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BCAC Opens Doors, Builds Collaboration
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
04:42PM / Sunday, August 13, 2017
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Dozens of organizations joined in on BCAC's open house on Friday.


The open house was family oriented with food, games, and the Boy Scouts put up a rock wall for children to climb.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When it comes poverty, BCAC knows it can't solve it alone.
 
Berkshire Community Action Council is the county's federally designed anti-poverty agency and provides an array of programming to help low-income individuals. But, it isn't able to provide every single need some one has to get out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. So, it has reached out to organizations that can fill those gaps.
 
"One of the things we are particularly proud of is that we run the community connector partnership. That is a collaboration of 27 agencies that all work together to move people out of poverty. We are very collaborative, we leverage our resources, and we can do a lot more if we do it together and we're not working in our little silos," Executive Director Deb Leonczyk said. 
 
Three years ago, the United Way funded the formation of the connector program, and now BCAC is taking over leadership on that as the grant has expired. The program brings together 27 different agencies from throughout Berkshire County and streamlines the application process. If anyone uses one of those other programs, a coordinator can review the family's needs and make the connection with the other agencies as needed without forcing the individual to fill out multiple forms of papers and reach out to each organization on their own.
 
"All we can do is address needs at a very basic level. We can provide fuel assistance, we can weatherize their homes, but we probably can't provide them with day care that they'll need to sustain their employment. We can't provide them with employment opportunities or workforce development opportunities because we don't do that," Leonczyk said.
 
"It is such a complicated network of needs that need to be addressed. With each individual, the needs are different and we don't service all of those need. We have tried to provide them with opportunities through our partners to help them become more economically stable."
 
BCAC has a lot to offer on its own. The organization serves more than 12,000 families with heating assistance each winter through federal funding. It runs a weatherizing program that will provide low-income families or individuals with an energy audit or even replace appliances with more energy efficient ones. It has youth programs to help provide career readiness and job placement. Every winter, BCAC collects warm clothing and Christmas presents for more than 2,000 children. 
 
It has also increased its use of financial programs such as an emergency loan fund, with a partnership with Berkshire Bank, to provide short-term loans in emergency situations. It has launched a newer program in which those who complete a financial literacy program are eligible for a low-interest car loan through Greylock Federal Credit Union and Haddad to help address transportation issues.
 
"The end result is getting a loan-ready client into a vehicle that didn't have one before," Deputy Director Bryan House said.
 
Those programs certainly fill a need, and House said the organization hasn't yet connected with everyone in the county who could use the services, but there is more to poverty. There are those who need day care, addiction services, jobs, health care, and more and BCAC sees the connector program as a way to meet those needs as well.
 
"We're the county's anti-poverty agency. It is a federally designated distinction so any issues that deal with poverty, that affects individuals, families, communities, that's our mission. Our mission is to move the needle in terms of families being self-sufficient and self-reliant," House said.
 
"Without supports coming from other agencies that working with the same clients, none of us are going to be successful."
 

The day gave various organizations a chance to network and strengthen partnerships between groups serving similar populations.
House gave one example of working with Volunteers in Medicine in South County. That organization connects provide health care to those without insurance. But, BCAC is able to go there during the fuel season and provide the same clientele information on how to get help with the expensive heating costs.
 
"They can come through any one of these agencies and get connected with another agency as part of the referral process," House said.
 
Leoncyzk called the program a "collective impact model," and it may the be the largest collaboration in the state. She added that the clientele BCAC serves isn't so much those on welfare, but the elderly and the "working poor."
 
"Half of the people we serve are the elderly, then the working poor, very few people are welfare recipients," Leonczyk said.
 
On Friday, the organization held an open house to help show off not only what it does, but what other resources it can connect people to. More than a dozen organizations set up tables in BCAC's parking lot to share information on what they provide. 
 
"The focus of the open house is to really highlight the partnerships BCAC has in the community and the necessity of collaborating with all of these partners and agencies to do the work that we do. We can only be successful with each other," House said.
 
But it was also fun. The group brought in an array of children's games and the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America put up a rock climbing wall. 
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