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