New nonprofit aims at helping find path ARN ALBERTINI Recorder Staff *9/29/2010 TURNERS FALLS -- When Michael Phillips dropped out of high school in his small western Pennsylvania town, he spent most of his time partying with friends.
Date: September 29, 2010 Section:
"I was just going nowhere and all the people around me were doing the same thing," he said recently. "I didn't see anything I felt I could be a part of." Then Phillips caught a break. He ran into an old friend who was at the University of Pittsburgh.
"He encouraged me to just look at doing something different." The friend helped Phillips get his GED and then get into the University of Pittsburgh.
Now Phillips, who lives in Greenfield and works as an Internet strategist for Yankee Candle Co., is serving on the board of a new nonprofit called theThriveProject, with the goal of helping others catch a break.
"That one break led to another and another and another," said Phillips. "None of it would have ever happened if that one friend hadn't said hey, why don't you do something different.'"
If that friend hadn't stepped in, Phillips suspects he'd be dead or in jail, which was happening to most of the people around him at that time.
"The main point with Thrive is that everybody deserves a break and everybody deserves some hope," he said.
The ThriveProject focuses on young adults, aged 18 to 30, who find themselves stuck in low-paying, low-skill jobs that don't seem to be going anywhere and who want to do something more with their lives, said executive director Jamie Berger.
"All these young people I know have incredible ambition and dreams and some of them are giving up on it at way too young an age."
Thrive's mission is to help these young adults find a new path and take the steps along that path, Berger said.
Thrive offers tutoring, preparation for test taking, a computer lab with free Internet, career counseling, mentoring relationships, help setting up apprenticeships; all things aimed at helping these young people go back to school, get more school, get some other sort of training or whatever else they feel they need to enrich their lives, said Berger.
Every Friday will be make-your-own-music-and-art night and there will be a monthly movie night, he said.
"It will be a combination of education, counseling, community and cultural activities.
"We want young people to come in and help shape (Thrive). It has to be interesting and dare I say, cool enough, for young people."
Program Director Elizabeth Gardner added, "We're still getting to know theThrive population. We're going to do a lot of listening and learning in the first few months."
Thrive will be celebrating its grand opening this weekend with events around town to raise money. On Sunday, there will be an open house at its 37 Third St. offices. see sidebar
"The question we've gotten from a few people is, doesn't this already exist?'" said Berger.
"Most agencies that I know of focus on helping people get the necessities. Any job. A roof over their head. Housing. Drug rehabilitation."
But, there isn't a group specifically focused on helping young adults live better, he said.
"Which means get a better job or going back to school or getting a more engaging hobby or getting more training to do something different."
That's where Thrive comes in, he said. "Thrive offers a way to help people improve their lives not just meet the bare necessities. What's needed is a hub that's a comfortable place to go to get started in the right direction. To go from surviving to thriving."
Thrive plans to have a close relationship with area social service agencies, like the Brick House Community Resource Center, Montague Catholic Social Ministries and DIAL/SELF.
Thrive also hopes to work with Greenfield Community College, although how that collaboration will work hasn't been decided.
There's a definite need for Thrive, especially for young adults, Gardner said. "But really for all adults. To have a place to go with other people and also gain a deeper understanding of what they want out of life.
"As a breast cancer survivor, it really resonated with me.
"I think what life is all about is constantly going through transitions. Constantly going through the process of assembling, disassembling or reassembling your life. It's a work in progress always."
Those who volunteer for Thrive will also find their lives enriched, she said.
"To me, making a difference in someone's life is incredibly rewarding.
"I was lucky. I had a lot of opportunities and I really do think it's part of my responsibility to take that and share it with others."
Both Berger and Gardner were at a point of transition in their own lives and are looking for next steps. Berger recently got a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he is now teaching English part time. Gardner recently finished homeschooling her children.
Both got to talking and the idea of Thrive was born. They connected with Janel Nockleby, a former project manager for Microsoft, who also recently got a master's in fine arts in poetry from University of Massachusetts at Amherst and works for the Great Falls Discovery Center and as circulation manager for a weekly newspaper.
For now, private donations are the only source of Thrive's income, said Berger.
"We're operating on a shoestring of a shoestring budget right now. We can't get grants until we get data on who we are helping and how."
Thrive also hopes to create a business that would help fund its operations, similar to DC Central Kitchen. Located in Washington, D.C., Central Kitchen provides job training in culinary arts for ex-convicts, homeless and recovering drug addicts, runs a catering business and helps feed the city's homeless.
The hope is to eventually provide a salary for Berger, Gardner and Nockleby, but for now they have other jobs and responsibilities.
Graphic designer Anja Schutz serves as media director and Thrive also has a board of directors and an advisory board.
Besides donations, Thrive is looking for volunteers to work as mentors and tutors.
The organization is also looking for people who want to teach do-it-yourself workshops, which could range from practical things like how to alter your own clothes to something fun like how to play chords on a banjo, Berger said. "Something you can learn in two hours."
Several of these workshops have already been scheduled.
Another projectThrive envisions is helping Phillips on his project to rehabilitate the used computers that he collects and donates to area youth. It would be a way for young adults to learn a new skill and help Phillips get more computers out into the community, Berger said.
Beginning Oct. 4, open hours for Thrive will be Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 9 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information http://thethriveproject.org or call (413) 863-6340.
You can reach Arn Albertini: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 264