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Close to 200 residents at Hillcrest Commons received cards and gifts this holiday season from community members. Many of them were thanks to Kristen Vella Wiliams, who has organized the gift-giving for a number of years.

Hillcrest Commons Residents Receive Christmas Gifts & Cards

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Hillcrest was able to accommodated visitors this holiday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Santa was good to the folks at Hillcrest Commons this year.
Each resident received a gift and a card or picture from generous people who enjoy giving back.  
Almost 200 residents received presents thanks to Kristen Vella Wiliams, who began providing gifts to residents who did not have family members in 2014. The nursing and rehabilitation center could not be more thankful for Vella's program and the joy it brings to everyone at the facility.
"I really can't say enough as to what they do and how it's grown,"  Admissions and Marketing Director Deirdre Tozer Hayes said. "I mean, I think when she started it was like 24 gifts for the unit, Unit 3, that she started with."
One hundred and nine of the gifts were wish list items that residents requested, such as T-shirts, sweat shirts, and slippers. But the wish list items were not all apparel — one person requested a Chinese meal and received a gift certificate from Vella's elves.
The other residents were given items that anyone can appreciate such as blankets and stuffed animals.
"It also is a benefit to our staff," Tozer Hayes added. "Because when they see one of us or we give something to the staff to get to them, that reaction, that person being somebody they don't even know who's given them a card, even our staff talk about the joy that they see in that resident and how it warms them on that day as well."
For years now, residents at Hillcrest Commons have received holiday cards or pictures from people near and far. There were about 200 sent and every resident was able to receive one.
The facility has had a long-standing relationship with Crosby Elementary School, whose students send drawings. They are also sent cards from various individuals and this year, ones from a senior center in New Lebanon, N.Y.
The cards are sent yearly just by word of mouth. For the residents, it lets them know that strangers are thinking of them.
"It's amazing, we still get a variety of people and people from across the state to be honest, who send us cards, and send pictures and things like that," Tozer Hayes explained.
"That hasn't stopped, we've never made an additional request, I have one or two who might call saying, 'Would you still like them?' And we always say yes, because it really has a positive effect on our residents in terms of receiving that."
The week before Christmas, a DJ came in for a small party at which residents had egg nogand cookies.  
For the holiday, Vella and her elves were able to personally deliver gifts to residents and there was a piano performance in the common area next to a Christmas tree.
In accordance with the state Department of Public Health, visitors are allowed with a screening at the front desk. Residents are also able to visit their loved ones.
This year's holiday festivities were especially important because the facility had to quarantine last year because of COVID-19. 
At the end of 2020, the facility had a devastating surge and suffered the loss of 42 residents; 75 percent of residents were infected along with many staff members. The community stepped up during that time and Hillcrest Commons received more than 20 different forms of support from community members such as gifts, cards, food deliveries, caroling outside of residents' windows, and a parade around the building.
"We can't thank enough, people who take the time to send things into us, and are thinking of us," Tozer Hayes said. "And as I said, Vella and how she coordinates all her little elves, that purchase special gifts for our residents."

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Portrait Exhibition on View at BCC

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College (BCC) presents "Countenance," an exhibition of portraits by artist Janna Essig, on view in Koussevitzky Gallery through April 28, 2023. 
The gallery is open Monday–Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. 
"Countenance" features original paintings by the artist, who earned an associate degree in liberal arts from BCC and moved on to UMass Amherst to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree in art education and a master's degree in education with a focus on creativity.
"In most of my artwork I am working from memory and not using a model or photo," said Essig, who in 2008 started exploring using the face as an icon with a series of watercolor portraits. She painted the faces of seven people who were taken from their homes in Iran and imprisoned for practicing their Bahai faith. 
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