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