Poverty forum aims at 'barriers that trap people'

Lee Elementary School Food Security Team member Ben Kelly, a sixth-grade student, places a loaf of bread into a food kit which was sent home with a classmate in December 2018. The students run an in-school food pantry to help local families in need.

NORTH ADAMS — The Berkshire Community Action Council is inviting anyone who has trouble paying their bills, or anyone who works to alleviate the effects of poverty in the county, to bring their thoughts and ideas to a Community Conversation on Poverty.

The forum will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Church Street Center, 375 Church St.

Discussions about available resources and barriers to breaking the chain of poverty are anticipated, along with BCAC strategies to fight poverty over the next three years.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is expected to offer closing remarks. Lunch will be provided.

Event panelists include state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams; Josh Mendel, director of corporate engagement and strategic partnerships, MCLA; Andrew Morehouse, executive director, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Robert Malnati, administrator, Berkshire Regional Transit Authority; Brad Gordon, executive director, Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority; Anne Nemetz-Carlson, president and CEO, Child Care of the Berkshires; Kelli Kozak, vice president of community engagement, MountainOne Bank; and Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.

"I know that when people in Western Massachusetts have real opportunities to make a better life, they take them," Neal said. "Taking down the barriers that trap people in poverty requires action from as many angles as possible — not just government, but also business, education, housing, and health care. I'm proud to be part of the group facing that challenge head-on in Berkshire County."

Participants will come together to have a community conversation around poverty — a conversation among community members, social service agencies, business leaders, public officials, educational institutions and other stakeholders about how to address poverty in the Berkshires. The event will begin with a panel, with experts on different obstacles of poverty speaking to the opportunities, programs and services available in the Berkshires. The panel will also identify gaps in programs and services that need to be addressed, and what's being done to fix them.

After the discussion, each panelist will facilitate a breakout session with event attendees. These breakouts will provide an opportunity for attendees to think together and share their ideas on how to address poverty in the Berkshires. The event will end with closing remarks from Neal and a free lunch networking hour.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., but is not required. Attendees can also register online at the BCAC Facebook page. For more information, call 413-445-4503, ext. 683.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.