Fields Corner-based non-profit gets $100k boost from Cummings grant

Cummings Foundation deputy director Joyce Vyriotes (left), presents MUA co-directors Johannah Malone and Zoila Diaz with their "$100k for 100" grant at a ceremony at Tradecenter 128 in Woburn on June 6.

Mujeres Unidas Avanzando (MUA) was one of several Dorchester-based nonprofits to receive a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation earlier this month as part of a “100k for 100” initiative that saw the foundation invest $10 million in local nonprofit organizations.

The Fields Corner organization, formerly known as “Mujeres Unidas en Acción,” provides low income Latina women and their families the tools and resources needed to empower themselves and join the workforce. As MUA enters its 40th year of work, co-director Johannah Malone reflected on the organization’s humble roots and how it has grown in recent decades.

“Back in the late 1970s there were really no adult education programs serving the city,” she explained. “But there was a group of volunteers called WE Can who were going around knocking on doors looking to help people with fuel assistance, weatherizing apartments, and other home heating services. Out in Dorchester, they came across a lot of Latina women living by themselves in isolation who didn’t speak English, and who had kids at home instead of in early education. So some of the volunteers started an English language volunteer program in a church basement.”

That initial language program gradually evolved to include the holistic range of services offered by MUA today out of their headquarters on Clayton Street in Fields Corner. These services include English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, Hi-SET (formerly GED) secondary education preparation in Spanish, career counseling, job training, computer skills training, SNAP referrals, onsite child care, transportation costs, and any necessary clothing, books, or materials--all for free.

While MUA’s client base is 95 percent Latino, the organization accepts all English learners into its education programs; native speakers of Cape Verdean creole, Haitian creole, and Vietnamese make up the remaining 5 percent of enrollment.

Joel Swets, executive director of the Cummings Foundation explained that the Dorchester-based organization was chosen from a total of 574 applicants during a competitive review process.

“By having such a local focus, we aim to make a meaningful positive difference in the communities where our colleagues and leasing clients live and work,” he said in a press release. “We are most grateful for the nonprofit organizations that assist and empower our neighbors, and we are proud to support their efforts.”

In most cases, learning English or developing job skills are crucial first steps towards employability. But as Malone explained, MUA sets its sights on measurable, long-lasting change when it works with low-income trainees.

“To learn English or develop job skills, you know, those are wonderful, but our main focus is really on the next steps: employment, or entering college,” she said.

MUA plans to put the $100,000 grant towards expanding its “Healthcare Careers for the Future” program over the next two years, which will allow the organization to train more future phlebotomists, nursing assistants, and home health aides. Normally, MUA’s course schedule roughly mirrors the BPS schedule, but additional resources could make an evening cycle of classes a reality, or a future session during the summer months. Extra programming could mean more women admitted to the program, and according to Malone, such growth is needed to meet the demand for bilingual professionals at Boston’s health centers.

“There’s a massive need,” she said. “There are so many openings that we just refer them, and they get placement.”

To learn more about programming at Mujeres Unidas Avanzando or to support their mission, call 617-282-3500 or visit their website at muaboston.org.