Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The value of volunteers

Volunteers – according to Merriam Webster they are people who of their own free will undertake or express a willingness to undertake a service.  Ask any Berkshire United Way staff member and they will say they are part of the life blood of our organization.

“Meaningful community solutions require more than money, programs or policies.  The kind of real and lasting change that benefits everyone is only possible when people from all walks of life are willing to roll up their sleeves and go where their time and talent is most needed.”*

For many, the season of St. Valentine’s Day is a time to take stock and express appreciation for those around you.  In that spirit, Berkshire United Way has established a tradition of expressing our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the many volunteers, known as Employee Campaign Coordinators, who lead our Workplace Campaigns. Over $1 million is raised here in the Berkshires through more than 170 campaigns at businesses and organizations throughout the county – that’s over 50% of our total investment in the community.

Employee Campaign Coordinators volunteered more than 800 hours this fall supporting Berkshire United Way by sharing our message and organizing special fundraisers and events to bring awareness to our Workplace Campaigns.  As a token of our appreciation, every Employee Campaign Coordinator received a ‘valentine’ last week and Berkshire United Way staff members visited more than 30 Employee Campaign Coordinators to deliver homemade cookies, made by Berkshire United Way staff, along with our heartfelt thanks for their tremendous effort in building a stronger community.
Development Manager, Duffy Judge, delivers cookies and thanks to Pittsfield Cooperative Bank Employee Campaign Coordinator, Sandy Girard.
If you are interested in exploring volunteer opportunities in support of creating lasting change here in the Berkshires, please call me at 413-442-6948, ext. 12, or drop me an email at

I look forward to hearing from you!

Development Manager

*United Way Worldwide website

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beating the winter blues!

Is winter getting your down? Are your children begging for some fun? We’ve got the “cure” for you!

Berkshire United Way is joining members of the Pittsfield Promise Coalition and the Zion Lutheran Church for 10x the Fun on Saturday, February 24th, from 4-6 p.m. at the First Street Common and Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsfield.  Part of Cultural Pittsfield’s 10X10 Upstreet Winter Arts Festival, 10x the Fun is an Olympic-themed, family-friendly event offering FREE entertainment, indoor and outdoor activities, and light fare.
A mother and her child complete an arts and crafts activity at a Berkshire United Way event held at the Zion Lutheran Church.
Indoor activities include dance and music performances, corn hole, arts and crafts, and face painting, while revelers will have an opportunity to participate in an obstacle course and javelin throw outside. Bring the whole family - you may just win one of our giveaways; and be sure to bring a camera for photo opportunities with Belle - Beauty of the Berkshires.

Immediately following the event, there will be a 10-minute fireworks display at The Common, so dress warm and plan to have some good, old-fashioned family fun!

To beat the winter blues beyond this weekend’s event, be sure to follow Berkshire United Way’s Facebook page for future events and ideas.

I hope to see you soon!

Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Call 211 in times of need

Have you or someone you know ever been laid off from a job or experienced a reduction in hours that also resulted in a reduction in pay? Have you ever wondered what you would do if you found yourself in that situation; how you would feed your family and continue to pay your bills?  Who would help you in your time of need?

On Sunday, February 11, United Ways in Massachusetts joined United Ways across the country to celebrate National 2-1-1 Day, calling attention to this free information and referral service that has been in operation here in Massachusetts since 2006.
Mass 2-1-1 is a hotline that is staffed by information and referral specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who connect residents to the resources they need.  Last year, 1,147 calls were made to Mass 2-1-1 by Berkshire County residents.  Top needs included assistance with child care and parenting, utilities, mental health and addictions, and housing and shelter.  In addition to this referral hotline, Mass 2-1-1 also maintains a searchable, online database at, which is also supported by an online chat feature.

For the resident who finds him or herself in the situation above, a specialist may provide information about unemployment benefits, job search options, SNAP benefits, food pantries, mortgage or rent help, utility assistance, and employment counseling.

Berkshire United Way provides funding support to Mass 2-1-1 to ensure sufficient coverage and access here in the Berkshires. I invite you to share this column on your personal Facebook page to raise awareness of this free, user-friendly phone and online database system. By promoting Mass 2-1-1 we can make sure that all Berkshire residents are aware of the resources available to them.

If you are a service provider in MA, we encourage you to promote the wonderful programs and services your organization provides to our county’s residents by enrolling in or updating your information on the MA 2-1-1- website.  This will ensure that help and support is available to those in need.

Program Manager, Community Impact

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Turning tragedy into resilience

Kendra is a lovely young woman who has experienced significant challenges in her life due to the loss of two special people. As a young child, Kendra lost her mom. More recently, her aunt, the woman who raised Kendra, passed away.

Despite her overwhelming feelings of sadness, Kendra has demonstrated tremendous resilience; she is determined to not let these tragedies define her life. In fact, despite these tragedies, or perhaps in part, because of them, she has blossomed into a beautiful human being, both inside and out.

Instead of turning inward, Kendra turns outward, always present to help and support her peers with a strong moral compass and a kind, compassionate heart. She is resourceful, seeking the help and support she needs to heal.  She is driven to hold on to her hopes and dreams and takes pride in her academic work, so that she can pursue her goal of attending college in the fall. She is an active member of the Wahconah Ambassador team, a student leadership group that strives to implement positive, supportive programs for students.

Kendra is also active outside of school; she has held jobs at Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort in Lenox and Target in Lanesborough, to help support her financial needs. In between work and school, she reaches out to help people in need in the community like her grandmother, who needs assistance with household chores and taking her clothes to the local laundromat.

Donna Therrien, School Adjustment Counselor at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, who shared the above story, says it was her pleasure to nominate Kendra Richards, a senior at Wahconah for the S.A.Y It Proud (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) award for outstanding involvement in community and school activities.

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 will be continued by our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC).   

If you’d like to learn more about PYDIC, which creates healthy, positive opportunities for all Berkshire County youth, or if you want to nominate a young person aged 11-19, for a S.A.Y It Proud award, please contact me at or 413-442-6948 ext. 15.

In the meantime, keep your eyes open for announcements of future S.A.Y. It Proud awardees!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development