Christa Collier: Northern Berkshire United Way on the ground, in every corner

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While it may seem to some that Northern Berkshire United Way is a mile wide but an inch deep, that could not be further from the truth.

Many people I speak with express a sincere appreciation for Northern Berkshire United Way, but are unclear about exactly how we do our work. Most know our name, that we help people and agencies, but not much more than that.

This past month we kicked off our annual campaign, marking the 81st year in which our nonprofit, community and business leaders came together for the betterment of our community. As part of our annual campaign, we visit workplaces and donors to invite them to make an investment in Northern Berkshire United Way.

Generally, my talk will go something like this: Northern Berkshire United Way efficiently raises money through workplace campaigns and other fundraising events. We fund 20 member agencies that fulfill the critical human services issues in our community in four core areas: education, health, financial stability and safety-net services.

Trained volunteers allocate funding after reviewing the agencies based on established quality standards. This allocation process assures our contributors of good stewardship of their gifts.

The most important part of the talk is that our 20 member agencies help our family members, friends and neighbors in need. They are not nameless, faceless people who are not able to care for themselves or want a hand out. They are our community members such as senior citizens living on subsidized incomes, who make up 80 percent of the individuals applying for and receiving fuel assistance through Berkshire Community Action Council.

Besides our annual allocation funding, we focus on specific impact work through our Community Needs and Special Grants fund. This summer, in collaboration with the Williamstown Community Chest, we received joint funding from MountainOne Bank to provide 15 youths ages 9 to 15 with summer learning camp experiences at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

The camperships provided income-eligible youth experiences in robotics, computer programming and creative writing. This type of programming aligns with our goal of making education a priority for special grant funding. Another partnership we developed brought together several of Northern Berkshire's largest holiday gift-giving programs.

The purpose of this collaboration was to create one point of signup, administration and access. This will also eliminate possible duplication issues and create additional resources for children who may need to be served.

The two largest program partners joining forces are: Berkshire Community Action Council's Holiday Elf Program and the Northern Berkshire Santa Fund. Other partners working in the collaboration are: Rotary Club of North Adams, North Adams Public Safety (fire, police, and ambulance) Child Care of the Berkshires and Berkshire Family YMCA-North Adams Branch.

Each of these entities previously held separate sponsorship programs to provide children in need with holiday gifts and/or warm clothing each year. Last year, we estimated that more than 1,500 children were served by these holiday giving programs. While the need is very present in our community, area donors and agencies have communicated they often have to choose which program to fund.

Having one program that collaborates, shares information and resources ensures that all children are served and puts the entities' efforts and donor funds to the best use. In the coming months, you might see Northern Berkshire United Way out in the community, receive a letter from us or attend one of our events. When you do, know that we are raising necessary funds to ensure a family member, friend or neighbor in need receives critical human service supports that improve their life.

Take a look at our list of member agencies. Chances are that one of them has served you or someone you know: Berkshire Children & Families, Berkshire Community Action Council, Berkshire County Kids' Place, Berkshire Family and Individual Resources (BFAIR), Berkshire Family YMCA-North Adams, Berkshire Food Project, Berkshire Nursing Families, Brien Center, Child Care of the Berkshires, Community Legal Aid, Ecu-Health Care, Elder Services of Berkshire County, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Girl Scouts of Western Massachusetts, Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires, Louison House, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill -Berkshire County Chapter (NAMI), Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, United Cerebral Palsy and Youth Center.

That's what Northern Berkshire United Way does — we convene quiet, yet profound partnerships and change in every corner of our Northern Berkshires As a community, we are all part of it.

Christa M. Collier is the executive director of Northern Berkshire United Way.

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