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Nonprofits target Agawam to expand community services

Date: 10/18/2011

Oct. 19, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM — In September, Mercy Medical Center’s well-respected Hearing Center opened its first-ever off-campus outpost at Agawam Crossing on Silver Street in response to client requests for services closer to home. Now, two popular community nonprofit agencies are also exploring the possibility of establishing a presence in Agawam.

Mayor Richard Cohen confirmed to Reminder Publications that he has had discussions with representatives from both the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield regarding establishing facilities in town.

“They already have a presence,” Cohen said, noting that the Y conducts swimming classes in Agawam and the Boys & Girls Club operates a summer lunch program at the Pleasant Hill public housing project. “But I want to increase it to offer [more services] to people.”

Cohen added that he thought Agawam was a “great location” for either or both nonprofits to establish outposts. “We border Southwick, we’re close to Westfield [and] to West Springfield.”

Kirk Smith, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, said the Y has identified both Agawam and West Springfield as communities that could benefit from the nonprofit’s offerings.

“We realized very early this year that there is a tremendous need in Agawam and in West Springfield for programming focusing on youth development, teen development and senior programming to address wellness,” Smith said.

He added that the “good news is we already have significant programs in both communities ... but we could do so much more.”

Bill Parks, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield, said several groups have approached his organization about services over the years, and recently, he had a discussion with Cohen about establishing a presence in Agawam.

“He said there was a need for more teen services in town, things like that, and after-school services,” Parks said, adding that it was “educational programming, technology programming, social and recreational opportunities, youth development and mentoring” and not athletic programs that Cohen was looking for from the Boys & Girls Club.

“I know the mayor is looking to provide as many services as he could in the community,” Parks added.

Smith said the Y is in discussions with Cohen and other town officials about the possibility of bringing a Y Express — a smaller, storefront version of the nonprofit’s services and programs — to Agawam.

“It’s not a new concept, but it is new to this region,” Cohen said. “This Y would benefit Agawam and West Springfield and function as a fitness and wellness center [and] a programming center for youth, adults and seniors.”

Smith said the Y Express — which is a popular concept in the South — allows a regional YMCA to “provide high-quality wellness and programs in a less expensive way” than constructing a freestanding facility.

Cohen said he, Smith and a study committee comprised of several Y board members and community representatives met on Sept. 26 to begin drafting a plan to present to the Y’s Board of Directors, and that he has already contacted several developers in town to discuss the possibility of putting a Y Express in their facility. The study committee is slated to meet again on Oct. 24 to continue drafting its proposal.

“I’m very pleased that this is moving forward in a positive way and quicker than I had anticipated,” Cohen said.

Parks said he has contacted the national office of The Boys & Girls Club to arrange for a community needs assessment in Agawam.

“We need to find out if people [are] really interested in having services and that they [will be] able to support a program,” Parks said.

Cohen said he is pleased to see work he started during term of mayor in 2006 finally coming to fruition. He said at that time he formed a study committee, chaired by Anthony Bonavita, to explore bringing services from either the Boys & Girls Club or the Y into town.

He also sees the potential addition of services from either or both non-profits as nothing but a plus for the town.

“I think what’s nice about this is that the Boys & Girls Club, the Y, our own Parks and Rec programs and our schools will not compete in any programs. We will all work together for the benefit of our town,” he said.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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