Thursday, June 28, 2018

"We should remember those who changed the world."

That’s what Allison, a sixth grader at Herberg Middle School, said following a recent presentation about Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman by local author Jana Laiz. Laiz wrote the book “A Free Woman on God’s Earth,” about Mumbet, the first African-American woman to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts.

Berkshire United Way, through the Berkshire Youth Development Project, purchased 338 copies of Laiz’s book for Herberg students to read prior to her presentation.  In return, Laiz agreed to do a day of presentations for Herberg students to provide even more meaning to what they had read. Connecting positive role models and mentors such as Laiz to young people in the Berkshires is one of the many ways Berkshire United Way creates positive opportunities for young people in our community.

Learning that an independent movie, based on Laiz’s book, will be produced in the Berkshires by critically-acclaimed actress, Octavia Spencer, elicited additional enthusiasm from the students.

“The presentations were very well received by the students and the faculty. Additionally, many of the students took advantage of having their books autographed by the author,” commented Herberg Principal, Dr. Gina Coleman.

Seventh grade students at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield visit the Ashley House in Sheffield, MA.  Mumbet, who was enslaved in the Ashley House, helped end slavery in Massachusetts.
Berkshire United Way is proud to support positive youth development activities such as this in schools throughout Berkshire County. To learn more about this work and/or to join our Positive Youth Development Impact Council (PYDIC), please email me at or give me a call at 413-442-6948 x 15.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Kat Toomey
Coordinator of Positive Youth Development

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Turn the "summer slide" into the "summer glide"

If you ever learned to play an instrument, draw or dance, you may have heard, “Practice makes perfect.” The same holds true for building reading and learning skills in young children.

Studies show that children experience a learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.  This phenomenon, known as the “summer slide,” is something every parent hopes their child will avoid.  

Summer learning opportunities are fun for the whole family plus they help keep your child’s skills sharp.  Need some ideas?  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Take advantage of Free Fun Fridays, which offer no-cost admission to treasured cultural venues in Massachusetts, including many here in the Berkshires! Visit for a complete schedule.
  • Take pictures of your adventures and create a summer scrapbook with your child. Label the new things you do and learn.
  • Read 20 minutes every day! Take turns with your child reading aloud and sharing books. Introduce your child(ren) to newspapers, maps, comic books, or online resources.
  • Stargaze together by enjoying a free visit to nearby Williams College Planetarium.
  • Visit the library and check out some audio books for car rides.
  • Enjoy family-friendly podcasts while doing crafts.
  • Cook together following recipes – it’s a fun way to incorporate reading!
  • Garden together – learn what vegetables need to survive and how to control garden pests organically.

Most importantly, explore together. Share stories about your childhood, and ask open-ended questions about their interests.  You will create wonderful family memories that will last a lifetime.

Happy learning!

Coordinator of Early Childhood Development

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Making a positive impact

 When you give to Berkshire United Way, your gift is part of a collective that impacts our community in a way that no single person, program or organization can do alone.

I’d like to provide a glimpse of just one of the many ways you made an impact in the Berkshires. 287 youth were matched with a mentor last year - mentoring provides teens with a caring adult who acts as a positive role model, helping them to navigate those critical formative years and make healthy decisions that will lead to high school graduation and a career or college plan.

Mentoring in action at the Railroad Street Youth Project.

One young man, we’ll call him Jack, was struggling to remain in school; he was combative with teachers, school administration and some peers, resulting in a couple of school suspensions and being held back from class field trips.

In an effort to intervene he was matched with a mentor, but right out of the gate he let the mentor coordinator know, he was only interested in playing basketball.

As time progressed, he became an active member in various group activities and games and even attended multiple field trips. With the help of his mentor, his peer relationship skills developed, and he demonstrated positive growth in his relationships with his peers and school and even earned a field trip to Boston.

This is just one story, and mentoring only represents one strategy we are implementing in our positive youth development work. Currently we are investing over $575,000 in quality youth programming.  We could not do this without you. On behalf of our community partners, friends and neighbors throughout the Berkshires, thank you.

Duffy Judge
Development Manager

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Emergency food and shelter – it matters

Since November 2015, more than 9,000 community members have been touched by the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) administered by Berkshire United Way.

How are EFSP funds used here in the Berkshires?
  • Meals or groceries were provided to 7,000 of our people
  • They covered the cost of 2,800 shelter nights for residents
  • They paid 109 utility bills (for one month)
  • They helped with 10 rent/mortgage payments
When you are facing a non-disaster-related emergency, assistance with basic needs like food and shelter really matters. 

Berkshire County has been awarded $49,311 in Federal EFSP funds. Qualifying agencies may complete an application before Wednesday, June 13th and submit it as requested. A local board will then determine how the funds will be distributed.

For further information, please feel free to contact me via email or give me a call at 413.442.6948.

Together, we can make a difference.

Julie Singley
Program Manager, Community Impact