Friday, August 17, 2018

Back to School with the “1000 Backpack Challenge”

In a few short weeks, local youngsters will be crowding the stores in search of needed school supplies. While many families look forward to this as a sort of “rite of passage,” others struggle with the financial burden of getting their child ready for a new academic year. 

Berkshire United Way’s goal to create a pathway of success from cradle to career recognizes the important collaborations happening in our community.

In conjunction with The Berkshire Eagle, Greylock Federal Credit Union and numerous other sponsors, will distribute 1,000 backpacks to children in need throughout Berkshire County. Families may pick up their FREE backpack filled with school supplies at the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires at 7 Melville St. Pittsfield MA. on August 22nd from 3pm-6pm on a first-come-first-served basis.

The goal is for every child in Berkshire County to start school on the right foot with the supplies they need. In addition to the backpack giveaway, free haircuts will be offered from 3-5 pm along with a host of other activities, including health checkups, and financial tips for parents/caregivers.

Berkshire United Way is pleased to be an active participant in this event and will have a variety of new books on hand for children to tuck into their backpack and read throughout the year. As community partners join forces to support our children, we build a stronger community, together.

Stephanie Adornetto
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Friday, August 10, 2018

Building a strong foundation

Berkshire United Way collaborates with many community partners throughout the county, to help our children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, so they are reading proficiently by third grade.  Last year, we invested more than $134,380 in early education and care programs at Berkshire Children and Families, Child Care of the Berkshires, Lee Youth Association, and Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center. Together, we impacted more than 425 children’s lives.

These quality early education and care programs recognize what research has shown – that “children learn best” when academic learning, like language and literacy is intertwined with building social emotional skills, such as sitting quietly for circle time and sharing with others.

Children enrolled in Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center’s Early Childhood Education program listen to a story as they sit quietly during circle time.

The early education and care programs we invested in, report that 93% of the children they serve maintained or progressed socially and emotionally and 92% maintained or improved their language skills.  This is in comparison to 77% of children achieving comparable developmental milestones through investments made by other United Ways.

A young child who was referred to Lee Youth Association’s Busy Bee Preschool by the Department of Children and Families. Upon his arrival, he had absolutely no verbal skills, was walking on his toes, and had trouble forming attachments to adults. Program staff obtained services from the Pediatric Development Center, who came to see him two to three times a week and provided tools for the Busy Bee staff to continue his therapy within the classroom; teachers worked tirelessly with the child every free chance they had. As a result, he is beginning to talk in 2-3 word sentences. He has completely stopped “toe walking”—in fact he’s even running—and has become attached to all his teachers, who look forward to seeing what the future holds for this amazing little boy!

Impact like this is a collaborative effort that’s possible only through the generous support of our donors and hard work of our community partners and volunteers. A child’s earliest years set the foundation for later learning and life success.  The investment we make there now pays incredible dividends later.

We welcome volunteers who are interested in joining us in this important work. To learn more or support our work in early childhood development by giving to Berkshire United Way, please visit

Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Legacy of Caring

On July 15th, I had the honor of participating in the dedication of a new Berkshire United Way Book House at the Dalton CRA in memory of William T. West.  Since 2016, Unistress employees and their friends have participated in the annual Bikers for Books ride—a motorcycle ride throughout the county—installing or repairing Berkshire United Way Book Houses along the way.  Bill West was part of this group prior to his death in May, and his friends and family chose to honor his memory in a way that also gives back to the children of our community.  As kids and their parents take a book and leave a book at the CRA, they will be greeted by Bill’s wonderful smile. 

Unistress employees gather around a newly installed Berkshire Book House at the Dalton CRA on Sunday, July 15, 2018.  The Book House, where children are encouraged to take a book and leave a book in its place, was dedicated to William T. West, a big supporter of the Dalton CRA, and contained his picture on the front.
Our community lost another good friend in May when Carolyn Sawyer passed away.  Carolyn was dedicated to Berkshire United Way’s Book Houses, spending her retirement biking a customized route to check on the many Pittsfield locations, and reporting back to us which houses needed books or repairs, and then filling them.  She spent hours sorting and organizing the many books donated to Berkshire United Way.  Carolyn and her family generously chose Berkshire United Way to be the beneficiary of gifts in her memory, and we have created a fund to support the Book Houses in her name.  In this way, Carolyn will continue to look over the Book Houses and our children as they experience the love of reading.

Our community is blessed by the legacies of so many kindhearted spirits, and it is an honor to be their steward.

Jennifer Kerwood
Vice President of Development

Monday, July 30, 2018

An intern's insight

Hello!  My name is Charlotte Cahillane and I'm the summer Positive Youth Development Intern here at Berkshire United Way.

Charlotte poses for a photo opp in front of Berkshire United Way's South Street office in Pittsfield.

I grew up in Berkshire County, attending Lenox Public Schools from kindergarten until high school graduation in 2015. After leaving high school, and taking a semester off, I began studying at Middlebury College in Vermont. At school I study French and Global Health while volunteering and working. It’s been over a year and a half since I've spent more than two weeks in the Berkshires and I'm thrilled to be home!

