Live United: Youth programs make difference...

Nearly every day there’s a story in the news about drug use—the themes of those stories range from local overdoses, busts and other drug-related crimes to the need for treatment services— indeed, we are facing an epidemic here in the Berkshires and beyond. While providing treatment services to those addicted is an important community responsibility, so is prevention.  Youth need access to information and opportunities to develop life skills that lead them to graduating high school with a career or college plan.

The Berkshire Youth Development Project (BYDP) leads efforts to support our county’s youth, so they will transition successfully to adulthood.  What is BYDP?  It is a collaboration of youth-serving organizations and coalitions from throughout the county.  The principal partners are the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Railroad Street Youth Project and Berkshire United Way.

"I believe there is incredible value in convening a partnership of regional groups who work on youth development in Berkshire County. The Berkshire Youth Development Project offers opportunities to share best practices in youth development, build capacity and training for youth workers across the county, as well as create collaborative and unified messaging to youth regarding the resources available to them as they face various challenges. This partnership increases, individually and collectively, our ability to utilize the funding we receive to do this work in the most effective way when serving the youth of Berkshire County," says Amber Besaw, executive director, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

Established in 2006, with support from our Berkshire County Legislative Delegation, which advocates for state funding for this collaborative, State Representative Smitty Pignatelli said, "I was able to witness up close how the Railroad Street Youth Project made a huge difference in my district by turning to our young people for leadership. Everyone says the youth are our future, they are also our present. They are a gift to those of us lucky to have young people in our lives, and an important voice in the here and now. I saw this as an opportunity to bring it countywide and that's how the Berkshire Youth Development Project was formed. It has been an opportunity to help broaden that perspective, as well as a vehicle for increasing the overall capacity of our youth-serving agencies to better work with our young people."

BYDP has been able to bring additional resources to Berkshire County through their collaborative efforts, including most recently a workforce development grant that will provide training and professional development for people who work with youth across the county.  This will enable many youth serving organizations to improve the quality of services they offer to our young people.

Other examples of collaboration include the annual RX Roundup that takes place throughout the county.  This program encourages residents to remove unused prescription and non-prescription drugs from their medicine cabinets, where they may be accessible to youth.   

BYDP also coordinates the annual 411 in the 413 Youth Conference, which brings young people from across the county together to explore, debate and address topics of interest.  Organizers recruit participants for the conference through each of the county’s high schools for the daylong event, which allows youth to plan seminars that are of interest and relevant to their lives, network with their peers and develop communication and leadership skills.

In collaboration with public schools throughout Berkshire County, since 2006 partners have administered the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey (PNAS) every two years to students in grades 8, 10 and 12.  The data from this survey is used to drive strategies to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors that impact youth behavior and measure the impact of regional and collective interventions. 

For further information on BYDP, please contact: Amber Besaw, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, 413-663-7588; Ananda Timpane, Railroad Street Youth Project, 413-528-2475 or Nataly Garzon, Berkshire United Way, 413-442-6948.

For more details on coalition membership and youth serving organizations, please visit our website,