Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Building a stronger community together

The holiday season is a time for giving and appreciating what you have in your life, and as I wrap up my first workplace campaign season as Development Manager for Berkshire United Way, I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve ever been more thankful.  To have the opportunity to visit so many different businesses, and witness first-hand the incredible support Berkshire United Way receives from thousands of Berkshire County residents who are building a stronger community by making a pledge through their campaign, is truly one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
Amy Chin and Duffy Judge of Berkshire United Way pose with representatives of Flying Cloud Institute, Railroad Street Youth Project and Boyd Technologies for their campaign kickoff.

Berkshire United Way’s mission of igniting the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together cannot be accomplished without the support of the people who live here. 

Your gift provides people with the tools and resources they need, so their children enter school ready to learn; our teens graduate high school and begin college or their career; and working families get help finding and keeping jobs that pay a livable wage.

I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to each person who has supported our campaign—either through their workplace or by making a direct gift to Berkshire United Way. You truly are the core of our organization.  Your generous support enables us to invest more than $2 million dollars in our community, impacting more than 16,000 lives in 32 local communities, as we work towards making Berkshire County a dynamic, engaged community with opportunities for all.

If you would like to be part of building a stronger community here in the Berkshires, I invite you to consider making a year-end gift to Berkshire United Way.  Your opportunity to do so is just a click away.

Happy New Year –
Development Manager

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Crossing the bridge from poverty to self-sufficiency

Cathie moved into The Redfield House and soon began making full use of the services offered.  She met with staff on a regular basis and learned about EMPath, which, “transforms people’s lives by helping them move out of poverty*.”  As part of our economic prosperity work, Berkshire United Way partners with Berkshire Children and Families to help people like Cathie succeed through EMPath. To achieve this goal, EMPath uses the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency®. This bridge from poverty to self-sufficiency is supported by five pillars—family stability, well-being, education and training, financial management, and employment and career management—to cross the bridge, participants must attain key objectives in each of those areas. 

As a resident at The Redfield House, Cathie’s housing needs were stable, however, she had other challenges to deal with, most concerning was her daughter’s health.    Although Cathie was motivated to earn her GED, her daughter was often sick.  Tending to her medical needs took up most of Cathie’s time and energy, affecting her attendance at work and school – she found, then lost, three jobs and withdrew from school to care for her daughter.  

With support from Redfield staff members, EMPath helped Cathie see her life in a series of steps that allowed her to focus on needs, achieve goals and measure progress.  She continued to use the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency®, focusing on family stability and well-being.  She connected with a pediatrician who helped her better understand her daughter’s medical issues.  She realized the need for her own self-care and began to see a therapist and participate in self-help groups. 

In addition, Cathie found a job that she enjoys and has a schedule that complements her family’s needs.  She paid off her back rent and developed credit that reflects her good standing as a tenant.  She is working on healthy relationships and is a great role model and mother for her young daughter.

Cathie, pictured here with her daughter, is creating life changing habits that will lead to her success. 
Cathie is learning that she can evoke changes in her life and is using the resources available to her to do so.  Despite the trauma she faced as a child and in her adolescence, she is creating opportunities for life changing habits that will lead to her success.  

To learn more about our investments in the community, please visit

Program Manager, Community Impact


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Real stories from real people

Do you ever find yourself looking for inspiration in a world that sometimes seems filled with doom and gloom?  If so, I encourage you to check out Berkshire United Way’s social media campaign, Humans of the Berkshires. Featured on both Facebook and Instagram, Humans of the Berkshires is comprised of inspiring, real life stories from young people right here in our community.

Inspired by the famous “Humans of New York,” Humans of the Berkshires is a community of celebration and support for the aspirations, challenges, and achievements of the young people in our community. Data collected from our students indicates that they do not feel recognized for their positive community engagement, leadership, and goals. Humans of the Berkshires was founded specifically to counteract these perceptions and to nurture an environment that celebrates our amazing youth.

To date, Berkshire United Way has interviewed over 150 young people and featured their stories on Humans of the Berkshires.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share a couple of those stories with you.

