Friday, December 21, 2018

Preparing to put money back in the pockets of local residents

Last tax season, 731 Federal tax returns filed by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) partners funded by Berkshire United Way returned $1 million of the total $2.2 million VITA dollars returned to Berkshire County residents!

It’s been a busy November as we begin preparations for the upcoming tax season with our VITA partners at Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and the Hilltown Community Development Corporation.

VITA  partners from Berkshire United Way, the Hilltown Community Development Corporation and Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity meet to prepare for the upcoming tax season.
In collaboration with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, we recently hosted a tax training for self-employed members of the community. Accountant Dorine Lasky from Chester, Massachusetts, facilitated the training to help local, self-employed individuals – a need that was identified last VITA season.

Ten people representing local businesses attended the training and according to Ms. Lasky, "Questions and answers flowed...a good mix of backgrounds and professions made it an enjoyable and informative two hours." 

One small business owner commented, "Her explanations were clear and concise, she was very friendly and was able to answer many different questions on tax and accounting topics ranging from what percentage of your small business at home qualifies for a deduction to how to help contracted workers with their taxes.” Our partners at the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, will be hosting a similar training with Ms. Lasky this winter.

In addition to the training, informational sessions were held for VITA volunteers who will give their time and talent as greeters and tax preparers. Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity will host volunteer trainings in December and January and Berkshire United Way will offer additional information sessions as additional volunteers sign up.

Our goal is to exceed the number of tax returns filed last year, so we can put even more money back in the pockets of local residents. For more information on how you can help, please contact me at james.swinchoski@berkshireunitedway.org, or give me a call at 413-442-6948 ext. 36.

I look forward to hearing from you!

James Swinchoski
Economic Prosperity VISTA

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why mindfulness matters in the classroom

I felt a sense of peacefulness as I walked across the Kripalu grounds to the main entrance. 
I was going to see Kripalu’s RISE Program in action - a professional development program for Berkshire County Educators, that’s supported by Berkshire United Way. I took my shoes off and entered the space where the session was taking place, noticing that I was surrounded by dozens of teachers, guidance counselors, and other school staff.

The RISE Program gives educators simple, yet effective, tools to manage their classrooms. The Program instructors are Kripalu-trained in yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and offer another important strength – they were once educators themselves. They understand the pressure educators are under and offer insight into ways they can infuse mindfulness and “grounding” techniques into their classrooms. A grounding technique may be as simple as taking a “mindful minute,” or a deep breath in times of stress.



By helping teachers manage their stress in the classroom, we’re able to create a more positive learning environment for students. When a teacher leads a “mindful minute,” in the beginning of their class, both students and teacher can take a moment to regulate their breathing, which helps everyone transition into learning with a clearer mind and better focus. The change from a chaotic learning environment to a positive, mindful one can make a real difference in a student’s ability to learn.

This program is just one way that Berkshire United Way helps meet the needs of young people. If you’re a youth worker or educator, Berkshire United Way offers a range of professional development opportunities to support your work. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to me via the contact information listed below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development
p: 413.442.6948 x15

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Give back to your community through VITA!

Six years ago, the Internal Revenue Service asked us to partner with them and our local community to expand the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, together. VITA is free tax preparation and filing for individuals or families making less than $55k a year. The goal is to maximize tax credits and refunds, to put more money back in the pockets of low-income working families. 

This is truly life changing for some residents, like Maria. Maria, the divorced mother of a nine-year old child, tried to do her taxes herself and discovered she owed money to the IRS. She had made an appointment to have her taxes done in South County through the VITA program and almost didn't show up, because she couldn't afford to pay what she thought she owed.

With the help of a VITA volunteer, Maria actually wound up with a refund of $4,160. Maria was overwhelmed with emotion upon receiving this life-changing news. Her car was in disrepair and this refund enabled her to get her car back on the road, with money left over to pay some bills! 

