greater impact on a child’s reading frequency than household income. Reading frequency translates to reading fluency, the main ingredient in school success—not just in the early grades, but throughout a child’s academic career.

Altogether, generous individual and corporate donors have adopted 87 schools in 15 states in 2015 and 2016. They donated more than 43,500 books and impacted the lives of 46,000 students.

— Mark Roessler

A Conversation with Tom Senecal, PeoplesBank’s new President


PeoplesBank of Holyoke has been in the news a lot recently.

Last year, as the bank celebrated its 130th anniversary, the accolades kept pouring in. The Boston Globe declared the bank as a “Top Place to Work.” MassLive and the Republican’s readers voted it “the best mortgage lender,” and the Boston Business Journal singled the local institution out as a “Top Corporate Charitable Contributor.”

Though certainly impressive, for those familiar with the bank’s work, the praise wasn’t a surprise. PeoplesBank and the United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) have long worked together to improve conditions for the region. Most recently they were among several area partners to launch three Thrive centers across Holyoke and Springfield—financial literacy learning centers that provide training and free tax preparation.

During a speech for the opening of one of the Thrive Centers, bank president Tom Senecal had noted how the bank’s commitment to the community—especially those who are most in need—is not a new chapter for them. It was, in fact, among the core reasons that the bank’s first president, Victorian-era industrialist William Skinner, had designated the institution as a mutual bank. He wanted to make certain they provided a pathway to financial stability for ordinary people.

“That being said, though,” Senecal said in a more recent interview with UWPV, “I want to make certain we’re looking to the future and not just to the past. When I think of PeoplesBank today, I think of innovation, technology, and providing customer service without friction. Looking at banking through the eyes of the customer. We’re always looking for ways to improve our online services and embrace new technologies. It’s important we stay ahead of the curve—stay innovative—in order to provide these products and services to our customers.

“Skinner was also very innovative for his time, but I think it’s important we maintain a balance—remembering what others brought to the institution, but also building off of that and keeping focused on the future.”

To that end, projects like Thrive are innovations Senecal embraces completely.

“Financial literacy is tremendously important to PeoplesBank and the community at large,” he said. “I’m passionate about it, and Thrive very much aligns with what we do. Being a community bank, it allows us to participate, understand and support the community” in a way that is meaningful.

Regardless of age or income level, financial literacy is a skill that everyone needs, Senecal said, adding with a laugh that there were people in his own family he thought could benefit from the courses Thrive offers.

Family is important to Senecal, and it’s a chief reason he lives in the Pioneer Valley.

“I was a Chicopee boy,” he said. “My Senecal roots go back quite a few generations in the Willimanset section of Chicopee. When I left high school, I went into the service. When I got out of the service, I went to UMass Amherst, and I graduated from the Isenberg School of Business. I came back to the area because it was my roots, I believe in this area.”

Asked what he thought accounted for his business being declared a top place to work, he was unequivocal: “An unbelievably engaged employee base.”

Elaborating, he said, “Doug [Bowen, Chairman and CEO] has fostered an organizational culture that is extremely employee engagement focused, and that appeals to me. I hope to continue that tradition of making sure our employees feel that way about this organization.”

He was quick to add, though, that what made PeoplesBank special wasn’t merely strong leadership.

“Our employees donate a tremendous amount of time volunteering—giving back to the community,” he said. “Our employees were recognized for being in the top ten in the state of Massachusetts, per capita, for employee donations. That’s not driven from the top down—as president of the bank, I can make large donations, but I can’t tell my employees what to give. That ranking from the Boston Business Journal is all up to them. That’s pretty cool.”

Hiring new employees who are similarly engaged and dedicated to the community has also been important. “It’s important everyone is part of the culture we’ve created here,” he said.

Asked to describe that culture, he responded, “Team-oriented. I read a book a while ago, Give and Take by Adam Grant. It measured the lives of people and organizations who were successful in life and tried to determine whether they were givers or takers. I believe PeoplesBank has a culture of givers. Not just financially, but they are generous with their time, their talent and willingness to collaborate.”

The United Way of Pioneer Valley has helped PeoplesBank channel some of this energy. Partaking in our annual Day of Caring event, over the past few years, the United Way has identified and organized volunteer opportunities for bank employees at Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, the Springfield Boys and Girls Club, YMCA of Greater Springfield, YMCA of Greater Westfield, and the Children’s Museum at Holyoke.

“People think of others before they think of themselves at PeoplesBank,” Senecal concluded. “It’s very different from anything I’ve seen at other organizations.”

— Mark Roessler

A Financial Success Center Planned for Westfield

Berkshire Bank Foundation has made a significant two-year donation to the United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) towards the design and introduction of a Financial Success Center to be located in downtown Westfield, MA in early autumn 2016. Following the Financial Success Center model introduced in both Holyoke and Springfield, this will be named Thrive @ Westfield, and will be launched in partnership with the City of Westfield, Valley Opportunity Center, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, FutureWorks, and CareerPoint, as well as several other partners.

Financial Success Centers such as the Thrive Centers in Holyoke and Springfield provide free services such as individual financial coaching, financial literacy classes, resources for workforce development, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and access to income supports for low to moderate income individuals and families.

United Way of Pioneer Valley has a long history of convening local partners for innovative community initiatives that serve people throughout the region. Visit the UWPV website for more information at

Dowd Insurance: A Legacy of Connection


Pictured from left to right: David Griffin Jr., John E. Dowd, Jr., and Melissa Salois-Blood.


The Dowd Insurance Agency first started working with the United Way 40 years ago when both organizations had offices in downtown Holyoke.

“When I started with the agency in the early 1980s, it was a different time back then,” said John E. Dowd Jr., the president and CEO of the company. His great grandfather founded the business in 1898. “Downtown was a bustling business community. Lawyers and accountants and other business people were all within walking distance of one another. We’d see them at the local lunch counter every day.”

As such, news travelled fast. When disaster struck a family or a business, people could react quickly to support the survivors.

“And if someone needed members for a new organization or committee,” Dowd said. “All they’d have to do is ask you when they saw you.”

Since then, of course, things have changed. While the city has struggled economically, Dowd Insurance has grown and their business now has five branch offices, serving clients across the region. Dowd’s headquarters have also expanded into a more convenient office park a few miles from their old location.

In many ways, the United Way has become the new commons where local leaders and volunteers can connect to address community needs.

“We’ve always been strong believers in being part of the community,” Dowd said. “It’s written into our mission statement. We’ve tried over the years to always increase the amount we donate to the United Way by a little bit, but we don’t think it stops there. You need to be involved, giving your time and talents, making sure that the organization remains viable, because they’re so critical to our community.”

“Working with the United Way has been a nice fit,” David Griffin Jr. agreed. Griffin works as an account executive for the agency, and his father is the executive vice president and treasurer. “As we’ve grown, it’s been great to be able to grow with the United Way and what they’ve been doing in the communities we serve.”

Griffin likes that in working with the United Way, “you can pinpoint where you want your resources to go, whether it’s through volunteering or giving financially.”

Griffin enjoys his long-term commitment of working with area youth, helping to support “after School programs or boys and girls clubs.” But he points out “the United Way can take care of lots of people’s interests, abilities and time constraints.”

Each year, the United Way of Pioneer Valley organizes Days of Caring, an opportunity for companies and teams of people to offer their services to the community, volunteering to take on tasks that will improve their neighborhoods.

“I’m on the board of directors over at the Wistariahurst museum in Holyoke,” Griffin said. “They do a Day of Service with the United Way there every year, and just hearing what’s been accomplished—just in one day around the facility—it’s been unbelievable. They had a team of 40 to 50 volunteers from People’s Bank. The team repainted the fence, moved plants around, and just did a general cleanup of the grounds. The director was beyond thrilled. She said how surprised she was that everyone seemed so happy. The museum supplied coffee and donuts, but they got so much more back. And this was just one location that day.”

“A personal connection is critical,” Melissa Salois-Blood agrees. As Dowd’s staff accountant and manager of the workplace fundraising campaign, she says it’s the personal connections that United Way inspires that matter the most.

“You can’t do this through email,” she said. “You need to create excitement. During the campaign each year, I visit each of the offices. Sometimes the satellite offices can feel a little left out or disconnected from the home office.” The campaign offers everyone at Dowd an opportunity to work together, doing something that “benefits themselves as well as the whole community.”

Asked whether being a family-run business had influenced their long-time collaboration with the United Way, Dowd was unequivocal.

“My family history in Holyoke goes back to the mid-1800s,” John Dowd Jr. said. “My great-great grandfather first came over from Ireland with his parents. They were part of a very different immigrant city where there wasn’t a lot of social organizations or safety nets around. It was very much survival of the fittest. People today often don’t understand the extent of the prejudice in those days, but it was beyond belief. There was nothing to protect them, so much so that people were openly hanging signs in their doors, “Irish need not apply.” If you were Irish, you were considered the lowest of the low on the social ladder.

“So, to overcome those prejudices and become a viable part of your community, contributing in positive ways—you didn’t come up through the ranks alone. You did that with other people,” Dowd said. “It’s people coming together to help each other rise up and overcome challenges society has presented them. Social organizations, like the United Way, evolved from these experiences. They were formed so that immigrants coming to the city from wherever didn’t have to encounter the same challenges and prejudices. And when one of these organizations helps you, you don’t forget.”

Being part of a family and a community, Dowd said, reminds you that no one succeeds alone.

“As human beings, we need to help each other,” he said. “Give more than you get, because at the end of the day, it all comes back. It’s a credo some people don’t understand until they experience it.”

