West Side Day brings neighbors together to end violence


PITTSFIELD>> "I just want the violence to stop."

Those are the words of Krystal Avery, a mother of two children living on the city's west side.

Avery is a volunteer at The Christian Center, 193 Robbins Ave. and brought both toddlers to the Westside Community day on Saturday. the event was sponsored by the center and a barbecue was sponsored and cooked by the Civitan group.

The neighborhood has been plagued with violence during the past months. Shootings and drug arrests have prompted headlines and negative attention. In May, several shootings were reported over a 17-hour period in the areas of Wahconah Street and Pecks Road, Dartmouth Street and Second Street. One person was injured during the incident near second Street and Patrick Coyne, 34, was arrested following the Wahconah Street/Pecks Road incident.

One year ago, four people were wounded and 25-year-old Ronald Pinel was killed during a shooting at a Linden Street lot. Just days later, another shooting occurred on Robbins Avenue.

Finding peace through community gatherings is possible, said Christian Center Executive Director Ellen Merritt.

"We're bringing people together to share information and have neighbors meet neighbors,' she said. "We want to celebrate freely, to have fun freely."

With a bounce house, information booths, skee-ball games and other activities lining Robbins Street, the area appeared festive. But when the organized events are over, the streets are not filled with fun, Avery said.

"I can't take my kids to the park next door," she said "I walk my kids to the Commons [on First Street]. It's a haul, but we do it. It's safe there."

"I am scared to bring my kids outside," she continued. "My mom lives over on First Street and I live on Robbins and even that distance is sometimes scary to walk. I do see a lot of police out though and they are doing a good job for the community. Sometimes I see a police car go up one street and I turn a round and here comes another one coming the other way. I do like to see them watching out for the community."

Douglas Frye also lives on Robbins Street and is a center volunteer. He helped city police officer Michael Ortega set up an information booth and other preparations. Frye volunteers with the center's Monday through Friday free lunch program as well.

"I love this center and it's good what they are doing for the community,' he said. "I want to see change. We need change. I want to see the violence end. It makes no sense."

The city police department is actively recruiting members of minority populations to become officers, Ortega said. There was information at the police booth as well as a video showing training and an opportunity to speak with Ortega about working in law enforcement.

"We want to show support for the west side community," he said. "We're sharing information and we are trying to recruit minorities into the police station. We want to reach out and see who might be interested in this type of a career."

Berkshire Health Systems community care coordinator Erica Garofalo staffed a booth featuring a jump rope station.

Sie Wilder, 10, Izabella LeClair, 10, and 10-year-old Neveah Mack chose ropes and jumped as a trio. The three girls said that they are interested in basketball, football and other sports.

"I play basketball at home and at the parks," Neveah said and added that she might like to play for a school team someday.

Garofalo noted that many children enjoy sports and have interest in school teams but transportation issues make their dreams nearly impossible to follow. Buses to transport children home from practices could mean greater participation, she said.

"I believe that children who participate with sports on their own or as part of a team develop self-control and an awareness of their own bodies, which gives them awareness of others," she said.

The teamwork and discipline involved with sports is valuable as well, she said.

Judith Eddy is an outreach communications specialist with the Berkshire Environmental Action team. The group needs volunteers to help water trees and young people are welcome to participate, she said.

The group is part of a Greening the Gateway Cities initiative in collaboration with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state Department of Energy Resources, the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the city.

"The goal is to plant 2,400 trees throughout Pittsfield. The idea is to create a canopy of shade and protection," she said.

"The trees need to be watered and youth can volunteer to help us."

Music was provided by the Young Creative Genius initiative directed by Joshua Morgan.

Center volunteer Diana Goddard staffed a prize table, where children could trade in tickets they had won by playing games and use them to get prizes.

"It's wonderful to see all the kids and families," she said. "They are so happy. As for the violence, I don't know what the solution is. It's scary. The basic needs of the people are not being met. We help with that, with housing, and food, and blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless, formula and diapers for babies. But when people's needs are not met, they turn to violence to get those needs met."

Additional booths included the Berkshire Children and Families Resource Center Bookworm Club, the Brien Center, the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, the George B. Crane Memorial Center, the Berkshire United way, Berkshire Works and the Berkshire Family YMCA.

Civitan worker Jodie O'Connell-Ponkos helped Janine Sniezek and Deborah Marinaro prepare the meal and load brownies and cookies onto paper plates.

"It's wonderful watching everyone come together to help," she said. "There's a great deal of satisfaction in knowing at the end of the day you made a difference."


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