If not Berkshire United Way, then who?

Let's pretend the community is a human body. The parents of this community would be the heart -- since their job is to nurture, embrace and raise our children to be successful. The schools would be the head -- since they are responsible for educating and improving aptitude. The health care system is the blood vessels -- helping to keep the body thriving and healthy. So then who is the spine that provides the framework to help hold all of this together? You might say that's the role for Berkshire United Way and our partners.

We're often known in the community as an organization that funds local agencies that apply through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

Berkshire United Way is more than that. We've moved toward working with our partners to measure outcomes that create sustainable change in the areas of early education, positive youth development and financial stability for adults and families.

We also fund school districts to expand and enhance programs beyond the school day and year and we partner across the community to fund and help drive initiatives around early literacy, teen pregnancy and youth substance abuse prevention. These initiatives align with what our community at large has identified as top concerns.

Berkshire United Way puts an emphasis on hearing from parents and neighborhood residents about their communities' top concerns. Working with the Pittsfield Promise, we host Parent Power community conversation meetings to identify and remove obstacles that impact our children's success in and out of school. We also provide multiple trainings for parents and community providers on how to talk to our teens about sex and drugs. We're committed to building strong, competent families in the Berkshires -- since families are the heart of a healthy community.

We're also able to support other agencies, partners, faith-based groups, city offices, schools, and health-care providers with our coalition building and dedicated staff who have researched best practices, evidence-based programs and successes experienced in other communities.

We've received a state grant allowing us to hire a Coordinator of Early Childhood to support our early literacy goals in the county and oversee the Pittsfield Promise, with a goal to increase third-grade reading proficiency to 90 percent by 2020. Berkshire Priorities, in partnership with Berkshire United Way, aims to replicate Pittsfield Promise strategies countywide so that all Berkshire County children have a bright future. We've also expanded the Coordinator of Youth Development role with federal grants to manage the countywide Face the Facts -- a reduce teen pregnancy coalition that includes more than 60 concerned citizens who aim to reduce the teen birth rate by 10 percent by 2016.

Our staff is on the ground fostering relationships, creating a shared communitywide agenda, and diligently working to improve access to quality early education, reduce teen pregnancy and youth substance use and increase financial stability.

Berkshire United Way provides the framework or backbone for many countywide efforts, gathering the hopes and dreams of all of its citizens -- and collectively aspiring for a better future. With our partners, our long-term vision is to have residents who are self-sufficient, proud of, active and engaged in our community. And we couldn't do this without the countywide support we received from more than 9,000 donors, 260 workplaces, funded partners, community impact councils, advisers and friends -- we are so grateful for their commitment!

This holiday season, it's important to remember that the act of giving can help to make a meaningful difference in your community. As the year comes to a close, reflect on what we've done together and how much more there is to do. We want everyone in this community to give to create change, advocate for these causes and volunteer to make a difference. 

Kristine Hazzard is the president and CEO of Berkshire United Way.