Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Community rallies to prepare children for kindergarten

Do you remember how you felt the first time a school bus rolled to a stop and you bid farewell to your backpack-bearing child?  Perhaps you were biting your lip to stop your tears from spilling over as butterflies flitted about inside.

Every parent wants their child to have a great experience at school – to learn new things, make new friends, and remain excited about going every single day. After all, you’ve prepared for this day for quite some time. But did you know school success begins long before that first day? Pittsfield Promise, a Berkshire United Way-led coalition made up of community members from various community sectors, is committed to helping every child get the skills they need to succeed.

On April 6th, eighteen tables staffed by 20 volunteers from local agencies that work with young children, gathered in the community room at the Berkshire Athenaeum for the sixth annual School Readiness Fair. When the doors opened at 10:30 in the morning, over 15 families were lined up, ready to engage in fun, educational activities designed to foster kindergarten readiness skills.

Activities—all of which can be replicated at home—included making puppets and retelling stories, creating buildings and animals with household items and tape, using bingo markers to trace letters, and rolling dice to identify numbers. Highlights of the event included using Ozobots (tiny robots) used to learn simple coding, riding a school bus for the first time and participating in a free developmental screening called Ages and Stages.

Kelly Bevan McIlquham of Berkshires Macaroni kids helps a young child trace letters with a bingo marker. This was just one of several activities offered at the recent School Readiness Fair held at the Berkshire Athenaeum.

Completing the Ages and Stages screening helps children, aged birth to five, get the best start in life. This simple developmental questionnaire asks you about skills most kids have at that age, to help determine if your child is on track. If s/he needs a little extra practice in a specific area, a Child and Family Community Engagement Coordinator will identify activities you can do to help set your child up for success. 

To schedule a free screening, call Jenn Faulconer at 413.441.0974. After the screening is completed, activities will be suggested to support your child’s growth at home and in the community, creating a path to school readiness.

Stephanie Adornetto
Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Thursday, April 19, 2018

FIESTA the Berkshire United Way!

We are the Cormiers, lovers of everything that Berkshire County has to offer, due in large part to the good work Berkshire United Way does for the community. My wife Leslie and I started our journey together almost 14 years ago, meeting in Boston; me, fresh out of college, and Leslie recently moving from Guatemala. In our time together in Boston, we had our first child, saw the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years, watched the Patriots win a few Super Bowls and the Celtics an NBA title. Hopefully that timeline leads you to mid-March 2008, when we decided that moving back to the Berkshires to raise our young family was the right thing to do for our future.

Matt and Leslie Cormier, co-chairs of FIESTA, 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party.

Flash forward to present day. We now have three daughters, and both of us work for Guardian Life Insurance Company and are active contributors to the Berkshire United Way – both monetary donations through Guardian’s workplace campaign and through various volunteer opportunities. Most recently, we were given the opportunity and honor of co-chairing the most exciting party of 2018; the 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party (FIESTA) on Friday, May 4, at the Stationery Factory in Dalton. Having attended the previous two mega-successful “Movers and Shakers” parties, we jumped at the chance to assist in making this year’s party the best yet. Whether you are already a contributor or volunteer for Berkshire United Way or you have never given to the organization, please block your calendars for the evening of Friday, May 4, to come together as a community and celebrate the great work Berkshire United Way does, and at the same time contribute to their efforts to Build a Stronger Community!  You can learn more about this fun-filled event and purchase your tickets here. I look forward to seeing you there!

Thank you, in advance, for your support.

Matt and Leslie Cormier
Co-chairs, FIESTA, the 3rd Annual Berkshire United Way Dance Party

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Paid internship opportunities – it’s EPIC!

Do you know a college student coming home for the summer? If so, please encourage them to apply for an internship through Berkshire Business Interns (BBI). BBI is offering more than 30 paid summer internship opportunities at leading Berkshire County Businesses. BBI is a program of Lever, a Berkshire United Way Community Partner and active member of our Economic Prosperity Impact Council (EPIC). Paid internships for young adults is just one of the strategies employed by EPIC to build a pathway to sustainable income for Berkshire County residents.

By providing lucrative and meaningful employment opportunities for young people here in the Berkshires, we increase Berkshire businesses’ access to the best talent, and create opportunities for college students to be exposed to cutting-edge businesses and careers.  The ultimate goal is for these interns to choose to live and work in the Berkshires once they graduate. This is an economic win for our community as well as for our young people.

Karen Vogel, director of community impact at Berkshire United Way, is pictured with Jackie Kays, positive youth development intern.
If you are interested in learning more about the EPIC work that is taking place here in the Berkshires, I invite you to email me at or give me a call at 413.442.6948 x32. 

Oh, and about those internships...make sure you tell the college students in your life to apply soon!  Positions are currently being filled.

Program Manager, Community Impact

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Providing local teens with “Tools for Change”

On Thursday, April 12th, 112 high school students from across the county will gather at Hancock Shaker Village for the 12th annual 411 in the 413 youth conference. Created and organized by their peers, and supported by Berkshire United Way, Railroad Street Youth Project, and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, the conference offers a unique opportunity for students from 13 high schools to come together, meet new friends, delve into their passions, while navigating the challenges young people face in today’s world.

The conference features 22, one hour-long workshops covering topics selected by youth, which are organized into four tracks: The Arts, Compassion in Action, Wellness, and Adulting. “I think this conference is such an amazing opportunity for students to learn and explore outside the classroom. Things like therapy, yoga, self-defense and how to pay for college will help us a lot in the future,” said Julie Xu, of Miss Hall’s School and 411 in the 413 Horizons intern at Berkshire United Way.

Students launch a bottle rocket during a workshop at the 11th Annual 411 in the 413 youth conference.

The theme of this year’s conference is, “Tools for Change.” Zoe Hypolite, member of Mira’s Alliance for Philanthropic Sustainability (MAPS) and the Diversity Coalition at Miss Hall’s School, and Madison Quinn Pittsfield High Class of 2018, founder of the nonprofit, “Strong Little Souls,” will share their personal “Tools for Change” with attendees in a keynote address.

Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page for inspiring photos of ‘Tools for Change!’   These young people are our future!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development