Berkshire United Way will be offering VITA services at three locations this coming tax season—Berkshire South Regional Community Center and Berkshire Community College, South Campus in Great Barrington, and October Mountain Financial Advisors in Lee. We are currently looking for volunteers to fill several roles, so we can serve as many people as possible.

If you do not know much about taxes, don’t fret! Berkshire United Way offers training for tax preparers and reviewers; there are also other positions, which don’t require tax certification, such as greeting clients and serving as an interpreter. The hours are flexible, the training is free, and the time commitment is entirely up to you.



I invite you to email me at jswinchoski@berkshireunitedway.org or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x36 if you are interested in giving back to your community as a VITA volunteer. If you are interested in helping, but don’t live or work in south county, we can connect you with our VITA partners at additional sites throughout the county, including the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, Berkshire Community Action Council, Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (in conjunction with their Business Department), and Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

I look forward to hearing from you!

James Swinchoski
Economic Prosperity VISTA

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Help give 11,000 kids the magic of words!

#GivingTuesday is less than a week away.  Our goal is to raise $2,500 in one day to help give 11,000 Berkshire County kids the magic of words and we need your help!  The literacy programs we support play an important role in children's lives, as reflected in these stories from real people right here in our community.

My shy, speech delayed son is now a confident, social and happy child and I don’t think we could have gotten there without the help and services received by us from both the Pediatric Development Center and Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center. - Parent/Early Childhood Education and Early Intervention Client at Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center

Thanks to generous support from CompuWorks and the TriMix Foundation, your #GivingTuesday donation to Berkshire United Way will be tripled, increasing your impact!  Together, we can help more kids like Charlie.

In Lee, The Department of Children and Families referred a preschooler we’ll call Charlie to one of the programs we support (Lee Youth Association’s Busy Bee Preschool). He arrived with absolutely no verbal skills, some motor issues and found it difficult to form attachments with adults. Connecting this program with another of our funded partners, Pediatric Development Center, provided Charlie with specific intervention—both in therapy and in the classroom. As a result, Charlie is beginning to talk in 2-3 word sentences, has begun running and has become attached to all of his teachers. In short, he has turned a corner thanks to these organizations and gifts from people like you.

We really need your help to make #GivingTuesday a success, here’s what you can do!
  •        Save the date on your calendar
  •         Give whatever you can – any amount makes a difference and the impact
        is lifelong.
  •        Spread the word by telling your friends, family, and sharing our posts on social
        media.  You can even post a #UNselfie telling everyone why you gave!
Local children participate in a pop-up story time at the West Side Community Day event.
The Parent-Child Home Program helped me grow and flourish as a parent and as a result I am now a teacher to my child.  Now I know that I have that ability and that it’s important for me to make time for that. - CHP Parent/Child Home Program Client

On behalf of the children and families who will be impacted by your generosity, thank you for giving the magic of words.

Duffy Judge
Development Manager


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Through the eyes of an intern

Hello, my name is Mere - I live in Adams, Massachusetts and I’m a junior at Miss Hall’s School. As a Miss Hall’s student, I’ve been given the opportunity to intern at Berkshire United Way through the Horizons program. Horizons is a unique program that gives students an opportunity for career exploration through experiential learning at a variety of off-campus organizations.

Outside of classes, I am really interested in snowboarding and managing behind the scenes aspects of my school’s drama club productions, where I’ve learned about the amount of work that goes into making a show come to life!  Here at Berkshire United Way, I’m learning about the work that’s required to make lasting changes in our community.

For nearly 95 years, Berkshire United Way has been making lasting, positive changes, right here in Berkshire County—by strengthening families and promoting education as the path to children’s success. This includes giving young people the tools they need to make healthy decisions and graduate high school with a college or career plan.

Recently, I’ve been helping to coordinate the 411 in the 413 Youth Development Conference.  The “411 in the 413” is a collaboration between youth interns and staff from Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Railroad Street Youth Project, as part of the Berkshire Youth Development Project. The objective of this annual conference is to give local high school students an opportunity to connect with their peers throughout the county, and attend workshops designed to help young people navigate life.