Carlos Pascual-Polanco from the Pittsfield Community Connection (PCC) program says, “I want to open my own landscaping business, that’s my main thing. In the future, I see myself having my own car and business. I’ve been a volunteer at the soup kitchen, like cooking and serving food there on the last Saturday of every month, that was cool. My mentor at PCC, Mark takes me out to new places, places I’ve never been before, places I’ve never seen. We went to the mountain in Pittsfield State Forest and went hiking in the field with the flowers, and it was cool. I also used to work at the farmer’s market downtown with some people from PCC and my friends, we had to get there early to set up and then later take the tents down, it was fun. I would say PCC has helped me with job skills, and we have dinners together. It has helped me out a lot. ”

Mary Howe from the Roots Rising program says, "As cliche as it might sound, just try new things, get involved with your community, and meet new people. For instance, I wasn’t too sure about Roots Rising, but when I got here and met everyone I was really happy. I met a bunch of people I would have never met. These people are all from different backgrounds, different cultures, and I definitely get to know more about them and especially more about my environment. Roots Rising teaches me about farms and how you eat, and knowledge that you should just know. I am learning things that school doesn’t necessarily teach me."

Carlos and Mary talk about things that have helped them succeed—the support of a mentor and positive activities in the community—things that have made a real difference in their lives. Berkshire United Way mobilizes individuals and organizations as well as volunteers in 32 communities from Savoy to Sandisfield to make sure opportunities like these are available to all teens here in the Berkshires.  When the young people in our community succeed, we all succeed. 

To nominate a young person in your life, between the ages of 14-25, for Humans of the Berkshires, please email  I look forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Helping neighbors in need

There are times in life when we all need concrete support to adapt to changes or help us weather a storm.  Our friends and community partners, Community Health Programs (CHP) at 444 Stockbridge Road, in Great Barrington provide a number of supports including WIC, playgroups, and a clothing exchange just to name a few. 

Even through the cold winter months, CHP hosts The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on the first Tuesday of every month, from noon – 1 p.m. The Food Bank distributes free, fresh and non-perishable food for any and all community members.  Here’s how it works.  A group of community members arrive to set up tables to offer food or other services.  At noon, the Western Mass. Food Bank truck arrives.  Community members, young and old, can fill a box with food as they move across the parking lot area of CHP.  It is typical for community members to leave with a box of fresh carrots, apples, potatoes, onions, squash, oats and even fresh bread.  Many times, Chapter One, south county’s early childhood literacy coalition, is on hand to provide free children’s books too.  Taking the time to read together is a key ingredient to life-long health and resilience!

From left to right: Jess Maloney, Amy Taylor and Michelle Hayden attend the Western Mass Food Bank on a cool winter’s day. Jess and Michelle, both from South Berkshire Kids, provide information/resources to families with young children living in Southern Berkshire County. 
Upcoming Food Bank distributions will take place on the following dates:
Tuesday, January 2nd, from noon to 1 p.m.
Tuesday, February 6th from noon to 1 p.m.
Tuesday, March 6th from noon to 1 p.m.
Tuesday, April 3rd from noon to 1 p.m.

A heartfelt thanks to the staff and volunteers at CHP who host the Food Bank with efficiency and community spirit each and every month.  To learn more about this initiative, including opportunities to participate or volunteer, please contact me via email at

Amy Taylor
South County Community Liaison

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Life is a boomerang

I am not a painter.  Folks who know me know that I don’t have any artistic or crafty talents.  But I survived a Paint and Sip fundraiser last month.  In fact, I did more than survive – I actually had fun!

Dan Hoctor, one of the volunteer Employee Campaign Coordinators at Guardian Life, pulled together this fundraiser to support Berkshire United Way.  For $35, I received fantastic instruction from Michelle Iglesias, all the materials I needed to paint a pretty cool autumn tree scene, and made a donation to Berkshire United Way – all at the same time!  I was pleased to see that Berkshire Paint and Sip routinely hosts fundraisers for many area nonprofits and schools.

I signed up mainly because I wanted to support our awesome volunteers at Guardian who were giving of their time and treasure for Berkshire United Way, but also because I was curious about this activity that has seemed to take many of my friends by storm.  When I arrived at the North Street studio, I was happy to see a packed room of eager painters, some as scared as I was.  I saw many familiar faces – donors and volunteers from not only Guardian, but also Crane Currency and Onyx Specialty Papers. 

