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Peter Johnson, left, the keynote speaker at BFAIR's annual meeting, and board Chair Peter Meranti.
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BFAIR Recognizes Staff, Celebrates Successes at Annual Meeting

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Christine Mieklejohn, right, poses with award presenter Sally Hart Petersen and BFAIR Director of Development Tara Jacobsen.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Peter Johnson's starred in a film, hobnobbed with sports celebrities, lobbied on Beacon and Capitol Hill and won a gold medal in tennis.

An ambassador for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, he was the keynote speaker at Tuesday's annual meeting of Berkshire Family and Individual Resources and a potent example of what President and CEO Rich Weisenflue described as "self-advocacy, employment opportunities and inclusion."

"I want to say thank you to be here, most importantly in the MDSC for this opportunity to speak today," said Johnson. "It is because of my work on the Advocacy Council for the MDSC that I am here today with you to speak to you."

The Scituate High grad talked about his life, complete with pictures from his babyhood, and the things he's accomplished — like meeting David Ortiz, Tom Brady and wrestling stars ("How cool is that!" he exclaimed.) He played tennis in high school and competed National Special Olympics Games in New Jersey, winning a gold medal.

He's met with the state's U.S. senators and local lawmakers to push for better opportunities and support and shared his life and experiences with audiences of all ages including school children.

He's even starred in a movie, "The Child King," filmed here in Massachusetts.  

Johnson's lived in a group home the past decade and works at the local Cabot's Ice Cream and at O'Hara's Food & Spirits in Newton.

"I am so fortunate to have had the opportunities and the support," he said, from teachers, co-workers, housing and house staff, and friends.  

"I hope I can be a role model not a disability model, that people can see it's not your disabilities it's your abilities."

Board Chair Peter Mirante thanked the sponsors of the breakfast event at the Berkshire Hills Country Club, including his employer, Adams Community Bank, for allowing him to attend the nonprofit's many events and functions and encouraging his involvement.

"Thanks to the leadership of Rich and our board Treasurer Dana Mullen and Jane Patenaude, our CFO of the company, the company is very strong," he said, adding organization has also made a point of ensuring fair pay for its employees.

The agency, entering its 30th year, committed 73 percent of its $21 million operating budget to staff, including increasing direct support professional's hours and starting pay rates.

BFAIR's seen a 25 percent growth in revenue in fiscal 2023, of which about 60 percent comes from the Department of Developmental Services, with balance made up of funding from other, state agencies, donations and grants, the redemption center and other credits.

"I'd like to welcome our direct support professionals our administrative staff, our management team 365 24/7," said Weisenflue. "They're always at work, they're doing a good job and I think meeting challenges and what might be more challenges than we have had in the past."

He pointed to the programs undertaken by BFAIR, including the Pathways Program for employees, advocacy for social service workers to have a living wage, residential homes, handing out bike helmets on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, employment services for individuals with challenges and the bottle redemption center that collected more than a million cans and bottles and, for the second year, Bites at BFAIR, the concession at Windsor Lake in North Adams.

BFAIR also recognized employees for their years of service — from five to 25 — at the breakfast meeting at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.

The Crosby/Quintal Memorial Award, named for two former employees, was presented to Cassandra Magner, house manager at Stonehedge Road, for epitomizing the core values of the agency and fostering an environment of care and compassion.

The Edward Frampton Self-Determination Award was presented to Kytlyn Stringer, who started at Shaker Hill Veterinary Service in 2021 through BFAIR's employment service and has since worked her way to secure a position on the resort staff. She was commended for her exceptional work ethic and has continued to gain independence.

The Leadership Award was presented to Kris Neep, who has worked in a number of areas during her 25 years with BFAIR and is currently assistant director of Community Based Day Services. Neep was commended for her dedication and unwavering commitment to the individuals BFAIR serves, its staff and the mission. 

Nine restaurant partners around Berkshire County were recognized for their participation in Dine for Disabilities Day during which they donated a portion of their day's proceeds to BFAIR. They were Boston Sea Foods, Brookhaus, On a Roll, Olympic Pizza, the Barn, Proprietor's Lodge, Grazie, Zucchini's and Hot Harry's.

Christine Mieklejohn, director of acquired brain injury services overseeing six residences in the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley, was the recipient of the Hart Family Fund award. 
Sally Hart Petersen said the fund was established by her and her two sisters in honor of their sister Betsy, and their parents, who were "tireless advocates to the underserved and for those with special needs." 
The fund provides support for staff education and professional development and has distributed more than $15,000 to date. Each year, one staff member is selected for a $500 award. 
Mieklejohn is pursuing her bachelor's degree in human services from Southern New Hampshire University. 
"As we wrap this meeting up some of the key words that I heard throughout the presentations today were self-advocacy, and employment opportunities and inclusion," said Weisenflue. "Keep those terms in the back of your mind as you move through the day and think about what we can do to make those things happen."

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Matthew Bucciero went 4-for-5 with three doubles Sunday to lead the Danbury Westerners to a 20-7 win over the North Adams SteepleCats at Joe Wolfe Field in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Monument Mountain grad Jayder Raifstanger hit a three-run home run for the Cats.
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