Polus Center in Athol plans training program to serve people with autism

Theresa Kane



Staff Writer

Published: 12-04-2023 3:33 PM

A handful of local organizations were among the recipients in the latest round of workforce development planning grants from the state, including Greenfield Community College and an Athol-based organization that hopes to develop a training program for those who want to work with people with autism.

The Polus Center for Social and Economic Development, which recently relocated to 527 Main St. in Athol, received a $25,000 grant. Theresa Kane, executive director for U.S. programs, said the money was awarded to carry out focus groups, surveys and interviews for this new program. The organization also has applied for a $500,000 Workforce Planning Grant to create the program, partnering with Fitchburg State University and the Association for Autism and Neurodiversity. She expects to hear if the grant will be issued by Christmas, she said.

Kane said one example of a career for those wanting to work with people with autism is as a school paraprofessional.

“School systems are very much needing paraprofessionals in the schools,” Kane said. “The agencies have people on waiting lists because they can’t find those who want to do this work.”

Founded in 1979, the Polus Center is a non-governmental organization that supports people with disabilities. This includes the development of prosthetics clinics, rehabilitation programs and vocational training. Over the years the organization has created programs for those impacted by landmines and the visually impaired. While a program focusing on autism would be a new direction, Kane said it falls in line with the organization’s ongoing work.

In Greenfield, Greenfield Community College will scale up a current Certified Nursing Assistant/Home Health Aide training program to adapt the curriculum and include support for English for speakers of other languages.

The Franklin Hampshire Employment and Training Consortium, also based in Greenfield, will work with employer partners to provide opportunities in several career pathways in the food and beverage industry.

These opportunities include moving from front-end staff, or wait staff, to general manager or from a line cook to head chef, for example. Participants also may explore career pathways into opening their own restaurants, food trucks, or other culinary-related businesses.

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Earlier this month, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced more than $355,000 in ScalingCapacity and Leveraging Employers (SCALE) Planning Grant awards for 13 initiatives to support economic recovery, growth objectives, and workforce strategies across the state, with a focus on aligning public and private resources to create education-to-employment pathways.

“The entire Healey-Driscoll Administration is focused on driving equity within our workforce and training workers for high-demand skill sets that employees and employers both need to succeed,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Lauren Jones in a statemetn. “Organizations like these are critical to achieving our goals and these grants will help them make a significant and positive impact on the community they serve. I congratulate all awardees and look forward to working with them as they begin to implement their initiative.”