Haymarket People's Fund has given BRIDGE big boost


GREAT BARRINGTON -- A little more than three years ago, Gwendolyn Hampton-VanSant needed help.

The vital community organization she co-founded -- BRIDGE, or the Berkshire Resources for the Integration of Diverse Groups and Education -- faced an uncertain future. Budget cuts threatened to dismantle the program, which included everything from Spanish lessons for local police to multifaceted school functions.

BRIDGE survived, thanks in part to the "inspiring family network" Hampton-VanSant discovered in Haymarket People's Fund.

"Without the learning that I did, the support that I got, the network that Haymarket has for this work, I don't know if I'd still be standing here [in this role] today," Hampton-VanSant said at a joint fundraiser between the two organizations Friday.

Haymarket People's Fund is an almost 40-year-old social and racial justice foundation. The organization funds groups throughout the six New England States. The fund has distributed more than $25 million since 1994.

"We come to this work not just by chance. It's out of necessity," said Karla Nicholson, the fund's executive director. "The things that the groups that we fund are fighting against are not small matters. They're huge and in many ways insurmountable."

"[Haymarket] supports foundations that are too new, too small, or two controversial," said Ronald Hanft, a West Stockbridge resident who has been involved with the organization for decades.

Three years into their relationship, Haymarket has provided BRIDGE with more than $18,000.

In addition, when major events occur, like a 100-person melee at Third Thursday in Pittsfield in May, 2012, or widespread racial jeering in the county during high school sports contests, Haymarket has responded immediately by providing BRIDGE with "urgent response grants" used to spark community discussion.

BRIDGE is phenomenal," Nicholson said. "Gwen needed allies in this work and that's what we are. I want to emphasize just how critical this work is."

Other allies are closer to home.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Stockbridge Police Chief Rick Wilcox each spoke on the value of a program like BRIDGE to the Berkshires.

"BRIDGE is trying to embrace a diversity that makes the Berkshires extremely special," Pignatelli said.

Wilcox gave a presentation on the efforts of a number of Stockbridge residents during the opening years of the 1800s to fight against slavery. His address was part of a series BRIDGE is currently promoting that involves local police chiefs speaking publically on how the county's Race Task Force has influenced their service.

Hampton-VanSant said BRIDGE will continue to receive funds from Haymarket throughout 2013, and she plans to re-apply with the organization in 2014.


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