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About six years ago the community rallied in support of Rabbi David Weiner and now he wants to pay that forward.

New Committee Looks to Assist Victims of House Fires

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Stacy Parsons is looking for volunteers to help victims rebuild their lives. The committee rolled out the details of the group at a public meeting on Tuesday but the snowy weather limited attendance.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In April 2012, Rabbi David Weiner of Knesset Israel watched in horror as his home burned, as firefighters broke window after window, and as a neighbor wrapped him in a coat.
It was a kitchen fire in his Wendell Street home. He remembers having to borrow socks from a friend the next day because he had lost everything. 
"My house was inside out. Whatever was left of our belongings was smoldering in the back yard or being washed in the drive. The anxiety and panic arrived and wouldn't dissipate. For weeks I couldn't sleep or breath or think. The experience touched a deep wound in me. I was sure that a house fire was unforgivable and we'd be homeless and humiliated," Weiner said.
However, that week there were twice as many people attending the synagogue. A few people insisted that he go to the shop and purchase a new suit. Often full meals were showing up at the place he was staying. Donations were coming in, even from the First Church at Park Square's collection. A therapist sat and talked with him and helped him handle post-traumatic stress. 
"I have changed and grown a great deal over the last six years since that horrible night, mostly not because of the fire but because of the way this city and this community embraced us," Weiner said. 
"That night even as we lost a house, we found a home."
Weiner promised himself that he would pay that level of kindness forward from that day on. But he didn't know how.
And then the White Terrace fire happened in September 2017, leaving at least two dozen people homeless. Many of those residents were sent to the Christian Center and the idea was hatched to create a Pittsfield Emergency Recovery Committee. The Christian Center started the process and invited a number of organizations to join. Christian Center Executive Director Ellen Merritt asked Weiner. 
"I had to say yes," he said.
Since then, representatives from about 20 local organizations, including a number of faith-based organizations, ServiceNet, Berkshire Regional Housing, and the Salvation Army, and city employees Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and Health Director Gina Armstrong have been meeting on a monthly basis. Together, they created the group to help those in need after a disaster.
"What a group of committed citizens found was there were benefits to having a coordinated response in helping people who are impacted rebuild and recover," said Stacy Parsons, one of the organization's founders. 
After months of planning, the group is now taking the concept to the broader public. It is looking for donations of goods, money and volunteer time. 
"We are looking for individuals who, potentially on a moment's notice, would be available to support anybody impacted by a fire, flood, any of those disasters. People who can come and sit down with those folks and help walk them through the process after those first hours of rebuilding their lives," Parsons said. 
The group created an "after the fire guide" that directs people on how to handle the days and weeks after the event. It ranges from how to go about getting new driver's licenses, to boarding up the property, to finding new housing, to handling insurance and utilities.
The guide walks victims through the various responsibilities one is tasked in rebuilding a life after a disaster. 
Parson said the group is looking for volunteer "navigators" to work with victims throughout that process. On May 7 and May 14, the committee will be hosting training for those navigators.

Capt. Darlene Higgins outlined what the Salvation Army does now but says there is always room for more in the community to help.
Secondly, the faith-based organizations involved have taken the lead on gathering recovery kits. That includes items like pillows and pillow cases, silverware and dishes, sponges and brooms, light bulbs and coffee makers, and trash bags and  hygiene items, the things one needs to rebuild a home but that are often overlooked.
"We all agree 48 hours of assistance barely scratches the surface," Weiner said.
Lastly, Parsons said the organization has set up a donation account through the Christian Center that will be a pot of money to help residents with needs that those involved may not immediately have on hand. 
Salvation Army Capt. Darlene Higgins said her organization has been responding to disasters for years by helping people with information on where to find shelter and occasionally getting the victims a hotel for the night. They hold spiritual and emotional workshops and help with clothing. But there is more to be done in the community.
"That is where you will come in to help with just your presence of being there," Higgins said.
The committee is operating under the umbrella of the Christian Center. Weiner advises those who are interested to contact Merritt there with further questions. The Christian Center is located at 193 Robbins Avenue and the phone number is 413-443-2828.

Tags: emergency committee,   fire ,   

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Pittsfield School Committee Votes to Change Taconic Mascot

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

The School Committee debates a change in team mascots for the two Pittsfield high schools. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Taconic High School will no longer be the Braves' House.
The School Committee on Wednesday voted to change 50-year-old team mascot and begin the process of determining a new, more culturally acceptable identity for the vocational school.
"I think this is going to be very divisive and very upsetting for this school," Chairwoman Katherine Yon said. "It is just a very difficult decision to come to and it feels like all of the decisions during this time are difficult."
The issue has come up during public comment over the past few months with callers asking the School Committee to change the name of the Taconic Braves and the Pittsfield High School Generals.
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