The panels will make up all of the walls to the Gordon Deming project.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — At noon on Tuesday, all of the Berkshire Bank branches and operational centers closed.
But the employees didn't go home — they went to work.
In Pittsfield, 150 of them could be found in a vacant storefront on Merrill Road wearing hard hats and putting together wall panels for the coming construction of Habitat for Humanity's six-unit Gordon Deming project.
Others were at the former St. Mark's school cleaning up the playgrounds for Hillcrest Educational Center. They were at Habitat's ReStore rearranging the merchandise. They were on the banks of the Housatonic River in Great Barrington doing a cleanup. They were cleaning up areas of North Adams with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
Tuesday marked bank's third annual "Xtraordinary Day of Service" when it shuts down operations and sends its workforce into the community to help.
"We believe as a financial institution we have a responsibility for the vitality of our communities. We also believe a key way we can do that is through our human capital, our people. We feel like our people are our most powerful asset. They are smart. They are devoted. They are authentic. If we can harness them for good in our community, that is not just good for the community, for the nonprofits, but for our business," Gary Levante, vice president of community engagement, said. "We do it because we believe we have a responsibility to do it."
Throughout the Berkshires, 400 or so employees were out volunteering. For Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, that allowed for a pilot program to help fast-track the construction builds the organization can complete. Habitat has been looking to build a six-unit condominium development on Deming Street for a number of years and is finally ready to set it in motion.
Mike Panek owns the shopping plaza with a vacancy where Pep Boys used to be and he offered it to Habitat for now. There the volunteers joined together to build all of the walls -- giving them an indoor space to both work and store the material. Habitat is using the volunteer day to pilot a program of indoor builds, hoping to increase its production.
"We are hoping to use this model of building inside during the bad weather," Executive Director Carolyn Valli said.
The volunteers from the bank, Habitat, and Lowe's Home Improvement gathered there Tuesday to start the work. Lou and Anthony Allegrone had drawn up detailed plans for the building. And work began despite the day's pouring rain.
The Berkshire Bank Foundation furthered its support of Habitat by providing a $55,000 donation, one of the largest donations the bank has made to a local nonprofit.
"Our foundation does a lot of good in the community. In addition to our volunteer program, we support a lot of organizations financially. We have partnered with Habitat for Humanity in a lot of our different markets. There are a lot of ways we can support them but financially is one way we do support many of our organizations. We give out $2.5 million every year to nonprofits doing great work in all of the markets we serve," foundation Director Lori Gazzillo said.
Gazzillo pointed to Habitat's mission of tackling economic development and affordable housing issues and Levante said supporting Habitat dovetails well with the work the bank does every day.
A total of 150 volunteers were part of the panel project and many more were volunteering elsewhere in the county.
"We really wanted to do something not just with our people but financially with our foundation to really amplify our impact," Levante said. "We're a bank. We're financial services and our brand is built on helping our customers realize life's most exciting moments. One of those most exciting moments is realizing the dream of homeownership. Habitat for Humanity and Berkshire Bank share that ambition, the value in common. So it was kind of a natural extension."
Habitat for Humanity in other areas has done panel builds like what was done Tuesday but it was a first for the Berkshires. It started when Levante was looking for a large-scale volunteer project for this year and he asked Valli what they could do with some 150 to 200 people at once. Valli asked her staff and an Amicore volunteer mentioned panel builds and it took off from there.
"If other people can do it, then we can do it. And we can do it better," Valli said.
While building wall panels isn't a flashy way to spend an afternoon, Courtney McArdle took a moment to thank the volunteers for the work because she knows that afternoon of work means a whole lot to the people who will be moving into the home. She will be moving into a Habitat for Humanity home in Dalton with her two children soon.
"For me and for all future Habitat homeowners, it is amazing the support we receive from you," McArdle told the volunteers just before they broke off into groups and began working. "These walls, you don't realize how impactful they are."
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