Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Power of Mentoring and Meaningful Work

“Through Roots Rising, I’ve become really interested in farming...I want to go grad school and hopefully buy a piece of property with a house, fields, and woods…I’d like to start an herb garden and maybe make some money as an herbalist, and then after finishing school start up a farm and my own CSA.”

The above was shared by Aviva, a high school student who is part of Roots Rising, an agriculture-based program of the Alchemy Initiative. Roots Rising pays teens to work on farms, in community gardens, and in local food pantries, but it’s not just a job. Berkshire United Way partners with organizations like the Alchemy Initiative to give young people the opportunity to explore careers and develop the work readiness skills they need.

Teens plant vegetables on a local farm through Roots Rising, a work readiness program that focuses on giving youth the tools they need to successfully enter the workforce.

Experiences like these are often enhanced by a mentor or positive role model who can support the young person in their challenges and aid in their growth. Through programs like Greenagers, another work readiness program supported by Berkshire United Way, young people not only gain crucial work experience, but are supported by mentors in the form of program staff, peer leaders, and local community members.

Donovan worked with Greenagers for four seasons and used that experience to secure a job working with Race Mountain Tree Services while enrolling in evening classes at Berkshire Community College.  The staff at Greenagers counseled Donovan through the financial aid process and continue to support him as he progresses through his professional and educational life.

Through programs like Greenagers and Roots Rising, young people can explore careers in related fields and secure employment in the Berkshires, just like Donovan. Others are given employability skills that can be applied to any line of work. The key ingredients to helping ensure our youth successfully transition to higher education and/or the workforce are opportunities for meaningful work and positive role models to help along the way.

If you’re interested in becoming one of these positive role models, please reach out to me for a list of opportunities. As they say, it takes a village!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Investing in innovation

One of our core values at Berkshire United Way is innovation - the act or process of introducing new ideas, or methods. As our community needs evolve, we are committed to partnering with new local agencies to implement cutting-edge solutions together and have established an Innovation Fund to help support this important work.

We are currently looking for new community partners who have started new programs and are looking for some support. In addition to funding, our team is available to assist with capacity building for these programs, or the process by which programs develop and maintain the knowledge, tools, and other resources needed to operate at a greater capacity (larger scale, larger audience, larger impact).

Detailed information, including the application for Innovation Funding is available on our website. Applications will be reviewed and grants will be awarded on a rolling basis, pending available funding.

These small grants will help us determine what works well, and if successful, replicate to provide early education opportunities, so more children enter school ready to learn; give more young people the tools they need to make healthy decisions and develop a plan for college or a career; and help more working families increase their income and assets.

To learn more about our Innovation Funding, please email me at or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A driving force in moving our community forward

Hello! My name is Gregory Dieterich and I am a loaned Workplace Campaign Executive here at the Berkshire United Way. Greylock Federal Credit Union and the Berkshire United Way have always had a strong relationship, and this year Greylock donated my time to Berkshire United Way to assist them during their 2018 campaign. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to serve my community. While I have participated in many fundraising efforts for Berkshire United Way, this role will allow me to reach more people, and ultimately create more support for such an essential organization.

I have been directly impacted by two programs that receive funding from the Berkshire United Way, so it’s always been very easy for me to see the impact that they have on the community. When our daughter was born, Berkshire Nursing Families visited our room almost immediately to assist my wife and me. We had many questions and concerns, and they were there to make sure we were equipped with the information we needed to make nursing successful. Not only were they there after the delivery, they offer routine follow up visits. Without the support of this program, I truly feel we would not have had such an amazing experience.

The second organization we worked with was Childcare of the Berkshires. Among the many things they do, Childcare of the Berkshires hosts play groups for children of all ages. The groups are structured with activities designed to prepare children for the next steps in their lives. When our daughter was 2, I began bringing her to these groups where she learned social skills, and a love for reading through story time. Childcare of the Berkshires also taught me HOW to read to my daughter in a way that would ensure her comprehension of the story. These reading habits have put my daughter in a position to succeed, and I am extremely grateful for that.

The driving force behind me in this campaign is the joy I received from the efforts of these organizations and Berkshire United Way. I look forward to opening the possibilities for stories like mine to occur in other families throughout Berkshire County and invite you to learn more by reading the weekly posts on this blog.

Gregory Dieterich
Workplace Campaign Executive

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

FREE play groups offer so much more than play!

Did you know…that talking to babies right from the start and carrying on conversations with young children can result in a higher IQ, verbal comprehension, and language processing for children up to 10 years later!  Results of a 10-year longitudinal study by Lena researchers further shares that two-way conversations with children from 18-24 months are particularly important.

Berkshire United Way’s aspirational goals include making sure every child in Berkshire County enters kindergarten with the skills needed to be successful in the years to follow. Berkshire United Way partners and supports many programs that foster parent-child relationships, increase knowledge of child development, and help connect families with community resources.