Local students participate in a workshop titled "Ophelia Rising - Exploring the Power of Spoken Word” at a past 411 in the 413 Conference held at Hancock Shaker Village. 2019 marks the 13th year of this annual Conference.

This year’s conference will take place at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on Thursday, April 11th, 2019. If you are passionate about helping young people and are willing to share your expertise and experience with local teens, please consider facilitating a workshop. Sharing your knowledge and passion with young people helps them develop new skills that are critical for life in high school and beyond!

I'm so excited to be working at Berkshire United Way this year and can’t wait to see the results of our hard work. To learn more about facilitating a workshop at the 411 in the 413 Youth Conference, please contact Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at 413.442.6948 x15 or ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org.

I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Mere
Horizons Intern at Berkshire United Way



Thursday, November 8, 2018

School Readiness Begins at Birth

When people talk about children preparing for kindergarten, reading, writing and reciting the ABC’s are among the first things that come to mind. While the development of these skills plays an important role in kindergarten readiness, there are additional things we can do to help our children succeed.

This includes helping them develop the skills necessary to plan, focus their attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. While we aren’t born with these skills, we are born with the potential to develop them through interactions and practice.

Berkshire United Way, in collaboration with our partners at Childcare of the Berkshires, South Berkshire Kids and Kidzone Child Care Educational Centers, has created a “school readiness” Growth Chart. The chart is designed to help families support their child in developing these skills from birth right up to age five. Our goal…to help our children arrive at school ready to learn!

Easton and his parents love using their Growth Chart to measure his growth, both physically and developmentally!


Our Growth Chart includes multiple activities you can do with your children to develop fine and gross motor skills, language and literacy, problem-solving, and social-emotional skills. It also highlights the importance of community building skills, which include visiting our local library, museum, and attending playgroups and early childhood preschool programs.
The colors and photos in the growth chart design were carefully selected to engage children and their caregivers. One local grandmother recently shared the following story with us.

Imagine my delight as my 5-year old granddaughter, Anna exclaimed, "Thanks for the growth chart Mimi!” Anna is 46" tall and her younger brother, Maverick, is 29" (it was a challenge getting his height because he likes to be on his tippy toes).

Anna can do most of the things she should be able to in year 5 (she can't quite take care of her own hair), however, Maverick can do the 1st year things and a few 2nd year things. Anna and I had a great time talking about it!   -  A local grandmother, aka Mimi

Anna measures her younger brother, Maverick, using the Growth Chart.


To obtain your FREE growth chart, please email me at sadornetto@berkshireunitedway.org.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Stephanie
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

#GivingTuesday, what’s it all about?

We are so excited to be participating in #GivingTuesday for the first time! What's it all about? #GivingTuesday is a global movement that encourages people to donate to their favorite charities, become involved in a new one, or start giving for the first time. Falling right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the start of a holiday season that includes caring for our community, #GivingTuesday takes place on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.

So, please save the date! On November 27th, we’ll need your help in two ways. First, please give - whatever amount feels good to you. And second, please help spread the word via text, social media, email and word of mouth. Ask your family, friends, neighbors, to join us in this special day of giving.

Your donation will help give 11,000 kids the magic of words and every single gift counts! The ability to read proficiently by third grade is a proven indicator of a child’s future academic success.



Currently, early childhood programs funded by Berkshire United Way are serving 1,100 kids, that's one out of every 10 Berkshire County children under the age of nine. We need to reach more of our children to ensure they experience the magic of words.

We’ll share more information about #GivingTuesday on this blog, our Facebook page and our website as we get closer to November 27th, so be on the lookout. What better way to begin the season of giving than to provide a brighter future for the kids in our community?

On behalf of our county's youngest residents, thank you.
Duffy

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

You're invited to see your investment in action!

