Pittsfield Prevention Partnership’s October 2013 S.A.Y. It Proud award winners, from left, Austin White, Demitryia Sweener and Collin Venditti.
Pittsfield Prevention Partnership’s October 2013 S.A.Y. It Proud award winners, from left, Austin White, Demitryia Sweener and Collin Venditti. (Photo courtesy of Pittsfield Prevention Partnership)

PITTSFIELD -- Last school year, The Berkshire Eagle teamed up with Berkshire United Way's Pittsfield Prevention Partnership to honor the monthly winners of its S.A.Y. It Proud Award -- Supporting and Acknowledging Youth.

Although the award program has been around for the past few years, it wasn't until last November that the partnership began working more closely with agencies that work with youth throughout Pittsfield, asking a different agency each month to recognize a youth affiliated with them.

Last month, the partnership put out an open nomination call for youths deserving recognition for their personal growth and positive contributions to the community.

Partnership coordinator Karen Cole said that the organization got its biggest response from an open call yet. Ten nominees were chosen to be honored in October.

"I think the word is getting out," she said.

The winners are (in alphabetical order): Erica Davis, Robert Hayden, Nicholas Miraglia, Taylor Morgan, Shaylimar Olavaria, Destiny Reilly, Kate Scace, Demitryia Sweener, Colin Venditti, Austin White.

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Honoree: Erica Davis.

Nominated by: Reid Middle School staff members.

Davis took part in Reid's 21st century summer program. While at programming, she took on the role of a peer mentor to a student who did not know many other students. In this role, she assisted the students in activities ranging from science to lunch to outdoor play. "It was amazing to see Davis quietly take on the mentorship role all on her own.


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Her ability to notice [that] someone needed extra help impressed the entire summer staff. We were so pleased to have such a positive role in our summer program," her nominators said.

Honoree: Robert Hayden.

Nominated by: Staff members Randy Northrup and Marc Membrino of the Juvenile Resource Center.

Hayden is a full-time 11th-grade student at Taconic High School. Outside of his school workload, he spends most of his free time assisting his disabled mother and helping with all aspects of running the household. He is also deeply involved with Habitat for Humanity, where he is assisting in the building of a home for his family.

Hayden also was involved in the 21st Century Summer Service Learning Program where he spent five weeks working with members of the Housatonic Valley Association to clean and maintain Pittsfield's new rain gardens on North Street. He also worked with HVA to label storm drains and educate the community on the issues affecting our watershed.

Honoree: Nicholas Miraglia.

Nominated by: Reid Middle School staff members.

Miraglia took part in his second 21st Century summer program at Reid this year. He is an enthusiastic math and science student, who is also noted for his academic skills and positive attitude.

"His aptitude for math and science was evident as he excelled in the engineering pieces of the summer. Nick contributed, and took great pride in building a box city and designing transportation grids for the future," his nominators wrote.

Honoree: Taylor Morgan.

Nominated by: Carole Hilderbrand, director of Bridging the Gap Between Youth and Community Services program of The Salvation Army in Pittsfield.

Morgan is a 10th-grade student at Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown. Hilderbrand said that Morgan had a tumultuous childhood, living in foster care and other state custody conditions. "She has turned her life around from at-risk behavior and failing academics," the nominator said.

Morgan takes the bus twice a week from Williamstown to attend Bridging the Gap's three-hour programs in Pittsfield. She is a volunteer role model, leading a program called "Girl Talk," helping youths with homework, and actively participating in group discussions.

She is capable of organizing lesson plans and is electronically savvy for research projects, said Hilderbrand. Because of this, she said she is attempting to seek funds to hire Morgan for a few hours a week as she possesses excellent computer record-keeping skills.

Morgan's goal is to make the school's honor roll and eventually apply to Williams College.

Honoree: Shaylimar Olavaria.

Nominated by: Shirley Edgerton and the Rites of Passage and Empowerment program.

As a participant of the Rite of Passage and Empowerment program, Olavaria has demonstrated an exemplary and inspiring process of personal growth.

Olavaria "began the program as a timid girl who was afraid to be seen and heard. Her life and sense of self had been negatively impacted by family issues" relating to substance abuse, Edgerton said.

The student attended healthy living sessions and delved into the theater program ENUF.

"In the process, she found her way through her personal difficulties. By the time the performances came around, she showed significant progress in her acting and dance abilities. More important, however, was her demonstration of the sense of empowerment she derived from speaking her truth and sharing it with the community at large. She released the shame and embraced pride and self-esteem," Edgerton said.

Honoree: Destiny Reilly.

Nominated by: Reid Middle School staff members.

Reilly was in the Reid 21st century summer program. Throughout the program she demonstrated enthusiasm during the entire day, her nominators said, and held true to the schools "4P" philosophy: Be prompt, prepared, polite and participate. Her joyful disposition, willingness to work with others and focus on science and math led her to great success, the nominators said.

Honoree: Kate Scace.

Nominated by: Staff members Randy Northrup and Marc Membrino of the Juvenile Resource Center.

Scace is a full-time Taconic High School senior, who takes dual enrollment classes at Berkshire Community College. "She had a lot going on outside of school in her personal life and was able to fight adversity and overcome these issues," her nominators said.

In addition to embracing her education, Scace spent the summer in the 21st Century Summer Service Learning Program. She spent five weeks working with the Housatonic Valley Associate to clean and maintain Pittsfield's new rain gardens on North Street. She also worked with HVA to label storm drains and educate the community on the issues affecting our watershed, and served as a "natural leader" for the group.

Honoree: Demitryia Sweener.

Nominated by: Erin Maloy, physical education teacher at Taconic High School.

Sweener is very involved with dance outside of school. "She is a good student who is independent and mature. She does not play sports at Taconic, but I believe her involvement with dance and teaching dance outside of school embody what it means to be a S.A.Y. It Proud nominee," Maloy said.

Honoree: Colin Venditti.

Nominated by: Staff member Randy Northrup of the Juvenile Resource Center.

Venditti is a full-time 11th-grade student at Taconic High School. Venditti has been faced with challenges outside of school and with his family. "However, he made a commitment to finish high school, despite these family issues that are making it almost impossible to do. Most kids at this age, in this situation, would have just given up, but Colin realizes the importance of his education so he can make something positive of himself," Nothrup wrote.

Colin is a part of the 21st Century Service Learning Program, during which he and other students develop life and leadership skills through community projects that are tied into their current academics. "He continues to be a strong leader in the program," the nominator said.

Honoree: Austin White.

Nominated by: Reid Middle School staff members.

"Austin White is an amazing person. He is kind, caring, compassionate, friendly, helpful, dependable and an overall positive leader," his nominators wrote. "Austin never waits to be asked for help; he is always there for others when needed." White served as an eighth-grade mentor during Reid's 21st Century summer program before heading to high school.

"He ensured that each student under his care was able to succeed at whatever he or she was doing. Whenever a student needed Austin's assistance, he would encourage them and never make them feel less than. Watching him lead through example was extraordinary," his nominators said.