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Northern Berkshire United Way Announces Campaign Goal
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:01AM / Tuesday, October 09, 2018
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North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard speaks to a full house at the Northern Berkshire United Way annual meeting and campaign kickoff breakfast on Friday.


iBerkshires.com account representative Tyler Bissaillon of Adams became of the youngest board member in the history of the Northern Berkshire United Way when he was officially elected to the board on Friday. The other new board members are: William Blackmer of North Adams, a retired lieutenant/station commander with the Massachusetts State Police; Yvette Stoddard of Adams, director of Academic Services-ASD Residential Program at Hillcrest Educational Centers; and Candace Wall of Stamford, Vt., a private practice psychotherapist.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The numbers tell the story of the Northern Berkshire United Way.

Last year, the organization's campaign goal was $470,000. The amount raised ended up being $477,667. And this year's campaign goal is $480,000.

"We always try to of a little better than last year," United Way Executive Director Christa Collier said in announcing the goal and the four campaign chairs: couples Jeff Naughton and his wife, Christine DeMasi Naughton, and Ellen Sutherland and her husband, John Franzoni. 

But numbers tell the story in a different way, according to North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard, who addressed the agency's annual meeting and campaign kickoff breakfast on Friday at the Williams Inn. After making sure that none of his old math teachers were in the room, Bernard spoke about "the math of community building."

A community, he said, starts with one -- one person, one agency, etc., on its own, with no connection. Once that one connects with another, two "nodes" are formed, and so on as connections grow.

"You start to see the web building," he said. 

Once there are 20 points, there are 190 connections. And with the roughly 180 people in the room at Friday's meeting, that represents more than 16,000 connections.

"We're seeing that here," he said. "We're all connected."

But just because that one person doesn't have any connections on his or own doesn't make that one person insignificant. The notion that a single point is unconnected is wrong, he said.

"Every single person in that network begins with one to one," he said.

That's worth remembering as the Northern Berkshire region blooms with possibilities -- like all of the recent development with projects with Tourists and Greylock Works -- but also continues to struggle with poverty, addiction and an aging population.

"The key to it is getting together and talking about issues," he said.

One person who was particularly good at that was Al Nelson, who led the Northern Berkshire United Way from 1981 to 1996 before involving himself in myriad other community endeavors. Nelson passed away earlier this year, and after leading a moment of silence in his memory, Collier announced that the Spirit of Caring Award the agency gave to Nelson in a spring celebration would from now on be known as the "Al Nelson Spirit of Caring Award." 

"He was there for all of us all the time," Collier said. "We will carry on his legacy, as Al would have wanted."

That celebration -- the inaugural Spirit of Caring Awards and Celebration, held in May -- was only one of the many endeavors undertaken by the NBUW over the past year, in addition to its raising funds for the 20 member agencies. The United Way now leads the Northern Berkshire Housing and Homelessness Collaborative; participates in the Mass 2-1-1 program, which gives people a number to call to connect them with information about critical health and human services; and collaborates on VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), which supports free tax preparation for low-income taxpayers.

Most exciting this year, however, was the NBUW's "Born Learning Trail," which offers 10 interactive learning activities for young children and families near the public play area at Joe Wolfe Field in North Adams. Collier showed a short video of the installation of the trail and talked about the "big dreams" she has of involving the United Way in more community projects like this one.

"These are the things we do in the 'off-season,'" she said. 

By "off-season," she meant the time not spent actively fund-raising for those 20 agencies, whom Collier recognized as the lifeblood of the community.

"You can see the 20 member agencies have a huge for behind them," she said as she called out each organization and its representatives to stand up. That's what the United Way stands for, she said. "We don't just give out the funds. We support them.

"That's what community is."

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