Did you know that a team of Berkshire United Way staff, board members, and community volunteers visit every program we fund, each year, to observe that program in action?  These monitoring visits help ensure our donors’ gifts are making a real impact! Those who participate find the experience incredibly rewarding as reflected in the stories below.

“I think I have been doing monitoring visits for about 10 years.  I love getting to see all the wonderful local programs Berkshire United Way partners with. Seeing the passion the program staff and volunteers have for what they do and their commitment is amazing.  I also review Requests for Proposal (RFPs), so it is great for me to read about the programs early on and then see them in action.  Every time I visit I get emotional about the stories they share.  Sometimes it's hard to leave them!” 
 - Jaime Campbell, Financial Analyst, Controller's Office, Williams College

“I have been monitoring human services programs in Pittsfield since 2013. It has been valuable for me to partner with Berkshire United Way on the programs that are also City funded, and collaborate on the expectations, results and goals for these programs.  I am always amazed at the good work being done in Pittsfield, every day. I have found that everyone doing this work is passionate about what they do and about how to make Pittsfield a thriving community. I am always in awe of the stories staff members share about the progress they make and the impact their services have on people’s lives. Site visits bring the program and services to life for me and I am able to bring that information back to our Human Service Advisory Council, the 11-member board that reviews City proposals. Berkshire United Way has always had a staff member on this Council, this partnership means that common funders can work together for agencies’ benefit.” 
- Justine Dodds, Program Manager, Community Development, City of Pittsfield

Local students were observed during a recent monitoring visit at The Mastheads. The Mastheads Fireside Poets program is funded by Berkshire United Way.  
These are just two stories from monitoring visit volunteers. There are many more like them and we couldn’t do this work without community members like you! If you’d like to participate in upcoming monitoring visits, or learn more about what’s involved, please contact Rae Langsdale at rlangsdale@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948, ext. 35.

We look forward to hearing from you!
Julie Singley
Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Power of Mentoring and Meaningful Work

“Through Roots Rising, I’ve become really interested in farming...I want to go grad school and hopefully buy a piece of property with a house, fields, and woods…I’d like to start an herb garden and maybe make some money as an herbalist, and then after finishing school start up a farm and my own CSA.”

The above was shared by Aviva, a high school student who is part of Roots Rising, an agriculture-based program of the Alchemy Initiative. Roots Rising pays teens to work on farms, in community gardens, and in local food pantries, but it’s not just a job. Berkshire United Way partners with organizations like the Alchemy Initiative to give young people the opportunity to explore careers and develop the work readiness skills they need.

Teens plant vegetables on a local farm through Roots Rising, a work readiness program that focuses on giving youth the tools they need to successfully enter the workforce.

Experiences like these are often enhanced by a mentor or positive role model who can support the young person in their challenges and aid in their growth. Through programs like Greenagers, another work readiness program supported by Berkshire United Way, young people not only gain crucial work experience, but are supported by mentors in the form of program staff, peer leaders, and local community members.

Donovan worked with Greenagers for four seasons and used that experience to secure a job working with Race Mountain Tree Services while enrolling in evening classes at Berkshire Community College.  The staff at Greenagers counseled Donovan through the financial aid process and continue to support him as he progresses through his professional and educational life.

Through programs like Greenagers and Roots Rising, young people can explore careers in related fields and secure employment in the Berkshires, just like Donovan. Others are given employability skills that can be applied to any line of work. The key ingredients to helping ensure our youth successfully transition to higher education and/or the workforce are opportunities for meaningful work and positive role models to help along the way.

If you’re interested in becoming one of these positive role models, please reach out to me for a list of opportunities. As they say, it takes a village!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Investing in innovation

One of our core values at Berkshire United Way is innovation - the act or process of introducing new ideas, or methods. As our community needs evolve, we are committed to partnering with new local agencies to implement cutting-edge solutions together and have established an Innovation Fund to help support this important work.



