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Live United: Finding new ways to help community in changing world

As appeared in the Berkshire Eagle and written by Kristine Hazzard, President & CEO of Berkshire United Way

This is not your grandparents’ United Way.  As the needs of our community evolve, it’s important to develop and implement new, cutting-edge solutions.  Webster’s defines it as innovation and it’s one of Berkshire United Way’s core values.

It’s a value we implement through the work of our coalitions as well as in the investments we make in our community.

One example is the partnership we formed this past spring with Dr. Claudia Gold, Austen Riggs and Fairview Hospital. With support from Berkshire United Way, 40 labor and delivery nurses, early interventionists, home visitors and community caregivers were trained to use the Newborn Behavior Observation (NBO) tool to support new parents as they bond with their child. 

Following the training, Theresa Brewer, a 40-year veteran maternity nurse commented, “I now have a new way to help our families discover their newborn’s unique qualities and develop this important relationship from the very start.”

Another example is our new collaboration with Pittsfield Public Schools and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, to implement RISE, a program designed to create a better learning environment for teachers and students. 

“Through scientific evaluation of the program, Kripalu has seen increases in educator well-being, resilience, and mindfulness. It also saw decreases in student behavior issues, test anxiety and drug use risk factors.” (Berkshire Eagle, June 16, 2017)

Roots Rising, a collaborative program between the Berkshire Botanical Garden and Alchemy Institute was new to both our community and Berkshire United Way this year.  An agriculture-based, youth development program, Roots Rising puts teens to work on farms, in community kitchens, and in hunger relief organizations. Comprised of two main components, a five-week summer program and a school year program, students earn a stipend in exchange for their work and participate in interactive educational workshops focused on developing essential life and employability skills.

Upon completing her summer session, Farm Crew member Julianna, age 16, said, "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."

Also new to Berkshire United Way this year is Shakespeare in the Courts. An alternative to more traditional forms of rehabilitation for adolescents who get in trouble, Shakespeare in the Courts uses theater, literacy, and social engagement to reach those youth. As a condition of parole, participants spend six weeks rehearsing and performing a Shakespeare production.

Daily check-ins give students time to describe their emotional state. Then students grapple with Shakespearean texts in ways that encourage healthy recognition and expression of emotions.

Similar programs are offered around the country as a way of building self-confidence and literacy.

Our Pittsfield Promise and Chapter One coalitions have played active roles in mobilizing people and organizations to create a trauma-informed community.  Working closely with the Department of Mental Health and Clinical and Support Options, we are providing education and creating training opportunities to learn and understand toxic stress and the adverse effect it has on children and adults, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's).

More than 130 residents attended recent screenings of the documentary, Resilience, in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and over 450 attended a presentation at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who specializes in post-traumatic stress.

As a community, we are building strategies to fight toxic stress by building resiliency.  It was affirming to hear Dr. van Der Kolk say we’re on the right track by making investments in non-traditional programs like RISE and Shakespeare in the Courts.

Through innovative initiatives like these, together we can develop and foster the skills, abilities and resources necessary for our community to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world.

To learn more about our investments in the community, please visit