—Mark Roessler

Area United Ways Unite to Raise Money to Support Area Children

“Show the Love for Kids” on Valentine’s Day 

WESTERN MASS, February 1, 2016 – United Way of Pioneer Valley, United Way of Hampshire County and United Way of Franklin County are collaborating for a new mobile giving campaign called “Show the Love for Kids.”

Aimed at smart phone donors, United Way’s Text-to-Give effort allow people to easily and efficiently contribute to programs that impact the lives of children in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties.

This year, more than 75,000 kids in our area will face hunger, over 5,000 kids will experience abuse and neglect and 7,000 third graders will struggle to read at grade level— and they need our help.

By texting the keyword HEART to the number 20222 via a cell phone, a donation of $10 will be made to your local United Ways and their programs that help kids. Centered around Valentine’s Day the $10 donation mobile giving campaign runs through the month of February and appears as a charge on a donor’s mobile-phone bill.

Jim Ayres, Executive Director of United Way of Hampshire County says, “At Valentine’s Day we take the time to show our love. Let’s take time to show the love to kids who are struggling and craving support for a positive future. As you get ready to make dinner reservations, buy flowers and pick up chocolates, also take the time to send a quick text message that makes a difference.”

“We are delighted to collaborate with our United Way partners on a great Text-to-Give initiative,” said Dora D. Robinson, president & CEO of United Way of Pioneer Valley “We hope our community will embrace Text-to-Give and make a big difference for children in the Pioneer Valley.”


*A one-time donation of $10.00 will be added to the donor’s mobile phone bill or deducted from the donor’s prepaid balance. Messaging and data rates may apply. All charges are billed by and payable to the donor’s mobile-service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of United Way by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at Donors can unsubscribe at any time by replying STOP to short code 20222; reply HELP to 20222 for help.

Debra Foley
Director of Development & Marketing
United Way of Hampshire County
413-584-3962 x 105

Mark Roessler
Marketing & Communications Manager
United Way of Pioneer Valley

Sandy Sayers
Executive Director
United Way of Franklin County



Charitable IRA Rollover—The Basics

At long last, Congress has passed and the President has signed the Tax Increase Prevention Act that includes a provision making permanent, once and for all, an individual’s ability to make a charitable gift from his/her IRA. Donors may now rely upon this law in their future financial, estate and charitable planning.

The charitable IRA rollover is a special provision that allows gifts directly from an IRA to a public charity without the gifted amount being considered income to the donor. It should be of keen interest to different kinds of donors:

  • those who elect the standard deduction on their federal tax returns
  • residents of states, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, where charitable deductions cannot be taken on state tax returns
  • all other taxpayers who may likely incur greater tax liability and costs by virtue of their adjusted gross income being increased should they make an IRA withdrawal and charitable gift, rather than using the charitable IRA rollover.

Essential Information:

  • The IRA owner must be at least age 70 ½ before making the gift.
  • The gift may be made only from an IRA and certain Roth IRAs.
  • The gift may satisfy some or all of an IRA owner’s Required Minimum Distribution.
  • The gift may be applied to satisfy an existing pledge to UWPV.
  • The gift may be designated to support a specific UWPV initiative.
  • The gift removes that amount from the owner’s gross estate.
  • The only limitation is that the aggregate gift cannot exceed $100,000 annually—

– A donor may make multiple IRA rollover gifts to the same public charity throughout the year.
– A donor may make IRA rollover gifts using multiple IRA accounts.
– A donor may make IRA rollover gifts to multiple public charities.
– Husband and wife each have a $100,000 limit from their respective IRAs.

A charitable IRA rollover gift is considered a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). It is a direct transfer to a public charity made by the donor’s IRA Administrator or Trustee at the donor’s request. As a QCD, the gift is not income to the donor nor, logically, is the donor entitled to a deduction.

The charitable IRA rollover procedure eliminates taking an IRA withdrawal into income which would then have to be added to a donor’s adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI is a threshold for calculating deductions, exemptions, tax credits, the amount of Social Security benefits subject to tax and for determining premiums for Medicare parts B and D. By not increasing AGI, a donor may enjoy significant tax savings and lower costs.

The donor cannot receive ANY goods or services from the charity in consideration of the gift and the gift must be substantiated in writing by the charity. According to the IRS, if a good or service offered would reduce the charitable deduction if this were an outright gift, then the gift will not qualify as a QCD and the full amount must be taken into income thus increasing the donor’s AGI.

To help you make a charitable IRA rollover gift to UWPV, there is available online:

  1. A sample letter for you to send to your IRA Administrator/Trustee requesting that an IRA rollover gift be made,
  2. A sample letter for you to send to UWPV notifying us of your gift intention so that we may be on the lookout for it, and
  3. Should you want more detailed information there is an in-depth educational FAQ that may address your specific questions.

Questions should be directed to Steven Toth, JD, MS, CLU, ChFC at UWPV

Disclaimer: United Way of Pioneer Valley does not provide legal, tax, accounting or other related professional advice. Such advice must be sought from the reader’s own advisors. The information provided here is for general informational purposes only.



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