Editor's note: It is practice at Berkshire Farm not to use a student's full name in any press or public releases due to the nature of its child welfare cases.
PITTSFIELD -- A young man named Andre I. is switching lanes for a better life after getting a chance to help the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center.
The problem that Andre helped with concerned the starting blocks used by swimmers for races in the center's pool.
"Twice in the past five years we've had to replace panels and repair them because of the heat and moisture and condensation getting into the wood. [They] were slippery and rotting," said Aquatics Director Marie Ruel.
It was around December and Ruel was discussing the issue with the center's board and other volunteers, particularly in advance of an invitational swim meet scheduled for today.
Bert Gamberdella, a former board member and center volunteer suggested enlisting the help of Andre I., a promising young man who was finding support and studying with the all-male Berkshire Union Free School District at Berkshire Farm in nearby Canaan, N.Y. The non-profit residential campus provides education, therapy, behavioral support and other services to help children and families.
The school offers a Youth Workforce Development Program which supports students like Andre by offering them paid opportunities to learn and practice vocational skills and trades, ranging from carpentry to
"Ever since my arrival on the Berkshire campus, I have learned structure, independence, confidence in myself, and a strong work ethic," said Andre, who has since phased out of his school program and returned home.
"Now I know how to frame a room, paint, install carpet, and build useful things like swimming blocks well. I also have a pretty nice savings account," he said.
The young man said he was happy to give back to a community by using his skills.
Andre designed, cut lumber and constructed four new diving blocks painted with a white rubber coating and gritted surface where swimmers jump off from. Andre also stenciled each block with the center's name and a number, and installed a name plate on his work.
The new diving blocks arrived about a month before the swim meet so that they could be installed and tested.
"Kids don't slip on them anymore," Ruel said.
Swim coach Jen Ward said around 60 swimmers are expected to use the blocks at today's meet. Ruel estimated that about 500 people use the pool a week. The pools hosts swim and exercises classes, therapeutic programs and swim teams.
Bruce Potter, superintendent for Berkshire Union Free School District, said he was pleased with the outcome of the student's project, noting that students "who connect authentic work experience to their school program are less likely to drop out of high school."
Kelly Marion, chief executive officer for the Gladys Allen Brigham Center, called working with Berkshire Farm a "positive opportunity." She hopes to get other Berkshire Farm students involved in other center projects like building picnic tables for the center's summer campgrounds and benches for its children's courtyard.
"It's opened up a door for us to be able to support young adults who are trying to learn skills and get ahead," Marion said.
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
If you go
n What: Harold Ruel Memorial Invitational Swim Meet, for girls. boys ages 8 to 18.
n When: Today at 10 a.m.
n Where: Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, 165 East St., Pittsfield.