NORTH ADAMS — When Christa Collier graduated from Drury High School in 1992, her mind was set on a criminal justice career.
She earned an associate degree at Bay Path College, then enrolled in the Southern Vermont College and earned a bachelor's degree criminal justice.
"I wanted to work in a prison and be a counselor," Collier said during an interview with the Eagle.
She ultimately decided against prison employment, but she stayed true to her interest in a career in human services.
Collier, who has served for five years as executive director of The Kids Place and Violence Prevention Center in Pittsfield, has been named executive director of the Northern Berkshire United Way. She will begin in her new post Aug. 22.
Leading groups tackling complex and sensitive issues and creating solutions and safe environments is nothing new to Collier. Prior to working at the Kids Place, she worked at Girls Inc. of the Berkshires, which was later renamed the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center. The name change occurred in part because the facility was serving boys as well, she recalled.
"We were honoring gender equity and we were serving boys in a very meaningful way," Collier said.
Serving in a meaningful way is partly what convinced her to seek the top spot at the Northern Berkshire nonprofit organization. There are 20 member agencies funded by the Northern Berkshire United Way, and all of them fill community needs, she said.
For example, the Kids Place revolutionized the way children dealing with sexual and violent abuse issues receive a services. When the agency was founded in 1993, it was the first of its kind.
Another member agency, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, offers services including free and confidential counseling, shelter, legal advocacy and dating violence prevention education for teens. The Berkshire Family and Individual Resources and the United Cerebral Palsy of the Berkshires groups provide multiple services to families facing specific health challenges.
"The Berkshires is a beautiful place, and I have friends who work in other industries who don't know a lot about these things," Collier said. "They don't know that our area has the highest child abuse rate in the state. They don't know the extent of the homelessness. They are not aware of the social-economic issues and they don't know about the 20 agencies of the Northern Berkshire United Way."
Former Executive Director Joseph McGovern was dedicated to supporting the agencies and his legacy sets a high bar, Collier said. McGovern left the job to accept a post as executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County in Aberdeen, Md..
"I am excited to get started and it is so nice to be able to make this transition and continue the great work that Joe did," she said.
"I am excited that I can work with a myriad of agencies," she said. "I think utilizing social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, is necessary and we have to be sure our agencies have up-to-date websites and fliers; we have to provide statistics and we have to continue with our workplace fundraising campaigns."
The private nature of much of the agencies' work poses a challenge, Collier noted; positive results are not always placed in the public eye.
"It can be difficult to articulate your mission when you can't actually show your mission," she said.
"I do plan to sit down with all the agencies and ask what resources they need. There's no shortage of issues, for example, right now there is a wait list for getting mental health care," she said. "There are such great people working at our member agencies, There's such strong collaboration and there can be more. Trust is built. We all work toward solutions that will bring the most benefit and fulfillment."