Paint and Sip participants show off their colorful canvases following an event hosted by Guardian Life Insurance Company of America to benefit Berkshire United Way.

In under two hours, we all had a finished product.  But more importantly, we all shared in an experience that we’ll remember for a long time.  And that’s the best part about our Berkshire community.  There are so many ways to get involved, and, for me, this night helped reinforce the old adage, “you get what you give.” 

For ideas on how you can give, please visit our website at

Jenn Kerwood
Vice President of Development

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

VITA volunteers make a difference!

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people with individual/household incomes of less than $54,000 a year, who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.  

Through this free service, volunteers help qualified individuals obtain refunds up to $6,044.  In 2017, the VITA program in Berkshire County resulted in over $1.7 million of additional funds circulating in our community!

Berkshire United Way will offer VITA services at two new South County locations this coming tax season - Berkshire South Regional Community Center and Community Health Programs (CHP) in Great Barrington.  We are currently seeking volunteers for a number of roles, so that we can serve as many people in South County as possible through this program.

Volunteering for the VITA program can be a rewarding experience. Don’t know that much about taxes? Don’t worry — you’ll receive specialized training if you’d like to be a tax preparer or reviewer OR you can choose a volunteer role that doesn’t require tax certification. There are many opportunities to help, ranging from greeting everyone who visits the site, to providing language interpreter services.  The hours are flexible, the training is free and the time commitment is up to you.

I invite you to email me at or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32, if you are interested in sharing your time and talent to build a stronger community here in the Berkshires by helping hard working families.

If you’re interested in helping, but don’t live or work in South County, our community partners are coordinating additional VITA sites throughout the county and are looking for volunteers: Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, Hilltown CDC, Northern Berkshire United Way, Berkshire Community Action Council, and Williams College.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Building strong, healthy families

Have you seen Berkshire United Way’s social media campaign, Humans of the Berkshires?
If not, I encourage you to check it out on Facebook and Instagram.

 Humans of the Berkshires is a community of celebration and support of the aspirations, challenges, and achievements of the young people in our community.  As part of the interview process, a young person can choose from different questions, including, “Who is a role model or influential figure in your life?”  Sometimes interviewees will answer that one of their parents/caregivers fit this description.  One young woman, in particular, spoke about how her mom sometimes has challenges and makes mistakes, but is absolutely the most important person in her life. She went on to say that her mom loves and supports her and always tries to understand what she is going through, even if they don’t always agree. With her mom’s support, this young woman is pursuing her dreams of becoming a social worker.

Every teen needs a caring adult to help guide them and build a foundation to make healthy decisions. That is why Berkshire United Way invests in programs that promote protective factors. Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of youth engaging in risky behaviors with negative outcomes. Think of them as ingredients, that when combined with a caring bond between parents and child, result in a strong, healthy family.

Examples of protective factors include:
·         Social and Emotional Competence of Children = Children learn to talk about and handle feelings.
·         Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development = Parents know how children grow and learn.
·         Social Connections = Parents have friends.
·         Parental Resilience = Parents can overcome hard times and rebound.
·         Concrete Support in Times of Need = Parents know where to turn for help

We all want our youth to make good decisions, which means lowering risk factors and raising protective factors. 

For more information and ideas, visit Strengthening Families and The Search Institute.

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Learn to read, read to learn!

On a sunny, Saturday morning, in the First Street Common, I had the privilege of meeting a local kindergartner.  This enthusiastic young lady spent over 30 minutes creating a crown with a pattern of colors and star stickers as her dad patiently waited; acknowledging her love of both the arts and reading new books every day.

A local early childhood educator reads to a young girl as she decorates her crown at a Berkshire United Way
pop up party.

This is just one of many scenarios I could share with you from our summer pop up reading parties.

What’s a pop up reading party you might ask? It’s a fun event where children and parents meet outside—often at Berkshire United Way Book House sites—to spend time reading together in the warm sunshine.

Through the generous support of  AVANGRID, parent company of Berkshire Gas and the Avangrid Foundation, Berkshire United Way purchased four large screened tents to provide shelter from the wind and sun, and puffy pillows for young children and their families to sit on. Throughout the summer, we used them at nine pop up reading parties here in Berkshire County. At each party, children listened as a local pre-school teacher read a story then provided a FREE art project to go along with it.  After they completed their works of art, children had the opportunity to explore different books to read with a family member, and the fun and learning didn’t stop there!  Young attendees received a cute, complimentary stuffed animal to serve as a reading buddy at home, along with a free book to take with them.

A young child intently studies a book about kindergarten at a Berkshire United Way pop up party.

Our last reading party, which was held at the Harvest Festival Farmers Market at the First Street Common in Pittsfield, drew over 52 children and their families!  One child commented as she made her reading crown and received her small, stuffed animal book buddy, “Thank you so much, bear and I are going to read this book when I get home.”

Berkshire United Way’s early childhood goal is for 90% of Berkshire County kids to read proficiently by 3rd grade at which point they move from learning to read to reading to learn, and this impacts every subject they are taught.  Reading to your child every day, beginning at birth, helps build school readiness skills so children arrive at school ready to learn.  To learn about future family-friendly reading events, be sure to follow us on Facebook.  I hope to see you soon!

Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When Giving is Receiving

When I was asked to join Berkshire United Way as a Workplace Campaign Executive I was both excited and honored.  I have always believed in the work that Berkshire United Way does through their funded programs, but I was blown away by the changes that have taken place since I was an Employee Campaign Coordinator at my former job many years ago.

Berkshire United Way now has a very clear purpose and non-profits who apply for grants need to show measurable results and have a positive impact in the community in one of three areas of focus. I was immediately moved to tell this story to all the workplace volunteers I work with.

Amy Chin heads out the door of Berkshire United Way to deliver campaign supplies 
for a workplace campaign. 

When I talk to people out and about in the community, so much of the focus is on the children and youth of this county and on helping them succeed in school and preparing them to be productive citizens. That’s why it is so important to me to speak face-to-face with employees in workplace campaigns, giving specific examples of the programs funded and initiatives led by Berkshire United Way and letting them know that we are partners with the same goal - helping children and families thrive. There is nothing more gratifying when speaking to an audience than to see heads nodding in agreement when I talk about a preschooler who has come to kindergarten ready to learn thanks to Childcare of the Berkshires’ Parent Child Home Program or a girl who is empowered after participating in the Flying Cloud Young Women in Science program.

My career has centered around helping people and my position as a Workplace Campaign Executive has been enriching and inspiring. It has been easy to give a presentation to large groups because I speak from the heart and I have a deep desire to assist in strengthening my community and the people who live in it. It is why I’ve made a gift of my time, talent and treasure to the Berkshire United Way.  I am fortunate that Greylock Federal Credit Union is sponsoring my position, as yet another way of giving back to our community.

To find out how you can help build a stronger community, I encourage you to contact Berkshire United Way and learn about the volunteer opportunities that are available.  You can reach them at or give them a call at 442-6948. 

I hope to see you there!

Amy Chin

Workplace Campaign Executive

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It’s EPIC!

If you attended BerkshireWork’s recent Job Fair, you may have noticed the Berkshire United Way table and wondered what we were doing there. My colleagues, members of our Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC) and I were surveying employers and job seekers to gather data that will inform our Economic Prosperity work.

One young woman spoke with us about the barriers she is facing in finding a job, because she doesn’t have a college degree.  We know there are many people in our community just like her.

Julie Singley, Program Manager of Community Impact at Berkshire United Way attends BerkshireWorks’ annual job fair on Wednesday, October 18, 2017.  

That’s one of the reasons Berkshire United Way held its first EPIC meeting on September 22, 2017. There were 20 individuals in attendance, representing for-profit businesses, health, government, education, and non-profit organizations.

