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BerkShares is looking for bright young people between 16 and 30 who would benefit from building their communication skills, learning more about their local economy and meeting other young people from throughout the Berkshires

Biz Briefs: BerkShares Looking For 'Ambassadors'

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Getting the word out: BerkShares has received a grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund of Newmarket, N.H., to launch a new initiative called BerkShares Ambassadors. Last summer all seven branches of Adams Community Bank plus the Pittsfield branch of Lee Bank became BerkShares exchange points. This laid the groundwork for BerkShares activity in central and northern Berkshire County. However, the organization realized that they still need people "pounding the pavement" in order to really spread the word.

Contemplating this question, BerkShares board member Michael Tesoro spotted the opportunity to create a powerful experience for local young people that would lead to both personal and professional growth while also helping BerkShares to expand: he suggested the creation of a "BerkShares Ambassadors" program. The goal is to create a cadre of community economists – young people who can be effective and confident advocates for locally owned businesses and community-driven economic development.

So BerkShares is looking for bright young people between 16 and 30 who would benefit from building their communication skills, learning more about their local economy and meeting other young people from throughout the Berkshires. BerkShares Ambassadors will attend monthly workshops from September until May, participating in sessions that include a dynamic mix of economics, history, organizing skills, and professional development exercises. Drawing on the popular education tradition, the experience will be designed to maximize participation.

Information sessions will be held Wednesday, July 26, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Dottie's Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield and Thursday, Aug. 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the North Adams Public Library. Those interested should call 413-528-1737, email or visit the website.


What a relief: Lee Bank has partnered with Gradifi, a Boston-based leader in student loan pay down benefits programs, to offer student loan debt relief as part of its employee benefits package. The independent community oriented bank is among the first in Berkshire County to offer this new and differentiating benefit that holds particular appeal to millennials and those entering the workforce.

"As an independent community bank without the pressure of expansion into new geographies, shareholders, and quarterly earnings, we're able to truly focus on our employees and the Berkshire community. We fully appreciate how hiring and retaining the right people has made our organization successful for 165 years. Student loan relief is a relatively new and highly coveted benefit in today's marketplace and we are thrilled to offer it to our employees," said Lee Bank's President and CEO Chuck Leach.

Lee Bank joins more than 130 progressive workplaces in the U.S. that are now providing Gradifi's SLP Plan (Student Loan Paydown) to attract and retain top talent, and the number is growing monthly. Gradifi’s student loan debt relief plan was recently endorsed by the American Bankers Association (ABA). A proprietary consumer survey conducted by the ABA found 57 percent were more likely to work for a company offering it; 62 percent were more likely to use the services of a company offering the benefit to employees; and 67 percent would recommend a company's services to friends and family.

Safe and secure: The Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires in collaboration with the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce presents "Cyber Security for Small Businesses and Nonprofits" on Tuesday, Aug. 1, from 9 to 11 a.m. at Berkshire Community College's South County Center at 343 Main Street in Great Barrington. The cost is $25 for NPC/Chamber members and $35 for nonmembers.

In this two-hour workshop led by Rob Horner, participants will learn the most important computer security practices, what to do if their computer or email gets hacked, how to secure their email and browser, common types of malware and anti-malware techniques, and other tips & tricks to prevent security issues and identity theft.

Horner offers IT consulting services in the Berkshire-Taconic region. Located in Great Barrington, Horner and Ken Benson offer computer/device repair, technology purchasing assistance, setup and tutoring, networking, website design, hosting and maintenance. Register online.

Merging together: New Jersey-based residential mortgage lender First Choice Loan Services Inc., a Berkshire Bank Company, and Boston-based Berkshire Bank Home Lending announced that they will merge their mortgage lending platforms together. This follows Berkshire Bank's acquisition of First Choice Bank, former parent company of First Choice Loan Services, announced in June of 2016 and finalized in December of that same year.
The first regional bank headquartered in Boston in decades, Berkshire Bank was established in 1846 and is the largest regional bank in Massachusetts. Berkshire Bank Home Lending covers all home lending needs with its 45 mortgage loan originators. These loan originators will work alongside the approximately 150 loan originators from First Choice Loan Services. Established in 2009, First Choice Loan Services produced over $2.5 billion in loan volume in 2016.
In 2016, First Choice Loan Services earned several accolades. Thirty First Choice Loan Services Loan Originators – more than ever before - were named to Mortgage Executive Magazine's Top 1 Percent of Loan Originators In America 2016. For the second year in a row, First Choice was named to National Mortgage Professional Magazine’s list of Top Mortgage Employers. And, for the fourth year in a row, the company appears on the list for Top Overall Volume of Mortgage Companies in the April 2017 issue of the Scotsman Guide.

The two companies are set to have all systems merged and fully integrated on July 28.

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