Berkshire Eagle partners with Pittsfield Community Connection to give young people work


PITTSFIELD >> Taking on the role of 21st-century paper boys and girls is just one of the latest initiatives of the youth members of Pittsfield Community Connection.

Starting Saturday morning, some two dozen teenagers will be "crewing" door-to-door to sell Berkshire Eagle subscriptions in the neighborhoods between South Street and the intersection of East and Elm streets.

Pittsfield Community Connection (PCC) Executive Director Jon Schnauber and Warren Dews Jr., vice president of audience development, sales and marketing for New England Newspapers Inc., said they forged the partnership as a way to help the teens earn money for themselves as individuals and funds for the youth organization.

"We find a lot of our youth are providers for their families and need opportunities for income," Schnauber said.

Dews told the students during a meeting about the subscription program, "I want you to learn by the end of this program how to talk to people, how to represent yourselves well, how to no be afraid when people turn you away."

PCC's mission is to prevent youth violence and other risks of them slipping through the cracks by providing people, ages 10 to 24, education, mentor support, positive growth models and pathways out of poverty. Schnauber, who took the lead of the organization in February, said that PCC currently serves about 80 youths, with about a dozen more on a waiting list for its mentoring program, and operates through the support of 60 volunteers and staff members.

Initial PCC funding comes from the city's Shannon Grant, a state-funded initiative to help municipalities address issues of youth violence and reduce gang activity. But Schnauber said it's not enough to support the growing program.

He said state budget cuts resulted in a loss of nearly $40,000 in PCC program funding, which, he said, has minimized partnership activities with The Hub youth center on North Street.

Pittsfield Community Connection offers five main areas of outreach: individual intervention, family support, community involvement programs, the state-funded Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, and the Shannon Grant and PCC Mentoring Program.

Other community partnerships have stepped in to help out. They were recently awarded a $20,086 "Share the Love" grant from Haddad Subaru. Downtown Pittsfield Farmers Market now hires youth workers. Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires offers job training and life skills workshops. Many other community organizations also offer students free or subsidized classes and activities.

"We could always use more partners and mentors," said PCC Director of Operations Melissa Loiodice.

Students said they'd be interested in training and mentoring programs that could teach them about jobs they want, in fields like nursing, child care and education. Carlos Pascual, 15, said he wants to start a landscaping business but needs to learn more about how to do that. Erica Davis, 16, said she wants to learn how to go about building an indoor rollerblading rink for the city.

Loiodice, Schnauber and Dews all said PCC is not just looking for support from the community, but is also looking for new ways to support the community through their time and young talent.

In addition to youths working for the community, they also volunteer through programs like Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and the city's yard cleanup program. On Saturday, in addition to selling subscriptions, PCC members will also be helping with the Earth Day Cleanup at Fred Garner Park, and also will participate in the May 7 Living the Change Climate Action and Sustainability Fair at Shire City Sanctuary.

"We just want people to know that we're here, to recognize us, to see us as a connection to the community," Schnauber said. "We want our youths to grow, to be supportive and be apart of our community so the community can be a better place."

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