We are currently looking for new community partners who have started new programs and are looking for some support. In addition to funding, our team is available to assist with capacity building for these programs, or the process by which programs develop and maintain the knowledge, tools, and other resources needed to operate at a greater capacity (larger scale, larger audience, larger impact).

Detailed information, including the application for Innovation Funding is available on our website. Applications will be reviewed and grants will be awarded on a rolling basis, pending available funding.

These small grants will help us determine what works well, and if successful, replicate to provide early education opportunities, so more children enter school ready to learn; give more young people the tools they need to make healthy decisions and develop a plan for college or a career; and help more working families increase their income and assets.

To learn more about our Innovation Funding, please email me at jsingley@berkshireunitedway.org or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A driving force in moving our community forward

Hello! My name is Gregory Dieterich and I am a loaned Workplace Campaign Executive here at the Berkshire United Way. Greylock Federal Credit Union and the Berkshire United Way have always had a strong relationship, and this year Greylock donated my time to Berkshire United Way to assist them during their 2018 campaign. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to serve my community. While I have participated in many fundraising efforts for Berkshire United Way, this role will allow me to reach more people, and ultimately create more support for such an essential organization.



I have been directly impacted by two programs that receive funding from the Berkshire United Way, so it’s always been very easy for me to see the impact that they have on the community. When our daughter was born, Berkshire Nursing Families visited our room almost immediately to assist my wife and me. We had many questions and concerns, and they were there to make sure we were equipped with the information we needed to make nursing successful. Not only were they there after the delivery, they offer routine follow up visits. Without the support of this program, I truly feel we would not have had such an amazing experience.

The second organization we worked with was Childcare of the Berkshires. Among the many things they do, Childcare of the Berkshires hosts play groups for children of all ages. The groups are structured with activities designed to prepare children for the next steps in their lives. When our daughter was 2, I began bringing her to these groups where she learned social skills, and a love for reading through story time. Childcare of the Berkshires also taught me HOW to read to my daughter in a way that would ensure her comprehension of the story. These reading habits have put my daughter in a position to succeed, and I am extremely grateful for that.

The driving force behind me in this campaign is the joy I received from the efforts of these organizations and Berkshire United Way. I look forward to opening the possibilities for stories like mine to occur in other families throughout Berkshire County and invite you to learn more by reading the weekly posts on this blog.

Gregory Dieterich
Workplace Campaign Executive

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

FREE play groups offer so much more than play!

Did you know…that talking to babies right from the start and carrying on conversations with young children can result in a higher IQ, verbal comprehension, and language processing for children up to 10 years later!  Results of a 10-year longitudinal study by Lena researchers further shares that two-way conversations with children from 18-24 months are particularly important.

Berkshire United Way’s aspirational goals include making sure every child in Berkshire County enters kindergarten with the skills needed to be successful in the years to follow. Berkshire United Way partners and supports many programs that foster parent-child relationships, increase knowledge of child development, and help connect families with community resources.

One such program, the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) supports five regional community-based programs that promote family engagement. Each region hosts a variety of monthly literacy-based activities designed for young children and their families. Recognizing parents as a child’s first teacher, parents can work with their children to build on strengths, encourage creativity, and have fun meeting new friends. FREE for all families, programs offer playgroups, parent education classes and workshops, and connections to local resources. Some programs have free diapers, a clothing exchange, and most offer monthly family events.

A participant in a play group held at the The Family Center in North Adams, expresses her inner artist!

Check out the links below to find a playgroup near you and please share this blog with a family you know!


Community Health Program CHP Playgroups

Talk to you again soon -
Stephanie
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development




Friday, September 21, 2018

Resilience and hard work pay off

16-year old Pittsfield High School student, Kyle Pullaro-Clark has been a remarkable mentor and advocate. On Thursday September 6th, nearly 20 staff members and young people gathered at Berkshire Children and Families to honor Kyle with the S.A.Y It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) award for outstanding involvement in community and school activities.

