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North Adams 'Action Park' Seeks Pepsi Boost

Kathy Keeser

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A dedicated group of youth and adults are hoping to "refresh" the dream of a skatepark in the city with the help of PepsiCo.

Members of UNITY (United, Neighboring, Interdependent, Trusted Youth) and its umbrella organization, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, have been working on a plan for an action sports or skate park for a number of months and have partnered with the city and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to develop one.

The group is hoping that the community will not only support a park but help fund it by voting in Pepsi's "Refresh Project." The soft drink company is offering up to $250,000 in grants each month for worthwhile community projects supporting health, neighborhoods, the arts, eduction,  food and shelter and the planet. The projects have to be "beneficial, achievable, constructive, and 'shovel-ready' (meaning it can be finished within 12 months of funding)," according to the site.

The company has been accepting 1,000 projects a month and doling out grants since February. Award winners are selected based on their leaderboard positions — in other words, the projects that are boosted to the top by voters. The two top proposals receiving the most votes online by the end of the month each receive a $250,000 grant; other grants from $5,000 to $50,000 will go to the top 10.

Emily Baker-White, a Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate who's working with UNITY as summer intern from Oberlin College, said the group had gotten the project accepted for voting in September.

Baker-White doesn't know how many votes are needed as Pepsi won't release the information on the number of votes past winners received. "Our community may be small but we are a close community, and it is easier to bring people together and spread the word. In large communities the message might get lost," she said. "I really think we have a real chance to win this, so vote every day in September."

So far, the only Massachusetts project we could find on the site that was funded was $5,000 to Greg Johnson for biking 192 miles for cancer research for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute back in May. Johnson's proejct was in the top 10 for his category (health) and amount. The town of Greenfield, Ohio won $25,000 for its own skate park in July.

There was lots of energy and excitement at the volunteer meeting last Tuesday to plan a get-out-the-vote campaign for this contest, with about 30 youth and adults gathered at the NBCC offices downtown. Many of the youth were BMX bikers and if the park is set up well, bikers and skateboarders will be able to share the park, making it more proper to call it an "action sports park."

The brainstorming session brought out ideas and willingness to put out fliers and information through every means of communication the group could come up with. Expect to see a catchy message to vote all over the city. 

The meeting was organized by UNITY teens from the leadership program with support from Baker-White and Kate Merrigan, UNITY program coordinator. UNITY is NBCC's youth development program and the Youth Leadership Program is a leadership training and community service-learning program that meets weekly during the school year to encourage youth expression and  involvement in their communities.  

The planning group will meet again on Monday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. in the NBCC offices on the second floor of 61 Main St. In an e-mail reminder about the meeting, Baker-White said, we hope to see everyone back tonight for our second meeting — voting looms ever closer, and we'll need every volunteer and every idea we can get. Thanks so much; I'm pumped to see you all there!"

Voting on the Pepsi Refresh Project website will begin Sept. 1 and last through Sept. 30. If you have a Facebook account, you can log on directly, otherwise you will need to go to www.refresheverything.com and create an account with Pepsi to vote. Voters must be age 13 or older and may vote once each day online and make a second vote by texting a five-digit number, which will be released in time for the September voting period. 

If you can't attend the meeting, but have ideas or would just like to help, contact Baker-White at ebakerwhite@nbccoalition.org or Merrigan at kmerrigan@nbccoalition.org or by calling the coalition office at 413-663-7588. Keep updated by joining the group's Facebook page.

Once the voting begins, iBerkshires will have links to the project on our home and Facebook pages.

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Tags: skate park, contest      

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