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Executive Director Carolyn Valli at a recent groundbreaking.

Habitat Launches New Job Training, Home Repair Program

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Habitat for Humanity is launching a new program to help both train workers for trades and to repair homes.
 
Executive Director Carolyn Valli said the Build and Repair Corp. will be a paid two and a half month training program for those looking to get into the trades. The group will also be taking on various home repair projects throughout the community.
 
"Elderly folks have a hard time getting small repairs done. We have, in certain neighborhoods in our community, have 12.3 percent unemployment. Not only is there is a skills gap but an unemployment gap," Valli said. 
 
The participants get paid for their training of 35 hours a week for the duration. At the end, Valli said the members of class will receive certifications and education credit. The training is will done by licensed contractors, Taconic High School and retired McCann Technical School teachers. It will also include some contractors with specialties, various lunch meet and greets, and is eyed to delve into internships and journeymen opportunities. 
 
"It is about really building skills. It is not filling space. They'll be building one project or another every single day," Valli said. "What we found was there are people who enjoy sitting in a classroom and learning but there are people who really do better by using their hands."
 
She said the trade unions are exploring opportunities to provide journeymen and apprenticeships after an individual finishes the program. 
 
The program will also hit on a second front in addressing the area's aging housing stock. Some 40 percent of the county's homes were built before 1940 and 60 percent were built before 1960. The housing stock has been a getting older and more out of shape. 
 
Those in this program will be able to go into homes and make a number of repairs — whether that be a grab bar or a ramp for an elderly person. Habitat won't be able to do specialty repairs such as foundation work but will be able to take on a number of other improvements.
 
Habitat already dipped its toes into such work late last year when city's Health Department found a number of code compliance issues at the Britton Street home of elderly veteran John Carey. The city didn't want to see Carey lose his home and Habitat stepped into fill the gap. The non-profit dropped what it was doing and rallied volunteers to make the needed repairs.
 
Valli is hoping to see neighborhoods participate and exterior repairs is also eyed to help make a program. If multiple neighbors want work done, Habitat will prioritize that one street or neighborhood.
 
"We think the long-term impacts of housing, the psychological impacts of living in a better neighborhood, will better once we start this program," Valli said.
 
The organization will be accepting applications for repair projects on July 15.
 
That concept dovetailed well with Mayor Linda Tyer's At Home In Pittsfield program which eyed to provide zero-interest loans to residents to make external repairs. Valli had advocated in favor of that program before the City Council on multiple occasions, seeing it as a way to help address the aging housing issue.
 
However, the City Council voted down the program and so far it has not resurfaced — though interest remains. 
 
Valli was interviewed about the program on iBerkshiresTV's June 27 episode.



Tags: habitat for humanity,   job training,   

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Mac-Haydn Theatre, Shakespeare & Company Take Top Honors at Berkshire Theatre Awards


Tara Franklin accepting the award for Outstanding Solo Performance for 'On the Exhale' at the Chester Theatre Company.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Theatre Critics Association presented the Berkshire Theatre Awards on Nov. 11, the fourth year the awards have been presented to honor and celebrate the excellence and diversity of theater in the greater Berkshire region.

The 2019 awards really display the commitment of regional theaters to presenting new and diverse work. Women and minorities were well-represented among the nominees and the winners in all categories. Nominees represented theaters in Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Connecticut.

Critics J. Peter Bergman and Macey Levin once again hosted the ceremony, which saw top honors for Outstanding Play Production go to the Shakespeare & Company's production of Suzan-Lori Park's "Topdog/Underdog" and "Ragtime" take home the award for Outstanding Musical Production for the Mac-Haydn Theatre.

This year's ceremony featured musical and Shakespearean performances by nominees David Joseph ("Times Stands Still" at Shakespeare & Company) and Greg Boover ("Twelfth Night" at Shakepeare & Company), and musical selections by Monica M. Wemitt, Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Gabe Belyeu from the Mac-Haydn Theatre.

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