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Wes Gadson of Price Memorial AME Zion and Rev. Jennifer Gregg, of Cathedral of the Beloved, co-chairs of BIO's 2018 Annual Convention, as they opened the event at Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield.

Berkshires Beat: Berkshire Interfaith Organizing Adds New Group at Convention

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BIO meeting

Berkshire Interfaith Organizing elected officers, welcomed its newest member group, and shared stories from the front lines of its work organizing throughout the county to advance social justice at its annual convention on Sunday, Jan. 28, at Knesset Israel in Pittsfield.
BIO's newest member organization is Temple Anshe Amunim of Pittsfield; this brings the number of member groups to 18, spread around the county. They are joined by individual members of the group BIO Community Leaders. All work together to build strength within the community to address the root causes of struggles faced by many Berkshire neighbors, including hunger, transportation and the need for immigrant support.

The convention also elected the following officers for 2018: President, Rev. Joel Huntington, South Congregational Church, Pittsfield; 1st Vice President (Personnel), Martha Congdon, Lee Congregational Church; 2nd Vice President (Fundraising), Jim Kolesar, St. John's Episcopal Church, Williamstown; Treasurer, Paula Morey, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Pittsfield; Secretary: Myrna Hammerling, Congregational Knesset Israel, Pittsfield

The convention also kicked off BIO's biennial Listening Campaign — meetings throughout the county (small, medium, and large) to hear what new issues residents might be facing. The next two sessions are Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 59 Summer St., North Adams, and  Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Christ Trinity Church, 180 Main St., Sheffield.


Habitat homes in Williamstown

Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is now accepting applications for the first of several new affordable homes in Williamstown: three bedrooms, one and a half baths, located at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street. The homes are part of a new multi-house Habitat project in Williamstown to be built on lots designated for affordable housing and transferred to NBHfH by the Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust.

Groundbreaking on the first home is anticipated this spring. Applications and details about applicant qualifications are available online or by phoning the NBHfH office from 9 a.m. to noon at 413-664-4440. The application deadline is Friday, March 30.

Information sessions will be held at the Williamstown Town Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 6 to 8 p.m. and at the Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity office in North Adams on Monday, March 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. Sessions are for family applicants to learn more about the project and eligibility for homeownership, as well as to get assistance with the application.


Premium chance

Each year, Simon Youth Community Scholarships are awarded in every community across the country that is home to a Simon Mall, Mills, or Premium Outlets center. The application period has begun and ends on February 15, 2018. Students can apply online.

Any student who will be graduating in the class of 2018 and lives in the designated community surrounding a Simon property is eligible, including those near the Lee Premium Outlets. Applicants can check their eligibility by entering their ZIP code at Recipients will receive up to $1,500 toward tuition and other educational expenses at an accredited college, university, vocational or technical school.

The SYF community scholarship program is one facet of the Simon Supports Education initiative, launched earlier this spring at all Simon properties. As part of this initiative, visitors at Simon centers can now purchase SYF Simon Visa gift cards, redeemable wherever VISA is accepted. One dollar from the sale of each bright orange, SYF-branded card will go directly to support SYF and its mission.


Creative partnership

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and The Barr Foundation, a private foundation based in Boston, have announced the launch of Creative Commonwealth, a partnership among Barr, Berkshire Taconic and four other Massachusetts community foundations. This new initiative is rooted in the belief that investments in arts and creativity build thriving communities, and it aims to promote the vital leadership role community foundations can play to advance the arts.

Creative Commonwealth will pave the way for community foundations to deepen and grow support for artists and cultural organizations. Along with Berkshire Taconic, the community foundations partnering with Barr on this effort are: Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Essex County Community Foundation and Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

Berkshire Taconic has been awarded a $500,000 grant over two years to leverage the strength of the region's arts sector to increase community engagement. BTCF will bring diverse groups of local residents and arts institutions closer together through grantmaking, investing in nonprofit capacity and collaboration. This focus emerged from a planning process the foundation undertook in 2017 with Barr funding to assess needs and identify opportunities to advance the arts and the creative process in Berkshire County.


Share your input

The City of Pittsfield Department of Community Development will be holding two public input sessions in February toward the preparation of the 2018 Consolidated Annual Action Plan. The Annual Action Plan, which is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, outlines how the city's federal Community Development Block Grant funds should be used to improve the quality of life in the community.  Funded projects included in the plan are required to benefit under-resourced residents, eliminate slums and blight, or address an urgent need in the community.

The first session will be held 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12. in the Community Room at Morningside Community School, 100 Burbank St.  The second session will be held later that month at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, in the Community Room at Conte Community School, 200 West Union St. Those attending the sessions will have the opportunity to speak on a range of community issues including housing rehabilitation, public facilities, job opportunities, demolition of vacant buildings, sidewalk reconstruction, and park improvements, to name some examples.

The Consolidated Annual Action Plan will be available in draft form in mid-April for public review and comment.  It will also undergo a formal adoption process, including a formal public hearing that will be publicly advertised. The draft plan will also be available on the city's website during a 30-day public comment and review period in April.  After the public comment period, the draft plan will be completed by the middle of May and the final plan will be submitted to HUD shortly after.

If residents are unable to attend the sessions, they are welcome to submit their comments to the Pittsfield Department of Community Development, City Hall, 70 Allen St., Room 205, Pittsfield, MA at 413-499-9368 or by TTY at 413-499-9340. Comments can also be e-mailed. Individuals with special needs should contact the Pittsfield Department of Community Development and every effort will be made to accommodate their requests.


Great grants

State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli and Derrick Holt, chair of the Lenox Cultural Council, have announced the award of 20 grants totaling $4,579.00, for cultural programs in Berkshire County. The Lenox Cultural Council is part of a network of 329 Local Cultural Councils serving all 351 cities and towns in the commonwealth. The LCC Program is the largest grassroots cultural funding network in the nation, supporting thousands of community-based projects in the arts, sciences, and humanities every year. The state legislature provides an annual appropriation to the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency, which then allocates funds to each community.

Grants have been awarded to the following programs: Barrington Stage Company Youth Theater Program; Berkshire County Historical Society's Writing at Arrowhead; Berkshire Lyric Theater; Berkshire Music School's Painted Piano Project; Berkshire Pulse Intro to Dance In-School Program; Cantilena Chamber Choir's MLK concert; Children's Songs and Singing Games by Roger Tincknell; Community Health Programs' Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary Field Trip; From Jazz to Hip Hop by MUSIC; Intergeneration/Cross Cultural Chorus; Intergenerational Playshop: Cabin Fever by Jeanne Bassis; IS183 Art School of the Berkshires’ Scholarship Program;  Learn Ukulele with Julie by Julie Stepanek; Mass Audubon Berkshire Sanctuaries' Bird Walks at Pleasant Valley; Nutshell Playhouse; Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park; Shakespeare & Company's 2018 Fall Festival of Shakespeare; The Marble Collection; WAM Theater; and West Stockbridge Chamber Players.
Decisions about which activities to support are made at the community level by a board of municipally appointed volunteers. Lenox residents who would like to help shape the arts programs in Lenox and the surrounding area can contact Arlene D. Schiff by email.

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