Working Cities Pittsfield celebrates three years with annual picnic

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PITTSFIELD — Working Cities Pittsfield is three years into a 10-year goal: Make the city "just, thriving and safe" for all who live here.

"That's a big goal and of course we're not there, yet," Alisa Costa, initiative director for the program, told a crowd of more than 100 people Wednesday at Durant Park.

Organizers behind Working Cities Pittsfield held the first picnic in June 2016, after they learned of their first big grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

"And we promised we would check in every year on our progress," Costa said. "It's food, friends and feedback."

This year, she said it's more important than ever to get the word out about Working Cities Pittsfield. That's because funds for it expire at the end of the year.

"We're three years into our 10-year goal," she kept saying.

"We've touched a lot of lives with the work we've done," said Linda Kelley, chairwoman of the West Side Neighborhood Initiative, which helped found the Working Cities program.

Costa said the idea is to find a way to continue the work, because "we think that we're onto something, here."

Costa said Working Cities reaches people through seven on-staff community navigators, who so far have logged 500 total outreach hours as they work to connect neighbors with resources that could help them succeed. The program has also hosted Bridges Out of Poverty trainings for 250 people, including all of the city's department heads.

Another key Working Cities asset is its Getting Ahead program, Costa said — an eight-week workshop on financial literacy that offers understanding about how certain systems perpetuate the cycle of poverty — which has graduated 90 people to date.

One Getting Ahead graduate, Nycole Gallagher, said the program helped her improve her time management skills.

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Alex Valdivieso, a member of the program's executive committee, has helped facilitate the Getting Ahead training for Spanish speakers. He said the teachings help people make important connections and grow.

"I truly think it helps a lot of people," he said.

Ranisha Grice said her work as a community navigator has helped her grow into a more involved resident over the past year. As Costa spoke, she worked to quiet down a group of kids whose voices were drowning her out.

"You gotta be out here living these experiences to know the challenges and the barriers," she said.

Working Cities also helped found Tyler Street Lab, a new collaborative space on Tyler Street. Those behind it met at Working Cities Wednesdays, Costa said, where they talked about how to make the community space a reality.

Every fourth Wednesday at Working Cities Wednesday, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., community members gather to brainstorm solutions to city problems and ways to realize them.

Costa said it's important to keep asking "what have we gotten out of it," and sharing the answers.

"A big family!" offered one man in the crowd.

That's the idea, she said.

"This has always been about you and your voice," she said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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