Holyoke nets $275K grant for planning transition to net-zero future



Staff Writer

Published: 12/18/2019 11:33:49 PM

HOLYOKE — As scientists warn of the increasingly dire need to stop using fossil fuels to avoid the worst of climate change, municipalities are grappling with a big question: What does that transition away from fossil fuels look like.

For Holyoke, planning that transition just got a financial boost.

The city was recently named the recipient of a $275,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to facilitate planning of a transition away from fossil fuels. The money will allow Holyoke to develop plans to completely transition buildings in the city, as well as its energy grid, to renewable energy.

The funding will pay for project management, technical consulting and capacity building, as well as technical support to the municipally owned Holyoke Gas and Electric company. An additional $125,000 was awarded to the organization Neighbor to Neighbor, which will be doing resident engagement as part of the process. And the Conservation Law Foundation is also joining the coalition, helping with stakeholder engagement and designing energy policies.

“On Earth Day this year, I spoke of the need for bold, collective action at the local level to confront our climate crisis and build a green economy,” Mayor Alex Morse said in a statement. “Over the past few months we’ve been building partnerships to launch an initiative that will allow Holyoke to lead the way in a world remade and powered by renewable energy, while serving as a model for cities around the country.”

Holyoke Director of Planning and Economic Development Marcos Marerro said the grant will help the city understand how to transition its energy grid to clean sources, as well as transforming all the buildings in the city — city-owned and private.

“Our intent is for both electric and heating to go down to zero carbon emissions,” Marerro said.

Marrero said part of that work involves understanding the incentive structure for people to afford to deploy new technology in their homes. For the most part, buildings in the city get their electricity from Holyoke Gas and Electric. But while many houses also receive gas for heating from HG&E, others use oil or wood for heating.

“It’s a really interesting problem, it’s a very complex problem,” Marrero said.

In addition to the funding the city is receiving, HG&E is receiving no-cost technical assistance from the Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization that works to transform energy use.

Elvis Mendez, the organizing director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said his organization is partnering with the city to engage residents in the energy transition process. He praised the city’s commitment to going “beyond the normal resident input relationship” and centering the leadership of city residents.

“We’re really excited about that,” Mendez said. “It speaks to a transformative politics.”

Mendez said his organization will be going door to door, holding local meetings and engaging residents in a variety of other ways, allowing them to participate in the process and shape what it looks like. He said that process will mean that residents are designing the city’s energy future, as well as learning, together.

“We’re looking to do a lot of different things,” he said. “We’re wanting to help increase, grow our community environmental literacy, to have a better understanding of the environmental crisis and the moment we’re in.”

The planning work is expected to begin early in 2020 with the creation of a governance structure for the project, preparation for public engagement and the aggregating of technical data.

Boston’s Barr Foundation provides financial support for initiatives in the areas of education, the arts and climate change.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

In These Times, a Love Letter to You

Dear Friend,

You are a cherished member of N2N’s community.  In times like these, it’s important to be in community, even if virtually. This, then, is the purpose of this love letter to you. 

First and foremost: How are you?  How are your loved ones? How are you making meaning of the COVID-19 crisis? I truly mean to know!  (See P.S. below).

Second: I want to reassure you that at N2N we have taken all the precautions that we are being urged to take, including “social distancing”, which instead, we are choosing to call physical distancing. I think the distinction is crucial in these times. And Invite you to join us in making this distinction. 

At N2N, where we thrive on the streets, at the doors, face-to-face, and where we feel our collective power in community gatherings, assemblies and in protest, we are using our core value of Imagination to retool our organizing tactics. We are realizing that this situation is actually good for us in order to change, evolve and expand our organizing tool kit!

Third: I wanted to share with you the silver linings, the hope and the possibility of a brand new world emerging from our current crisis.

 These days when I have to stay put in my little abode, my Imagination takes flight and alights in the near future, when the pandemic is contained, whenever that will be.  And I ask: 

“To what kind of world will we return? How will it have changed? Who will we be? How will we have changed, individually and collectively?

 Because you are a member of the N2N community, I know that I don’t need to tell you about how our current crisis is showing how profoundly interconnected we are, yet how delicate and vulnerable these connections are. I know you see this. 

 I also know that I don’t need to tell you that for all the reports of a “booming” economy, the economy, really, has been working only for the very, very few.  You have known this and what you have known is being shown clearly as we both see the disproportionate impacts on contingent, part-time workers with no job security, much less health care. Finally, I know that I don’t need to tell you how decades of steady cuts and slashes to our safety net have left way too many among us unprotected and vulnerable.

