Changing the world with a $10 bill: Pittsfield faith leaders renew 'Do Some Good With This' challenge

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PITTSFIELD — Earlier this fall, when the Mega Millions lottery offered up a jackpot of more than $1.5 billion, people pondered lavishly about how they would spend such a sum.

But what would you do if you suddenly received an extra $10 and were told, "Do some good with this"? Could you still achieve a dream or make an impact on a drastically smaller scale?

A group of local parishioners believe so.

After a successful pilot last year, the Rev. Cricket Cooper, pastor of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Timothy "Tim" Weisman, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church of Pittsfield, presented an encore challenge this year of the "Do Some Good With This" advent project.

"Nothing makes you feel more grateful than to be generous," Cooper said. "I think the operative word of this project is 'do.'"

Last year, out of a sum of $1,000, the pastors gave parishioners packets of $15 each to invest in a project. The only ask is that parishioners report back through a note or a photo to help illustrate the outcomes. The 2017 funds benefited nearly 20 local and international nonprofit organizations. They also went toward other efforts, like surprising a group of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students with coffee and doughnuts during final exams week; anonymously forgiving people's overdue library book fines, and turning the cash into quarters for the parishes' "Laundry Love" initiative to allow residents in need the chance to do laundry for free at the North Street Coin-Op.

This year, to spread out the number of participants and challenge them to be more innovative, they gave them $10 each.

Renee Beatty, a Pittsfield resident who attends Zion Lutheran Church, said she was a little hesitant last year to take on the challenge. "I didn't think I could be creative enough at the time."

But this year, she decided to dive in.

"I really believe in this project and the good it can do," she said.

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Her granddaughter, Nora, attends first grade at Egremont Elementary School. So Beatty, a retired teacher herself, reached out to Nora's teacher and asked what kind of books the classroom could use.

She took the list and her granddaughter to a Barnes & Noble bookstore on a day which a portion of sale proceeds benefited Becket Washington School, where some of her other grandchildren attend.

Nora then took the books to her classroom where she got to stamp a special inscription in the book in honor of the gift. "It felt like a win-win," Beatty said.

"I love the fact that you can't see the end of the benefit of these projects," said Cooper, "because years from now, some child might come along and open that book and be inspired to do something."

Cooper said another effort she relished in hearing about was of a mother and son in her church that used the money to take another parishioner with meager means out for breakfast after church. Not only did the mother have a chance to talk to her son about the spirit of generosity, it also gave them both a chance to talk to someone they didn't know so well.

"Hopefully, those conversations continue," Cooper said.

Both she, Beatty and Weisman said they hope the "Do Something Good With This" campaign is a tradition that will not only endure in the coming years, but expand year-round.

"We're lucky. Our parishioners are so, so generous," said Weisman.

This fall, they've collectively raised more than $2,000 for the Emergency Fuel Oil fund of the Pittsfield Area Council of Congregations, donated 112 gift cards to families through the Berkshire Immigrant Center and raised $1,367 through a Beer & Carols event for the Common Care Fund at Zion Lutheran Church, which provides assistance from a hot meal to rent and utility assistance.

Asked why people tend to become more open to performing such acts of kindness during the holiday season, Weisman said, "For whatever reason, we don't this naturally all the time, which is why this investment means all the world. The next step is to figure out how to work this into our lives all the time, as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Christians, citizens and humans."


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