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Berkshire Bank Donates $10K to Soldier On
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
02:13PM / Monday, April 17, 2017
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Jack Downing, Michael Ferry, Deanna Markham, Steve Como (behind), Kathy Lein, Corey Bazinet, Mike Phelps (behind Corey) Bruce Buckley, Mike Davidson, Joe Marlow, Corey Levante, Bill Lavine (behind Gary), Lori Gazzillo, Randy Stewart, Elizabeth Buckley (behind Randy) Anthony Stratford (behind Elizabeth), Jason Stump, Mike Drabick (peeking in front of Jason), James Klenotiz, Brian Grant (in the tie in front), Gerald McGarth Melvin Collins (behind Brian), Ed Mill (behind Melvin), David Harte, Ben Hamilton (in the hat behind David), Jeremy Schnopp, Nicholas Morey.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Soldier On scored a goal with an assist from the Berkshire Bank Foundation. 
Berkshire Bank passed over a $10,000 donation to the non-profit on Monday, a donation part of the foundation's "eXciting" assist program. For every assist tallied by the Boston Bruins between Oct. 13 and Dec. 7, 2016, $100 was donated to Soldier On. 
"It's a fun kind of initiative where every time the Boston Bruins achieve an assist this year, we put $100 into the pool. This year there are three organizations that are benefiting from the funds we collect and Soldier On was one of those organizations that received funds from one portion of the season," Lori Gazzillo, vice president and director of Berkshire Bank Foundation, said. 
Berkshire Bank has had a partnership with New England Sports Network, the television station that airs the Bruins games, for four years. The two have done fundraising efforts for Habitat for Humanity and this year launched the assist program, broadening the scope. The hockey season was divided into three equal parts and each assist contributed to the donation. 
"We have a great partnership with Soldier On and they serve a lot of our market, not just Berkshire County but elsewhere as well throughout Massachusetts and New York. They've just built a great organization here in helping veterans achieve homeownership," Gazzillo said.
The other organizations supported through the program were Birthday Wishes, which provides birthday parties for homeless children, and Cradles to Crayons, which provides homeless children with school, play, and other needed supplies. 
Gazzillo said the organizations were chosen because each has broad impacts and serves the low to moderate income population. Those organizations were given $12,100 and $11,500 for their portions of the hockey season. 
Soldier On focuses on homeless veterans. The organization not only provides and an array of services to the veterans through a sheltering program but also builds permanent housing units. The focus is to help transition the homeless individual back into everyday life. 
"The grants we operate from provide the general services. But, as you can see, we build a permanent house and we help a lot of these men and women that don't have really anything when they come to us. We need to give them a lot more than the grants provide. We need to give them general bedding, general furniture, general cooking utensils, we provide training, we provide money management, we provide a lot of services that aren't necessarily in the grants. And it helps us build the permanent housing," CEO Bruce Buckley said. 
The organization has built three housing communities with Pittsfield's 39 units being the first. There are also 44 in Leeds and 43 in Chicopee. This August, the fourth will open in Agawam. That is likely where much of the donation will go. 
Buckley said most of the money will go toward furnishing those units as well as adding 32-inch televisions and computer monitors. That will give the tenants access to computer services and the ability to Skype in with staff. The communication piece is particularly important because the organization can hold meetings with the tenants and the tenants will have quick access to staff if there is a crisis or somebody needs added attention. 
Gary Levante, assistant vice president for community engagement at Berkshire Bank, said the assist program isn't just a one-time donation but also gives the exposure to the Soldier On and the services they provide. 
"We also had the opportunity to bring some of Soldier On staff and veterans to a game in Boston to watch the game, take it all in, and do an interview with NESN to help highlight them. This initiative isn't just about raising money for an outstanding organization but also giving them some visibility in front of a national audience," Levante said.
Buckley added that Berkshire Bank has been a strong partner in a number of ways in the past and this just adds to it.
"We do all of our banking through Berkshire Bank and we have for 10 years. As they've grown and we've grown, our relationship has stayed the same. Berkshire Bank really does a lot more than give us the money, they provide service. We have one of their representatives coming tomorrow to provide training to help our guys get started back into the banking world that they've been boxed out of in recent years," Buckley said. 
The hockey season has ended and the Bruins are now in the playoffs. But the Berkshire Bank Foundation believes the assist program was a success and will be back next year. 
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