Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Creating a world of wonder

Yesterday, a child came out to wonder.  He caught a dragonfly inside a jar.
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder, and tearful at the falling of a star.

So begins The Circle Game, a song by Joni Mitchell about growing up. 

For some families, the early years are full of this sort of curiosity and wonder; filled with summer days with skinned knees, berry stained fingers, buckets of minnows, jars of fireflies, campfires with sing-alongs, or hot dogs at the ball park. Chapter One, a Berkshire United Way-led coalition, is working with community partners to ensure that all families, no matter how stormy the skies may be in the struggle for stability, have access to experiences that build connection and curiosity.

We invite families to join us on the journey to kindergarten at our upcoming Get Ready for K Day, on Saturday, April 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Hosted in partnership with CHP Family Services and South Berkshire Kids, we’ll launch the Word Project’s 1st Annual Kinder Art Show, featuring art work by students in Sunshine Preschool, Head Start and CHP’s Play and Learn group.

Families who attend will have an opportunity to practice carrying their lunch trays as part of the lunch tray relays with South Berkshire Kids.  They’ll also be able to obtain information about kindergarten registration from local schools, play and learn with the Parent Child Home Program, and learn how to tell stories and watch them come to life with The Word Project’s Live Actors!

Michelle Hayden, playgroup leader for South Berkshire Kids at the 1st annual Get Ready for K Day on April 8, 2017.  Interactive activities build social, emotional, cognitive and physical connections.
Together, we can ensure each kindergarten class arrives at school ready to learn, and begin their wonder-filled journey. As The Circle Game says, the years quickly spin by, and yes, some dreams may lose grandeur coming true. But we can ensure our community is one where all children have learned how to use their sense of wonder to overcome their fears amidst the thunder storms of life, so that together, we make new dreams, and plenty of them.
Amy Taylor
South County Community Liaison

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Through the lens of an Employee Campaign Coordinator

Crane Currency has a long history of giving back to the community in many ways, including supporting the volunteer efforts of our employees through our Crane in the Community Program. The Berkshire United Way Workplace campaign has been a great way to expand Crane’s reach into the community.

In my role as an Employee Campaign Coordinator (ECC) at Crane Currency, I lead a team of individuals dedicated to managing our annual campaign by planning fun events and helping employees pledge their annual donations to Berkshire United Way.

Volunteering as an ECC has given me the opportunity to learn how Berkshire United Way supports programs right here in Berkshire County that help youth, teenagers, and families. In my role as Crane’s ECC, I can share this information with my coworkers to help them understand just how impactful their donations are when they pledge through our workplace campaign. It is exciting to work with new donors, walking them through the process of pledging and showing them the range of programs and initiatives their pledges benefit, ultimately impacting more than 15,000 people right here in Berkshire County.
Crane Currency employees gather for a photo at the Live United Community Celebration on April 28, 2017.  Employee Campaign Coordinators, Sandy Streeter and Hannah DeLisle Stall were nominated for the JCPenney Employee Campaign Coordinator Award, presented at the event.
In addition to furthering Berkshire United Way’s efforts, the campaign also provides a great way for employees to learn about services and programs that are in action here in our community. With this information, many of our donors go on to refer friends or loved ones to Berkshire United Way-supported programs, or are sparked to volunteer their own time at events and with initiatives they learned about through our United Way campaign.

Working with ePledge, the electronic pledging system, makes pledging easy, and allows me to track progress toward our goal of increasing campaign participation each year. As part of Crane Currency’s campaign, we have raffles and prizes for donors each year, which our employees always look forward to. The Berkshire United Way Campaign is a fun time of the year here at Crane, and I am so proud to work for an organization that is so supportive of our community and Berkshire United Way.

Hannah DeLisle Stall
Employee Campaign Coordinator
Crane Currency

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Put money back in your pocket!

Maria* is the divorced mother of a nine-year old son who tried to do her taxes herself and discovered she owed money to the IRS. She made an appointment to have her taxes done through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Berkshire United Way and almost didn't show up, because she couldn't afford to pay what she thought she owed. 

VITA volunteer, Pat Callahan, prepared Maria's return, looking for every credit she might be eligible for. Maria wound up with a refund of $4,160, and $3,362 of that was the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Maria was overwhelmed with emotion upon learning about her return. Her car is currently in disrepair. This refund will enable her to get her car back on the road, with money left over to pay some bills! 

“I can't thank the VITA volunteers enough for helping me prepare my taxes! They were so knowledgeable, thorough, patient and kind. I can honestly say they changed my life that afternoon from thinking I owed taxes to looking at a substantial, much appreciated refund. It was amazing and I am really grateful.”    - Maria

To make an appointment for free tax preparation** through Berkshire United Way’s VITA sites in Lee or Great Barrington, please call 413.442.6948.  Appointments are also available through our community partners at additional sites throughout the county.

Berkshire United Way is hosting a Taxathon on Saturday, March 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center, where free tax prep will be available by IRS certified volunteers. Appointments are highly recommended, however, walk-ins are welcome, provided they arrive by 3 p.m. and volunteer preparers are available. All clients MUST bring photo IDs, social security cards (either originals or photocopies), and tax forms for every member of their household.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Program Manager, Community Impact

*At the service recipient’s request we are not using her real name
**Household income must be $54,000 or less

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kids do well, if they can

After the long commute to Boston, 32 hours of intensive training, and countless conversations with experts in the field, I found myself back in the Berkshire hills with a new intentionality for ensuring all of our young people are supported in their development. The training I attended is called the BEST Initiative (Building Exemplary Systems of Training), and it was facilitated by the Boston-based nonprofit, Health Resources in Action.

One of many topics discussed at this training was developmental outcomes.  Often times, we tend to focus on achievement-based outcomes, or the idea that young people are deemed successful when they transition to young adulthood and gain stable employment or pursue higher education; we forget about the developmental outcomes or soft skills it takes to get to those achievements, some of which are listed in the chart below.

·         Getting a job
·         High school diploma
·         Recommendation
·         Passing the PARCC
·         Internship
·         College
·         Scholarship
·         Confidence
·         Relationships
·         Social skills
·         Leadership skills
·         Presentation skills
·         Appreciating diversity
·         Sense of responsibility
·         Ability to control behavior

Members of our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC) are committed to creating opportunities throughout the county to ensure our young people develop these soft skills, which will help them achieve future success.  We know that, behind challenging behavior our youth exhibit, are opportunities for building developmental skills – kids do well if they can.

If you would like to increase youth access to positive, healthy opportunities in our community by joining the Positive Youth Development Impact Council, please contact me at or 413-442-6948 x 15.

I hope to hear from you!
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development