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, 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