Kristine Hazzard | Live United: Well-defined goals leading to 'positive strides'

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If you have visited the Berkshire United Way website, you may have stumbled upon the community aspiration, "Making Berkshire County a community of hope and opportunity where every individual and family lives, works and thrives."

You may have wondered where this statement came from and what does it mean for Berkshire United Way?

In 2009, Berkshire United Way shifted to the Community Impact Investment Model, which represents our commitment to promoting real and sustainable change in Berkshire County.

This model uses the community-defined aspiration as the basis for determining how and where Berkshire United Way makes its investments.

Prior to this shift, Berkshire United Way devoted countless hours to meaningful conversations with over 400 representatives from more than 75 community organizations.

It was through this process that the aforementioned community aspiration was defined and the three priority community issues were identified: early childhood literacy, positive youth development and financial stability. Berkshire United Way strategically invests in these community priorities, then monitors and measures the results of these investments over time.

Michael Barbieri, senior vice president of Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, helped define the community aspiration.

"It was vital that the community developed the aspiration and continued to be involved as the three focus areas were established," he said. "This provided the foundation for the Community Impact Investment Model that Berkshire United Way was committed to implementing."

To support its mission, Berkshire United Way invests in organizations and activities that employ nationally recognized best practices — techniques supported by research and experience that have been proven to reliably lead to desired results — and innovative, evidence-based programs.

Recently, Greg Adams, Sabic Americas' regional vice president, praised Berkshire United Way's "relentless focus and passion for improving the quality of life for the residents of Pittsfield and Berkshire County."

Adams said Berkshire United Way has become more "impact-focused," specifically regarding the three areas listed above.

"These three areas plant the seeds of future success where they're most needed," he said. "The positive strides that the Berkshire United Way is helping the community make represents a vital and lasting contribution to the vibrancy of Pittsfield and the surrounding areas."

How do we measure the return on our investments and determine if our objectives are being achieved?

Berkshire United Way contracts with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to gather data and track community change. Through the program known as Berkshire Benchmarks, it continually collects and analyzes data to identify trends and conditions in the three priority community issues.

This data can demonstrate opportunities and challenges in the community, enabling Berkshire United Way, and the many community partners with whom we collaborate, to identify strategies that are working as well as those that need to be adjusted in order to achieve the desired goals and outcomes.

We are making positive progress — 50 Book Houses installed throughout the county will help 12,000 children gain access to reading materials year-round; there's been a 55 percent reduction in the county's teen birth rate; the countywide high school graduation rate has been on the upswing since 2009; millions in additional dollars have been returned to working families in Berkshire County since Berkshire United Way began investing in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in 2011 — but we can't do it alone. We need you to help build our community.

• You can give by reading to a child, joining one of our coalitions or donating to Berkshire United Way.

• You can advocate by contacting your legislators to express support for early childhood education for all children or expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; you can follow Berkshire United Way on Facebook and share our updates with your friends.

• You can volunteer by mentoring a young person, coordinating a children's book drive for one of our book houses or becoming a tax preparer for the VITA program.

Together, we can make a difference.

Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, berkshireunitedway.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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