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State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier congratulates Kathrine Wilson of Mount Greylock Regional High School at the VFW's Voice of Democracy awards.
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VFW Commander Arnold Perras welcomes guests at the scholarship presentation at the American Legion.
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Hannah Berkel of Pittsfield High School received a $500 scholarship
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Kailey Sultaire, a Taconic High School student, received a $1,150 scholarship and said no single vote is insignificant.
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Kathrine Wilson, of Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, said she saw firsthand the uniqueness of America and the importance of voting.

Three Students Receive VFW Scholarships

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier with VFW Commander Arnold Perras and scholarship winners Hannah Berkel, left, Kailey Sultaire and Kathrine Wilson.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 448 recognized three Berkshire County high school students who composed essays on the importance of voting.
Dozens attended the award ceremony Monday held at the American Legion building banquet hall where a combined $2,950 in scholarships were given out to Hannah Berkel, Kailey Sultaire, and Kathrine Wilson.
"We are very proud of you and we placed high-qualifying standards on the recipients of these awards because we believe the winners will have high visibility in the community and will serve as role models," Arnold Perras, commander of VFW Post 448 said. "All of you are a credit to your school and your community you should be very proud of your accomplishments."
The Voice of Democracy has been a VFW scholarship program since 1947 and each year nearly 50,000 high school students compete for more than $2.3 million in scholarships.
Students write and record an audio essay to be considered by VFW judges. This year's theme was "Why My Vote Matters."
Perras said the amount each student received is based on the size of the different VFW posts.
Before hearing the three speeches, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said that although who you vote for is private, the fact that you voted is not and elected officials, lobbyists, and other groups use this information.
She said typically young people do not vote as much as the elderly and older adults so politicians have in the past catered to the wants of these groups, however, now that younger people are taking to the polls in higher numbers, things are changing.   
"Younger people are voting at a greater rate than ever and young people want access to higher education, they want it to be affordable, and they don't want to be buried in debt," she said. "They care about the environment and they see it as an emergency."
Before turning the podium over to the students, Farley-Bouvier said she was inspired by the essays.
"Your words have obviously touched many people the way that you put your thoughts together and your message that you wanted to gift to the rest of us means a great deal," she said.
Sultaire, a Taconic High School student, received a $1,150 scholarship and said no single vote is insignificant and it is dangerous to have such an idea run rampant through society.
"We can't allow the idea of us being an insignificant number at the polling station permeate through our society," she said. "If that idea that my vote doesn't matter spreads throughout the country, our voting numbers are going to drop and only a select group of people will have control."
Wilson, of Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, was awarded $1,300. Wilson said she was born in another country with restrictive voting and that as an expatriate saw firsthand the uniqueness of America and the importance of voting.
"As Americans, we all have the right to register to vote equally," she said. "The rich man's vote counts just as much as the poorest church mouse and that, ladies and gentleman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is democracy at work."
Berkel of Pittsfield High School received a $500 scholarship and said she is not yet of age to vote and is often disappointed when her peers reach the age of 18 and decide they do not want to vote.
"It is extremely important that the younger generation vote. They need to think about their future along with their children's future," she said. "They need to think about how their voice matters ... if there is something they care about they must make their voice heard and the best way for them to do it is to cast a vote."
Farley-Bouvier said there is currently a bill that she supports that would allow communities to chose if they would allow high school students to vote at local elections.
"Students could vote for who is on the school committee. It's a no-brainer: They are making decisions that affect your lives," she said. "If students get used to voting early then we believe they will continue the habit."

Tags: scholarships,   VFW,   voting,   

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Berkshire Immigrant Center Celebrates National Immigrant Heritage Month

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Beginning June 1, the Berkshire Immigrant Center invites the community to honor the more than 10,000 immigrants in the Berkshires and by joining the annual observance of national Immigrant Heritage Month and helping to launch a $10,000 fundraising campaign for the center.

"During Immigrant Heritage Month, we proudly honor the many ways immigrants make the Berkshires a better place," said BIC Executive Director Michelle Lopez. "This year we are especially grateful for the hundreds of foreign-born doctors, medical technicians, nurses and staff who are caring for people at Berkshire Medical Center, Fairview Hospital, and nursing homes, and for local immigrants who are essential workers at our grocery stores, restaurants and farms."

Since March 20, BIC has raised more than $70,000 for a COVID-19 Relief Fund. Through this fund, BIC has helped more than 140 clients and their families pay for basic needs like rent and utilities.

"We know that so many local people are hurting, both our clients and our supporters, yet even during this crisis people are asking us how they can help," Lopez said.

While 100 percent of emergency relief has been passed through to clients, donations to the Immigrant Heritage Month Campaign help ensure that BIC can serve the local immigrant community in crisis and beyond, including helping immigrants become US citizens. In this year of the U.S. Census count, BIC has also worked diligently to make sure that immigrants are counted and that Berkshire communities thus receive every dollar of federal aid that they should get.

Tax-deductible donations of any amount are welcome online. Contributions can also be made by check made out to Berkshire Immigrant Center and mailed to BIC, 67 East Street, Pittsfield MA 01201.

The center remains the only program in Berkshire County that focuses exclusively on meeting the unique challenges of a continuously growing immigrant and refugee population. In 2018 BIC was named "Best Small Nonprofit" in the state by Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

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