Wednesday, February 20, 2019

3 Things the Director of Development worries about

I'm Ilene Marcus and I am the new Director of Development at Berkshire United Way. I am honored to be chosen to work with you in strengthening our community and bringing together resources, people and ideas to build the future of Berkshire County. 

As Development Director, my primary responsibility is to help each person and organization find the best way they can engage with Berkshire United Way and be part of the fabric of helping our neighbors succeed, so we all grow stronger together.

Here are the things I worry about in my new position: 

1. You Don't Know Our Mission

To fully engage, first you must fully understand.

Berkshire United Way ignites the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together.

What does it mean? We are a human service agency focused on helping Berkshire County residents thrive by promoting early childhood literacy, giving young people the support they need to develop a college or career plan, and helping working families increase their income and assets.

2. You Aren't Sure How Your Contribution Matters

Everyone has a stake in making Berkshire County thrive. Community members from all walks of life with a variety of skills give what they can to Berkshire United Way:
  • Business leaders and local employees donate to our annual fundraising goals through workplace campaigns
  • Community leaders support our work by getting involved; serving on committees and donating financially to our efforts
  • Funded partners, who work with us to improve the lives of our friends and neighbors here in the Berkshires, provide feedback, stories and support for Berkshire United Way
  • Volunteers who are retired and give specialized skills; others give back to the community by volunteering their time
The cumulative contributions of each person make up our community efforts. We need each of you, regardless of the size of your contribution, to achieve our mission.

3. You Want to Get More Involved and Don't Know How

Reach out to our team and schedule a time to talk or meet. We love to meet community members and work with you to craft a plan that will engage your soul, your mind and your charitable dollars. Remember, when you give more, you get more. We can help you find the best way to give to Berkshire United Way and make a real difference in our community.

What’s Next? Come Visit. Call me at 413.442.6948 x18 and I’ll come visit you. Join us on our mission to promote pathways for individuals and families to thrive. Together, we build a stronger community in a “United Way.”

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

FREE tax prep is available!

Here at Berkshire United Way, we are entering our second year of coordinating the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in Great Barrington and Lee. VITA is a free tax preparation program for individuals and families making $55,000 or less. Together with our funded VITA partners at Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, we returned $1 million out of the total $2.2 million VITA dollars returned to Berkshire County residents last year.

VITA volunteers Alan Thiel and Jennifer Moriarty help a client with her tax return.

Our VITA sites opened on Monday, February 4th at the Berkshire Community College South County Center in Great Barrington. We’re currently scheduling appointments for free tax prep at the following five locations: Berkshire South Regional Community Center, Construct, Berkshire Community College South County Center, Community Health Programs in Great Barrington and October Mountain Financial Advisors in Lee - simply call 413.442.6948.

We could not do this work without our funded partners who are available to help residents in other parts of the county. If a central county or hill town location is more convenient for you, we encourage you to contact Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity at 413.442.0002 or the Hilltown Community Development Center at 413.296.4536 x100.

In addition, MCLA has partnered with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and Berkshire United Way to offer free tax prep on campus for students and members of the community.

Regardless of where you are in Berkshire County - free tax prep for qualifying individuals and families is just a call away.

James Swinchoski
VISTA Volunteer and VITA site coordinator

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Engaging in advocacy - local youth visit Beacon Hill!

January was National Mentoring Month, and young people from the Berkshires had a chance to make their voices heard in support of mentoring far outside the county - on Beacon Hill! Berkshire United Way supported a field trip for youth and adults involved in two of our funded programs, Railroad Street Youth Project’s RSYP Mentoring Program and Berkshire Children and Families’ Pittsfield Community Connection (PCC), to tell their stories about the positive impact of mentoring at the Massachusetts State House. 

Mentoring plays an important role in our work with young people – increasing high school graduation rates, reducing teenage pregnancy, and ensuring young people have the support they need to graduate high school with a college or career plan. We currently invest in four local mentoring programs; last year, those programs connected 281 young people with a caring adult.

Youth Mentoring Day is an annual advocacy day at the State House, sponsored by Mass Mentoring Partnership. A total of 15 mentees met with their respective Representatives, Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Smitty Pignetelli of south county as well as Adam Hinds’ team to advocate for the mentoring line item in the state budget. This funding helps support mentoring programs across the state.  

Deonte, a mentee in the PCC program, told Tricia Farley-Bouvier, “I’ve been with the program for a few years. It really helped me because in the beginning, I was not on the best path, I wasn’t hanging out with the best crowd. But PCC and my mentors helped me with school and applying to college. I just found out I got accepted – I’m not sure where I’m going yet. But I’m really happy to be on that path now.”

So why mentor? Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset (source:

To view a list of mentor opportunities in the Berkshires, visit this link and simply type in your zip code to view programs in your area.  You may also reach out to me to learn more about mentoring opportunities at ; 413-442-6948 x 15. I hope to hear from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Friday, February 1, 2019

Helping Our Children Succeed

Do you know that the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has a team of five early childhood experts helping to “build brains” in libraries and museums throughout Berkshire County? These experts are known as family engagement specialists, and they provide a wide range of learning opportunities for families and children - from the time they are born until they enter school.

