Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Call 211 in times of need

Have you or someone you know ever been laid off from a job or experienced a reduction in hours that also resulted in a reduction in pay? Have you ever wondered what you would do if you found yourself in that situation; how you would feed your family and continue to pay your bills?  Who would help you in your time of need?

On Sunday, February 11, United Ways in Massachusetts joined United Ways across the country to celebrate National 2-1-1 Day, calling attention to this free information and referral service that has been in operation here in Massachusetts since 2006.
Mass 2-1-1 is a hotline that is staffed by information and referral specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who connect residents to the resources they need.  Last year, 1,147 calls were made to Mass 2-1-1 by Berkshire County residents.  Top needs included assistance with child care and parenting, utilities, mental health and addictions, and housing and shelter.  In addition to this referral hotline, Mass 2-1-1 also maintains a searchable, online database at mass211.org, which is also supported by an online chat feature.

For the resident who finds him or herself in the situation above, a specialist may provide information about unemployment benefits, job search options, SNAP benefits, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, and employment counseling.

Berkshire United Way provides funding support to Mass 2-1-1 to ensure sufficient coverage and access here in the Berkshires. I invite you to share this column on your personal Facebook page to raise awareness of this free, user-friendly phone and online database system. By promoting Mass 2-1-1 we can make sure that all Berkshire residents are aware of the resources available to them.

If you are a service provider in MA, we encourage you to promote the wonderful programs and services your organization provides to our county’s residents by enrolling in or updating your information on the MA 2-1-1- website.  This will ensure that help and support is available to those in need.

Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Turning tragedy into resilience


Kendra is a lovely young woman who has experienced significant challenges in her life due to the loss of two special people. As a young child, Kendra lost her mom. More recently, her aunt, the woman who raised Kendra, passed away.

Despite her overwhelming feelings of sadness, Kendra has demonstrated tremendous resilience; she is determined to not let these tragedies define her life. In fact, despite these tragedies, or perhaps in part, because of them, she has blossomed into a beautiful human being, both inside and out.

Instead of turning inward, Kendra turns outward, always present to help and support her peers with a strong moral compass and a kind, compassionate heart. She is resourceful, seeking the help and support she needs to heal.  She is driven to hold on to her hopes and dreams and takes pride in her academic work, so that she can pursue her goal of attending college in the fall. She is an active member of the Wahconah Ambassador team, a student leadership group that strives to implement positive, supportive programs for students.

Kendra is also active outside of school; she has held jobs at Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort in Lenox and Target in Lanesborough, to help support her financial needs. In between work and school, she reaches out to help people in need in the community like her grandmother, who needs assistance with household chores and taking her clothes to the local laundromat.


Donna Therrien, School Adjustment Counselor at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, who shared the above story, says it was her pleasure to nominate Kendra Richards, a senior at Wahconah for the S.A.Y It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) award for outstanding involvement in community and school activities.

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 will be continued by our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC).   

If you’d like to learn more about PYDIC, which creates healthy, positive opportunities for all Berkshire County youth, or if you want to nominate a young person aged 11-19, for a S.A.Y It Proud award, please contact me at  ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948 ext. 15.

In the meantime, keep your eyes open for announcements of future S.A.Y. It Proud awardees!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Your Gift Makes a Difference

Donors to Berkshire United Way often ask the question, “Where does my donation actually go?”

When you support Berkshire United Way you help more than 15,000 people from Clarksburg to Sheffield and everyplace in between. One gift funds multiple strategies that build a stronger community.  Your donation is combined with those from over 5,000 donors to support 35 programs with 27 partners, and countywide coalitions that bring the community together to solve problems that no single program, organization or sector can do alone. 

Here is just a small sample of what your gift makes possible:

      Over 6,000 home visits are made each year by Child Care of the Berkshires and Community Health Programs.

300 young people will be mentored by caring adults for an average of 14 months at the Railroad Street Youth Project, Dalton CRA, Pittsfield Community Connection and Barrington Stage Company.

Over 1,000 Berkshire residents will get help from MA 211 this year -- free information and referrals for quality child care options and vouchers, community shelter, assistance with utility payments, and food pantries.


