Jerry Burke of Hillcrest Educational Centers responds to his Lifetime Achievement Award in this screenshot.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Seven individuals were recognized for their outstanding work in the nonprofit community on Tuesday morning, including presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award to Gerard E. Burke of Hillcrest Educational Centers.
Fifth annual Berkshire Nonprofit Awards was held virtually from the Berkshire Innovation Center with hosts state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Liana Toscanini, the founder of the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires. About 100 people logged in.
The recipients were selected from 86 nominations by a panel of 21 judges and also included Dr. Marie Rudden of Berkshire Community Diaper Project, Ananda Timpane of Railroad Street Youth Project, Katie Clarke of Community Access to the Arts, Jade Schnauber of Lever Inc., Courtney Kimball of Construct Inc., and Charles Bonenti of Berkshire Immigrant Center.
Burke's career in working with children with special needs spans 40 years. He started at Hillcrest in 1985 and became chief executive officer in 1992. He is retiring this June and will be replaced by the center's Executive Director Shaun Cusson.
"He has been a part of a team who transformed a bankrupt company into a joint commission-accredited organization employing over 500 professionals," said presenter Casey Rothstein-Fitzpatrick of the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust. "In every case, he leaves the organization stronger than when he joined. A respected business leader who successfully brought attention to the nonprofit sector, Jerry's commitment to the local community is unmatched."
Burke has been involved or served on the boards of numerous institutions over the past 40 years, including 1Berkshire, Berkshire County Business Roundtable, Massachusetts Business Roundtable, MassHire, Massachusetts Workforce Investment and Greylock Federal Credit Union, and was president of the Massachusetts Association of Private Schools.
He also served on the board of Berkshire United Way and the nonprofit's former leader, Kristine Hazzard, said Burke was committed to the nonprofit sector as a vital part of the Berkshire economy and had started several nonprofit support groups.
"He's not competitive in that sense. And whenever there's a new nonprofit leader in the community, new and/or elevated, he's taken him out to lunch, he's reaching out to them and saying, 'What can I do?' Hazzard said. "He was a phenomenal board member he challenged me. I always like to be challenged and so he did that really well. And I appreciated his sage advice and we stayed very close after he went off the board. ...
"Now he's going to have to let all of us start taking him to lunch because he's been buying lunch for a lot of people for over 30 years."
Burke said he was appreciative of the honor considering the caliber of the nominees.
"As part of Hillcrest, we've always believed that the Berkshire County community is a very important part for us. And we want to reach back into that community and support it as well," he said. "So on behalf of all of our employees and our board of directors and students that we have here, we want to we want to thank you for this recognition given to me, as I represent that group as a whole."
Ananda Timpane, executive director of RSYP, was presented with the Nonprofit Center's Executive Leadership Award.
"She steadily and intentionally has built the organization over the past decade, quadrupling the budget. Ananda inspires staff, constituents, board members and donors with her authenticity," said presenter Thomas Bernard, Berkshire United Way president. "She is always available to help young people and especially marginalized youth in the community, find connection and advocate for themselves."
Austen Dupont, of Greenagers, said RSYP was "a safe haven in my adolescent years" and he was wary of Timpane when took over a decade ago because of her business background. But he felt she listened to him, a 15-year-old, and treated him like an equal.
"It does not matter what's going on in her life. She's there for me, and it feels that way," he said.
"It's deeply deeply touching and meaningful to be recognized by young people that I've worked with like Austen and the staff I work with and members of my board who got together to nominate me behind my back because that's the very people that I have learned to lead from and to have them say, 'I think you're doing a good job,'" Timpane said. "But not just a good job, but the kind of good job that other people should know about is deeply meaningful and touching."
Dr. Marie Rudden, West Stockbridge psychiatrist, was the recipient of the NPC Board Leadership Award. She founded Berkshire Community Diaper Project in 2014 and is now delivering 1,000 diapers a month to 19 sites.
"We have now given out 1,330,000 diapers throughout the county with the help of generous private donations and grants including from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, which helped us distribute diapers in the North Adams/North County area," said Rudden.
"Our board consists entirely of committed and dedicated volunteers. Some are social workers, some our parents and grandparents and it's some of our nurses. It's been an amazing opportunity for me to work with the people that have joined up to be in this project."
Charles Bonenti, a retired Berkshire Eagle features editor, was presented with the Volunteer Award for his work with the Berkshire Immigrant Center, including taking the lead in supporting 60 Afghan refugees. Gabriela Sheehan, a resettlement specialist with Jewish Family Service, said Bonenti was assigned to help an Afghan family acclimate to the Berkshires last December.
"Immediately he took off running and did all aspects of resettlement for this particular family," Sheehan said. "[He] really have embraced the Afghan family like his own family, making sure that they have felt supported and cared for."
Bonenti said he could see himself in what she said but also the teams and volunteers he's working with.
"I came of age in the Civil Rights era and Vietnam so activism has been part of my life for many years," he said, pointing to his local advocacy on affordable housing. "The work at the immigrant center was a natural outcome of that. My own family were immigrants. And I have their stories and I feel this is very personal."