 Yet, don’t you think, as I do, that once the pandemic is contained there will be no kind of “normal” to which we return? Our economy will surely be in shambles. Who will be bailed out? Who will be left out?

 COVID-19 is but a harbinger of other threats and crises to come, especially in the face of climate change. What will be the public policies that our government at the local, state and federal level as well as governments throughout the world will impose as a result?

What the near future and beyond looks like is in our hands to shape.  And it starts now. 

 I see it happening, right now. And it’s up to us to build on the Solidarity seeds being planted through mutual aid networks cropping up everywhere.  It’s up to us to build on the Power now happening that clamors for immediate protection for working families through expanded paid sick leave and moratoriums on evictions.  
What will it take to build on these efforts happening now going forward?

 I am not talking about the love that comes in pink hearts and courtesy of Cupid.  
 I am talking about the love that reaches out towards the light; the kind that spears through fear, inertia, paralysis, indifference, and impotence.  I am talking about the kind of love that is willing to let go of that which no longer serves us in order to grow and evolve.
The time is now to love in this way and as hard as we are able to muster.  

 For me, who normally hates to use the phone to connect with people, I have broken through my own social isolation by reaching out to friends and family on the phone. I took the cue from my own neighbor who texted me saying he had my back. Since then, we have built a mutually trusting and supportive relationship I did not think possible, though we’ve been neighbors for over four years. The rewards have been tremendous. 

In these times of staying home, we have a golden opportunity to look deep within and take a critical look at our world, and ready ourselves to let go of all that no longer serves us and the world:
-Let go of an extractive, exploitative economy that feeds on gross inequity and environmental degradation, all in service of the bottom line
-Let go of an economy that drives frenzied consumerism that never succeeds in filling the void in our hearts and souls, yet litters and pollutes our oceans, water sources, and the very air we breathe. 

 The time is now to re-Imagine our economy, one fundamentally and solidly founded in Solidarity, where we understand, as we do at N2N, that “we are well if you are well.” 

See it with me and,
-Center people of color, immigrants, trans and queer folks, the poor and working-class, because to lift all boats, we start with those at the margins, not with those at the top
-Embrace and love our Planet, knowing that we are of the Earth and to the Earth, we eventually return

Such an economy would:
-Have a tax code where we all pitch in according to our means; all paying our fair share and using the revenue in service of the common good: health care, education, infrastructure, public transit, libraries, and yes, science, research, and the arts, and so many more things to take care of ourselves and each other and ennoble our human spirit
-Move production and consumption of goods and services to the local level through worker-owned cooperatives that share power, decision-making, and profits
-Democratize and “green” our energy system through micro-grids that run on community-owned solar energy
-Deepen democracy from the ground up and in every single space we occupy

And so much more that I can’t even see.  Which is why I need you. 
 All of us at N2N and the communities we organize need you, now more than ever.  Even in times of “social distancing”, we can certainly be connected in Love, Imagination, Solidarity, Abundance, and Power.

The new world you and I have claimed IS possible and within our grasp. Right Now.  
 And it will not happen without Love. We are at a crossroads. It is up to us to choose the right path.  And to choose wisely it will take all of the Love we can muster to grow, evolve, and be better than we have ever been before.

 With Love and Gratitude,

Maria Elena Letona
Executive Director
P.S. As you know, at N2N we have reaffirmed time and again, community as the antidote to fear, alienation, exclusion, and isolation. We have reaffirmed that community is the ultimate form of resistance against an economic system intent on enshrining individualism and profits over people and the planet. We have reaffirmed community as the only way to transform systems of oppression that keep us divided and isolated from each other.  Please email me or call me! I would love to hear from you: elena@n2nma.org; 617-997-7503.

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: Development/Communications Associate for Grassroots Political Organization

About Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts (N2N-MA)

We are the “new majority”: people of color, immigrants, women, and the working class, on a path to liberation.  Our statewide membership is organizing to put people and the planet before profit. We counter the fear that causes injustice by building power to transform the institutions that govern our lives. In an era of income inequality, environmental degradation, and racism, our chapters are building the power to confront this triple crisis in Massachusetts. We fill the ballot box with our votes. We fill the streets with our voices. We seed the new alternatives that put power and decision-making in the hands of those directly affected.  We are certain that a better world is possible and that we are the ones to build it.

