April 6-12 is National Volunteer Week, and Berkshire United Way knows that volunteering is more than just giving your time to a worthy cause; it’s essential to our community’s future. Our volunteers are critical to improving the quality of life in the Berkshires.

To our nearly 600 volunteers who’ve contributed more than 8,000 hours this year, I want to say thank you. I admire your spirit and generosity, and look forward to continuing to work with you as we make Berkshire County a community of hope and opportunity where every individual and family lives, works and thrives.

Volunteering impacted my life at an early age and helped put me on the path that I’m on today. My first significant volunteer experience was in Reading, Pa., where I volunteered for Help Hotline, an emergency response line for people needing social service assistance -- similar to our own MA 211 hotline. It was such an eye-opening experience to listen to people who were suffering in silence -- often unsure of who to turn to for relief -- until they called us. It was rewarding to connect the callers to services that existed in their community that they were unaware of. Some callers were "regulars," reaching out frequently just to have someone to talk to. A simple voice listening on the other end of the phone could help them get through their struggles. This whole experience was available to me because of volunteering, and it has made a profound impact on my life.

I speak with our volunteers regularly -- thanking them for their time, effort, and perseverance in helping to get the work done. We have volunteers who come in everyday, like Bob Lee, who’s been a campaign volunteer for 14 years since retiring from General Dynamics. His commitment to his community and his work ethic are admirable -- and I know that our community is fortunate to have him.

We’ve heard from our volunteers as to what motivates them to get engaged with us. "As I see the greater needs in the community -- I feel compelled to do more," said Larry Harnett, Vice President and General Counsel for SABIC and a Berkshire United Way board member.

John Bissell, Executive Vice President at Greylock Federal Credit Union, and chairman of the Pittsfield Promise, agrees with this, saying: "When we moved back here and decided to raise our children in this community -- we really felt it was part of our obligation to reach out and strengthen the neighborhood in which we chose to live."

The work we’re focused on at Berkshire United Way is unique -- and it can only happen with our volunteers. We have people volunteering with our community initiatives including Pittsfield Promise’s early literacy campaign, Pittsfield Prevention Partnership’s positive youth development coalition and Face the Facts -- reduce teen pregnancy countywide work groups. These grassroots, community partnerships couldn’t sustain themselves without the commitment of volunteers. Additionally, we have volunteers who review funding proposals and reports and conduct site visits to partner agencies while others participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or help with our events. There’s also our Employee Campaign Coordinators that organize more than 200 local business campaigns that allow employees to support their community through payroll deductions.

There are plenty of opportunities for more people to get engaged in the Berkshires. So find your opportunity for volunteerism, it will forever change you and the community. Once you’ve helped your neighbor, you’ll feel proud, and you’ll want to do more.

Check out our website, www.berkshireunitedway.org, to fill out a Volunteer Profile form, or give us a call -- we can connect you with immediate opportunities at Berkshire United Way and also other volunteer options in the community. When we engage in our passions to build a stronger community, everyone wins.

Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, berkshireunitedway.org.