Former NARH caregivers get helping hand at resource fair


NORTH ADAMS -- About 40 nonprofit agencies and local businesses gathered in the MCLA Church Street Center Friday to help former employees of North Adams Regional Hospital connect with the services or aid agencies they may be needing in the coming months.

An unexpected benefit: A couple of unemployed hospital workers may have landed substitute-teaching gigs with Head Start.

The fair started at 1 p.m. and ran until 4 p.m.

"By noon there were people showing up," said Tom Bernard, event organizer and MCLA director of business affairs. By 3 p.m., more than 60 people had come through seeking information.

Many of them inquired about food assistance, fuel assistance and information on transportation to job interviews and for medical care.

"Transportation is a key thing for them right now," Bernard said.

Another unexpected byproduct of the gathering, he said, was "the ability for these organizations to connect with each other. An event like this tends to pull these providers closer together."

Aleta Moncecchi, director of community partnerships for the Berkshire Community Action Council, said the former hospital workers are "scared. They’re worried about making their rent payments, their utility payments. Health insurance was a big concern as well."

She noted that most of them were used to helping others as both a profession and a way of life. So it is only natural that being on the other side of that equation was a bit uncomfortable for some.

"They’re not used to asking for this kind of assistance," added Brad Gordon, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority. "They were being kind of apologetic."

But he also noticed there was another dynamic running through the gathering.

"There was a tremendous sense of gratitude," Gordon said. "In a tight knit community, people really understand that there is a genuine sense of hoping to help each other."

More than 50 people signed up for fuel assistance, with others having set up appointments to do so at a later date, noted Tammy Biagini, the BCAC fuel assistance director for Berkshire County.

Rachel Lipton was there representing TDBank to offer free financial advice.

"People seemed happy to see the support," she said. "They were very appreciative."

The Brien Center was helping folks understand that emergency help is still available in North County for mental health and substance abuse crises.

"We always have people available 24/7," said Christine Decker, program director. "There is always a professional around because crises are always around."

According to Stacy Parsons, executive director of Berkshire County Head Start, there were some inquiries about child care under the Head Start program. A couple of the inquiries led to informal interviews for substitute teaching staff jobs.

"We may have found two substitute teachers, and more would be even better," she said. "They came in asking about day care, and we ended up helping the whole family. I’m pretty excited."

Becky McAllister, a manager with BerkshireRides, said there was plenty of interest in their program.

"We’re here to help people get back on their feet," she said. "If it means getting them free transportation for job interviews or for the first few days at their new job, we can help."

Normally, McAllister noted, the cost is only $2 per ride.

And they will also help with transportation for medical care.

"We’re here to make sure that a lack of transportation isn’t the reason you couldn’t get medical care," McAllister added.

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