Tuesday July 10, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The Berk shire Immigrant Center has partnered with a new agency to help with fundraising and institutional support.

The Boston-based Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the largest organization in New England that promotes the rights and integration of immigrants and refugees, assumed those duties on July 1. The coalition replaces the Berkshire Community Action Coalition, which had worked with the Berkshire Immigrant Center since 2006.

The decision to separate Berkshire Immigrant Center and the BCAC was mutual, according to representatives of both agencies. BCAC's main focus has been on the county's low-income, elderly and working poor populations.

"It really is a better match" for the Berkshire Immigrant Center, said BCAC Interim Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk. "The agency they're going to be working with focuses primarily on the immigrant population."

Steep cuts in federal Community Service Block Grant funding almost caused the Berkshire Immigrant Center to close last fall. The agency scrambled to fill a $50,000 gap to stay open.

"I think we remain committed to keeping the center fully operational," said Brooke Mead, Berkshire Immigrant Center's program director.

The Berkshire Immigrant Center has been a member of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, or MIRA, since 1997 when it was known as the New American Citizenship Coalition.

The Berkshire Immigrant Center is the only agency west of Springfield that provides comprehensive support to the region's estimated 10,000 immigrants.

Mead said the Immigrant Center selected MIRA from 109 different agencies.

"We have a really long history of working with them," Mead said. "They are a really important organization that has a mission that we feel really lines up well with ours."

MIRA will help manage the Berkshire Immigrant Center's finances, but it won't provide funding, said MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona. The majority of the Berkshire Immigrant Cen ter's funding comes from the Barr Foundation, the state's oldest charitable foundation, the city of Pittsfield and the state Office for Refugees and Immigrants.

"We will let them know on a regular basis what their fundraising needs are and help them with personnel policies, insurance and other human resource matters," Millona said. "We hope that this will be a long-term relationship. We want to offer them as much support as we can in fundraising and managing their funds properly."

Millona said MIRA usually charges clients a 30 percent fee, but has agreed to cut that price by a third for the Berkshire Immigrant Center. Citing confidentiality reasons, Millona declined to provide the exact total.

MIRA has a full-time grant writer on staff, which should help the Berkshire Immigrant Center when it comes to seeking fundraising opportunities, Mead said.

"We really need to focus on fundraising," she said. "We still have only one full-time staff member and we're seeing 800 people a year."

The Immigrant Center is holding a fundraiser Aug. 6 at a private residence in Lenox that will feature music, art and wine from around the world. RSVP is required by July 25. For information, email info@berkshireic.com