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Volunteers carry in boxes of clothing to sort for a free clothing drive at the Brigham Center on Saturday. The Day of Service coordinated by BCC had volunteers at sites around the Pittsfield area on Monday.
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Setting out clothing at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center.
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Sorting through the piles of clothing in the Brigham Center gym.
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Berkshire United Way President Thomas Bernard and the Brigham Center's Abigail Allard.
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BCC President Ellen Kennedy addresses the volunteers.
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Pittsfield's Chief Diversity Officer Michael Obasohan speaks to the breakfast crowd at First United Methodist Church.
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Playing bingo at Soldier On.
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Using power tools at the Habitat for Humanity site in Dalton.
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Volunteers Turn Out for MLK Day of Service in Pittsfield Area

By Brittany Polito & Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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Activities included making cards for residents at Hillcrest Commons at First Methodist Church. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Martin Luther King Jr. left behind a sentiment of unity, peace and equality. These values were demonstrated by volunteers on Monday, during Berkshire Community College's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service event. 
 
The college coordinated a number of volunteer opportunities with organizations including Berkshire United Way, Soldier On, Central Berkshire Habitat For Humanity and Hillcrest Commons. 
 
"The Martin Luther King Day of Service is the only national holiday in which service is embedded in its expectation of what we do," BCC's President Ellen Kennedy said. 
 
"So we're really pleased and proud that so many of you chose today to take what may be a day off for you and devote your time and energies here in the community and to support the good work that's happening in our community but with each other." 
 
Pittsfield's Chief Diversity Officer Michael Obasohan asked a breakfast crowd at First United Methodist Church, "Why are you here today?" 
 
Attendees' answers ranged from "giving is getting" to "setting an example for my child." 
 
"I was a teacher when Martin Luther King was assassinated, murdered, and it was the same year that Robert Kennedy was assassinated," Marietta Rapetti Cawse said.
 
"And I remember one of my students saying, 'Why? Why is this happening now?" 
 
That student was Black and special needs, the former educator explained, and the question haunts her to this day. 
 
Obasohan detailed his life experiences as a North Adams city councilor and leading Pittsfield's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The department was established about two years ago to create a more equitable environment and have a place where people of all identities can feel validated. 
 
One of the greatest lessons he learned as a DEI officer sprang from interacting with a child of one of the migrant families welcomed to Pittsfield as part of the state's emergency assistance shelter program. The city and other service agencies created a team to meet the needs of these new community members. 
 
While conducting needs assessments he made eye contact with a young boy — Obasohan holding a few colorful postcards and the boy holding a coloring book.  When he realized that the child wanted to trade he obliged, pointing out that it was a Black Panther coloring book, and the boy's face lit up. 
 
This is when he realized the impact of making one person smile. 
 
"You don't have to change the world but you can affect what is happening in your community by just taking time to get to know an individual," he said. "By making sure that you're listening to that person that is right in front of you." 
 
There are so many things going on in our world today from the pandemic, racial conflict, police brutality, increase in mental illness, gun violence, and global conflict, that it becomes easy to fall into a spiral of feeling a range of emotions and feeling like you are not doing enough, he said. 
 
This was the case for Obasohan when he first embarked on his path of community service. 
 
"I do my best to be a good person, but I was not exempt from the feelings as everybody else — feeling exhausted, feeling angry, or feeling sad. Those are the things that I was experiencing, while everything was happening," he said. 
 
He had to take a step back and re-evaluate his professional and personal life to redefine his purpose and what it looks like to make an impact on a community. 
 
What he learned was that change on a grand scale starts with the individual impacts on each individual within a community. Each person matters and each story matters.
 
Like many people, he has his own biases but through listening to others' life experiences he has learned that "people will surprise you" and that "the best thing that we can do is just listen. And that means the world to that person at that time." 
 
Volunteers dispersed into different community service projects before wrapping up with lunch provided by Smokey Divas. 
 
Kennedy and a Pittsfield High School student led games of bingo at Soldier On on West Housatonic Street to connect with senior veterans. 
 
Director of Communications Casey DiCicco said the organization asked for a bingo event.
 
"It's something different than your traditional volunteering and it's engaging with our residents," she said. "Of course there are prizes and all of our residents love to play bingo and just interact with one another." 
 
A number of people filled a home on Gulf Road in Dalton to aid in Habitat for Humanity's efforts to construct homes to "create affordable homes for deserving families and the community."
 
The volunteers are a major part of the effort and their work allows the organization to save on labor costs. In addition to local partnerships, Habitat is able to cut down on costs of materials so it can make homes as affordable as possible, Michael Armold, Habitat's volunteer coordinator and Americorp Commonwealth Corps program director said.
 
"When I first started [with Habitat], I was looking for a little bit more purpose in life and working with these volunteers, especially our weekly volunteers on a regular basis, it's just unbelievable," Armold said.
 
"The heart that these people have, and the dedication, they show up, they do their job, no complaints … they basically come the next week. So, it's a very awesome experience."
 
It is important to show the Americorp Commonwealth Corps program members the dedication community members have through volunteer efforts so that they can grow in their own life experiences, Armold said. 
 
A day of service event like this can also connect community members with organizations in the area so that they can volunteer throughout the year, not just on a day of service, volunteers said. 
 
