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The honorees for this year's Berkshire Nonprofit Awards held at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health on Tuesday.
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Students in the Kids 4 Harmony program perform during the event.

Nonprofit Center Recognizes Community Leaders and Volunteers

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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More than 200 people attended the award ceremony at Kripalu. Some 62 nominations were submitted in seven categories. See more photos here.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — More than 200 people gathered at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health on Tuesday morning to recognize individuals who better the community through non-profit organizations.
 
Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires honored seven individuals who have gone above and beyond in their work: Jess Vecchia, Kate Barton, Jude Wesselman, Noelia Salinetti, Brenda Petell, Karen Richards, and Chris Melski. 
 
For the second year in a row, Kids 4 Harmony performed during the the ceremony. The chamber players, who are the most advanced students in the program, performed two pieces of which one was composed by a student. 
 
A panel of 21 judges from schools, businesses, and nonprofits combed through 62 nominations for the annual awards. They were solicited in seven categories: Executive Leadership, Board Leadership, Volunteer, Samya Rose Stumo Youth Leadership, Rock Star, Unsung Hero, and Lifetime Achievement. 
 
The morning was described as the "Oscars for the Nonprofits." During the ceremony, NPC founder Liana Toscanini and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier helped distribute the awards, House and Senate citations, and front newspaper pages made by NPC partner The Berkshire Eagle.  
 
Also recognized was longtime state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, who is leaving his seat after 11 terms. 
 
Although unable to attend the ceremony, Attorney General Andrea Campbell thanked the award recipients for the work they do in a video clip. 
 
"Thank you for the work that you do not only in your respective county but, of course, to represent and serve all of the Commonwealth. I'm extremely grateful," she said. 
 
Although the honorees did not speak during their award presentation, a brief video was played of them talking about their work and motivation.
 
Photos here
 
The Honorees:
 
Executive Leadership
 
Berkshire United Way President and CEO Thomas Bernard presented the Executive Leadership Award to Roots Rising Executive Director and co-founder Jess Vecchia. 
 
The Executive Leadership Award honors "a nonprofit staff leader whose strategic vision, passion, innovation, perseverance, and integrity has led to a strong record of extraordinary organizational results," he said. 
 
These attributes are true for all of the 62 nominees considered for an award, Bernard said. 
 
Vecchia harnesses all those qualities to "empower youth and build community through food and farming, to engage teens in meaningful work and to share her passion for food justice and community building," he said. 
 
This award is an acknowledgment of the work Roots Rising has done over the years, and feels like the community is cheering them on and showing them they are on the right path, Vecchia said in her video. 
 
"We are in this really exciting moment of growth as an organization and so we recently bought a property and are in the process of building out a farm and an education center," she said.
 
"Roots Rising, embodies so many of my personal values, making local food accessible and affordable …connecting deeply with nature … empowering young people to be changemakers in their communities and out in the greater world … all of those things I get to do every day and I love it," Vecchia said in her video. 
 
Board Leadership
 
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation President Peter Taylor presented the Board Leadership Award to Berkshire Immigrant Center board member Kate Barton. 
 
"[Berkshire Taconic] is in the midst of a multi-million dollar investment in community engagement, which is one of our three strategic priority areas," Taylor said. 
 
"In that portfolio is support for board leadership development because we believe that board leadership, service on boards, is not only a meaningful but a consequential way for all of us to engage in our communities."
 
Barton played a key role in establishing Berkshire Immigrant Center as its own 501(c)3 nonprofit, Taylor said. 
 
The center was founded in 1997 by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.
 
Barton said the work she has done with the Berkshire Immigrant Center is the most important she has ever done. 
 
"I've been on boards, I've tried to contribute to the community. But this for me, is different because I think that immigration is one of the issues that defines us as a country," Barton said in her video.
 
"We are a nation of immigrants, no matter how many times we say it keeps being true. It is a total honor to be around a staff and volunteers and board members that are so passionate and so hard working."
 
Volunteer
 
For the second year in a row, Berkshire Bank Foundation Director Lori Kiely presented the volunteer award. 
 
"We know that nonprofit organizations could not do the great work that they do without the many volunteers that they have in the many volunteers that we have in our community," Kiely said. 
 
This year's selection was very difficult despite not receiving a large number of nominations for this category because the candidates were truly outstanding, Kiely said. 
 
Berkshire Community Action Council Inc. Community Program lead volunteer Jude Wesselman was honored because she has served as the backbone of the organization, Kiely said, 
 
She works more hours than some of the paid staff and quietly fulfills many different tasks without seeking credit or recognition, she said. 
 
"It's so easy to make friends down there. There's such a caring group of people. It's just amazing no matter which part of BCAC they belong to whether it's fuel assistance, or whether they're going to go out and help people with weatherization and whatnot. They're just an amazing group of people," Wesselman said in her video. 
 
Samya Rose Stumo Youth Leadership
 
Berkshire Family and Individual Resources and NPC board member Kim Baker presented the Youth Leadership Award to Monument Mountain High School senior Noelia Salinetti. 
 
The award is in honor of the late Stumo of Sheffield, who died in a plane crash on the way to her new nonprofit job in East Africa. 
 
The award recipient receives $250 to donate to the nonprofit of their choice in Stumo's memory. 
 
Salinetti has been a leader in social advocacy centered around improving local culture from a diversity, equity, inclusion, and restorative justice perspective through her work with Railroad Street Youth Project, Baker said.
 