EPIC is a countywide, coalition led by Greylock Federal Credit Union, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and Berkshire United way, which aims to build pathways to sustainable incomes for individuals and families in the community. Over the next six months, consultant Brittany DeBarros, will work with EPIC to identify shared goals and clear action steps as coalition members work together to:

  • Develop and implement strategies to get more people to work and fill vacant jobs
  • Create strategic work groups as needed based on additional data collection and mapping/identifying existing resources
  • Develop collaborations and partnerships to change the way we work to successfully reach our goals
  • Identify additional resources
  • Assist in developing investment recommendations for final approval by Berkshire United Way Board of Directors
  • Develop and monitor performance measures with reports from community partners on:
    • Employment Match Maker (Family Sustaining Employment/Pathways)
    • Adult Work-Based Experiences
I invite you to email me at or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32, if you are interested in sharing your time and talent to create economic prosperity for all.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Talk With Your Kids Often

You may have heard us say that young people need caring adults to be positive influences in their lives; science and research support this idea. The Search Institute, a leader and partner for organizations around the world in discovering what kids need to succeed says, “Regardless of age, children need parents. Indeed, across multiple studies, it appears that the quality of the parent-child relationship is one of the more important factors in determining what kind of behaviors and attitudes adolescents adopt across domains such as health, education, reproductive behaviors, social interactions, and problem behaviors.”

It is important to appreciate that adolescence is its own distinct time between childhood and adulthood, and that it’s important to honor this developmental stage. Young people often hear confusing messages like “Grow up!” or on the other end, “You’re still just a kid!” when what they really need are caring and supportive role models who share their expectations and focus on the positive things our young people are doing.

A billboard depicting local youth engaged in conversation with Katrina Mattson of Tapestry. This is one of three billboards in Pittsfield, which are a part of Berkshire United Way’s, “Talk With Your Kids Often,” campaign.

I hope by now some of you have seen the billboards throughout Pittsfield, which are part of our “Talk With Your Kids Often” campaign.  For tips and resources on how to keep the lines of communication open through the adolescent years, please visit our website.  

For information about local workshops and support groups please contact me via email - or give me a call at 442-6948 x15.

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Learning how one word leads to many words

Our mission at Berkshire United Way is to ignite the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together. Through the Chapter One: Our Towns, Our Kids, Our Future early childhood development and literacy initiative, we are fulfilling this mission with The Word Project. Together, we’re determined to ensure that every child arrives to kindergarten ready for success in school and life.

The Word Project was created to ensure children acquire the language skills necessary to be successful. Children need lots of connected, play filled experiences with words and stories. On Sunday, September 24th, parents and grandparents, volunteers and business leaders, children and youth, storytellers and actors kicked off The Word Project at The Triplex in Great Barrington. Children wrote or dictated stories with our partners in the lobby then the Word Project’s Improv Troupe (Rebecca Honig, Josh Briggs, and Rachel Seigal, with support from musician Sunwha Reiner) brought them to life with music, and each young author was celebrated with a round of applause. Our community partners at Flying Cloud joined us with a robotics activity, and Head Start teachers did face painting.

The Word Troupe comprised of actors Rebecca Honig, Josh Briggs, Rachel Seigal, and musician Sunhwa Reiner rehearse prior to The Word Project event on Sunday, September 24, 2017.  The troupe brought children’s stories to life before their very eyes.
This month learn all about produce at Big Y, Price Chopper and the WIC office in Great Barrington.  We look forward to sharing our children’s stories at the next Word Project family event.  We are changing our little corner of the world for the better, and we’re having fun while we do!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Be part of the change

Late September in Berkshire County brings with it the changing of the leaves on the trees as well as the kickoff of the Berkshire United Way 2017 campaign.  There are many ways to support Berkshire United Way and we greatly appreciate all that our community does to help us pursue our mission of igniting the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together.

You can donate to the 2017 campaign in several ways.  Many local businesses have a campaign within their workplace where you can use payroll deduction to support our work.  If your place of employment does not conduct a campaign, you can make a gift to Berkshire United Way by visiting our website,, calling us (413.442.6948) to make a pledge or payment by phone or mailing your gift to our office at 200 South Street, Pittsfield, MA.  We would welcome a visit to our office from you as well, at which time you can fill out a pledge form or make a gift by check or credit card.

