Kristine Hazzard | Live United: New volunteer options, social media campaigns in new year

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On behalf of the board and staff of Berkshire United Way, happy New Year and we wish you great success in 2016!

With input from key community partners, 2015 was a time for developing some key strategies to continue our community impact in our three focus areas: early childhood literacy, positive youth development and family financial stability.

These new efforts will set us up for continued success in 2016. Berkshire United Way is committed to measurable results, from our funded partners, ourselves as an organization and the community at large.

It's because of our continual review and evaluation processes that we've been able to refine our strategies to meet our mission of improving the quality of life in Berkshire County to create sustainable change. We continue to expand our partnerships in the Berkshire community, where we have been providing support for over 90 years; we're excited to continue to grow these relationships in the New Year.

In 2015 we deepened our commitment and focus on South County with the launch of Chapter One Our Towns, Our Kids, Our Future, an early literacy campaign, and we have recently hired a South County liaison to find new ways to engage volunteers and donors in this important work.

The first meeting of the coalition is at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15, at Community Health Programs in Great Barrington; we encourage folks to attend to be part of this exciting adventure to put our children on the path to future success in education and life.

In addition, this spring we will be organizing a stimulating volunteer initiative to unite all residents across the Berkshires, including businesses, in promoting a countywide focus on early literacy at the neighborhood level by making books easily accessible to all.

Widespread advocacy for what our community needs and what works to improve it is key to our success. Our plans for 2016 take this to heart and we will make it easier than ever for everyone to push Berkshire County forward.

We're putting a focus on both volunteer opportunities and social media campaigns that will make it simple and painless for Berkshire residents to have their voices heard and to roll up their sleeves to make a difference.

Family financial stability is a significant challenge for our community. With nearly one-quarter of working families in Berkshire County considered low-income and under-resourced, it's more important than ever to ensure that they have access to the services and support they need to increase their financial resources.

In late 2015 we received several grants to allow us to create a Workplace Resource Coordinator program modeled after the Working Bridges program in Chittenden County, Vt. The goal is to provide onsite support to employees of local business establishments and connect them to the resources necessary to manage the daily challenges they face that cause them to miss work or have reduced productivity.

These challenges include transportation, quality, affordable child care, and unexpected expenses such as health issues and home repairs. As employees are supported to connect to the myriad of community resources available, they are more successful at work, employers experience less absenteeism and turnover, as well as increased productivity and profits. With that, the economy in the Berkshires can be positively impacted.

The community of Chittenden experienced $164,500 poured back into their community as a direct result of the lowered turnover cost to employers. In one instance, a local hospital went from averaging 30 to 60 percent turnover to merely 3 percent, because employees were able to maintain steady employment by taking advantage of an on-site liaison and connecting to the services they needed to stabilize their family situation and finances.

We're confident that the Workplace Resource Coordinator program will be able to start the progression toward similar improvements in Berkshire County, beginning with the six local employers that have signed on to pilot the program.

We're committed to leading a great year of opportunity in the community, so we hope you'll join us. To stay up to date on everything we're doing or for more information on how to give, advocate, or volunteer, head to www.berkshireunitedway.org.

Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, berkshireunitedway.org.


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