Brandeis University employee to take over Berkshire Immigrant Center

Peter Torres Lopez of Pittsfield, who was born in Peru, is all smiles as he is congratulated by Brooke Mead and Marissa Carlson, following the receipt of his Certificate of Naturalization, along with 17 immigrants during a Naturalization Ceremony at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge on Saturday, September 10, 2016. Gillian Jones - The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com

PITTSFIELD — After 17 years at the Berkshire Immigrant Center, Brooke Mead is handing over the reins to a new executive director.

Michelle Lopez will come to the Berkshires from Brandeis University, where she was assistant director of study abroad. She will start her new position Monday.

Mead joined the center in 2002 and has been executive director for about two years. Last fall, she realized that some of the administrative duties she was doing in her new role didn't ignite the passion that working directly with families did.

"As a director, you have to wear so many different hats," Mead said, referring to fundraising, building stakeholders and other duties. "As bittersweet as this is, it's the right move for this center."

The Berkshire Immigrant Center offers a variety of immigration-related assistance to 600 to 800 families a year. The services can range from helping people navigate the citizenship or residency process, to reuniting family members and basic legal consultations.

Over the past few years the center has expanded, including adding a formal advisory board.

Rose Ellis, who has been chairwoman of the board for two years, said that she is sad over Mead's departure, but also excited for the future.

"She is absolutely passionate about the plight of immigrants and commands a broad knowledge of immigration laws and regulations," Ellis said of Mead. "She's deeply committed to our clients, and before she was executive director, she was a caseworker and worked for many years on the ground, navigating the complex system of immigration law."

Lopez, too, is expected to elevate the center, Ellis said.

Having lived in Havana for several years running a student exchange program, Lopez, who is fluent in Spanish, is experienced in navigating challenging government agencies, she said.

Mead has talked with Lopez by phone and believes that she is the right person to craft the center's future.

"For so many years, we've tried to be so many things for so many people because we're it in the county," Mead said.

Lopez, staff and the advisory board should craft a clear goals for the center, Mead said.

As for Mead's future, she is hunting for a new gig but in no rush.

"I'm sure I will find something," she said. "Hopefully, it will be in some sort of social justice realm."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.