"I think there's a huge impact on volunteering on MLK Day because you realize that it's not about taking the day off, but taking the day to participate in the community and that's something that I didn't realize until I got to BCC and that's a great learning opportunity," Kaila Mullaney, BCC administrative assistant for academic affairs, said. 
 
"Someone had mentioned in the opening ceremony that giving is getting, and I think when you give back, you make connections within the community, you learn things that you wouldn't have learned staying at home or not volunteering. And I think that's great."
 
It is great to see the turnout the event has brought, Mullaney said. There are so many volunteers eager to participate and make a difference. 
 
"I'm here today as part of giving back to my community, but also really it's about teaching my child how to be part of the community and how to be fully active within the community.
 
Why is it important to be fully active in the community," volunteer Jeanette Maguire said. 
 
"[Being active in a community] is part of being alive. It's part of being in a community. Otherwise, we're functioning by ourselves, and by ourselves, we're not very powerful, but as a community, we have a lot of power, a lot of ability to create something greater than ourselves than the individual." 
 
Volunteers collected and sorted mountains of clothing on Saturday at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in preparation for a free clothing drive on Monday. 
 
The idea was proposed by Lenox Memorial High School students and parents in collaboration with the Brigham Center, Berkshire United Way and Greylock Federal Credit Union. 
 
BUW's President and CEO Thomas Bernard explained that the volunteer center has put a stake in the ground around helping others. Through partnerships such as these, volunteers can be activated and motivated. 
 
"We asked the question, 'What could we do that would meet a community need?'" he explained. 
 
With the city's welcoming of migrant families and the general need, planners felt that a clothing drive could help get some families on their feet. 
 
"We serve over 2,000 children and families every year and it grows every year, so we know we have the clientele to make this really impactful just in our facility itself," the center's Development and Communications Manager Abigail Allard said, adding that opening it up to wider community makes an even bigger impact. 
 
She said a big part of diversity, equity, and inclusion is belonging and doing something like this creates a community with a feeling of belonging. 
 
"It's just such a part of our mission at the Brigham Center because we are the place where kids grow up but we are a focal point in the community as we have been for over 100 years," Allard added. 
 
"So we continue to be that and know that people can call us and get direction and resources and this is part of that work that we're striving to do by creating a place of belonging for everyone in the community." 
 
This evolved from Lenox educator Heather McNeice's "Strategies for Success" class after she reached out to parent Brianna Lamke for help. They connected with BUW's Director of Volunteer Engagement Brenda Petell and were able to coordinate additional volunteers and a place to host the drive. 
 
After her daughter found inspiration in the class last year, Lamke wanted to help turn it into a service project to make sure that all people feel accounted for. 
 
"It was just a culmination of seeing all the need around the holidays," she said, pointing to food and toy drives that are held in November and December. 
 
Hundreds of bags containing gently worn clothing and accessories were taken into the center's gymnasium and sorted into categories. On Monday, shoppers in need were given reusable bags donated by Blue Q and browsed at their leisure. 
 
Lenox sophomore Charlie Keator worked with her peers to fold and arrange clothing items on fold-out tables. 
 
"It feels good," she said when asked about her participation. 
 
When people arrived at the free store they were only asked for their ZIP code and family size to ensure that it was a place for everyone who needed it. Language translation was also provided to facilitate the process. 
 
Bernard was amazed by the quality of pieces that were being donated and pointed out that there is also an environmental aspect because clothes are being reused rather than thrown into landfills. 
 
"It just fills your heart," he said. "I'm so inspired." 
 
The two collected drop-offs from cars on East Street before they were transported to the gym for sorting. 
 
"We have a lot of our girls coming in to volunteer and we talked about the importance of reusing materials, recycling our clothes," Allard added.
 
"And fast fashion is such a hot thing these days and people shop on those websites and apps and stuff like that but the amount of your carbon footprint you reduce by reusing." 

Tags: MLK Day,   volunteers,   

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Marchetti Announces Jazz Art Contest Winners

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Brooklyn Duck is this year's winner of the contest and her work will be used for the Pittsfield City Jazz Festival. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield High School has 75 jazzy artworks in City Hall, one of which was chosen to represent the 2024 Pittsfield City Jazz Festival.

Mayor Peter Marchetti on Thursday congratulated the winners of the annual Berkshires Jazz Student Art Contest. PHS junior Brooklyn Duck won first place followed by senior Nye Stedman and sophomore Karalin Melendez.

Duck's artwork features a colorful array of musical instruments and musicians with piano keys winding down the center.  She said that she was inspired by her teacher Lisa Ostellino and of course, jazz music.

"It's always good to invite people in the city hall and it's actually really great to be walking outside of my office and seeing the artwork," Marchetti said.

The festival runs April 18 to 28 with various events in Downtown Pittsfield.

Judges remained anonymous but it was revealed that they thought Duck's figures were well done and worked well with the curving piano keys. They felt that Stedman's piece featuring cats was fun with plenty of attention-grabbing aspects and a good concept. The judges liked Melendez's use of strong bold colors and graphics.

President and founder of Berkshires Jazz Edward Bride said Jazz Appreciation Month is a "big deal," officially recognized by the Smithsonian Institution and Congress.

"And we're making it a big deal with our student art contest," he added. "We want to thank Mayor Marchetti for allowing us to hang this wonderful work in the City Hall quarters and for being here to make the announcement of who the winners are."

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