One such program, the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) supports five regional community-based programs that promote family engagement. Each region hosts a variety of monthly literacy-based activities designed for young children and their families. Recognizing parents as a child’s first teacher, parents can work with their children to build on strengths, encourage creativity, and have fun meeting new friends. FREE for all families, programs offer playgroups, parent education classes and workshops, and connections to local resources. Some programs have free diapers, a clothing exchange, and most offer monthly family events.

A participant in a play group held at the The Family Center in North Adams, expresses her inner artist!

Check out the links below to find a playgroup near you and please share this blog with a family you know!

Community Health Program CHP Playgroups

Talk to you again soon -
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Friday, September 21, 2018

Resilience and hard work pay off

16-year old Pittsfield High School student, Kyle Pullaro-Clark has been a remarkable mentor and advocate. On Thursday September 6th, nearly 20 staff members and young people gathered at Berkshire Children and Families to honor Kyle with the S.A.Y It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) award for outstanding involvement in community and school activities.

Sarah Lampro, Youth Coordinator at the Family Resource Center, Kyle Pullaro-Clark, S.A.Y. It Proud recipient, and Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at Berkshire United Way.

As a member of Live Out Loud, an LGBTQ+ youth support group hosted by Berkshire Children and Families’ Family Resource Center, Kyle has demonstrated outstanding leadership and efforts in addressing and raising awareness about issues surrounding youth and the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to mentoring young people in Pride Play and Fun, a group for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 12, Kyle volunteers his time and puts his energy into community events such as the LGBTQ+ Annual Conference and Pittsfield Moves.  He also provides a youth voice on panels advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition to his great work in the community, Kyle works hard in his school, home and work life, holding a job in the community for the last couple years. Sarah Lampro, Youth Coordinator at the Family Resource Center, who nominated Kyle for the award said, “I have been fortunate to watch him grow into an extremely well-rounded, hardworking and great young man who I am confident will go on to do many remarkable things in our community.”  

Established by the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership in 2012, the important work of recognizing middle and high school students with S.A.Y. It Proud awards has been continued by our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC).  

If you’d like to learn more about PYDIC or nominate a young person aged 11-19 for a S.A.Y It Proud award, please contact me at or 413.442.6948 ext. 15. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fun fall activities

Fall is in the air as children are returning to school and Berkshire United Way is grateful to be the beneficiary of two great events as we work with partners throughout the county to prepare children for kindergarten, help teens develop a college or career path and put money in the pockets of working families.

Saturday brought cooler temperatures making it a perfect day for outside activities and we’re so grateful to our friends at Jiminy Peak for hosting their second annual community day to raise money for Berkshire United Way.  Children and families enjoyed discounted admission to the adventure park, and the opportunity to spend time at our crafts table, enjoy a story walk, receive balloon animals and have their faces painted courtesy of Balloon Ben and his daughter. 

Thanks to some creative thinking by Race Director Patty Spector and the Josh Committee, the 42nd Josh Billings RunAground will go on!  The race takes place this Sunday, September 16th, with a new route that culminates on the familiar grounds of Tanglewood.

Following the main race is the always popular kids race, which draws more than 100 participants and is a fun, competitive way to put a wrap on the day of competition.  For those children interested in registering, you can do so the day prior to the event at the Arcadian Shoppe or on the day of the event at Tanglewood.

For many years proceeds from the event have been donated to Berkshire United Way to help our organization ignite the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together. 

Berkshire United Way is fortunate to have such great community partners in our efforts to make Berkshire County a dynamic, engaged community with opportunities for all.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Prosperous Partnership with AmeriCorps

Greetings! My name is James Swinchoski and I am the current Economic Prosperity VISTA at Berkshire United Way – in partnership with the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program. The VISTA program is a national service program designed to help end poverty. My tenure will be from August 2018 to August 2019 as a part of an AmeriCorps year of service.

James Swinchoski, AmeriCorps VISTA intern in Economic Prosperity.

I am a recent graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies. I held concentrations in Psychology and Sociology – with a double minor in Social Work and Social Justice Studies. My aim with wedding these programs together was to learn about community organization on a micro and macro level as well as creating positive change our community.

I previously interned with the North Adams Friendship Center – helping them survey those in need of meal support and social services. I also helped them with web development and assisted with the food pantry, while I honed my grant writing skills and so much more.

In the coming year, I will be working with Berkshire United Way on their Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, assisting our with free tax preparation and recruiting young people to the Berkshires and helping them get the training they need to thrive here (EPIC).

I am incredibly excited about this opportunity to build a stronger community and have had a great couple of weeks here at Berkshire United Way. I will be posting updates from time to time, so expect to hear more from me in the weeks and months ahead!

Warmest regards,
James, VISTA Volunteer