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Northern Berkshire United Way Kicks off 2019-20 Campaign
By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:26AM / Friday, October 11, 2019
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Christa Collier, executive director of the Northern Berkshire United Way, speaks at the annual meeting and campaign kickoff on Thursday at the Williams Inn.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire United Way touted its successes from the last year as it looked ahead to the next year at its annual meeting and campaign kickoff breakfast on Thursday.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd of 210 people gathered in the new Williams Inn, Christa Collier, executive director of the Northern Berkshire United Way, said the 2018-19 campaign goal of $480,000 was not only met but exceeded by $8,765. Much of that will be directed back to NBUW's 20 member agencies, but Collier on Thursday also wanted to highlight some of the other work the agency has been doing above and beyond those allocations.

To that end, two speakers shared news of programs last year that had the support of the NBUW that were successful last year.

First, Kim McMann of the Berkshire Food Project spoke about the Northern Berkshire Housing Law Clinic, an idea that came out from the Northern Berkshire Housing and Homeless Collaborative work group spearheaded by the NBUW. The clinics, held the third Tuesday of the month, utilize volunteer attorneys for free one-on-one consultations and are designed to coincide with project's free lunch, held weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. in the First Congregational Church on Main and Ashland streets in downtown North Adams.

McMann said the focus on housing stability was an important foundation for the work that the rest of the community's agencies and groups engage in.

"[Without the] foundation of stable, affordable house, it doesn't matter what we're doing in all these other areas to help," she said.

The issues that people might need legal advice on vary from an inability in getting decent affordable housing to keeping that housing, McMann said.

"All the people who come through the door will have a unique situation," she said. "The advice going out is as unique as the people coming in."

Nine people took advantage of the first clinic, McMann said, and she was able to ask them afterward if it was a good experience for them.

"Resounding yes. It was wonderful," she said they all told her.

The next clinic will be held Tuesday, Oct. 15, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the church.

The second speaker was Amy Hall from Child Care of the Berkshires' Family Center in North Adams, who spoke about the the "Born Learning Trail" installed at the Noel Field Athletic Complex last fall. Hall spoke about how important it is to build children's brains when they are little, something the trail aims to do through its dozen activities ranging from alphabet play to hopscotch to singing songs and telling stories.

"[Connections are] built through everyday interactions," Hall said. "The Born Learning Trail helps to make those connections."

Over the last year, she said, the trail has been used "in so many ways," from classes in the preschool to playgroups to community families and visitors, all of whom are using it to have "a special time together outdoors to learn and play together."

"They're having fun, but a lot more is happening," she said, including social interaction between the families and bonding within families, all in a fun, colorful outdoor space that will soon include pages from children's books to create a "story walk" throughout the trail.

"Children and families stopped and listened to the birds," Hall said.

Looking ahead, Collier said the goal of the 2019-20 campaign to support initiatives like these two and programs of the 20 member agencies is $490,000.

"That's what we're going to try to do," she said after introducing the campaign co-chairs, the husband and wife team of Sharon DeMyer-Nemser and Dr. Charles Nemser.

DeMyer Nemser said she and her husband are up to the challenge, having co-chaired the campaign in 2011 and 2012.

"The Northern Berkshire United Way has been part of our lives for a long time," she said. "We love helping our neighbors."

To that end, she explained her philosophy in making sure that all donations — large and small — are counted and matter in the support of the agency and the critical support that it provides.

"We want people to give. Not give until it hurts. Give until it helps," she said.

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