Saturday August 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- For the past five decades, 94-year-old Frank Fielder has been something of a fixture at The Christian Center in Pittsfield, the oldest nonprofit human services organization in Berkshire County.

From serving on the center’s board of directors to managing its finances, Fiedler has been front and center in the nonprofit’s work to give back to some of the city’s most economically vulnerable communities.

"We’ve helped so many people through the years," Fiedler said, citing the food pantry, daily free lunches and educational programs that the center has championed since its inception as invaluable services for Pittsfield.

"Being a part of all of that has given me such a great sense of satisfaction," he said.

For more than a century and through various incarnations, the organization has benefitted generations of the city’s residents. Today, members of the greater Pittsfield community will have the opportunity to celebrate this history of charitable work during the center’s 120th anniversary celebration.

Held outside the center’s 193 Robbins Ave. building, the festivities will begin at 2 p.m. and run until 5, featuring live music by local singer-songwriter David Grover, speeches by members of the center’s board of directors and, like any good birthday party, there will be cake and ice cream.

While 700 invitations have been sent out to former volunteers and friends of the center, the event is free and open to the public.

As always, Fiedler won’t be far away. Along with the anniversary celebration, he will also be honored by the center for his work as its longest-serving volunteer.

"He has such a strong spirit. He’s really given us all so much," said Maria Cacciavello, who is on the center’s board of directors.

First coming to volunteer for the center in 1995, Cacciavello said the center’s longevity is through the work of individuals like Fiedler.

"It’s a great organization with people who really want to give back. They care about these communities," she said.

Despite its name, the center is not affiliated with any church, but its commitment to community service does have religious roots. The earliest iteration of the center was founded back in 1892 by parishioners of the First Methodist Church in Pittsfield. Known at the time as the Epworth Mission, the center found its current home in 1906, when the church decided to renovate a former silk mill. It wasn’t until after the Great Depression that the mission began to sponsor community support programs, and by the late 1960s, the mission and the Pittsfield Area Council of Churches gave control of the building and its programs over to the non-denominational Christian Center.

"It fills such a unique niche in that it’s a place you can go to where you can really find the help and support you need to make it through the day," Cacciavello said. "The Christian Center will always be an important part of the community."

Central to that community is the center’s team of volunteers. According to Ellen Richardson, the center’s business manager, there is a team of about 21 regular volunteers who routinely help out with the nonprofit’s programs.

One volunteer they couldn’t do without is Fiedler. A native of Springfield, he moved to the area to apprentice at General Electric and eventually worked his way up as a systems development manager. Fiedler came across the center in the early 1960s, back when it was still run by the mission. Once he retired, Fiedler worked at the center every day as a volunteer until finally scaling back his day-to-day work when his wife passed away in 1998.

"The center serves a lot of people who probably would not get the help they are getting," Fiedler said. "It becomes a home to people. It’s their life."

If you go ...

Where: 193 Robbins Ave., Pittsfield

When: Today, 2-5 p.m. 

What: Celebrating The Christian Center’s 120th anniversary. Feature performance by David Grover, birthday cake and ice cream, speeches, honorary recognition of Frank Fiedler, longest-serving volunteer. Free and open to the public. For more information, call (413) 443-2828.