Evan McAllister welds a seam on one of the carts at McCann.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — BFAIR's bottle redemption center now has new, safer and more ergonomic collection carts thanks to the efforts of the students in McCann Technical School's metal fabrication department.
A further motivation for two of the students was that the project was requested by their mothers — both of whom work for BFAIR.
"It's just kind of like a neat collaboration that we're starting. We've worked with them before on different things, but this is the first real project we've done. So it's just kind of neat," said Becky McAllister, director of employment services. "And it was the kids doing projects for us, you know, for our work. The boys have been kind of raised with knowing about BFAIR and the individuals we serve."
Berkshire Family and Individual Resources offers clinical support services, individual services, case management and employment training for people with disabilities. The agency has been operating the redemption center at 1000 Massachusetts Ave. since 2009 and purchased the business in June.
The metal carts used to move the bottles and cans around were low and had side openings large enough for smaller bottles to fall out. And with upwards of 12,000 to 20,000 pieces a day, that's a lot of cans and bottles to process.
"Our biggest goal, when we took this place over, was to try to make it safer for the individuals to work," McAllister said. So she and Theresa Gelinas, senior vice president of day services, turned to McCann for a solution.
Gelinas' son Nathan Biagini and McAllister's son Evan are both sophomores in the metal fabrication program. With their classmates Michael Harris and Carter Foucher, they made three carts that sit higher so employees can reach in easier and with grate sides so nothing falls out.
"We thought that we could do the project and incorporate a lot of the things that we practice on a real scale, actually making something that we can use or somebody could use," said teacher Glenn Andrews. "Oftentimes, unfortunately, when we practice our skills, a lot of times what we're doing, we don't get to use. ... That the fitting or whatever we're making really has no purpose besides its purpose of fabrication."
Gelinas said it was good for them to see the new carts in use and that she and McAllister hoped to continue and build on a partnership with McCann.
"What it's going to bring to BFAIR and the people we serve is exciting, too," said Gelinas. "You guys will be able to see the individuals actually use them."
Andrews said he and fellow teacher John Kline, who could not be there Wednesday, will take on projects if they fit within the program and provide students an opportunity to use their skills.
"We've always been close with the community and try to do community service if it's a good fit and we think it's something that we can do and do well," he said.
The boys said they enjoyed the work and felt they did well as a team.
"I like the part where we get to take a bunch of different pieces and measurements and put them together and it comes out," said Evan.
Michael said he liked the problem solving. "Like if something didn't fit or was off, we'd find a way to make it work," he said.
Carter liked how it was a team effort. "You cannot do that by yourself," he said.
"I think all four of us worked really well together," said Nate. "Since we had three carts, we're all doing different things, but we did them together."
Andrews said it was in good exercise in that the carts had to be done in a timely manner, they were a challenge, they required teamwork, they required a level of craftsmanship, and they reinforced a work ethic that would serve the students well in the future.
"Another nice thing is, it is a product that people are going to be using," he said. "So you have to make it, it's got to be safe. It's got to be functional. It's not just a part we're going to recycle."
The three carts were primed and delivered last week and the students arrived at the redemption center on Wednesday afternoon to finish painting them blue.
"I just think the neat thing is that the kids from the school could use what they've learned," said McAllister. "And then they can see how it's being used in their own community."
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Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant.
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good.
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
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After a few days in the icebox, temperatures will be turning above freezing going into the weekend and there's a chance of snow — or more likely rain, as a storm system moves north of the Berkshires.
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The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
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Food insecurity, housing, child care, education, financial literacy, and substance abuse were among the subjects of the poverty forum sponsored by the Berkshire Community Action Council and hosted at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Friday morning.
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