By Tammy Daniels
05:31PM / Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Former board president Jason Dohaney and Rebecca Gold Cellena are this year's campaign co-chairs.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire United Way annual campaign is setting a goal to raise $435,000 for its 20-member agencies.
The goal was announced at the nonprofit's annual meeting Wednesday morning at Norad Mill. The co-chairs will be Rebecca Gold Cellana and Jason Dohaney, former NBUW board president.
"Becky and I are committed not only to reaching that goal, but we plan on surpassing it as we did in last year's campaign," Dohaney, of MountainOne, said. "And to be honest, we're asking for your help and getting there. I can remember days where campaign goals were half-million, $600,000. My co-worker, Robert Abel, and Ozzie Alvarez actually had a campaign goal of over half a million
— I would love to beat them."
The nonprofit had set a 2021 goal of $431,500 and, under campaign co-Chairs Sharon DeMyer-Nemser and Dr. Charles Nemser, exceed that at $436,780.
Dohaney was positive it could be done again.
"It speaks to the competitive work environment where I'm here with Rob, ex-hockey player at all the rest, but at any rate, we want to beat this goal," he said. "We want to set new records, because we want our member agencies to continue doing the good work they do in our community."
Some of that good work is being done by the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which is currently in the midst of its Rise Together for Safety and Justice fundraiser, a series of six walks across the county. Walks that this week have in some cases had to be postponed for weather, said Executive Director Janis Broderick.
The guest speaker introduced herself as the "party pooper" because of the disheartening numbers she was about to share.
"I'm going to be talking about some grim stuff. I'll try not to end on that," she said. "For 47 years now in one form or another Elizabeth Freeman Center has been the organization responsible for providing services and leadership to address domestic dating and sexual violence."
The center offers a growing array of services, some in collaboration with other agencies, a 24-hour hotline and a secure shelter to address immediate safety as well as healing and recovery and safety for pets.
"Since we know violence is a primary cause of poverty and homelessness, we also do very intense advocacy to access resources including income debt relief," Broderick said. "We do quarry repair and housing. We have a transitional housing slots that we can use throughout the county. ...
"We have supervised visitation with security by deputy sheriff's to handle high-risk cases involving family violence. And we have our award winning money school program, which many of you are involved with that helps survivors vision and achieve a new, more secure and safe future."
While the center is available to those who need it, Broderick said the need has increased over 2 1/2 very tough years during the pandemic.
"We've been seeing more and more hotline calls, we saw much greater levels of danger, much greater financial need, and horrific homelessness," she said. It's brutal out there."
Prior to the pandemic, the rate of protection orders was a third higher than the state's on average; last year it was 53 percent higher. The hotline calls are up 77 percent and this past month, it was double the number of the same time two years ago.
Fourteen women and three children have been murdered since 2006 by a significant other or father, and six of those women have been in North Berkshire.
"We know there are many more living in their homes in terror. Every assault can be a matter of life and death and violence happens here. It happens a lot it can happen to anyone and it happens to people you know," she said. "But the great thing in Berkshire County is the intense collaboration that goes on and it makes a difference."
Northern Berkshire has been particularly strong and present in working through the complexity of issues surrounding domestic violence and pitching in. Community members can participate in the two North County "Rise Together" walks that were postponed: Thursday, Sept. 29, at 5:30 at North Adams City Hall and Friday, Sept. 30, at noon in in front of Tunnel City Coffee in Williamstown. https://p2p.onecause.com/risetogether/page/walk-schedule
"Whoever we are, however we look, wherever we go — we all deserve safety and justice," Broderick said.
Guest speaker Janis Broderick, director of member agency the Elizabeth Freeman Center, speaks about the difficult past two years for the domestic violence shelter but noted how the collaborative efforts of the community are making an impact.
Kelly McCarthy, NBUW vice president of board development and DEI, introduced her fellow officers for the coming year: President William Blackmer, Vice President Tyler Bissaillon, Vice President of Finance Bonnie Howland, Vice President of Allocations Timothy Burdick, Vice President of Campaigns Sharon Burke, Vice President of Community Needs and Special Grants Leah Thompson, and new board member Marissa Kirchner of Greylock Investment Group.
DeMyer-Nemser and her husband bid goodbye to three years as campaign chairs during a difficult time.
"Not one of our board members, not one of our agencies, no one wavered one little bit and that shows you the commitment for our neighbors, our community," she said. "So we leave this position but we will remain active. Charlie and I have been members for over 30 years. We've served in some capacity. We know it's in great hands, and we're looking forward to fresh new ideas, youthfulness and energy."
Thompson, the outgoing president, welcomed new director, Duffy Judge, who had stepped in as interim leader last March on the departure of Christa Collier.
"I'm truly humbled on a day like today when I'm in a room with people who do so much for this community," he said, thanking Collier and Patti Messina, office manager and resource coordinator, and the many board member and member agencies. "I would like the moment all the great work you do in the community thank you all so much. The selflessness of these individuals is really kind of floored me."
The work of NBUW is a collaborative effort, he said, and donations go far. For example, he pointed to the Berkshire Food Project that provided breakfast for the meeting and noted the addition of the Roots Teen Center as a member agency.
"Please know how important your gifts are, your volunteering is and your overall support," Judge said. "A person never stands taller than when they reach down to lift someone up and you are all part of that every single day."