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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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Pittsfield at-Large City Councilor Candidates Answer Questions

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidate for the four a-large City Council seats participated in a forum Monday at Berkshire Community College as they made a push for votes before election day.
Seven candidates fielded questions at a forum hosted by BCC, in partnership with the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, which recorded the forum. The moderator was Shawn Serre, executive director of PCTV.
After some opening statements, the candidates were asked to pick a number that prompted a question. After three candidates answered the question the next candidate in line chose a new number. At the end of the session, candidates were given two minutes to answer questions they did not get or to expand on the answers they gave.
One of the first questions brought forward was about Mayor Linda Tyer's proposed home improvement plan that would have allowed qualified residents to apply for money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to make small improvements to their homes.
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