By Kristine Hazzard, Berkshire United Way president
‘My hopes and dreams for my daughter are that she is successful with school so she can start her own business in whatever makes her happy. But, I also hope she struggles sometimes -- so she can learn to problem solve and not always rely on others to fix things for her." These are the words of a young mother who attended a Berk shire United Way sponsored parenting event.
This theme expresses one of Berkshire United Way’s main principles: all parents want what’s best for their children, but they might need a little help from their community to ensure their child’s success.
Many people agree that it takes a village to raise a child; some may interpret that to mean it only applies to certain families. Berkshire United Way aims to help bridge gaps, align services and support partnerships that make it easier for the community to help parents in their role as their child’s first teacher.
Families today have a lot on their plate -- some are worrying about their heating costs or putting food on the table; others are struggling with the challenges of raising adolescents. The community can help to mitigate this by supporting families to help their children succeed -- which in effect will help our county overall.
When people become parents, there’s no "owner’s manual" to identify and address every need children may have. One critical piece often over looked is the family’s role in helping children develop early literacy skills. Whenever you see children in teracting and learning in enriching en vir on ments, what you’re really seeing is brain building in progress, which is why our community believes that investments early are critical to a child’s, and our community’s, future success.
Berkshire United Way strategically funds programs that support parenting education and strengthening families. This year, almost 1,000 people are expected to be served with the goal of building strong, competent families. The community is also rallying around trainings and community conversations aimed at empowering parents with tools to help them raise their children. Our early literacy, teen pregnancy and substance abuse prevention coalitions all maintain parent engagement strategies that help to educate, support and strengthen families countywide.
Berkshire United Way provides resources for parents to help them in their role as their child’s first teacher and to assist them throughout the various stages in their life. Our website (www.berkshireunitedway.org) has a section completely devoted to Resources for Parents, which includes how to improve your child’s early literacy skills or how to promote healthy decision making skills as your child struggles with the challenges of adolescence.
There’s also information about how to maximize your income by taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and how to file your taxes for free with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), supported by Berkshire United Way. We know that financial stability directly impacts a parent’s ability to raise their child -- utilizing these services help families secure some financial security.
There’s also Mass 211, an easy to remember telephone number (just dial 211) that connects callers to information and referrals for critical health and human services available in their community, like counseling or childcare. Berkshire United Way funds Mass 211 -- and it also administers the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program that supports food pantries, rent/mortgage and heating/utility assistance when times are the most extreme for families.
Today is New Year’s Day -- and we’ve all made resolutions to improve ourselves and achieve our dreams. Let’s resolve to collectively build a community of hope and opportunity for all -- where our families have a village of support that will lead to success. We can give, advocate or volunteer -- together we can ensure all Berkshire County residents are self-sufficient, proud of, active in, and engaged in our community.
Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way.