PITTSFIELD -- The S.A.Y. It Proud youth recognition program of the Berkshire United Way and Pittsfield Prevention Partnership is wrapping up its fifth year of celebrating local kids and teens for their positive contributions to the community.
The S.A.Y. (Supporting and Acknowledging Youth) It Proud awards were created in direct response to results found on the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey, taken by Berkshire County eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders every other year. On the survey, students regularly reported that they did not feel recognized as meaningful members of their community by adults. The Pittsfield Prevention Partnership believes that by supporting youths in a positive manner, they will be less likely to use or abuse substances like alcohol, drugs and tobacco or involve themselves in other risky behaviors.
When the program first began, the awards were presented quarterly based on nominations received by the community. In 2012, the program became more formalized, with a different Pittsfield organization nominating each month a student or small group of students it's affiliated with to receive a S.A.Y. It Proud award.
"I think that our winners are actually feeling a positive response from receiving the awards and are wanting to continue in the activities that led to their nomination," said Karen Cole, coordinator of youth development for Berkshire United Way.
Since they've been giving the monthly awards, Cole said they've been able to solicit some feedback from the recipients through surveys.
Of those winners who completed the evaluation survey, since receiving a S.A.Y. It Proud Award: 75 percent reported that adults in their community and schools noticed when they were doing a good job and let them know; 100 percent reported they have been making healthy choices; and 88 percent said they viewed themselves as leaders, felt more confident, and felt more connected to their school and their community.
"Adults have said they really love the opportunity to recognize kids who don't ordinarily get recognized. These kids are working hard and doing the best they can but might not jump out as the highest achieving kids in school," Cole said.
Since making a more concerted effort to recognize students each month, the program has grown. Back in April at a Berkshire United Way breakfast, past recipient Shiela Atiemo, a rising junior at Pittsfield High School, talked about how receiving the award as an eighth-grader gave her the motivation to get more involved in student activities and things that happen in the community.
"She credited the award for helping her. I think kids need to get that kind of positive feedback to help them be successful," Cole said.
In addition to the award recipients receiving certificates from the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership, they also receive T-shirts from Berkshire United Way, a membership to the Pittsfield Family YMCA and a gift card. The honorees are also featured here on The Eagle's Learning page.
Here are the S.A.Y. It Proud recipients for the months of July and August:
July winner: Liam Mooney
Liam Mooney is the son of Kevin and Sue Mooney, of Pittsfield. He was nominated by the coaching staff of the Pittsfield Family YMCA's Polar Bears swim club, including Josh Hopmans and Tim Grace.
Mooney is described as a motivated athlete. "He comes into the season with serious goals and is always looking to find means to achieve them. He attends optional dryland workouts throughout the week before getting to the pool. In the pool he is a character, but he knows when to get serious and put the work in. Liam stands out as a leader on the team with his positive behavior, determination, and success in the pool. Liam continues to make decisions that set him up for a successful swimming career," his coaches say.
Mooney has also been a member of the Herberg Middle School robotics team and has made the high honor roll.
Hopmans presented Mooney with the award during an Aug. 8 YMCA celebration held at Wahconah Park.
August winner: Nicholas "Nick" Soldato
Nick Soldato is the son of Jennifer and Dan Soldato, of Pittsfield. He was nominated by Donna Chandler for his work with the Berkshire County 4-H Club and the time he's spent learning about and caring for the animals on Brattle Farm, which Donna owns with her husband, Bill.
Soldato has been a 4-H member for four years with the Fluffy Bunnies 4-H Club in Pittsfield. "He is a kind, thoughtful person. He is very creative and excels at drawing. He participates in all 4-H has to offer, and had been chosen to represent Berkshire 4-H at the State 4-H Visual Presentation contest and represent Massachusetts 4-H at the Eastern States Exposition for his visual presentation on woolly mammoths," his supporters at 4-H say. He also gives presentations and helps club staff.
During Saturday's annual Berkshire County Youth 4-H Fair, Soldato was presented his S.A.Y. It Proud award by Pittsfield Prevention Partnership intern Chris Broast. Soldato earned several awards for his animal photography and visual presentations, which included his first self-portrait drawing.
Soldato will be a seventh-grade student at Reid Middle School this fall, where he's been on the honor roll. He's also participated in the Real Women Essay Writing Contest of the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield.