Thursday, April 19, 2018

FIESTA the Berkshire United Way!

We are the Cormiers, lovers of everything that Berkshire County has to offer, due in large part to the good work Berkshire United Way does for the community. My wife Leslie and I started our journey together almost 14 years ago, meeting in Boston; me, fresh out of college, and Leslie recently moving from Guatemala. In our time together in Boston, we had our first child, saw the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years, watched the Patriots win a few Super Bowls and the Celtics an NBA title. Hopefully that timeline leads you to mid-March 2008, when we decided that moving back to the Berkshires to raise our young family was the right thing to do for our future.

Matt and Leslie Cormier, co-chairs of FIESTA, 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party.

Flash forward to present day. We now have three daughters, and both of us work for Guardian Life Insurance Company and are active contributors to the Berkshire United Way – both monetary donations through Guardian’s workplace campaign and through various volunteer opportunities. Most recently, we were given the opportunity and honor of co-chairing the most exciting party of 2018; the 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party (FIESTA) on Friday, May 4, at the Stationery Factory in Dalton. Having attended the previous two mega-successful “Movers and Shakers” parties, we jumped at the chance to assist in making this year’s party the best yet. Whether you are already a contributor or volunteer for Berkshire United Way or you have never given to the organization, please block your calendars for the evening of Friday, May 4, to come together as a community and celebrate the great work Berkshire United Way does, and at the same time contribute to their efforts to Build a Stronger Community!  You can learn more about this fun-filled event and purchase your tickets here. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thank you, in advance, for your support.

Matt and Leslie Cormier
Co-chairs, FIESTA, the 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Paid internship opportunities – it’s EPIC!

Do you know a college student coming home for the summer? If so, please encourage them to apply for an internship through Berkshire Business Interns (BBI). BBI is offering more than 30 paid summer internship opportunities at leading Berkshire County Businesses. BBI is a program of Lever, a Berkshire United Way Community Partner and active member of our Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC). Paid internships for young adults is just one of the strategies employed by EPIC to build a pathway to sustainable income for Berkshire County residents.

By providing lucrative and meaningful employment opportunities for young people here in the Berkshires, we increase Berkshire businesses’ access to the best talent, and create opportunities for college students to be exposed to cutting-edge businesses and careers.  The ultimate goal is for these interns to choose to live and work in the Berkshires once they graduate. This is an economic win for our community as well as for our young people.


Karen Vogel, director of community impact at Berkshire United Way, is pictured with Jackie Kays, positive youth development intern.
If you are interested in learning more about the EPIC work that is taking place here in the Berkshires, I invite you to email me at jsingley@berkshireunitedway.org or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32. 

Oh, and about those internships...make sure you tell the college students in your life to apply soon!  Positions are currently being filled.

Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Providing local teens with “Tools for Change”

On Thursday, April 12th, 112 high school students from across the county will gather at Hancock Shaker Village for the 12th annual 411 in the 413 youth conference. Created and organized by their peers, and supported by Berkshire United Way, Railroad Street Youth Project, and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, the conference offers a unique opportunity for students from 13 high schools to come together, meet new friends, delve into their passions, while navigating the challenges young people face in today’s world.

The conference features 22, one hour-long workshops covering topics selected by youth, which are organized into four tracks: The Arts, Compassion in Action, Wellness, and Adulting. “I think this conference is such an amazing opportunity for students to learn and explore outside the classroom. Things like therapy, yoga, self-defense and how to pay for college will help us a lot in the future,” said Julie Xu, of Miss Hall’s School and 411 in the 413 Horizons intern at Berkshire United Way.

Students launch a bottle rocket during a workshop at the 11th Annual 411 in the 413 youth conference.

The theme of this year’s conference is, “Tools for Change.” Zoe Hypolite, member of Mira’s Alliance for Philanthropic Sustainability (MAPS) and the Diversity Coalition at Miss Hall’s School, and Madison Quinn Pittsfield High Class of 2018, founder of the nonprofit, “Strong Little Souls,” will share their personal “Tools for Change” with attendees in a keynote address.

Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for inspiring photos of ‘Tools for Change!’   These young people are our future!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Creating a world of wonder

Yesterday, a child came out to wonder.  He caught a dragonfly inside a jar.
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder, and tearful at the falling of a star.

So begins The Circle Game, a song by Joni Mitchell about growing up. 

For some families, the early years are full of this sort of curiosity and wonder; filled with summer days with skinned knees, berry stained fingers, buckets of minnows, jars of fireflies, campfires with sing-alongs, or hot dogs at the ball park. Chapter One, a Berkshire United Way-led coalition, is working with community partners to ensure that all families, no matter how stormy the skies may be in the struggle for stability, have access to experiences that build connection and curiosity.

We invite families to join us on the journey to kindergarten at our upcoming Get Ready for K Day, on Saturday, April 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Hosted in partnership with CHP Family Services and South Berkshire Kids, we’ll launch the Word Project’s 1st Annual Kinder Art Show, featuring art work by students in Sunshine Preschool, Head Start and CHP’s Play and Learn group.

Families who attend will have an opportunity to practice carrying their lunch trays as part of the lunch tray relays with South Berkshire Kids.  They’ll also be able to obtain information about kindergarten registration from local schools, play and learn with the Parent Child Home Program, and learn how to tell stories and watch them come to life with The Word Project’s Live Actors!

