Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Creating pathways to economic prosperity!

Did you know that many of our neighbors are working two to three part-time jobs, and are still struggling to make ends meet? In 2017, the median household income here in Berkshire County was just over $55,000.

The Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC), comprised of nearly 40 members from businesses and organizations throughout the county, is committed to placing people in vacant, full-time jobs and addressing the hiring and retention needs of local businesses.

Our goal is to reduce the number and percentage of households earning less than $75,000. 
To support these efforts, the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board is hosting a series of monthly job seeker meet-ups in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington!

The theme of this month’s event is, “Networking & Navigating the Hidden Job Market.” For information on future events, please join us on Facebook. In the meantime, if you or someone you know is currently looking for local employment opportunities, we’ve created this list of job search engines for you to use.

Julie Singley
Program Manager, Community Impact

Thursday, April 4, 2019

What is 411 in the 413?

What is the 411 in the 413?  Ask Miss Hall’s student and Berkshire United Way intern, Meredith Hall, and she’ll say, “It’s a whole day dedicated to youth that gives us access to new opportunities and tools for after high school. Most teens don’t have the opportunity to miss a day of school to learn about such interesting things like pet first aid, or yoga with therapy balls.”

A collaboration between Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and Railroad Street Youth Project as part of the Berkshire Youth Development Project, the 13th annual 411 in the 413 Youth Conference will take place at the Berkshire Museum on Thursday, April 11.

The countywide conference, organized by and created for local teens, offers a unique opportunity for students from 14 high schools across Berkshire County to meet new people, delve into their passions, and discuss useful tools for navigating today’s world through a variety of workshops. The theme of this year’s conference is “Staying Afloat in the Modern World.”

A unique feature of this year’s event is keynote speaker, Regi Wingo, a Berkshire native and staff member at the Elizabeth Freeman Center, an organization which provides life renewing help to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The conference aligns with Berkshire United Way’s efforts to provide young people with opportunities that will help them develop a plan for college or a career. For a look at what happens behind the scenes of the 411 in the 413, stay tuned for photos and updates on our Facebook page.

Talk with you soon!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Monday, April 1, 2019

Preparing kids for Kindergarten

Which of the following things helps prepare your child for Kindergarten?
  • Talking and singing with your baby
  • Playing with play dough
  • Building things with blocks and legos
  • Walking on a nature trail
  • Learning your letters

     Of course, this is a trick question! The answer is everything you do with your child helps build skills needed for school readiness. Children need a variety of experiences from the time they are born to the time they enter school to gain background knowledge and build vocabulary.  Children (and adults!) learn from watching others, then doing. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.  Getting dirty is a bonus!

On Saturday April 6th, from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm, Berkshire United Way will host the 7th Annual School Readiness Fair in partnership with the Berkshire Athenaeum and Wee Read - special thanks to Mountain One for sponsoring the event!

Children and families will have the opportunity to play and learn at activity stations. We will have a Mad Scientist on hand to make glow bracelets and Pittsfield Public Schools will be onsite for Kindergarten registrations. 

Through our collaborations with partners throughout the county, we are committed to making sure children get the skills they need to succeed. Come join the fun! 

Karen Vogel
Director of Community Impact

Monday, March 25, 2019

Making a difference, one volunteer hour at a time

April is National Volunteer Month. Every year hundreds of individuals, with various abilities, give thousands of hours as volunteers with Berkshire United Way. This doesn’t include the hours my colleagues spent volunteering outside of work at organizations throughout the county.

For some, it offers the chance to give something back to the community or make a difference to the people around them. For others, it provides an opportunity to develop new skills, build upon their knowledge and experience, or advocate for something they are passionate about. 

Positive Youth Development Coordinator, Kat Toomey, is passionate about mentoring; it was this passion that led Kat to become a mentor herself. Little did she know she would get just as much out of the relationship as she gave. “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,” she says.

The volunteer efforts of our team reflect the work we are doing as an organization to promote pathways for individuals and families to thrive. “Education plays a key role in the success of our children, and as the parent of a Pittsfield Public School student, I feel it’s important for me to be involved. Serving as a volunteer on the District’s Curriculum Advisory Council is a way for me to do that — I am able to use my voice to affect positive change and my participation enables me to remain informed,” shares Julie Golin, Coordinator of Marketing & Communications.

Volunteer Coach, Duffy Judge, pauses for a photo with his son, who is a player on his team.
The organizations below have each benefited from the time and talent of our team:
  • Multicultural Bridge at Conte Community School
  • Martin Luther King Day of Services
  • National Alliance of Mental Illness in Berkshire County
  • Temple Anshe
  • Pittsfield Little League
  • Jimmy’s Ride in support of Berkshire County Kids’ Place
  • Adams Community Bank
  • Monterey Friends of the Library Fundraising Committee
  • Pittsfield Human Services Advisory Council
  • Berkshire Community College Early Education Advisory Committee
  • Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity
  • Curriculum Advisory Council, Pittsfield Public School District
  • Williamstown Youth Center
  • Williamstown Cal Ripken

Each year, we shine a light on volunteers throughout our community, recognizing and thanking those who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference. Save the date for this year’s annual LIVE UNITED Community Celebration, at The Proprietor’s Lodge, on Thursday, April 25 from 4-6 p.m. and watch the event page on our website for details!

