By Rebecca Dravis
01:27AM / Thursday, May 10, 2018
BCAC Deputy Director Brian House introduces Greylock Federal Credit Union as the winner of the 'Community Hero Award.'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In 2014, a coalition of Berkshire County nonprofits banded together to form the Community Connector Partnership in order to offer residents a more streamlined approach to finding services they may need in their lives.
On May 4, Berkshire Community Action Council, one of the founding members of the partnership that is now 30-plus members strong, celebrated the ideas of collaboration and community at its annual meeting at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
"It takes a holistic approach ... to help a family thrive," BCAC Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk said in her opening remarks. "We are all working with the same families, the same goals. Eliminating poverty is the goal."
Berkshire County is lucky, she said, because this is a community "overflowing with goodness." Jeffrey Lowenstein, incoming chair of the board of directors, echoed that sentiment in his remarks.
"The Berkshires are a place where we still talk to each other," he said. "We know it truly takes a whole community to fight poverty."
The keynote speaker, state Sen. Adam Hinds, picked up that thread and carried it throughout his talk.
"I'm deeply concerned right now for a number of reasons," said Hinds, citing a below-average median household income as a huge problem plaguing the Berkshires — a problem that contributes to generational poverty. Hinds said statistics about the income of a child's parents can tell experts so much about the health outcomes of a child, as well as the child's likelihood of being successful.
"The opportunity of a kid is based on the wealth of their parents," he said, giving an example about how when he wanted a summer job, his parents were able to call a friend who was able to secure him a job at golf course. Every child needs to have access to those kinds of opportunities, he said.
"We need to be very deliberate in connecting folks locally with resources, with relationships," he said.
BCAC Executive Director Deborah Leonczyk said her staffers are 'amazing people.' She said, 'I do nothing. I just sit back and watch.'
The Community Connector Partnership was a great start, he said, and has a deliberate goal of trying to cultivate those resources. But there is still work to be done in the Berkshires, particularly, he said, in the area of transportation. The state budget has added more funds for RTAs — regional transit authorities, like the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which runs the B buses — but funding is still below the $88 million sought. That funding, he said, needs to be deliberately applied to the unique challenges of rural transportation, where ridership is down despite the rise in funding.
"Something isn't quite adding up," said Hinds, pointing out that there are various groups working to address the transportation problem among specific populations, like seniors or veterans. The collaborative approach needs to extend to this problem as well, he said.
"None of that is talking to each other right now," he said. "We're only going to make progress on our goals when it's a comprehensive approach."
Progress that has been made was highlighted at the meeting; a new locally produced documentary was shown about BCAC and its community partners. And BCAC gave awards not only to its "Volunteer of the Year" — Gracie Vincent — and the winner of the Dave Lachowski Service Award — director of fuel assistance Tammy Biagini but also honored Greylock Federal Credit Union with its "Community Hero Award" for its role in helping BCAC meet its community goals.
Bryan House, deputy director of BCAC's central and south region, said Greylock offers a "strong focus on economic empowerment," including classes on budgeting, using credit, a new program for micro-lending of car loans, and more.
"These services are offered with kindness," House said. "Together we can create a lasting impact in our community."