Monday July 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- There isn't a day that goes by that Rob Bernardo doesn't think of his brother Jim.

"Every time I look at my daughter, she reminds me [of Jim]," he said.

The issue, as he and his family sees it, is that they want others to remember Jim Bernardo -- and his tragic story -- as well.

Rob Bernardo and his family are part of an army of volunteers who help organize and carry out Jimmy's Ride, an 82-mile motorcycle jaunt through the Berkshires to raise money for Kids' Place, a nonprofit fully accredited Children's Advocacy Center.

In 1990, 13-year-old Jimmy Bernardo was abducted from a local movie theater. A month after that, his body was found in Ithaca, N.Y.

Pittfield Police officer Jeff Coco and his wife Kelly watch as their son Jace, 1, checks out dad’s ride on North Street prior to the start of
Pittfield Police officer Jeff Coco and his wife Kelly watch as their son Jace, 1, checks out dad’s ride on North Street prior to the start of Sunday’s fundraiser for Kids’ Place. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
About 3 1/2 years later, Pittsfield police arrested a man, Louis Lent, who eventually pleaded guilty to Bernardo's murder and sexual assault. He is now serving a life sentence for his crimes.

On Sunday, more than 175 bikers and their passengers traced a route that began on North Street and wended its way through several Berkshire County towns to its eventual terminus at Onota Lake.

There, four local bands, The Rockhounds, Live Wire, Static and Circle of Stone, each performed sets for the crowd. Food and beverages also were available. There were a series of raffles, with the big one being a vacation gift package worth $5,000, sponsored by the Berkshire Travel Group.

In all, according to Christa Collier, the executive director of Kids' Place, more than $25,000 was raised.

Sunday's event is one of the major fundraisers for Kids' Place, which seeks to raise about $150,000 annually to augment its budget, said Collier.

Jimmy's Ride began as Jimmy's Walk 17 years ago, according to Rob Bernardo. It morphed into Jimmy's Ride six years later.

Rob Bernardo said he and his family were gratified that, out of the horrible tragedy of his brother's death, public support and awareness of child abuse has increased.

Ironically, Collier said, Massachusetts is the No. 1 state in terms of reported cases of abuse and neglect.

Pittsfield and North Adams have some of the highest reporting rates of child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts. On the average, 320 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported to the Pittsfield Department of Children and Families monthly in Berkshire County, said Collier. This is due, in part, she said, to the state's much stricter child abuse documentation statutes.

But the bottom line, she said, "is that this is still happening in this community. It didn't go away. What a terrible shame it would be if we forgot about what happened [to Jim Bernardo]."

"It's something people don't want to talk about," said Joyce Tirrell, a caseworker at Kids' Place who rode on Sunday with her husband, Mike. "But it's something that needs to be talked about."

Kids' Place has been assisting child abuse victims and their families for years. The organization, said Collier, makes the process of reporting child abuse a more bearable ordeal. Abused children no longer have to tell and retell their stories to various state agencies, she said. Rather, Kids' Place sets up a response team to absorb the testimony and put into motion responses to the situation.

"It's a more coordinated response," said Collier.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile