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Helping Lift a Community

CMAA Gets Boost with Selection for Innovation Forum, Funding

Sovanna Pouv, executive director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association in Lowell, talks about the Cambodian flag that hangs in the classroom at the agency's Lowell headquarters on Wednesday. Sun photo by John Love

Sovanna Pouv, executive director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association in Lowell, talks about the Cambodian flag that hangs in the classroom at the agency's Lowell headquarters on Wednesday. Many Cambodian pieces of art adorn the walls of the center.

Lowell Sun
12/27/2015
By Amelia Pak-Harvey

LOWELL -- A steady stream of clients step into the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association on a December afternoon.

Nearby, bundles of Christmas presents sit on the table for the 35 families assisted by employee Brian Chen. In the back, UMass Lowell student Brian Hunt is beginning another day of his writing internship with the CMAA.

With only five full-time staff members, juggling the organization's programs can be tricky.

Yet the nonprofit now has the potential for significant growth, as one of only eight programs chosen statewide for the Social Innovation Forum in Boston.

As a 2016 Social Innovator, CMAA will work with coaches and experts to craft a five-minute pitch for hundreds of potential investors in May.

"We really want to take full advantage of this opportunity to grow our organization even further and to have the program reach an even wider audience," said CMAA Executive Director Sovanna Pouv.

The group will also receive over $135,000 in consultation services and a $10,000 grant.

The forum, which accepts nominations for innovators all over the state, features eight tracks sponsored by community partners.

The Greater Lowell Community Foundation and others nominated the CMAA for the track "Revitalizing the city of Lowell through community leadership, economic opportunities, and cultural enrichment." Groups like Mill City Grows, UTICA and Catie's Closet have received the recognition in the past.

The Lowell track is sponsored by the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation.

Beyond the CMAA, Pouv hopes the forum will allow people to learn about Lowell.

"A lot of funders and foundations don't really fund over the 128 highway belt," he said. "If you can get a lot of people to learn about this beautiful city that's north of Boston, and if they're willing to make the 45-minute trip, the 32-mile hike up here to see what Lowell has to offer, that's amazing."

CMAA President Bopha Malone said the forum will also benefit Lowell and its people.

"We're very honored that they do believe in us to provide us with those resources for us to move forward," she said.

Greater Lowell Community Foundation Deputy Executive Director George Nugent said the selection process was highly competitive and featured a number of phenomenal Lowell organizations.

"Ultimately, though, the selection committee felt that CMAA really embodied the track within all aspects," he said, "the leadership they're providing in Lowell's Southeast Asian community, one of the largest populations in the city, and economic opportunities that they're offering with housing and some of their other programs for first-time home-buyers and businesses."

Another local nonprofit, Budget Buddies, was selected for the track "Overcoming barriers to education, employment, and economic self-sufficiency for women and girls."

It's a big step for the five-year-old organization, which opened its first office in Chelmsford this year.

The financial education program provides workshops and personal coaching for women who need it, offering programs through House of Hope, Girls Inc. and the Coalition for a Better Acre.

Although it too has just five staff members, Budget Buddies is also expanding into Lawrence, said co-founder Anita Saville.

"The reason the Social Innovation Forum is so exciting is it gives us access to management consultants who will help us develop a communications tools to go out to additional funders," she said.

Director of Operations Kathy Brough said the forum helps companies move to the next level.

"If you're looking at growth, this will introduce you to the people that will help you grow," she said.