Sarah Lampro, Youth Coordinator at the Family Resource Center, Kyle Pullaro-Clark, S.A.Y. It Proud recipient, and Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at Berkshire United Way.

As a member of Live Out Loud, an LGBTQ+ youth support group hosted by Berkshire Children and Families’ Family Resource Center, Kyle has demonstrated outstanding leadership and efforts in addressing and raising awareness about issues surrounding youth and the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to mentoring young people in Pride Play and Fun, a group for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 12, Kyle volunteers his time and puts his energy into community events such as the LGBTQ+ Annual Conference and Pittsfield Moves.  He also provides a youth voice on panels advocating for the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition to his great work in the community, Kyle works hard in his school, home and work life, holding a job in the community for the last couple years. Sarah Lampro, Youth Coordinator at the Family Resource Center, who nominated Kyle for the award said, “I have been fortunate to watch him grow into an extremely well-rounded, hardworking and great young man who I am confident will go on to do many remarkable things in our community.”  

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 has been continued by our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC).  

If you’d like to learn more about PYDIC or 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. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fun fall activities

Fall is in the air as children are returning to school and Berkshire United Way is grateful to be the beneficiary of two great events as we work with partners throughout the county to prepare children for kindergarten, help teens develop a college or career path and put money in the pockets of working families.

Saturday brought cooler temperatures making it a perfect day for outside activities and we’re so grateful to our friends at Jiminy Peak for hosting their second annual community day to raise money for Berkshire United Way.  Children and families enjoyed discounted admission to the adventure park, and the opportunity to spend time at our crafts table, enjoy a story walk, receive balloon animals and have their faces painted courtesy of Balloon Ben and his daughter. 



Thanks to some creative thinking by Race Director Patty Spector and the Josh Committee, the 42nd Josh Billings RunAground will go on!  The race takes place this Sunday, September 16th, with a new route that culminates on the familiar grounds of Tanglewood.

Following the main race is the always popular kids race, which draws more than 100 participants and is a fun, competitive way to put a wrap on the day of competition.  For those children interested in registering, you can do so the day prior to the event at the Arcadian Shoppe or on the day of the event at Tanglewood.

For many years proceeds from the event have been donated to Berkshire United Way to help our organization ignite the collective power of individuals and organizations to build a stronger community together. 

Berkshire United Way is fortunate to have such great community partners in our efforts to make Berkshire County a dynamic, engaged community with opportunities for all.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Prosperous Partnership with AmeriCorps

Greetings! My name is James Swinchoski and I am the current Economic Prosperity VISTA at Berkshire United Way – in partnership with the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program. The VISTA program is a national service program designed to help end poverty. My tenure will be from August 2018 to August 2019 as a part of an AmeriCorps year of service.

James Swinchoski, AmeriCorps VISTA intern in Economic Prosperity.

I am a recent graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies. I held concentrations in Psychology and Sociology – with a double minor in Social Work and Social Justice Studies. My aim with wedding these programs together was to learn about community organization on a micro and macro level as well as creating positive change our community.

I previously interned with the North Adams Friendship Center – helping them survey those in need of meal support and social services. I also helped them with web development and assisted with the food pantry, while I honed my grant writing skills and so much more.

In the coming year, I will be working with Berkshire United Way on their Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, assisting our with free tax preparation and recruiting young people to the Berkshires and helping them get the training they need to thrive here (EPIC).

I am incredibly excited about this opportunity to build a stronger community and have had a great couple of weeks here at Berkshire United Way. I will be posting updates from time to time, so expect to hear more from me in the weeks and months ahead!

Warmest regards,
James, VISTA Volunteer

Friday, August 24, 2018

Collaborations result in a stronger community

In a recent blog post you heard directly from Charlotte Cahillane, Positive Youth Development intern here at Berkshire United Way.  One of the projects Charlotte worked on while she was with us was the Positive Youth Development Impact Council Resource Fair.