Michelle Hayden, playgroup leader for South Berkshire Kids at the 1st annual Get Ready for K Day on April 8, 2017.  Interactive activities build social, emotional, cognitive and physical connections.
Together, we can ensure each kindergarten class arrives at school ready to learn, and begin their wonder-filled journey. As The Circle Game says, the years quickly spin by, and yes, some dreams may lose grandeur coming true. But we can ensure our community is one where all children have learned how to use their sense of wonder to overcome their fears amidst the thunder storms of life, so that together, we make new dreams, and plenty of them.
 
Amy Taylor
South County Community Liaison

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Through the lens of an Employee Campaign Coordinator

Crane Currency has a long history of giving back to the community in many ways, including supporting the volunteer efforts of our employees through our Crane in the Community Program. The Berkshire United Way Workplace campaign has been a great way to expand Crane’s reach into the community.

In my role as an Employee Campaign Coordinator (ECC) at Crane Currency, I lead a team of individuals dedicated to managing our annual campaign by planning fun events and helping employees pledge their annual donations to Berkshire United Way.

Volunteering as an ECC has given me the opportunity to learn how Berkshire United Way supports programs right here in Berkshire County that help youth, teenagers, and families. In my role as Crane’s ECC, I can share this information with my coworkers to help them understand just how impactful their donations are when they pledge through our workplace campaign. It is exciting to work with new donors, walking them through the process of pledging and showing them the range of programs and initiatives their pledges benefit, ultimately impacting more than 15,000 people right here in Berkshire County.
Crane Currency employees gather for a photo at the Live United Community Celebration on April 28, 2017.  Employee Campaign Coordinators, Sandy Streeter and Hannah DeLisle Stall were nominated for the JCPenney Employee Campaign Coordinator Award, presented at the event.
In addition to furthering Berkshire United Way’s efforts, the campaign also provides a great way for employees to learn about services and programs that are in action here in our community. With this information, many of our donors go on to refer friends or loved ones to Berkshire United Way-supported programs, or are sparked to volunteer their own time at events and with initiatives they learned about through our United Way campaign.

Working with ePledge, the electronic pledging system, makes pledging easy, and allows me to track progress toward our goal of increasing campaign participation each year. As part of Crane Currency’s campaign, we have raffles and prizes for donors each year, which our employees always look forward to. The Berkshire United Way Campaign is a fun time of the year here at Crane, and I am so proud to work for an organization that is so supportive of our community and Berkshire United Way.

Hannah DeLisle Stall
Employee Campaign Coordinator
Crane Currency

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Put money back in your pocket!

Maria* is the divorced mother of a nine-year old son who tried to do her taxes herself and discovered she owed money to the IRS. She made an appointment to have her taxes done through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Berkshire United Way and almost didn't show up, because she couldn't afford to pay what she thought she owed. 

VITA volunteer, Pat Callahan, prepared Maria's return, looking for every credit she might be eligible for. Maria wound up with a refund of $4,160, and $3,362 of that was the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Maria was overwhelmed with emotion upon learning about her return. Her car is currently in disrepair. This refund will enable her to get her car back on the road, with money left over to pay some bills! 

“I can't thank the VITA volunteers enough for helping me prepare my taxes! They were so knowledgeable, thorough, patient and kind. I can honestly say they changed my life that afternoon from thinking I owed taxes to looking at a substantial, much appreciated refund. It was amazing and I am really grateful.”    - Maria

To make an appointment for free tax preparation** through Berkshire United Way’s VITA sites in Lee or Great Barrington, please call 413.442.6948.  Appointments are also available through our community partners at additional sites throughout the county.

Berkshire United Way is hosting a Taxathon on Saturday, March 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center, where free tax prep will be available by IRS certified volunteers. Appointments are highly recommended, however, walk-ins are welcome, provided they arrive by 3 p.m. and volunteer preparers are available. All clients MUST bring photo IDs, social security cards (either originals or photocopies), and tax forms for every member of their household.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact


*At the service recipient’s request we are not using her real name
**Household income must be $54,000 or less

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kids do well, if they can

After the long commute to Boston, 32 hours of intensive training, and countless conversations with experts in the field, I found myself back in the Berkshire hills with a new intentionality for ensuring all of our young people are supported in their development. The training I attended is called the BEST Initiative (Building Exemplary Systems of Training), and it was facilitated by the Boston-based nonprofit, Health Resources in Action.

One of many topics discussed at this training was developmental outcomes.  Often times, we tend to focus on achievement-based outcomes, or the idea that young people are deemed successful when they transition to young adulthood and gain stable employment or pursue higher education; we forget about the developmental outcomes or soft skills it takes to get to those achievements, some of which are listed in the chart below.

Achievement
Developmental
·         Getting a job
·         High school diploma
·         Recommendation
·         Passing the PARCC
·         Internship
·         College
·         Scholarship
·         Confidence
·         Relationships
·         Social skills
·         Leadership skills
·         Presentation skills
·         Appreciating diversity
·         Sense of responsibility
·         Ability to control behavior

Members of our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC) are committed to creating opportunities throughout the county to ensure our young people develop these soft skills, which will help them achieve future success.  We know that, behind challenging behavior our youth exhibit, are opportunities for building developmental skills – kids do well if they can.

If you would like to increase youth access to positive, healthy opportunities in our community by joining the Positive Youth Development Impact Council, please contact me at ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948 x 15.

I hope to hear from you!
Kat
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development