About the Position

This is an exciting opportunity for someone wishing to enter and grow professionally in the nonprofit field.  It is an entry-level, part-time position with the potential to grow into a full-time position. Reporting to the Development Director, the Development/Communications Associate will support N2N’s growing fundraising portfolio which includes grant-writing and reporting and extensive individual donor work. Specifically, the position involves:

  • Building relationships and communicating regularly with current individual donors- including mailing out and archiving weekly thank you letters to donors 
  • Diversifying our donor base by identifying and developing new donors
  • Helping to design and maintain our communications infrastructure including our newsletter, website, donor appeals, and action alerts
  • Supporting Chapter Organizers in local media work
  • Assisting with grant proposals and reports 
  • Organizing our end-of-year fundraising event and other major donor events statewide
  • Providing support including data entry, filing, mailings, and other office tasks
  • Documenting our work through photo, video and social networks, and creating a visual media library
  • Strategizing and developing our communications plan


We are seeking an outgoing, passionate, creative people-person with excellent written and verbal communication skills.  Other qualifications:  

  • Strong commitment to grassroots organizing, social change, and economic justice
  • Strong communication skills including writing and oral
  • Detail-oriented, organized, efficient, and self-motivated
  • Graphic and/or web design experience preferred
  • Fundraising experience with both individual donors and foundations a plus
  • Communications experience including media work and public relations
  • Experience with planning events, local house parties, site visits, and personal 1-to-1 donor visits a plus
  • Strong administrative and computer skills, and IT knowledge
  • Ability to work collectively with other staff, interns, and a diverse statewide volunteer group 
  • Bilingual in Spanish a plus
  • Valid Driver’s License

Salary and BenefitsThis position offers $25/hour for a 20-hour workweek. It also includes paid holidays, 10 sick/personal days and one week paid vacation. 

To ApplyPlease send cover letter and resume to Joe@n2nma.org  

*Women and People of color are strongly encouraged to apply*

Worcester City Council signals support for fare-free bus service


By Steven H. Foskett Jr.
Telegram & Gazette Staff

Posted Jan 7, 2020 at 8:59 PMUpdated Jan 7, 2020 at 8:59 PM   

WORCESTER – The City Council Tuesday night signaled support for a deeper exploration into the feasibility of a fare-free public transportation system.

Councilors supported an order from at-large City Councilor Gary Rosen to request that public hearings on the idea be held through the city through the council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee. Residents and local transit advocates at the meeting said moving to a fare-free system would help address a host of issues, including accessibility, equity, environmental justice, and traffic congestion.

Rosen said from what he has seen and heard about other municipalities that have gone fare-free – including Kansas City, Olympia, Wash., and on a limited basis, Lawrence – the move has resulted in increased ridership. That’s what the aim would be in the city, Rosen said, filling empty buses.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said.

District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera co-sponsored the order, and said going fare-free would be the first step in bringing the WRTA into the modern age. For a city that is always talking about how it is moving forward, Worcester’s public transportation seems to be stuck, she said. She said it’s not just a poverty issue; fare-free bus transportation would mean more people would use the system.

“This is doable. We can do this here in the city,” Rivera said.

The Research Bureau released a report in May calling for free WRTA service, sparking the discussion locally. The $2 million to $3 million cost of making the service free would increase ridership and could be made up through cost savings, increased governmental aid, and partnerships, the report said. The WRTA is the state’s second-largest regional transit authority by ridership, running 23 fixed routes to 13 communities and offering paratransit services to a total of 37 communities in its service area.

At-large Councilor Khrystian King said moving to fare-free would produce a return on investment. He said the city is a hub for many services, and people often need public transportation to access those services.

Rosen and at-large Councilor Moe Bergman stressed that they did not support moving to a fare-free system on the backs of city taxpayers. Bergman said state legislators should be looped in at every level of the public discussion as the process unfolds, and Rosen said he envisions the city initially getting the state to commit to funding a three-year pilot program.

Residents and transit advocates Tuesday told councilors they wholeheartedly support the idea. Nick Wurst said free public transportation allows people who can’t afford cars some financial relief. He said fares can add up to a significant cost for people making minimum wage. The move to fare-free should be coupled with a reversal of recent cuts to the WRTA, and the addition of more buses and routes, he said.

Nancy Garr-Colzie said the idea of fare-free is not an unreachable goal. She said it can actually happen, and the city is ready for such a system. James Bedard said looking at the success other communities have had removing fares should give officials confidence it will work here. There has been much focus in recent years on development in the city, but the working class can’t be left behind, Bedard said. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, Bedard said, for money that communities invest in public transportation leads to economic development.