On July 18th, 14 different youth-serving programs from across the county took part in the Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC) Resource Fair held at the Hillcrest Center Campus Gymnasium in Lenox. The primary objectives of this event were to enable program staff who work with young people to connect, learn more about the community resources that are available, and strengthen their referral networks.

Participating organizations included: the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Berkshire Children and Families, Berkshire County Kid's Place, Berkshire Family YMCA, Berkshire Pulse, Boy Scouts, The Brien Center, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Child Care of the Berkshires, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, North Adams Public Schools, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Railroad Street Youth Project, and United Cerebral Palsy Association of Berkshire County. 

During the second part of the fair, local business community members joined us to learn more about youth-focused initiatives in the Berkshires and the various volunteer opportunities that are available. Activities like this are just one of the many ways Berkshire United Way impacts the community through resource coordination, or the idea that no one person, program or agency can do it all and our collaborations result in a stronger community.

Elizabeth LeSage from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) talks with Logan Malik from Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), as Sarah Lampro from Berkshire Children and Families looks over informational materials provided by BEAT.
To learn more about the Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC) or volunteer opportunities with young people, please contact Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948 x 15.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Kat

Friday, August 17, 2018

Back to School with the “1000 Backpack Challenge”

In a few short weeks, local youngsters will be crowding the stores in search of needed school supplies. While many families look forward to this as a sort of “rite of passage,” others struggle with the financial burden of getting their child ready for a new academic year. 

Berkshire United Way’s goal to create a pathway of success from cradle to career recognizes the important collaborations happening in our community.

In conjunction with The Berkshire Eagle, Greylock Federal Credit Union and numerous other sponsors, will distribute 1,000 backpacks to children in need throughout Berkshire County. Families may pick up their FREE backpack filled with school supplies at the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires at 7 Melville St. Pittsfield MA. on August 22nd from 3pm-6pm on a first-come-first-served basis.



The goal is for every child in Berkshire County to start school on the right foot with the supplies they need. In addition to the backpack giveaway, free haircuts will be offered from 3-5 pm along with a host of other activities, including health checkups, and financial tips for parents/caregivers.

Berkshire United Way is pleased to be an active participant in this event and will have a variety of new books on hand for children to tuck into their backpack and read throughout the year. As community partners join forces to support our children, we build a stronger community, together.

Stephanie Adornetto
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development


Friday, August 10, 2018

Building a strong foundation

Berkshire United Way collaborates with many community partners throughout the county, to help our children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn, so they are reading proficiently by third grade.  Last year, we invested more than $134,380 in early education and care programs at Berkshire Children and Families, Child Care of the Berkshires, Lee Youth Association, and Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center. Together, we impacted more than 425 children’s lives.

These quality early education and care programs recognize what research has shown – that “children learn best” when academic learning, like language and literacy is intertwined with building social emotional skills, such as sitting quietly for circle time and sharing with others.

Children enrolled in Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center’s Early Childhood Education program listen to a story as they sit quietly during circle time.

The early education and care programs we invested in, report that 93% of the children they serve maintained or progressed socially and emotionally and 92% maintained or improved their language skills.  This is in comparison to 77% of children achieving comparable developmental milestones through investments made by other United Ways.

A young child who was referred to Lee Youth Association’s Busy Bee Preschool by the Department of Children and Families. Upon his arrival, he had absolutely no verbal skills, was walking on his toes, and had trouble forming attachments to adults. Program staff obtained services from the Pediatric Development Center, who came to see him two to three times a week and provided tools for the Busy Bee staff to continue his therapy within the classroom; teachers worked tirelessly with the child every free chance they had. As a result, he is beginning to talk in 2-3 word sentences. He has completely stopped “toe walking”—in fact he’s even running—and has become attached to all his teachers, who look forward to seeing what the future holds for this amazing little boy!