When entering high school, Salinetti had a lot of anger about the world and things they did not have control over, however, Salinetti had people in their life who saw something in them, Salinetti said in their video. 
 
This award is not just about them but all the people who had their back this whole time, they continued. 
 
"There's actions that you can take and things you can do and we've built things out of the school that I didn't even know were possible because of it," Salinetti said. 
 
"So for me, it feels like a recognition of the work I do but also of all the people who recognize that in me before I did."
 
Rock Star
 
Greylock Federal Credit Union Vice President JamieEllen Moncecchi presented the Rock Star Award to Brenda Petell, director of volunteer engagement at Berkshire United Way.
 
This award is "given to a nonprofit staff member whose work has had a significant impact on an organization, recognized by peers for exhibiting a can-do attitude, demonstrating a high level of commitment and responsibility, and going above and beyond that job description," Moncecchi said. 
 
Petell is selfless. She shows up day or night and puts a smile on your face. She moves the collective power within the community to help others figure things out, Moncecchi said.
 
Petell said in her video that she has a strong passion for helping others and is very fortunate to be out in the community all the time. 
 
"What I tell people what I do best is I connect people. I connect people to problems. I connect individuals and companies to nonprofits that need an extra set of hand somehow, beyond my job and my job title," she said. 
 
She also highlighted how it is Berkshire United Way's 100th anniversary. 
 
"I feel very honored to be part of an organization. At this point in time. I feel like it's a pivotal year for us. And I've been a volunteer and a donor for decades, and I love Berkshire United Way and it's near and dear to my heart," Petell said. 
 
Unsung Hero
 
Williamstown Community Chest Executive Director Anna Singleton presented the Unsung Hero Award to Karen Richards. 
 
"This award honors the contribution of a nonprofit staff or volunteer member in any area of an organization whose good work has not been publicly recognized in the Berkshire community," Singleton said. 
 
Richards has enthusiastically taken on various roles with four organizations, including the Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, The Mount and WAM Theatre, 
 
In Richards' video, she spoke about the type of role she takes on with each organization. 
 
At the Du Bois Center, she mostly does their data entry for donations, thank you letters, and other data for the mailing list and helps out at events. At the Mahaiwe, she is mostly in charge of the business sponsorship program. She started as a volunteer at WAM 10 years ago, in charge of special events. Lastly, she volunteers at the Mount and worked as a receptionist there one summer. 
 
"And for some reason, I'm particularly like doing an outreach to businesses because I like to see how they're interested in that community and supporting it. So I think that's great," Richards said. 
 
"And I like it when somebody gives me an odd thing to do, and I learn something new. It was just so nice for them all to get together and recognize this role and play for each of them. It just meant that meant a lot to me." 
 
Lifetime Achievement
 
Berkshire Health Systems Advancement Executive Director Jennifer Vrabel presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Berkshire County Arc Vice President of Residential Services Chris Melski. 
 
Vrabel said Melski has clocked in 38 years of service, "seamlessly" combining the technical expertise, high ethical standards, and compassion required when serving others. 
 
"I was just touched to read the nominations and understand that [Melski] always acts in the best interests of the individuals that VCR serves. He is said to have a heart of gold," Vrabel said. 
 
Melski said he works with an incredibly dynamic team, and the passion of the people who work at Berkshire County is evident every single day. 
 
"The Senior Leadership team at Berkshire County Arc is phenomenal. My success is purely based on their success, we all work together. We have a good team," Melski said. 
 
"I'm very humbled … I love what I do. So it's almost like a job. It's what I do. It's what I know. It means a lot to me personally to be recognized for 30-plus years working for Berkshire County Arc." 

Tags: nonprofits,   recognition event,   

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Thousands Flock to Designer Showcase Fundraiser at Cassilis Farm

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

NEW MARLBOROUGH, Mass. — More than a thousand visitors toured the decked-out halls of Cassilis Farm last month in support of the affordable housing development.

Construct Inc. held its first Designer Showcase exhibition in the Gilded Age estate throughout June, showcasing over a dozen creatives' work through temporary room transformations themed to "Nature in the Berkshires."  The event supported the nonprofit's effort to convert the property into 11 affordable housing units.

"Part of our real interest in doing this is it really gives folks a chance to have a different picture of what affordable housing can be," Construct's Executive Director Jane Ralph said.

"The stereotypes we all have in our minds are not what it ever really is and this is clearly something very different so it's a great opportunity to restore a house that means so much to so many in this community, and many of those folks have come, for another purpose that's really somewhat in line with some of the things it's been used for in the past."

"It can be done, and done well," Project Manager Nichole Dupont commented.  She was repeatedly told that this was the highlight of the Berkshire summer and said that involved so many people from so many different sectors.

"The designers were exceptional to work with. They fully embraced the theme "Nature in the Berkshires" and brought their creative vision and so much hard work to the showhouse. As the rooms began to take shape in early April, I was floored by the detail, research, and vendor engagement that each brought to the table. The same can be said for the landscape artists and the local artists who displayed their work in the gallery space," she reported.  

"Everyone's feedback throughout the process was invaluable, and they shared resources and elbow grease to put it together beautifully."

More than 100 volunteers helped the showcase come to fruition, and "the whole while, through the cold weather, the seemingly endless pivots, they never lost sight of what the showhouse was about and that Cassilis Farm would eventually be home to Berkshire workers and families."

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