Guest columnist Brennan Tierney: Supporting community organizing in the Valley

  • Springfield-based Out Now is one of many organizations supported by a grant from Pioneer Valley Community Advised Fund. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The Pioneer Valley Community Advised Fund is a program of the Peace Development Fund that brings together community members, students and donors to be part of a grant-making process supporting social justice organizations in Hamden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Alongside PDF staff, the advisory committee helps review grant applications, conduct reference interviews and make funding recommendations to the board of directors.

Berlyann Rivera, a graduate student in the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy and participant in the advisory committee, said, “This experience allowed me to gain valuable knowledge on the ins and outs of the grant writing and application process and learn about the amazing work local organizations are doing. It made me feel more connected to the community.”

Some past grant recipients of the Pioneer Valley Community Advised Fund include Out Now, Springfield No One Leaves, Pioneer Valley Workers Center and the Nolumbeka Project. This year’s grantees are Pa’lante Restorative Justice, a youth-led transformative justice program at Holyoke High School working to build youth power and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline; Wellspring Cooperative Corporation, a network of worker-owned businesses in Springfield which creates employment and wealth-building opportunities for residents; and Great Falls Books Through Bars in Franklin County, which sends free books, resources and reading materials to people who are incarcerated.

Justin Helepololei, a collective member of Great Falls Books Through Bars, said, “With many prisons on lockdown, and educational programs suspended, books have become even more critical for incarcerated people to stay connected to the outside world.”

Helepololei said that the grant from Peace Development Fund has allowed the organization to send free books, print and mail information about COVID-19, and encourage the community to support incarcerated organizers and political prisoners working toward long-term decarceration.

There can be no peace until there is justice, and amid unparalleled crises posed by COVID-19, it is more important than ever to build solidarity and support social justice movements locally and across the world.

Based in Amherst, the Peace Development Fund has been a national grant-maker for almost 40 years with a focus on supporting grassroots community organizing. The Pioneer Valley Community Advised Fund supports local organizers who are challenging injustice, building power and creating new community structures anchored in social justice.

The fund strengthens community relationships, spreads awareness of local issues and organizing and develops the leadership of students in the Five Colleges.

The Peace Development Fund is eager to bring more community members and students into the process. If you would like more information on how to get involved or support the Pioneer Valley Community Advised Fund, email Delia Kovac at Delia@peacefund.org, or visit peacedevelopment.org.

Brennan Tierney is foundation associate at the Peace Development Fund.