Henry Hernandez said he works with undocumented residents through Neighbor to Neighbor and said they would benefit greatly from a fare-free system. It would give people who can’t get driver’s licenses reliable transportation, and help address climate change by decreasing reliance on individual vehicles, he said.

The council also Tuesday supported an order from District 5 Councilor Matthew Wally to ask the city administration to draw up plans to make improvements to Duffy Field and Foley Stadium. Wally said it has become clear through meetings held last year that the new Doherty Memorial High School will likely be built largely on its current footprint in Newton Hill at Elm Park, and will not have the room for a full complement of athletic fields. He said bolstering the nearby Duffy and Foley will give students at the new Doherty access to state-of-the-art fields. He also stressed that the fields would not be restricted for use solely by Doherty.

The council adopted a resolution to support efforts to bring the Little League Softball World Series to the city. Linda McGill of Massachusetts District 4 Little League told the council Tuesday a decision could be made soon on whether the city will host this year.

N2N Works to Stop Colombia Gas Pipeline Proposal in Wake of Explosions in Merrimack Valley

On September 13, 2018 at 5pm, the Merrimack Valley became an apocalyptic scene. More than 75 fires and explosions occurred in the cities and towns of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The sky was filled with smoke, the air smelled of gas, and deep tones of red, orange, and yellow filled homes. Our hearts go out to the families whose homes were set ablaze, and who were injured and killed.

Image by Adam Glanzmen

We know that what happened in the Merrimack Valley is not new. Gas leaks have been occurring all over the state in communities like  Weymouth, Springfield and several others. This same catastrophic event could have happened in any number of communities that have been experiencing gas leaks.

We need to put an end to pipeline expansion in the state of Massachusetts. We cannot sit idly by as more of these appalling events continue in our communities.

The response of Columbia Gas has been dismal. They were slow to respond, and their response was deemed so inadequate by Governor Baker and authorities, that they transferred the responsibility to a different gas company, Eversource. Even Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera says that Columbia Gas is “hiding from the problem.”

What makes this event all the more frightening is that Columbia Gas, whose parent company is NiSource, is proposing a new 6-mile long pipeline in Western Massachusetts from Agawam to Holyoke.

What’s happening in Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover will not be isolated. These are events that will occur more and more as we continue to build more pipelines and rely on natural gas. Instead we need more renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) Holyoke in partnership with Columbia Gas Resistance Campaign (CGRC) is fighting Columbia Gas RIGHT NOW to stop this pipeline expansion in Western Massachusetts. Our hearts break to see the destruction that this pipeline company caused in the Merrimack Valley late in the afternoon on Thursday. When children and parents are suppose to be coming home to spend time together, they were instead made to evacuate, no longer feeling safe in their homes.

Join N2N in our fight to end this pipeline expansion project in our community of Holyoke.

Holyoke Mayor, Alex Morse, ran his entire mayoral campaign on 100% renewable energy for the city of Holyoke. However, under his watch, Holyoke Gas and Electric signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Columbia Gas allowing the gas company to start construction of the pipeline in November 2019.

His willingness to go along with Columbia Gas’ proposal for a new pipeline is a direct contradiction to earlier statements. Will he side on the part of the community and its well-being, or sellout to a large fracked gas company and put our community at risk?

Dozens of concerned citizens from the City of Holyoke have signed our petition to stop the proposed 6-mile long gas pipeline from Agawam to Holyoke, and we need more signatures to get Holyoke City Council to take on the issue.

If you’re a resident of Holyoke, contact Jacqueline Velez (646-683-1883/jackie@n2nma.org) to sign our petition AND Call Mayor Morse at (413) 322-5510 to tell him ‘NO’ to Columbia Gas!

You can help stop new gas infrastructure by making a gift here.

Mass Legislature Fails to Act on Environmental Justice & Solar Access in 2018

All communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably–regardless of race or income. Yet, our state legislators who serve to represent all communities, apparently disagree.

In an article published in Commonwealth Magazine by one of our movement’s leaders, Khalida Smalls, wrote, “inaction has consequences”. The State legislature has fallen short in their ability to push for effective climate and environmental legislation, leaving our black and brown communities, and communities of color left out, once again, in not only clean energy legislation, but in immigrant rights legislation, and wage theft as well. All-and-all, the state legislature severely missed the mark on justice and equity legislation, and it’s becoming a trend.

