County residents learn business skills at Berkshire Bank Popcorn Wagon

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PITTSFIELD -- The iconic red 105-year-old Berkshire Bank Popcorn Wagon has popped up in a new location this summer with the help of an initiative to help teach county residents business skills.

The Berkshire Bank Foundation is continuing its partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires Inc. to support Goodwill's Business 101 program, which teaches participants the ins-and-outs of business enterprises -- from writing a business plan, overseeing purchasing and inventory, to customer service and satisfaction.

Five Business 101 members have taken on the role of running the Popcorn Wagon, which the bank moved from the corner of North Street and Park Square to its new branch at 99 North St., near The New Berry Place store.

Popcorn was popping and ice cold drinks were sold on Thursday during the lunch hour and the Third Thursday street festival.

"I think it's a good program," said Brenda Gardner, of Adams, who is a Goodwill Soft Skills program graduate and has a culinary background as a cook.

Since jumping on the wagon back in June, she's learned how to manage cash transactions and inventory and how to make popcorn using a commercial machine. The team includes Adam Filby, also of Adams, and Pittsfield residents Krystal Boudreau and Michael Rodrick, who manages books for the operation. They're all in their 20s and 30s.

John Ostellino is slightly older. He's been an employee with Goodwill for the past 11 years and joined the team a few weeks ago after talking with CEO Frank Engels.

"I think it gives employees the opportunity to present what they can do. For example with me, people can see that a blind person can make change," said Ostellino, who has learned how to navigate the cash drawer by touch.

"It feels good to get out to talk with people in the community. Here, you work with good people too. We're all very helpful to each other," he said.

"With five people on the team, they're learning how to run a business from the ground up," said Kathy Anker, employment program manager for the Berkshire Goodwill.

Anker said Business 101 will soon launch a custodial program and is looking for other business ventures for students. The Soft Skills program, which is co-taught by staff from Goodwill, Mildred Elley and volunteers from RSVP, will offer a North County program in the fall.

As for the Goodwill Popcorn Wagon team, they've already shown their stewardship for the operation, from determining the seasoning for popcorn to selling lollipops to developing a customer satisfaction survey.

Though the team say some customers are upset with the location change, they've also attracted some regulars at the new spot.

"These guys are a fabulous organization," said Michael Dunn, who works for the Youth Works program on North Street. He stopped by the Popcorn Wagon on Thursday during his lunch break to pick up a bag of popcorn and a can of Coca-Cola from an ice cooler.

With popcorn priced at $1, soda at 75 cents, Poland Spring bottled water for 50 cents and lollipops for a quarter, Dunn said, "It's the best deal in town."

Popping up

Berkshire Bank Popcorn Wagon hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Third Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., and during the Aug. 4 Pittsfield Ethnic Fair & Classic Car Show.

To learn more about or enroll in the Goodwill Business 101 or Soft Skills program, contact Kathy Anker or Eric Wilder at (413) 442-0061.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink


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