PUBLISHED: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Dec. 2, 2020)

When the pandemic hit, and adult learners were forced to leave the classroom and seek study space elsewhere, Lisa Brennan knew there was a challenge in store for some of her members.

As executive director of the Genesis Club in Worcester, Brennan oversees the nonprofit's Supported Education Program, which assists members with severe mental illness in navigating the hurdles of attending classes - be they in a college curriculum, certificate program, or vocational training - while balancing doctor and therapy appointments, medications and recovery.

“Social connections are key to recovery,” Brennan said. “COVID-19 struck right at the heart of what we are - a community of people trying to achieve a common goal of recovery.”

She estimates, each year, 80 members are reliant on the organization's educational services and focus on greater workforce development.

The Greater Worcester Community Foundation recently offered Genesis Club an award to sustain its Supported Education Program and return members to their studies.

“It's increasingly important for young people to have a solid educational foundation in order to succeed in their careers, personal lives, and feel accomplished,” said Barbara G. Fields, president and CEO of the GWCF.

Genesis Club's grant is one of 123 awarded to 114 organizations - totaling $1.935 million - by the foundation in its 2020 Community Grant Program cycle. The Community Grant Program is the largest GWCF competitive grantmaking program and is made possible by the generosity of donors.

“We knew the needs of local nonprofits would be different in light of the pandemic,” Fields said. “It is essential for these organizations to receive the funding and support they need to sustain themselves.

In this year's Community Grant Program, a wide range of projects - everything from food insecurity and cultural engagement to entrepreneurship training, health care delivery, basic needs, and youth opportunities - were awarded funding.

“We are excited and inspired by this year's grant recipients,” said Jonathan Cohen, GWCF vice president for programs and strategy. “Each of the funded projects speaks to the uniqueness, creativity, and community spirit that is alive and well in Central Massachusetts.”