Support of our mission doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary, there are many volunteer opportunities throughout the year where we could use assistance.  You can find out more about Berkshire United Way volunteer activities here -

Volunteers from Unistress take a moment to pose with Bob Van Olst and his grandson Orion at the Berkshire Book House in Housatonic during their second annual ‘Bikers for Books’ ride on Sunday, September 17, 2017.  The volunteers built a new Book House prior to the ride, then took a scenic motorcycle ride to Housatonic to replace and restock the much loved and well used one located in the Park.

Thank you for your support of Berkshire United Way, with your assistance we will reach our vision of Berkshire County being a dynamic, engaged community with opportunities for all.

Development Manager

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Economic Prosperity Request for Proposal

Berkshire United Way is seeking proposals to address its Economic Prosperity goals including connecting residents to available work and advancing career opportunities through exposure to various employment opportunities.  The Request for Proposal (RFP) is now available on-line at for funding from November 15, 2017 through June 30, 2020.

There are more than 17,000 individuals unemployed in Berkshire County, with only 2,700 of those collecting unemployment benefits with job placement support. An additional 26,000 are underemployed, not working 35 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. (Source: ACS 2011-2015 / Berkshire Benchmarks)

Job and income growth leads to a stronger local economy by increasing spending and the production of goods and services and stimulating economic activity. Benefits to the community include reduced social costs related to crime, drugs, family disruption and strengthened security, education, and physical and mental well-being. Job creation further increases economic prosperity for all and promotes higher living standards. (Source:

Instructions for completing on-line eligibility as well as a complete list of eligibility requirements are included in the RFP.  Among the latter – organizations must be financially stable, located in and primarily serving residents of Berkshire County, structured as a not-for-profit, governed by an active, locally based, volunteer board of directors, and deliver programs and outcomes that align with one or both of the strategies: Employment Match Maker (Family Sustaining Employment-Pathways) and/or Adult Work-Based Experiences (includes College Internships). 

We invite interested non-profit organizations to submit an Agency Eligibility through survey monkey using the link:

Together, we can build a stronger community.

Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Grants may end, but the work continues

Berkshire United Way has been proud to be a recipient of a Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant for the past ten years.  This grant has supported the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership which has been actively working to unite the community in creating a healthy environment for our middle and high school youth by reducing and preventing youth substance use. Through this collaborative effort with our community partners, we have reduced 30-day usage of alcohol for 8th graders by 19%; for 10th graders by 29%, and for 12th graders by 13% (2007 -2016 Prevention Needs Assessment).   

A critical protective factor in reducing and preventing youth substance use is providing recognition and positive rewards to youth for their engagement in their schools and community.  The Pittsfield Prevention Partnership recognized the importance of highlighting youth by starting the S.A.Y It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) awards in 2012. We have a catalog of 100 recipients since its inception.

Say It Proud Awards at the Gather In on July 22, 2017; Rich Johnson, former coordinator of Pittsfield Prevention Partnership (right in photo).

Unfortunately, the Drug Free Communities grant has come to an end, but many of the activities of Pittsfield Prevention Partnership will live on in our revived Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC). We will strive to create healthy, positive opportunities for all our Berkshire County youth.  If you would like to help develop strategies to support our youth in staying on a path to college and career join us on October 18th from 3 - 4:30 p.m. at the Family Resource Center, 480 West Street in Pittsfield.  I hope to see you there!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kindergarten readiness – it takes a community

I am very excited to be a part of Berkshire United Way’s efforts to ensure that every Berkshire County child arrives at kindergarten ready to learn.  

Kindergarten readiness involves many things, including social and emotional development, language and communication development, health and wellbeing, readiness to learn, as well as cognitive and general knowledge.

According to the National Association for the Education on Young Children, “School readiness must be broadly defined and flexible.”  Young children develop at very individual rates. Some may be strong in language, cognitive, and general knowledge and weaker in social development, due to shyness or lack of peer relationships.

Other children may excel in social, emotional, and communication skills, but show less interest in or received less exposure to cognitive skills such as writing, identifying letters, counting and classifying objects, or understanding book concepts. 

What is most important is for children to have a positive attitude toward learning and a community that supports them by providing opportunities for positive, healthy interactions with the adults in their lives. 

Our community partners at Wee Read Pittsfield offer suggestions on ways we can do that – I invite you to visit their Facebook page for inspiration.