To learn more about the impact of your gift to Berkshire United Way, please visit us at berkshireunitedway.org

Thank you for making Berkshire County a dynamic, engaged community with opportunities for all.  Together, we can make a difference!

Duffy Judge
Development Manager

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Building a better tomorrow

Two years ago, I met Angeline D’Oro in a conference room at the Fairview Hospital Workplace Campaign Ice Cream Social. As I spoke with Angeline about the investments Berkshire United Way is making in our community, I told her one of our goals is to close the achievement gap faced by young children in southern Berkshire County. When she placed her pledge card in my hand, she asked, “If I give you my $3 per week, you will work to make sure that what happened to me, doesn’t happen to the next generation?  That tomorrow will be better than yesterday?” 

Angeline’s donation is one voice in a chorus of donors, volunteers and advocates who are literally forming a united way, or path to success for every child in our community. 

Last month, the Maternal Child Health department at Fairview Hospital met with Chapter One’s Resource Coordination work group.  This group includes the Care Coordinators of Macony Pediatrics and CHP, Pediatric Development Center, Discovering Your Baby Project of Austen Riggs, Lifeworks Studio, South Berkshire Kids and CHP’s OB/GYN.
‘Welcoming each baby to the spinning Earth’  from left to right:  Amy Taylor of Berkshire United Way, Gina Kirchner of Fairview Hospital, Maureen Atwood of Pediatric Development Center, Ilana Siegal of Lifeworks Studio, Kate Jewson of Austen Riggs, Dr. Donna Elmendorf of Austen Riggs, Dr. Claudia Gold of Austen Riggs, Jessica Maloney of South Berkshire Kids, Lisa Fraine of CHP OB/GYN, Elizabeth Nichols of Fairview Hospital, Jamie LaFreniere of Fairview Hospital, Adrien Conklin of Macony Pediatrics, Cynthia Segui of CHP Family Services.  Photo by Deborah Phillips of Fairview Hospital.
Each individual and organization brought with them the voices of the parents and babies in their care.  Together, we work to strengthen the ingredients of a good day for each new baby, from prenatal care to family support, creating happier, healthier and stronger families. The collective resolve sounded quite like a refrain from a beloved children’s book, On The Day You Were Born.  One could almost hear this same chorus of hushed voices saying, “Welcome to the spinning Earth.  We’re so glad you’ve come.”

To every mother, father, community member and caregiver, we are slowly but surely realizing Angeline’s dream.  Tomorrow is going to be better than yesterday.

Amy Taylor
South County Community Liaison

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Paving a path to prosperity


The median household income for Berkshire County residents increased from $49,956 to $52,253* in 2016.  Furthermore, the percentage of households in Berkshire County with income under $75,000 declined from 68% in 2015 to 65.8%* in 2016.  

While that’s certainly good news for those of us who call Berkshire County home, we still lag behind the rest of the state, where the median household income in 2016 was $70,954. 

There is still work to be done. Here in the Berkshires, a single mother may be working multiple jobs, yet struggling to meet her daily living expenses. She may have to make the difficult decision to repair her used car, so she doesn’t have to rely on friends and family for transportation OR pay her electric bill to keep her home warm on nights when the mercury dips below freezing. Her income doesn’t allow her to do both.

The Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC), which launched in September 2017, is comprised of community volunteers who are committed to getting more people to work and creating a pathway to sustainable income. EPIC’s vision is for Berkshire County to have a diverse, thriving, and sustainable economy where everyone has equitable access to economic prosperity. EPIC recently agreed on four goals to measure progress countywide:

·        Reducing the number and percentage of households with incomes under $75,000
·        Increasing industry distribution, creating a greater diversity of local industries
·        Increasing occupation distribution, therefore expanding employment opportunities
·        Increasing average household net worth

Berkshire United Way is investing $105,000 in the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board to hire a Berkshire recruiter who will serve as an employment match maker, and $75,000 in Lever, Inc. to offer college internships to local youth in support of these goals.

Next steps for EPIC are to continue mapping existing community assets and activities aligned with increasing economic prosperity and to identify specific strategies that will lead more people to work.

I invite you to email me at jsingley@berkshireunitedway.org or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32, if you are interested in giving your time and talent to this EPIC work.  Together, we can build a stronger community here in the Berkshires.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact  

*American Community Survey US Census 5-year estimates


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mentoring Matters

In November, I had the privilege of attending Mass Mentoring Partnership’s Decade in Western Massachusetts, an event celebrating the people and partners who have worked to create empowering youth-adult relationships throughout this region.  

As part of the celebratory program, two mentors were recognized for having outstanding relationships with their mentees, and making an incredible impact on their lives. As I listened to their stories, I was struck by how important it is for every young person to have a caring adult in their life, yet there are young people here in our own back yard who need, perhaps even seek, a mentor in their life.

Whether mentoring pairs meet daily or once a week, there’s something to be gained by the positive relationships that evolve. In fact, young people who are mentored often go on to be become mentors and role models themselves, contributing not only to their success, but to the success of future generations.

Mentoring plays an important role in Berkshire United Way’s positive youth development work and we were among twenty Difference Makers recognized by Mass Mentoring for supporting mentoring activities across the region.
Trevon, a participant in the Pittsfield Community Connection Mentoring Program, poses with his mentor, Dana. 
Dana, a mentor in the Pittsfield Community Connection program at Berkshire Children and Families, one of the mentoring programs supported by Berkshire United Way, could easily have been one of the two mentors honored by Mass Mentoring.  She and her mentee, Trevon, talk a bit about their relationship below.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about joining a mentoring program?

Trevon: “I would say, just do it. I enjoy having that extra support around in my life, and to help me with questions. What I like about Dana is she’s soft-spoken (sometimes) and it’s good to have her in my corner, and I know she’s there with me for a long time.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a mentor?

Dana: “I would tell them it’s just a lot of fun, and it gets you out of your own box and bubble and doing things that I wouldn’t be doing because I’ve already done them, but now I get to relive them again.
It can be a little intimidating because you may feel like you need to be a ‘finished’ person or a ‘perfect’ person and you need to have tons of resources and it’s not true, we’re all flawed people and it’s definitely been paying off for me and now I have a friend for life.”

January is National Mentoring Month.  To learn more about how you can make a difference by mentoring, please contact me at ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413.442.6948 x15.

Kat Toomey 
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Building a stronger community, chapter by chapter

On a recent visit to replenish the books in a local book house, two young boys came over to say hello. They wanted to get a first-hand look at the new selection of books being placed in the house. The first boy chose a non-fiction book from the “I Survived” series, featuring a ferocious great white shark on the cover. He shared his excitement with me, “You can even go on line and take a quiz to test your survival skills!” The three of us engaged in a lively conversation about what sharks eat, where they have been seen near swimmers, and how they battle if they are attacked. I was impressed by the boys’ intellect and bravado; our conversation was refreshing and enjoyable!
A young reader checks out a book from the “I Survived” series at the Book House located by the Berkshire Carousel.  Laurin Publishing employees are the caretakers of this house.
As part of a huge volunteer effort, 50 books houses were designed and built by SABIC employees last year.  Since then, more than 55 Caretakers have taken on the responsibility of supplying books and making sure the houses are clean, neat and free from damage. Petricca Industries assists with repairs as needed, and Petricca employees built and installed two additional houses.  Berkshire United Way now has 52 book houses, located in nearly every community between Williamstown and Sheffield. Many are in parks, school yards, and community centers -  places where children and families gather. As a result of this community effort, our children have access to books 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!

Access to books increases the odds that children will become strong readers. Young children who read regularly tend to have a greater vocabulary, and enthusiasm for reading and learning. All of this leads to higher achievement in school and greater success when these young people enter the workforce. 

I want to thank each volunteer who has freely given his or her time to ensure our county’s youngest residents have year-round access to books. If you would like to help support this early childhood initiative, please call me at 413-442-6948 ext. 22 or email me at sadornetto@berkshireunitedway.org.

Together, we can build a stronger community, one chapter at a time.

Stephanie Adornetto
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development