The programs they offer range from preschool gym time to story times to STEAM activities for little scientists and everything in between. For example, in partnership with South Berkshire Kids, the Berkshire Museum takes some of their most popular programs on the road to south county locations, introducing young minds to reptiles and small animals. Miss Jess invites the children in attendance to touch them, as she cautions, “This reptile is small, so you need to pet him with just one finger, very gently. He likes to be stroked from his head down to his tail.”  As each child patiently waits his or her turn, with a pointed finger and an inquiring mind, they make observations and ask questions - “He is soft, and really cold,” and “Why does he have spots?” 

Learning happens everywhere, and we all want our children to succeed. To learn more about these and other early learning programs, please visit our website. By supporting families and promoting early literacy, we can all help our kids arrive at school ready to learn!

Karen Vogel
Director of Community Impact

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Your gift builds a stronger community

As the Workplace Campaign for Berkshire United Way wraps up, I want to share how your gift helps more than 17,000 people from Clarksburg to Sheffield and everywhere in between.

When you give to Berkshire United Way, your gift is combined with donations from more than 5,000 donors, and the impact is enormous! We use that money to invest in a broad range of programs to meet the needs and interests of all. Our commitment to donors is to do the research and invest your money where it is needed most. By working together, we help strengthen our funded programs and increase their reach, bringing the community together to solve problems that no single program, organization or sector can do alone. 

Together, we are building a stronger community in a “United Way” by:

Helping parents become their child’s first teacher through 6,000 home visits by Child Care of the Berkshires and Community Health Programs.

Connecting more than 250 young people with a caring adult at the Railroad Street Youth Project, Dalton CRA, Pittsfield Community Connection and Barrington Stage Company.

Returning more than $1 million out of $2.2 million Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) dollars to Berkshire County residents through Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, Hilltown Community Development Center and Berkshire United Way.

If you’d like to join us in making a difference, you can make a gift online, or by calling us at 413.442.6948. On behalf of our friends and neighbors throughout the Berkshires, thank you for your support.

Duffy Judge
Development Manager

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A rewarding volunteer opportunity!

Do you want to make lasting changes in our community? As we begin a new year, it’s rewarding to look back and see the impact we made together.

Thanks to the support of our generous donors, we were able to invest more than $2 million in a broad range of local programs last year. Our commitment to donors is to do the research and invest your money where it is needed most.

Every two years, local nonprofit organizations, whose work aligns with our community goals, are invited to apply for funding.
A team of more than 30 trained community volunteers work with experienced Berkshire United Way staff members to review each proposal, then deliberates to make funding recommendations to our board of directors.

According to one of our experienced proposal reviewers, Judith Douville, “Reviewing funding requests has afforded me the opportunity to become more knowledgeable regarding the programs that are being offered to individuals and families.  It has been an awesome and informative experience for me knowing that I am part of this process.” 

Together, with our donors, volunteers and funded programs, we helped more than 17,000 neighbors here in the Berkshires last year. Most of you probably know someone whose life has been touched, in some way, by one of the programs supported by Berkshire United Way.

If you are interested in reviewing funding proposals this spring, please email me at or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32.

This is a great opportunity to help build a stronger community here in the Berkshires - I look forward to hearing from you!

Julie Singley
Program Manager, Community Impact

Friday, January 11, 2019

Mentoring changes lives

You may have noticed an increase in mentoring stories on your social media feeds the past couple of weeks. January is National Mentoring Month – a time when we focus even more on the need for mentors and celebrate mentoring and the positive effects it can have.

Mentoring plays an important role in Berkshire United Way’s positive youth development work– increasing high school graduation rates, reducing teenage pregnancy, and ensuring young people have the support they need to graduate high school with a college or career plan.

The following story is from one of the four local mentoring programs Berkshire United Way invests in. Last year, those programs provided mentors for 281 young people. “Upon completing the culinary program at Railroad Street Youth Project, a mentee realized s/he wanted to focus on a possible future as a chef or baker and was matched with a professional pastry chef as a mentor. The pair worked together weekly in a local restaurant kitchen, where the mentee learned first-hand how to bake complex baked goods including crème brulee, panna cotta and rosemary lemon cake.”

Mentoring changes both lives, making it the ultimate two-way street, yet it’s often seen as a one-lane highway. Something that often goes unnoticed when someone considers becoming a mentor is the new knowledge and experience you will gain. I can say from my own experience in a mentoring relationship with a young person, I have become more patient, open-minded, and understanding of the challenges youth are facing today.

Every young person deserves a caring adult in their lives. To view a list of mentor opportunities in the Berkshires, visit this link and simply type in your zip code to view programs in your area. You may also reach out to me to learn more about mentoring opportunities by calling 413.442.6948 or sending an email to

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development