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Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, a 19-member organization, operates out of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Pittsfield.

Weekly Zoom Call Supports Immigrant Pittsfield Residents

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Twenty to 30 Spanish-speaking residents are connecting each week through a virtual coffee hour. 
 
Under new Lead Organizer Dondei Dean, Berkshire Interfaith Organizing has been hosting the two-hour conversation space, called Cafecito, that is working toward getting communications from Pittsfield Public Schools translated into Spanish.
 
Cafecito was planned as an in-person meeting until COVID-19 hit. It was then converted to a virtual meeting in the form of a Zoom call.
 
"Because there was such a need for connection and community, especially at the beginning of the pandemic," Dean said. "Cafecito really took off."
 
BIO is a nonprofit community organization of 19 faith and values-based institutions across Berkshire County founded in 2015. It's been focusing on three areas of common cause — racial justice, transportation and immigrant justice. 
 
In mid-September, Los Angeles native Dean was hired as the lead organizer. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where she majored in studio art and minored in government and Spanish, in which she is fluent.  
 
Dean had previously been working with BIO for two years as a community organizer. As lead organizer, she now gets more control over priorities within BIO.
 
In regard to her new position Dean said, "I am enjoying it, it's different in the best way."
 
At the beginning of this year, Dean and Nancy Gomez, the community navigator for Working Cities Pittsfield, had an idea to create a Spanish-speaking conversation space.
 
They planned Gomez's portion of the time in Cafecito to present attendees with resources such as Berkshire Community Action Council's heat assistance program or current events at Berkshire Immigrant Center. Dean's time would be used to facilitate conversation and hear what people care about and what they want to see happen in their community.
 
Each week, about two-dozen people tune in to the two-hour Spanish-speaking Zoom call.
 
Dean, Gomez, and the attendees have been building relationships, getting to know each other, laughing, joking, and sharing stories of struggle.
 
When COVID-19 stimulus checks came out, members of Cafecito talked about the struggle of not receiving one because they aren't citizens. Undocumented parents are worried about how to support their children during this time, Dean said.
 
"There was laughter, there was also struggle," she said.
 
As schools are starting to reopen, Dean and Gomez realized that a common denominator of Cafecito attendees is that a lot of them are women and a majority of them are mothers. When information was sent out about hybrid learning and reopening, they were upset that all of the information was in English with no translation options.
 
For example, not all Cafecito participants understood a back-to-school presentation in August about hybrid learning and schedules for the upcoming school year. One woman was concerned because she had a son going into the 6th grade and did not know what the first day of school was. Dean reported that other parents were relying on small children to translate this information for them, making the parents feel that their ability to guide and hold a sense of parental authority was undermined.
 
In response, Dean and Gomez are created a campaign with six main points of what Spanish-speaking parents need from Pittsfield Public Schools. The first goal is to secure accurate and consistent information from the Pittsfield School Department and then from all schools in the county.
 
"We are not the only ones struggling with this here in Pittsfield," Dean said.
 
The campaign includes interpretation of all school communications, including letters and voicemails from the superintendent. Additionally, they want interpretation of everything the first time around without needing to request a translation.
 
"If you're a mom and you get that voicemail and you don't speak English, what good is it?" Dean said.
 
A translation of the slides from the presentation containing information about returning to school was provided in Spanish. The school system also agreed to transcribe Zoom presentations in English, then translate the transcription and re-record it in Spanish. The public schools has a page set up for Spanish speakers and a multilingual helpline.
 
The rest of Cafecito's six points are in negotiation.
 
"I just want them to be able to access consistent, quality interpretation and I know that's what they want, too," Dean said. "So my job as organizer is to support them making it happen."  
 
BIO is focusing a lot of its energy to immigrant justice right now, said Dean. As a wider society, she said, there is a need to make sure that people who are most affected by the issues at hand are also at the table helping with solutions. This is an ethic that BIO is committed to.
 
She noted that these kind of changes are not quick ones. Though Cafecito started in March, the number of attendees increased only a couple of months ago as Dean has slowly built trusting relationships.
 
"We're working really hard," she said. "But we want to do it the right way."

Tags: berkshire immigrant center,   berkshire interfaith,   Spanish,   

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Dalton Man Gets Year in Jail For Burning Political Sign

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Dalton man who set fire to a political sign made of hay bales last fall has been sentenced to a year in jail.
 
Judge Mark Pasquariello sentenced 50-year-old Lonnie Durfee on Thursday to one year at the Berkshire County House of Correction on a single count of burning personal property.
 
The Berkshire District Attorney's Office secured the maximum jail sentence as part of a plea deal.
 
Durfee set ablaze 20 plastic-covered hay bales that were near the roadway at Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton on Friday, Oct. 9. The bales had spelled out support for the Biden/Harris presidential ticket.
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