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Grant recipients and sponsors pose for pictures on Wednesday.

Berkshire Black Economic Council Announces Grant Recipients

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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The first Leaders for Equitable Pittsfield grant recipients range from an ice cream owner to a skin care products entrepreneur to a sewing collaborative for immigrants. Here they are with BBEC director A.J. Enchill, left, and board member Auric Enchill. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Black Economic Council made its first grant awards to six organizations on Wednesday evening. 
 
The Leaders for Equitable Pittsfield recipients are Maggie Sadoway Immigrant Co-op leader Maria Arias, Gustitos Boricuas/La Cocineras Latinas owner Miriam Orengo, Grice Beauty owner Ranish Grice, Guelce Marketing Collaborative owner Jocelyn Guelce, Cravins Ice Cream owner Ludwig Jean-Louis, and Berkshire International Market owner Goundo Behanzin. 
 
Each business stood out amongst 16 applicants and received approximately $4,000. 
 
Grice, who launched a luxury line of skin care products, said the economic council helps businesses visualize what their future looks like and provides entrepreneurs with a support system.
 
"I don't want to get into business and struggle because I didn't get in business to struggle," she said. "So it's good to have somebody like [BBEC Executive Director A.J. Enchill and BBEC board member Auric Enchill] and having our back and really showing passion and being there for us." 
 
"It was hard to fill out this application and that push that AJ gave me is what I needed to get to the next step, to see what it is that we're going to need to set me up, to get me out there ready for the future."
 
Ice cream shop owner Jean-Louis agreed with this sentiment, adding that it is not easy to leave your comfort zone but the support the BBEC gives them a "solid moral boost."
 
And Orengo thanked BBEC through a translator because, she said, it is really important to support the Latino community, especially when it comes to uplifting women, and that she is attempting to set an example.
 
These unsuspecting entrepreneurs had attended the event under the guise that they were coming in for an interview. 
 
Representatives from Boston Federal Reserve Bank's Leaders for Equitable Local Economies program  and BBEC sponsors gathered in a dark room excitedly waiting to surprise them.
 
As the lights flicked, on the room erupted in cheers and shouted congratulations at the surprised business owners. 
 
"At the end of the day, we're just really proud of the entrepreneurs doing, as I mentioned during the presentation, really impactful work," A.J. Enchill said.
 
"It's these small businesses that drive this city forward and we're just happy to be on the other end, funding them and making sure that they have the capital to get the job done at the end of the day."
 
The funding that BBEC receives from the Leaders for Equitable Local Economies program helps to build up entrepreneurs and make Pittsfield a more diverse and robust local economy, he said.
 
"We're grateful for this opportunity. And we hope to be able to continue our grantmaking efforts for the city for the city of Pittsfield and beyond," Enchill said.
 
Supporting local leadership is important to smaller cities, especially younger leaders, and representative leadership, said Boston Federal Reserve Bank co-lead Inés Palmarin.
 
One thing that is important to consider when looking at this is that the people trying to make a difference get paid for their time, she said. They don't have all the answers at the bank but they know these community leaders are the experts of their own community.
 
"We're trying to figure out how we can help and be resourceful and be a true partner in this work. And what I love about Auric and A.J. is that they're so fast, lean into learning, and what it takes to be in the space of trying something new," she said.
 
"This is an 18-month pilot, we're into a year. I can tell you I've been in economic development for 20 years. You guys in one year, the impact that you're having in your community is incredible."
 
The grant stemmed from the idea of looking into the city's history and determining if there was a gap between Black, indigenous, and people of color communities and the community at large, Enchill said. 
 
During this research, they did not have to look very far to confirm their suspicions that this gap indeed existed, he said, and this grant is to help entrepreneurs and increase local supplier diversity efforts to make Pittsfield all that it can be.
 
They developed an application using a ranking system and a table that predicted desired answers from applicants so they knew what they were looking for. 
 
"It is a small community here in Pittsfield. It's a small community and we don't want to get into the weeds of that, but we want to be able to make sure that we're being fair with how we're grading the scores are the applications that are coming our way," Enchill said. "And so that was implemented and we're hoping that the city of Pittsfield does the same with that."
 
In addition to this grant, the council will also be developing another grant to recruit new businesses downtown.
 
"As many of you all know, the pandemic was not easy on a local economy by no means and so as a result, we lost a few businesses in our downtown. But now we're able to use the information that we learned through this grant to develop another grant to recruit new businesses into these vacant storefronts," Enchill said. "With the funds from this next opportunity, applicants can fit out the space to make that space turnkey and also have flexible capital to then negotiate with the landlord to make the necessary improvements for that specific entrepreneur."

Tags: business award,   entrepreneurs,   

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Dalton Planning Board Establishes Sidewalk Subcommittee

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board established a sidewalk subcommittee during its meeting last week. 
 
The subcommittee will review the proposed sidewalk bylaw amendment that was not acted upon during the annual town meeting on May 7. 
 
The amendment proposes amending the town bylaw to make concrete sidewalks the standard.
 
During the meeting, Todd Logan, the citizen petitioner for the sidewalk amendment, reiterated what he had previously said during several meetings — that concrete sidewalks should be the standard — and presented the steps he had already taken while developing this amendment. 
 
"The way the proper way to do this is to have a subcommittee and have at least two people from the Planning Board, and you can have as many people as you want that are experts … and write the bylaw in the format that matches our bylaws," Planner Zack McCain said during the meeting. 
 
"Then the whole Planning Board will review it, and then we'd have a public hearing to let everybody have their input on it. And then we would make the changes based on the input and then have it go to the annual town meeting."
 
McCain is the voter who motioned during the town meeting to table the article until a public hearing. 
 
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