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The Yankee Express

Blackstone Valley Education Hub prepares area students and businesses for success

Mar 23, 2021 02:44PM ● By Christine Galeone

Karen Ares, Executive Director of the Blackstone Valley Education Hub

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I will prepare, and someday my chance will come.” Considered by many people to be the greatest American President to date, he was true to his word. It’s also clear that the wisdom within his famous quote is just as applicable today as it was in the 19th Century.  Being prepared will always be a key to success.
The Blackstone Valley Education Hub is well aware of that fact. The Northbridge-based nonprofit was founded in 2018 as the “non-profit and business development arm” of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce. Since then, it has been providing training and educational courses and workshops to local public school students and others. But it goes one step farther. It also connects students to employment opportunities available from local businesses. And despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created, the nonprofit continues to grow.   
Through its training courses and workshops, the Blackstone Valley Education Hub enables its students to gain skills, credentials and certifications in the growing field of Advanced Manufacturing. Its lab contains the latest generation of industry equipment, including 3D printers, augmented reality welders, universal collaborative robots and high-end Roland and FARO machines. It also has computers with the most recent versions of AutoCAD, MasterCAM and Solidworks, in addition to Microsoft and Adobe applications. The lab equipment gives  students the hands-on experience needed to be prepared to enter a career in Advanced Manufacturing. 
The hub’s goal is to “meet the workforce needs of our region by enhancing educational opportunities for all ages.” Since it began, the nonprofit has trained students from Blackstone Valley public high schools, Grafton Job Corps participants and people being released from the Worcester County House of Corrections. It also provided fun and educational hand-on design STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workshops to middle school students from Northbridge, Uxbridge and Blackstone during Massachusetts STEM Week.
And it has continued to thrive despite challenges. Karen Ares, Executive Director of the nonprofit, said that in addition to having to delay programs because of grant funding on hold due to a delay in the state budget process, it has been frustrating to receive calls from businesses that want to hire students who have completed training at the hub. “Although we were able to successfully pivot to remote learning with our students, there have been delays getting them back to hands-on instruction due to COVID restrictions this winter,” she said. “We are so happy to have two, small in-person classes running now. They started two weeks ago, and it’s great to see students back to learning in our facility.”       
Ares, who said that people who want to help the nonprofit during the pandemic can do so by mailing a donation to her at the hub’s Whitinsville address, is also happy about the hub’s new partnership with ed2go, in order to offer several online classes. “These range from short, fundamental courses to learn or enhance skills to in-depth, year-long advanced career training with credentials,” Ares said. “Anyone can take these classes!”
That partnership is an important step towards her hopes for the future of the education hub. She said that she wants it to become a resource for the entire community. “I was talking with someone the other day who said, ‘what a great resource you are for our community;’ she hit the nail on the head!” Ares said, noting that the nonprofit is willing to collaborate on learning opportunities. “Word has started to spread about who we are and what we do. We look forward to being a go-to resource for students, adult learners, businesses and their employees.”
More information about the nonprofit is available on the Blackstone Valley Education Hub website, Its address is 670 Linwood Ave., Suite 5, Whitinsville, MA 01588. 
If you would like to suggest a Blackstone Valley nonprofit or initiative for this series, please contact Christine at [email protected]