Stephanie Adornetto
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fun-filled family events

The transition from summer to fall is always a beautiful time in Berkshire County and with it comes two exciting events that will help build a stronger community while also benefitting Berkshire United Way!

On Saturday, September 9th Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort will hold a Community Day, offering local residents and visitors to the Berkshires, the opportunity to purchase an All Park Pass for the one-day special price of $39 -including a hot dog, bag of chips and bottled beverage, while supplies last. That’s a savings of up to $26 per ticket!  Jack Waldheim will be performing live music throughout the day as well.  All proceeds from the day will benefit Berkshire United Way
The following Sunday, September 17th will be the 41st Josh Billings RunAground, a combination bike, canoe/kayak, and running race that winds through the towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Lenox, finishing at Tanglewood.  Participants compete as teams as well as ironpersons who are brave enough to tackle all three legs on their own. 

The Live United team poses for a photo following the 2016 running of the Josh Billings RunAground.
Over the past decade, the Josh Billings has contributed over $70,000 to Berkshire United Way’s mission of building a stronger community together.  I invite you to stop by and watch the race, it is an amazing Berkshire County tradition!

Duffy Judge
Development Manager

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Let’s Get To Work

In 2015, over 46,000 Berkshire County residents worked less than full time or did not work.*

While connecting families to income boosting benefits such as SNAP, Transitional Assistance and Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) is important in the short term, our belief is that we need to move from short term program interventions to long term, systems strategies that result in increased income and assets gained from employment.  This also supports the workforce development needs we have in our community.

On June 12, 2017, Berkshire United Way took action by engaging the Tamarack Institute to host a Let’s Get To Work: Building a Pathway to Sustainable Incomes Collective Impact workshop.

The 53 individuals in attendance represented a variety of sectors, including corporations, non-profit organizations, education, government, and community members with lived experience.  An overview of local data was presented to attendees and priorities for building employment pathways to economic prosperity for all were identified during the workshop.

One of our strategies is to connect individuals to career pathways so that they can obtain, retain, and advance in their jobs. Next steps include further mapping our existing assets and gaps and engaging directly with employers and potential employees.

We invite you to contact us at or give us a call at 413.442.6948, if you are interested in sharing your time and talent in creating economic prosperity for all.

Program Manager, Community Impact

*16-64 year olds, based on American Community Survey (ACS)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

S.A.Y.-ing It Proud

On Wednesday, May 24, I had the privilege of presenting S.A.Y. It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) awards to five amazing students from Reid Middle School. A second ceremony, recognizing two outstanding young members of our community took place during the Gather-In on Saturday, July 22. 

Pittsfield Prevention Partnership Coordinator Rich Johnson and Principal Linda Whitacre pose with Say It Proud Award winners Caitlyn Mayhew, Kileigh McGann, Gianna Arace, Ellianna Christopher,
and Ben Vengalil.

S.A.Y. It Proud is a campaign, which unites young people, parents and community leaders in recognizing youth for their positive contributions to our community and for making healthy choices.

The S.A.Y. It Proud campaign is just one of many strategies used by Pittsfield Prevention Partnership to prevent youth substance use. To nominate a youth for a S.A.Y It Proud award, simply email or call 413-442-6948.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Coordinator of Pittsfield Prevention Partnership

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Let's Talk About Words

Words are important!  In school and in life, much of learning happens through language.  Whether listening to a teacher’s instructions, reading a book or sharing experiences at the dinner table, words will be key to children’s growth and development.  That’s why a rich vocabulary is essential to success in school and beyond! 

Thanks to our community partnerships and volunteers, we are growing a community of young word learners. Here’s how: Words are best learned in hands-on ways, in the places where they are used. The Word Project is helping our community partners to join parents, caregivers and young children in building the vocabulary and experiences that will prepare them for kindergarten!

This month, employees at Carr Hardware on Main Street in Great Barrington, have become Word Coaches.  They are ready for young children to bring their Word Cards to Carr, search for and learn all about TOOLS, then receive a sticker of a tool at the check-out counter for their card.  Together, we can all have a long lasting, far reaching impact on our youngest community members.  To learn about becoming a Word Coach wherever you go, watch this short video and visit our website for the next location kick-off date!

South County Community Liaison