Tom Bernard reflects on 1 year as President and CEO of Berkshire United Way

One year ago today, I walked into the Berkshire United Way office as the organization’s new President and CEO. I was excited by the opportunity to work with a new team, to collaborate in new ways with longstanding colleagues and friends, and to begin building a network of new partners and allies. If I knew anything for certain on Day 1, it was how little I actually knew about the journey I was beginning, how much I had to learn, and how grateful I was to get started.

A mentor and friend of mine talks about the “year of firsts” when you begin a new job, and I try to approach new opportunities with this frame of mind. Every organization has its own rhythm, and it takes the full cycle of a year of board and staff meetings, budget planning, community events, and day-to-day work to begin to understand the people and culture at the heart of the operation. And let’s be clear, BUW is an organization with a big heart.

I joined BUW at a time when the organization, and our region, continued to recover from the economic, educational, and social disruptions of the past two years, and began to chart a course forward against the headwinds of a slowing economy and increasing community needs. I am inspired by these complex realities, and by the opportunity to partner with staff, board members, donors, funded partners, public officials, and community members to ensure BUW is seen as an indispensable partner in building a stronger community across Berkshire County.

The people BUW works to serve are supported by a dedicated and professional team who are focused on and committed to our mission and vision. At the same time, my onboarding coincided with a period of significant staff turnover. As we have hired, onboarded, and promoted staff, it has been deeply rewarding to see an already high-performing team become even more effective. I’m so grateful to have the chance to partner with such incredible colleagues and fantastic people.

Our work is both externally and internally focused. Despite the challenges of the past several years, BUW remains on solid financial and operational footing thanks to careful management on the part of the staff and board, as well as the generosity of our donors.
Over the course of this year we invested in our community priorities supporting early childhood development, positive youth development, and economic prosperity.

We reestablished our role as a community convener, providing capacity building and technical support to our funded partners who share interests and concerns about staffing and employee well-being, further strengthening and deepening their commitment to equity, and framing and presenting a shared advocacy agenda.

We joined collaborations like the nonprofit town hall meeting with members of the Berkshire legislative delegation, presented in partnership with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires; the Help the Helpers grant program that put COVID-19 relief funds toward helping our partners acknowledge, support, and thank their frontline staff; the State of the County convening along with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, 1Berkshire, Berkshire Black Economic Council, and other partners; and national advocacy efforts with United Way Worldwide.

These efforts, and so many more, set the stage for the future of Berkshire United Way as we look ahead to 2024 and the beginning of our second century of positive community impact. Similarly, I recognize our community continues to change and that BUW needs to listen, learn, and evolve alongside the people we serve and the partners we support in building a stronger community together.

The work of this past year has informed the work on our new strategic plan. Working on the plan is a critical part of our process of continuous learning. I understand that the plan is not an end in and of itself, but the foundation for how to focus BUW’s priorities most appropriately and effectively. The process of engaging with board members, donors, funded partners, community leaders, and others is setting the stage for our work over the next three years. A key part of this mission-focused planning will be aligning our goals and strategies more directly with our commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).

That gratitude I experienced on my first day here carries me forward, along with the excitement of continuing to deepen and strengthen the work we’ve done together. It has been a true privilege to work with the board, team, and our partners in the community. I have treasured the chance to deepen some relationships and to establish some wonderful new ones. Through everything, I’m humbled by what I have learned from so many generous people in our community.

So I look at this not as the end of my first year, but as the beginning of a new year full of potential and promise. Thank you!