Berkshire Immigrant Center lands $50K grant

Push-pins mark locations on a world map where Berkshire Immigrant Center clients are from, at the center in Pittsfield in 2017. The center was recently awarded $50,000 from the Barr Foundation.

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Immigrant Center has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Boston-based philanthropic Barr Foundation as part of its $2 million initiative to support organizations serving immigrants in Massachusetts.

The grant is being channeled to BIC through its fiscal sponsor, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Inc.

"This will make a big difference to BIC, especially when the economy is slowing and our community supporters may be less able to donate. We are so grateful for this vote of confidence in our work," the center said on its Facebook page Monday.

BIC Executive Director Michelle Lopez told The Eagle in a phone interview that unlike previous Barr grants which BIC had to apply for, this new funding came as "a huge, generous surprise."

The grant, she says, will be used to stabilize the organization's fiscal 2021 budget, to help maintain staff, subsidize client fees as needed, and to "make up for any donations we may be lacking because people haven't been able to help in a way they have in the past." A total of 23 unrestricted grants were paid out immediately by the Barr Foundation, which announced recipients on April 16 via its blog.

"We know that organizations working most closely with our immigrant communities have been overwhelmed. Deluged with requests as human needs have grown, they have expanded services, even as new challenges to their own organizational health have emerged," foundation President Jim Canales writes in the blog post.

Canales himself knows the struggle of immigrants well. He was raised mainly by his maternal great-grandmother, who was from Nicaragua and spoke only Spanish. His father's family comes from Mexico.

Earlier this month, the Barr Foundation announced $2.6 million in emergency response grants for community foundations across Massachusetts. Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation received $250,000 through that initiative.

"We have invested in organizations closest to those communities and most in touch with their needs. We trust our partners to make the best decisions about the use of these resources, and we have minimized process and paperwork, so that funds get to work as quickly as possible. That's what matters most right now," Canales says.

Lopez said that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency funding made available through grants and donors has helped BIC clients pay for housing and utilities. She said that immigrants who are undocumented, or whose citizenship status has been affected by processing delays, and who may have lost employment, are not eligible for things like unemployment benefits.BIC received $35,000 in mid-March in emergency funding, from Berkshire United Way, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and an anonymous donor. Lopez said a second wave of funding of about $30,000 is expected to arrive by the week's end, largely through individual donors and a $5,000 grant through Berkshire Taconic's Neighbor-to-Neighbor fund.

BIC's offices remain closed to the public, but people can still find help by phone and online appointments.

Staffers Lorena Dus and Maureen Blennerhassett will give an English-language presentation on the federal public charge and immigration updates in the time of COVID-19 at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday via Zoom. A Spanish language Zoom presentation on the same topics will be offered at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Lopez will moderate a question and answer discussion afterward each presentation.

For more information, visit berkshireic.org, email info@berkshireic.org, or find Berkshire Immigrant on Facebook.