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Investing in Berkshire teens yields future dividends

As appeared in the Berkshire Eagle.

Our teens are our future.  When they succeed, we all succeed. 

In 2016, 87.3% of Berkshire County kids graduated from high school on time.  While that sounds encouraging and aligns with the state rate of 87.5%, that means 164 kids did not.  Our goal is for all kids to graduate from high school on time and with a college or career plan.

To achieve that goal, Berkshire United Way mobilizes individuals, businesses, and organizations throughout the county to provide opportunities for teens here in the Berkshires.

We have identified strategies to ensure our teens are on the path to success; we invest in programs and initiatives throughout the county to support teens and we monitor the impact of those investments.

99% of youth participating in Greenagers, a college and work readiness program funded by Berkshire United Way, reported being on track to graduate high school on time. 

Julianna, a farm crew member of Roots Rising, a career preparation program funded by Berkshire United Way says, "Roots Rising has made me who I am felt as if I was getting paid to do what I love. I'm no longer a girly-girl who is afraid of dirt. I'm no longer afraid of hard work. Thanks to Roots Rising, I've found what I want to do for the rest of my life."

When asked how Berkshire United Way’s investments impact our county’s youth, Dr. Jason (Jake) McCandless, Superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools responded, “I do not have enough words to tell you of all the lives I have observed made better, the families I have seen made stronger, the communities I have witnessed made more cohesive through the work of Berkshire United Way. From its driving and forceful focus on early education to the vital role of child, adolescent and teen health, to the emerging and urgent need for powerful leadership in youth development, the Berkshire United Way is the hub of the wheel that allows more than 15,000 Berkshire individuals know that their community cares about them, and their future.”

Our Face the Facts: reduce teen pregnancy and Pittsfield Prevention Partnership coalitions have been extremely successful in helping Berkshire County teens make healthier decisions.  For example:

  • Studies have shown that a teen mother is likely to interrupt her education and rarely resume it.  Between 2010 and 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available from the Department of Public Health) Face the Facts: reduce teen pregnancy coalition efforts, led by Berkshire United Way, resulted in a 52% reduction in the county’s teen birth rate.
  • Through collaborative efforts with our community partners, Berkshire United Way has reduced the 30-day usage of alcohol by teens.  
  • Results of a national survey indicate that parents are the greatest influence on their child's sexual decision making.  After attending a Let’s Be Honest workshop funded by Berkshire United Way, 95% of parents and other caregivers reported learning new ideas/strategies (or improving upon what they already knew) for creating an environment of trust and communication with their children. 

After 10 years of federal funding, the grants that support some of the work of these youth development coalitions have ended, but with your help and support, many of the activities of Face the Facts and Pittsfield Prevention Partnership will live on through the work of our countywide Positive Youth Development Impact Council.  We will bring together community partners from various sectors including business, health, education, and youth-serving organizations, all having the shared vision of assuring our youth have access to healthy, supportive environments.

The youth development strategies we’re engaged in contribute to positive changes for our whole community.  It is our hope that the teens of today become engaged leaders of our community tomorrow.  

If you would like to support our youth in staying on a path to success, please contact Kat Toomey, coordinator of positive youth development at

When we Live United, we build a stronger community, together.