Despite no fundraising gala this year, Project Place, undaunted, presses on

For over 50 years, the nonprofit organization Project Place has served Bostonians struggling with homelessness and poverty by providing education opportunities, job skills training, housing, and support in finding a job.

While the nonprofit’s annual Spring Gala, normally a major fundraising opportunity, has been cancelled due to the pandemic, the important work of the organization continues: Last Wednesday, Project Place premiered a video on its Facebook page entitled “No Matter What” that featured stories from clients as well as shout-outs from special guests. 

Kevin, an alumnus highlighted in the short film, described the various opportunities the program has provided him. “Project Place has given me wonderful skills that I’ve obtained in my life and that I utilize day to day to acquire a job that I have been working for the last six years, and has given me a place to live.”

Wayne, another client, described how Project Place helped him re-enter society after he was incarcerated. 

“When I first came in, I’d done probably 38 years in prison. I was very skeptical,” he said. “When you do a lot of time, nobody really cares about you, you know. These people wanted me to succeed, and they cared about me.”

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin Walsh also chimed in during the video, with Baker calling Project Place a “wonderful organization” and Walsh describing the operation as “one of our closest partners.”

Project Place’s work remains particularly critical during these difficult times as many of its clients have found jobs as essential workers in grocery stores, pharmacies, manufacturing and delivery businesses, and the cleaning of city streets and hospitals. Elsewhere, efforts to match clients with jobs have transitioned to addressing the dramatic rise in unemployment rates.

“Our department has been spending time examining current and projected labor market information,” said Allie Orlando, Director of Career Services at Project Place. “Using this data, we hope to make appropriate adjustments in programming to ensure our clients are prepared for the new economy that will result due to COVID-19. The high unemployment rate will impact how clients job search and for what jobs.

“We are determined,” she added, “to make sure our clients are competitive candidates and that employers are well aware of this pool of talent. For clients who have lost work due to the pandemic, our case managers have been great about helping them apply for unemployment.”

Stabilization Programming Around Recovery and Resilience Coaching (SPARRC), an initiative established in December meant to assist clients struggling with addiction recovery and related mental health challenges, has proved to be an important resource.

“We could not have possibly foreseen this, but SPARRC seemed to develop at the perfect time,” said program manager Emily Rittenour. “Last month, we served about 60 people in stabilization, addressing mental health and addiction concerns that are clearly exacerbated by the stress and fear with the COVID-19 pandemic. As some health systems are failing, we are finding our clients falling into greater isolation and lacking much-needed mental health supports. We are meeting this challenge by consistently meeting with clients around emergency services and connecting them to providers. We also are continuing support groups that foster a sense of community to combat this isolation.”

Project Place’s Reentry Team, which works closely with clients who have recently been released from incarceration, has also been busy in recent months in addressing the fallout of the virus in imprisoned populations and helping those who have been released navigate the current climate.

“For incarcerated individuals who have been on a ‘lockdown status’ since the pandemic began, Project Place’s adapted service delivery model is being considered by correctional facilities as an alternative method to provide them with access to programming,” said Reentry Director Beth Carter. “The team continues to strive to ensure that recently released individuals obtain the necessary support and connections to resources.”

Right now, Project Place is counting on donors to keep its crucial work going. In the “No Matter What” video, Executive Director Suzanne Kenney emphasized that “while stay at home orders forced us to cancel our annual gala, attributes like kindness and generosity are not cancelled...Project Place has your back, and we will be back.”

To learn more about the nonprofit or to make a donation, visit projectplace.org.