The Samya Rose Stumo Youth Leadership Award, honoring the 24-year-old Sheffield native who was killed in a plane crash en route to nonprofit work in Kenya, was presented to Jade Schnauber for her efforts to create more inclusive workforce programs at through Lever.
"That lens that she has on diversity, equity and inclusion within the Berkshire community, it's something that a lot of us should model," said Michael Obasohan, chief diversity officer for the city of Pittsfield. "We should continue to support our students even after they graduate from from college because it it does really impact their lives."
Schnauber said it was important to her when she joined Lever two years ago to bring in young people from more diverse backgrounds -- more people of color, more queer people and others who weren't well represented.
Jade Schnauber of Lever was the recipient of the Samya Rose Stumo Youth Leadership Award for her efforts to build a young, diverse workforce in the Berkshires.
"We've already been able to serve almost 40 students from a lot of local colleges including MCLA, BCC and Williams," she said. "And we've involved 15 mentors. They've shown students that representation does matter and that they are represented in our workforce, and that there are people interested in hiring them and keeping them here in the local community."
The Rock Star Award is given to nonprofit staff members whose work has a significant impact on their organiztion. Clark, as CATA's administrative director, "is a force of nature at the center of CATA's smooth-running organization," said presenter Robin McGraw of Black Rock Foundation.
"She is deeply honest and ethical, with an eagle eye and an unwavering work ethic. One of those rare people who can simultaneously be detail oriented and see the big picture," he said, adding, "she's created a business facilities plan so thorough and compelling, that is now being used as a model by one of CATA's major grant funders."
CATA's Executive Director Margaret Keller said Clark had created the organization's facility business plan to keep everything on track and then, three days after it opened, COVID-19 struck and that her dedication and drive helped the nonprofit reinvent its business model.
Clark thanked NPC for "recognizing the admin side and the importance of what it takes to make the all the nonprofit's here in the Berkshires thrive and survive."
Construct program manager Courtney Kimball received the Unsung Hero Award for her work with individuals who have been unhouse.
"She personifies the trauma informed approach, believing in participants until they can believe in themselves," said presenter Jennifer Connor Shumsky of Greylock Federal Credit Union. "A few things about Courtney, she's thorough. She's tenacious. She's an advocate for all she's kind, reliable and very resourceful. ...
"Courtney really has one of the hardest hardest jobs imaginable. She's an ally to the immigrant community. She really is the face of construct through the pandemic resources."
A client, Danielle Hollum, said Kimball has been a friend and that "she doesn't discriminate or anything like that, like she's just an all around great person."
Kimball said they all do it because they care but it's nice to be recognized.
"One of the things I love most about my job is that I can actually make a difference in people's lives. And there are times where it's really difficult," she said. "When you know you're working with a lot of clients and you're not able to make miracles happen. But when you're able to actually help somebody, it makes it all worth it at the end."
The awards are the idea of Toscanini, who wanted to "celebrate the good work of the people behind the missions."
"She had this vision six years ago to corral and solidify the nonprofit sector of the Berkshires and she's done an amazing job pulling this all together," Pignatelli said.
The event also featured a musical interlude by Music in Common, a thank you from Berkshire Eagle Publisher Fredric D. Rutberg for their work, and greetings from Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. A $3,000 cash prize was won by Kripalu Center.
Toscanini said there are more than 1,000 nonprofits in Berkshire County that employing one out every in four workers in the county, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We will continue to support you, pulling together programs to address your needs, gathering critical data such as the Berkshire nonprofit salary survey and making the public aware of the value of the nonprofit sector, to our economy, to those less fortunate and to our way of life here in Berkshire County," said Toscanini.
The Berkshire Eagle was the media sponsor and funders that partnered to make the event possible included Berkshire Bank, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire United Way, Black Rock Foundation/Donald C. McGraw Foundation, Feigenbaum Foundation, Fitzpatrick Trust, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Lamar Advertising Co., Salisbury Bank, Warrior Trading and Williamstown Community Chest.
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Pittsfield School Committee Sees $78M Budget Proposal
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district is seeking a budget increase of more than 8 percent in fiscal year 2024, with a majority of the funding going to special education, career technical education, and contractual obligations.
The School Committee got a first look at the upcoming budget request on Wednesday. The $78,310,016 ask is an 8.17 percent — or $5,911,754 — increase from FY23's budget of $72,398,262.
"Our goal continues to be to create meaningful and most importantly, sustainable change for the children of our city," Superintendent Joseph Curtis told the committee.
"Meaningful and sustainable change takes time. We are impatient because our decisions affect children's lives every day but any rush to change is reactive and typically is not embedded systematically. Changes that do not impact our systems are prone to quickly revert back to prior practice."
Users will be welcomed by a plaza area that has a bike rack, a trash can, and possibly a bulletin board kiosk. It will be fully accessible from the 23-space parking lot with three handicapped-accessible spots.
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