'A thousand people giving 20 bucks': Berkshire Immigrant Center launches fundraiser as need rises

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PITTSFIELD — "Here we are; this is all we've done — what can we do in the next 20 years?"

That's how Brooke Mead, program coordinator for the Berkshire Immigrant Center, summarized the thinking behind the organization's new effort to raise $20,000. The campaign begins Thursday and runs through July 4.

The timing of the fundraising — known as "Twenty for Twenty" — coincides with National Immigrant Heritage Month in June and the immigrant center's 20th year in operation.

"We're all just people who move around," Mead said. "I think we thought it was kind of fitting that [this effort] would end at the celebration of our nation ... Because that's who we are. We're a nation of immigrants."

According to estimates provided by the center, about 10 percent of the population of Berkshire County is foreign-born.

The initiative marks the beginning of increased fundraising efforts at the immigrant center.

"We are going to be doing more fundraising than we've ever done this year," Mead said. "We're 20 [years old], and we haven't really celebrated that yet."

The Jewish Federation of the Berkshires founded the immigrant center — formerly known as the New American Citizenship Coalition — in 1997.

The nonprofit immigrant center has since evolved into what staffers like to call an office of immigrant services that connects clients with everything from employment to after-school care to legal assistance, Mead said.

While the immigrant center's role has expanded, the budget has not kept pace.

"We have always struggled to meet our budget," said Hilary Greene, director of the center. "Often it would come right down to the wire. We've had to be very creative about diversifying funding streams."

The center's funding comes through things like grants, donations, small fundraisers, speaking fees and charges assessed to clients with the means to pay for services, Mead said.

The immigrant center served 806 people last fiscal year. By the end of this fiscal year on June 30, the center will probably have served close to 900 people, Greene said.

"Right now, we're maxed out in terms of the number of clients we can see," she said. At the moment, there's a client waiting list of about three weeks.

Ultimately, staffers want to be able to focus on advocacy and community outreach in addition to legal counseling and connecting clients with social services, Greene said.

Concentrating the Twenty for Twenty campaign in June front-loads fundraising toward the beginning of fiscal 2018, hopefully preventing a budget squeeze at the end of the fiscal year, she said.

A collection of $20,000 would represent almost 9 percent of the immigrant center's total $225,000 budget for fiscal 2018.

The immigrant center's budget increased by about $40,000 from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, between hiring a development staff member and the center's upcoming move to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Pittsfield on July 1.

"Twenty-thousand dollars is a thousand people giving 20 bucks," said Sheryl Lechner, the center's new development coordinator."We'll see where we get to ... and then we'll know how much more we have to do through grants and such."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.

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