LEE -- Timothy "TJ" Kelly couldn't help being nostalgic as he stood in the auditorium of his alma mater, Lee Middle and High School, on Thursday.
He pulled out a yearbook to share with his audience -- around 100 seventh- and eighth-graders. Listed below Kelly's photo were words that described his future ambitions: To go to college at Westfield State to become a cop.
"In the future, you'll come across changes," Kelly said.
Kelly is a member of the Lee Police Department and is in his fifth year as an officer. Kelly started his journey at Berkshire Community College instead of Westfield State, but his experiences mattered more to his audience than his itinerary did.
On Thursday, Kelly was one of about 10 guest speakers who took part in the Berkshire United Way's YOU First Day of Caring, a new college and career readiness program developed for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Five sessions were held across Berkshire County, during and after school, in Lee, at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pitts field, Nessacus Middle School in Dalton and the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington.
At each site, students met with and heard presentations from two community leaders who have chosen to live and work in Berkshire County. Many of the speakers had grown up in the Berkshires.
The students also watched a video recorded by Pittsfield Community Television that featured short interviews with 13 other community members like Jessica Bazinett, a teacher at Allendale Elementary School, and Bobby Vinson and Katie Hartig of General Dynamics.
At Lee, students experienced approximately one hour of discussion and watching videos before being released to their classrooms to think about their future plans and values and to create a crest that featured their goals.
Eleanore Velez, coordinator of BCC's Multicultural Center, told the students she recognized that the exercise would not be easy.
"Right now, you're probably thinking more about your friends," Velez said to the students, "but I hope you guys dream about the future."
"I hope today helps you see how people in the community care about what you plan to do in the future, said Sharon Terry, the executive director of the Lee Youth Association, "and how we can help you with that."
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