I look forward to seeing you there.
Development Manager

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

5 Things to Know for VITA’s 50th Birthday

1.  Non-spoiler alert: this year, VITA turns 50! The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program began operation in 1969, and provides free, high-quality tax preparation for low to moderate-income taxpayers. VITA is powered by IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers.

2.   VITA brings back billions of dollars to communities across the country. VITA’s stellar volunteer preparers help hardworking Americans to access the credits they’ve earned, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. These refundable credits allow recipients to become financially stable by expanding their income enough to pay for rent, reliable transportation to work, and groceries. In 2018, thousands of VITA volunteers prepared millions of returns, and brought back $1.9 billion to communities across the country.

Reports from the IRS indicate that 731 Federal tax returns were filed by VITA partners funded by Berkshire United Way last year, returning $1million out of $2.2 million VITA dollars returned to Berkshire County residents. Thank you to Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and the Hilltown Community Development Corporation for joining us in this effort!

3.  Congress recently increased funding for the VITA program. In the latest spending package to pass Congress (FY19), funding for the VITA program was increased by 20% to $18 million. We’re grateful that decision makers recognize the value of VITA and the service it provides to our community, please join us in thanking Congress for their support! 

4.  Most VITA programs operate at full capacity. While the recent increase in funding was great news, the truth is that many VITA programs operate at full capacity and are not able to serve all those eligible in their communities. Therefore, we’re calling on Congress to further shore up investments in the program for Fiscal Year 2020. Join us by adding your organization to this sign-on letter, and by sending an email to your Member of Congress

5.  VITA is not a permanent program. Since 2008 VITA has been a demonstration pilot program. Congress has to authorize it every year. We think a great 50th birthday present from Congress would be to make the program permanent! Ask your Member of Congress today!

To make your appointment for free tax prep through the VITA program, please call us at 413.442.6948 today!

Julie Singley
Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Building a stronger community in a "United Way"

Johnny was the first one to arrive, anxiously waiting at the registration table to find out how he could get started with all the activities. I explained the process in detail as he listened intently.  At that moment, Johnny had become our 10x the Fun ambassador.  I heard him instructing other children how to join in on the activities, both inside and outside.  He was assisting a younger child with fishing – “There is a magnet on the end of the pole that helps catch the fish. This is how you do it.”

Educational events like 10x the Fun promote early literacy and help young children develop the skills they need to arrive at school ready to learn so they are reading proficiently by third grade – a key predictor of their future success in school and life. Simply stated, up to third grade, children learn to read; after third grade children read to learn!

Berkshire United Way’s Pittsfield Promise joined the Zion Lutheran Church to host 10x the Fun as part of Cultural Pittsfield’s 10x10 Upstreet Winter Arts Festival.  I'd like to give special thanks to the following who gave their time and talent to make the event such a success: Berkshire County Head Start; Berkshire North WIC (Women, Infants & Children); Berkshire Nursing Families; Child Care of the Berkshires; Department of Children and Families; KidZone; the Pittsfield Parks Department and Zion Lutheran Church.

Together we are building a stronger community in a “United Way.”

Karen Vogel
Director of Community Impact

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Career exploration opportunity for local teens

“We put a strong emphasis on lifelong learning and curiosity – don’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Stephen Boyd, president and CEO of Boyd Technologies in Lee as he spoke to a room of 12 Monument Mountain High School students interested in pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The students visited Boyd in February to learn more about the company and potential career pathways in the sciences. Boyd, a graduate of Monument Mountain himself, answered questions from students and encouraged his staff to share how they came to work at Boyd Technologies.

Brianna Sporbert completed an internship at Boyd as a Pittsfield High School student; she is now the vice president of engineering overseeing commercialization of new products, material sourcing and product development platforms, and enacting the company’s strategic growth plan. In her spare time, she enjoys mentoring young women in STEM through Berkshire United Way’s community partner, Flying Cloud Institute. Lindsey Berkowitz, Young Women In Science Programs Director, helped recruit the young women who attended that day. Sean Flynn, Career and Vocational Technical Education (CVTE) and Internship Coordinator at Monument, recruited the other students for this career exploration opportunity.

Donned with hair nets (and beard nets for some), students enjoyed an informative tour of the facilities at Boyd Technologies. Development Engineer, Stephen Fitzgerald, advised the students, “School is important, and give it your all, but you’ll only learn about 10% in school of what we do in business. There’s going to be opportunities outside of school such as internships, projects, co-ops, research opportunities - and those kinds of experiences are hugely valuable. Make sure to jump at those opportunities. If you want to come to Boyd, I can’t recommend it enough!”

Berkshire United Way is committed to providing career exploration opportunities for young people here in the Berkshires. By partnering with local agencies such as Flying Cloud Institute, businesses, and community members, Berkshire United Way helps local youth develop a college or career plan that places them on the path to success.

To learn more about career readiness opportunities and initiatives, or if you’re a local business looking to host the next generation of employees for a similar field trip, please reach out to me at ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948 x15.

I hope to hear from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development