|By Debbie Gardner|
SPRINGFIELD The event was supposed to be a celebration of the contributions local construction unions have made both in labor and in assistance finding project funding to help transform the former Hampden Furniture Showcase building at 1049-1055 Main St. into a new home for the downtown location of Caring Health Center.
But the more than 75 honored guests had other ideas, and came bearing gifts totaling $35,000 to help the health center complete its $23 million project.
Representatives from the Iron Workers Local 7 of Boston/Springfield, Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers Local 3 of Charleston, Plumbers and Pipefitters Union #104, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers #7 and the Sheet Metal Workers Local 63, all of Springfield, each presented Ann Awad, president and CEO of Caring Health Center with checks, some for as much as $10,000, during the informal pizza luncheon at the center's corporate offices at 1145 Main St. on Jan. 14.
"We should throw an event more often," a surprised Awad said as she accepted one check after another from union representatives.
With a slide show of the Hampden Furniture building's interior renovations playing in the background, she in turn presented engraved bricks part of debris blown from the project's roof during the June 1, 2011 tornado to the heads of several local construction unions in appreciation for their efforts to help the nonprofit complete the new health center.
"Organized labor has been kind and conscientious. [Construction] would not be happening right this minute if they hadn't gotten involved and pushed this project," Awad said.
Congressman Richard Neal, who along with Mayor Domenic Sarno, praised both Awad's dedication to the project and the positive effect the Hampden building's renovations are contributing to the city's South End revitalization efforts, added that he was "not surprised" by the union contributions.
"These guys are very generous and very kind and they negotiated very good health care for themselves," Neal noted. "They understand the role [good health care] plays for all of us."
As he accepted one of the commemorative bricks Rocky Thompson, head of Carpenter's Local #108, said he'd "never met a more tenacious person" than Awad when it came to shepherding a project from idea to completion.
"From the first time we met, she said she wanted to build [the new center] with organized labor," Thompson said. "I knew we would help her get the money."
Awad praised Sarno, calling him "a veritable leader for this type of [economic renewal] project," and publically thanked Neal for his assistance in getting the construction project back on its feet post-tornado.
"He's taken on helping us identify funding resources so we could fill in the gap, especially after the [June 1, 2011] tornado tore off the top of the building," Awad said.
Neal said he was in full support of the work community-based health care such as that provided through Caring Health Center.
"I think this is going to be the face of change in health care," Neal said, adding that changes such as the elimination of pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps on care and the extension of the time children can remain on parental health insurances all add up to more Americans seeking the urgent and preventative medical services provided by Caring Health Center in the near future. Awad said when the facility is completed, it expects to provide medical and dental services to approximately 26,000 members of the community.
The new Caring Health Center facility, which was funded through a combination of local, state and federal programs, private fundraising and borrowing, is expected to be ready to begin accepting patients sometime in August.
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