When I was looking for internship positions for the summer months, I became interested in Berkshire United Way because of its commitment to build a dynamic, engaged community. Although I'm focusing on global health at school, I'm very interested in public and community health as well as community building. As a funding source for dozens of non-profits throughout the county, Berkshire United Way seemed a principal source of community-based activity. I particularly wanted to learn more about positive youth development, community health practices, LGBTQ support and community organizing, or the coordination of efforts by local residents to build a stronger community together, in Berkshire United Way’s work.

As a member of the team for the next couple months, I'm supporting several projects, including:

       Supporting the recent positive youth development resource fair where 14 organizations compared programming to determine how they could overlap and strengthen referral networks.
       Researching youth programs in the Berkshires, particularly those that support career or college readiness programs, to aid in a project that strive to connect these resources and promote college and career readiness.
       Overseeing the Humans of the Berkshires Facebook and Instagram pages – I love learning more about the aspirations of local youth.

There's a lot to do and only a few weeks to do it, but I'm glad to have this opportunity to learn and grow with Berkshire United Way!


When you volunteer through United Way, you’re joining 2.9 million people who are giving back so others can get ahead. Join our global community of game changers today! To learn more about volunteer opportunities through our Positive Youth Development Impact Council, please contact Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at or 413-442-6948 x15.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Driving Our Community Forward

In case you missed the Pittsfield Parade on the 4th of July, we have some BIG and exciting news for you!  Anyone who Drives Our Community Forward by participating in our 2018 campaign, will be entered into a drawing to win the three-year lease of a 2019 Ford F150 Supercab FTX.

This is the 19th year that The Johnson Dealerships and Greylock Federal Credit Union have generously sponsored the car truck promotion to encourage participation in Berkshire United Way's campaign. The money raised through the campaign impacts more than 15,000 lives in 32 communities throughout Berkshire County in ways that no single person, program or agency can do alone.

Be sure to look for the Berkshire United Way truck at various locations throughout the fall, and check it out. For more information on how you can Drive Our Community Forward, please visit our office at 200 South Street in Pittsfield or give us a call at 413.442.6948.

The actual drawing will take place on May 9, 2019 – make sure you save the date! One lucky winner will be driving this truck.

Development Manager

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Progress on the path to economic prosperity

Emerson works two jobs but is still not earning enough to put food on the table at every meal for herself and her two school-age children. She often has to make difficult decisions between paying for car repairs or purchasing an A/C unit for her asthmatic children. This is an all too common reality here in the Berkshires.

While progress is being made in moving working families out of poverty, there is still much work to be done. More families are low-income families and they are struggling to move into the middle class. In 2016, 28.2% of families in Berkshire County were low-income, up from 22.4% in 2015. The median household income also increased to $52,253 from $49,956 in 2015 – but that is still far below the median household income of $70,954 across the rest of our state. (Source: Berkshire Benchmarks)

This is where our Economic Prosperity Impact Council comes in. EPIC is a cross sector coalition of over 35 members representing 30 organizations. The coalition’s goal is to reduce the number of households with incomes under $75,000. Our dedicated EPIC volunteers are committed to getting more people to work. Our strategies are focused on refining hiring practices of employers, building the skills and talents of job seekers, improving college completion rates, and aligning social services to promote employment. In order to address these strategies, Berkshire United Way invests $105,000 in Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Berkshire recruiter program, and $75,000 in Lever, Inc’s Berkshire Business Interns.

Next steps for EPIC are to build on the opportunities for success, including working with local employers to refine their hiring practices to support employees and promote retention and aligning our existing training/certificate programs with the current job openings. We also need to keep an eye on areas where there are job growth opportunities, like manufacturing and health care.

We would love your input on what is and is not working related to your employment needs – whether you’re an employer with positions to fill or a job seeker who’s looking to add to their resume.

Please contact me via email at or give me a call at
413-442-6948 x32,
if you are interested in helping to build our community through this important work.

Program Manager, Community Impact

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"We should remember those who changed the world."

That’s what Allison, a sixth grader at Herberg Middle School, said following a recent presentation about Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman by local author Jana Laiz. Laiz wrote the book “A Free Woman on God’s Earth,” about Mumbet, the first African-American woman to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts.

Berkshire United Way, through the Berkshire Youth Development Project, purchased 338 copies of Laiz’s book for Herberg students to read prior to her presentation.  In return, Laiz agreed to do a day of presentations for Herberg students to provide even more meaning to what they had read. Connecting positive role models and mentors such as Laiz to young people in the Berkshires is one of the many ways Berkshire United Way creates positive opportunities for young people in our community.

Learning that an independent movie, based on Laiz’s book, will be produced in the Berkshires by critically-acclaimed actress, Octavia Spencer, elicited additional enthusiasm from the students.

“The presentations were very well received by the students and the faculty. Additionally, many of the students took advantage of having their books autographed by the author,” commented Herberg Principal, Dr. Gina Coleman.

Seventh grade students at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield visit the Ashley House in Sheffield, MA.  Mumbet, who was enslaved in the Ashley House, helped end slavery in Massachusetts.
Berkshire United Way is proud to support positive youth development activities such as this in schools throughout Berkshire County. To learn more about this work and/or to join our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC), please email me at or give me a call at 413-442-6948 x 15.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development