Impact like this is a collaborative effort that’s possible only through the generous support of our donors and hard work of our community partners and volunteers. A child’s earliest years set the foundation for later learning and life success.  The investment we make there now pays incredible dividends later.

We welcome volunteers who are interested in joining us in this important work. To learn more or support our work in early childhood development by giving to Berkshire United Way, please visit berkshireunitedway.org.


Julie
Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Legacy of Caring

On July 15th, I had the honor of participating in the dedication of a new Berkshire United Way Book House at the Dalton CRA in memory of William T. West.  Since 2016, Unistress employees and their friends have participated in the annual Bikers for Books ride—a motorcycle ride throughout the county—installing or repairing Berkshire United Way Book Houses along the way.  Bill West was part of this group prior to his death in May, and his friends and family chose to honor his memory in a way that also gives back to the children of our community.  As kids and their parents take a book and leave a book at the CRA, they will be greeted by Bill’s wonderful smile. 

Unistress employees gather around a newly installed Berkshire Book House at the Dalton CRA on Sunday, July 15, 2018.  The Book House, where children are encouraged to take a book and leave a book in its place, was dedicated to William T. West, a big supporter of the Dalton CRA, and contained his picture on the front.
Our community lost another good friend in May when Carolyn Sawyer passed away.  Carolyn was dedicated to Berkshire United Way’s Book Houses, spending her retirement biking a customized route to check on the many Pittsfield locations, and reporting back to us which houses needed books or repairs, and then filling them.  She spent hours sorting and organizing the many books donated to Berkshire United Way.  Carolyn and her family generously chose Berkshire United Way to be the beneficiary of gifts in her memory, and we have created a fund to support the Book Houses in her name.  In this way, Carolyn will continue to look over the Book Houses and our children as they experience the love of reading.

Our community is blessed by the legacies of so many kindhearted spirits, and it is an honor to be their steward.

Jennifer Kerwood
Vice President of Development

Monday, July 30, 2018

An intern's insight

Hello!  My name is Charlotte Cahillane and I'm the summer Positive Youth Development Intern here at Berkshire United Way.

Charlotte poses for a photo opp in front of Berkshire United Way's South Street office in Pittsfield.

I grew up in Berkshire County, attending Lenox Public Schools from kindergarten until high school graduation in 2015. After leaving high school, and taking a semester off, I began studying at Middlebury College in Vermont. At school I study French and Global Health while volunteering and working. It’s been over a year and a half since I've spent more than two weeks in the Berkshires and I'm thrilled to be home!

When I was looking for internship positions for the summer months, I became interested in Berkshire United Way because of its commitment to build a dynamic, engaged community. Although I'm focusing on global health at school, I'm very interested in public and community health as well as community building. As a funding source for dozens of non-profits throughout the county, Berkshire United Way seemed a principal source of community-based activity. I particularly wanted to learn more about positive youth development, community health practices, LGBTQ support and community organizing, or the coordination of efforts by local residents to build a stronger community together, in Berkshire United Way’s work.

As a member of the team for the next couple months, I'm supporting several projects, including:

       Supporting the recent positive youth development resource fair where 14 organizations compared programming to determine how they could overlap and strengthen referral networks.
       Researching youth programs in the Berkshires, particularly those that support career or college readiness programs, to aid in a project that strive to connect these resources and promote college and career readiness.
       Overseeing the Humans of the Berkshires Facebook and Instagram pages – I love learning more about the aspirations of local youth.

There's a lot to do and only a few weeks to do it, but I'm glad to have this opportunity to learn and grow with Berkshire United Way!

-Charlotte

When you volunteer through United Way, you’re joining 2.9 million people who are giving back so others can get ahead. Join our global community of game changers today! To learn more about volunteer opportunities through our Positive Youth Development Impact Council, please contact Kat Toomey, Coordinator of Positive Youth Development at ktoomey@berkshireunitedway.org or 413-442-6948 x15.