For instance, the Massachusetts House and Senate Conference Committee released an energy bill on July 30th at 8pm, that includes the following: boosting the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) annual increase to 2 percent in 2020, but declines back to 1 percent in 2030; allows for 1,000 megawatt hours of energy storage and 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind; expanding energy efficiency offering within the MassSave program, and allowing trash and biomass to be burned to produce energy.

As part of the Green Justice Coalition (GJC), we have worked tirelessly over the past two years to promote equity in our state’s energy and environmental policies. This legislative session, GJC has prioritized environmental justice and access to solar energy as critical issues facing our communities, right now. We are grateful for the two bill champions–Sen. Chang-Diaz and Sen. Eldridge, and the handful of other legislators who supported the bills to the end. Unfortunately, their support was not enough to see these bills passed. 

On the evening of Monday, July 30th, state legislatures showed us that our communities can continue to be sacrifice zones for pollution from landfills, gas compressor stations, pipelines, toxins in our homes, schools, and on our playgrounds. This is what environmental racism looks like – overburdening and denying benefits and protection to communities of color. These sacrifice zone for pollution exist because there’s a long history and evidence of these communities being targeted.

Massachusetts despite its progressive reputation, has some of the most profound racial and class disparities with respect to the unequal exposure to environmental hazards. Our legislators had a clear opportunity to do something about that–instead, they did nothing. The Center for Effective Government in 2016 graded states based on the exposure of people of color and residents below the poverty line to hazardous facilities. Massachusetts scored on the failing end and was one of just two states with an “F” grade. Compared to white children in Massachusetts, children of color under age 12 are two and a half times more likely and low-income Latino children almost four times more likely, to live in the shadow of a hazardous chemical facility.

The Solar Access Act would have been a step to helping our communities breathe clean air by encouraging developers to build solar energy in low-to-middle income communities, and environmental justice communities, and provide meaningful savings for these customers. State policy continues to deeply disadvantage these communities by offering those who already experience economic barriers a fraction of the solar compensation available to homeowners with perfect roofs.

Beyond the disregard for communities of color demonstrated this past legislative session, legislatures also missed the mark to protect our communities from further pollution. We know this, because GJC worked closely with the Governor’s administration and key legislative committee leadership to introduce and move a bill that was, in fact, cautiously consistent with state policies that have been in place since 2001. This was the Environmental Justice Act.

The bill was reported favorably, and without amendments, from the Environment Committee. Subsequently, the bill was also added to the Environmental Bond bill and successfully reported out of both the Environment and Bonding Committees.

Yet, despite having been successfully reported three times out of Committee, without amendments or opposition from regulated industries or the Administration, the bill stagnated in Ways and Means and was ultimately killed. The only discernible opposition in the final days of the legislative session appeared to be a single legislator who objected to protecting communities of color from excessive pollution, because to do so would require the legislature to recognize racial disparities, instead of being “color-blind.” In a stark abdication of commonsense law-making, this legislature derailed an entire line of public policy development that has existed in Massachusetts since 2001.

If we step out of the rarified air of Beacon Hill, we find a harsh racial reality across the state. Black, Latino, and Asian-American communities are more likely to bear the brunt of pollution and environmental injustices. The city of Springfield suffers from the highest levels of asthma, nationwide. This country, this state and this city have a history steeped in racism and discrimination, and it continues to be true today. Moving these two legislative bills could have been major stepping stones in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe deeply and live sustainably.

Join us in holding legislator’s accountable. Let’s work to build even more state and local power, and show legislators that our lives and issues matter, and that we voted them into office. The State House is OUR house. Let’s work to reclaim it!

State Representative Candidate Forum–Full Video

State Representative Candidate Forum in Lynn

Member-leaders from N2N and Lynn United for Change asked questions about the most pressing issues in our community, including rapid gentrification and development in the city, lack of housing and rising rents, and environmental justice.

The candidates are running for the 11th Essex District.

See full video here:



Environmental Justice Webinar


The resources our donors contribute to Neighbor to Neighbor are essential to our fight for a better world, so we’re excited to create a space where we share with you the transformative work that your generosity makes possible. This is our first Donor Call & Webinar of an on-going series where we will share our work and build with you. We hope this inspires you to sustain N2N.


In this webinar, our speakers offered an overview of N2N’s burgeoning environmental justice program, and shared insights from one of our local environmental justice campaigns. Our speakers also answered some great questions from those who were able to join the call.




Additional ResourceMovement for Generation Zine