Interim Executive Director Patti Messina welcomes attendees at the Northern Berkshire United Way's annual campaign launch on Wednesday at Norad Mill's 3 West.

Northern Berkshire United Way Sets $480K Campaign Goal

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
07:01AM / Saturday, September 30, 2023

Christine and Peter Hoyt are this year's campaign co-chairs. Their goal is to raise $480,000 over the next year. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire United Way supports 20 member agencies in the work they do addressing social, health, youth and family services throughout the region. 
Two of those agencies — Louison House and Community Legal Aid — highlighted some of the efforts within the community at United Way's annual campaign kick on Wednesday morning at Norad Mill. 
The agency also announced its new slate of officers and board members, including President Kelly McCarthy and Vice President Tyler Bissaillon, and took a moment to remember the contributions of the late Stephen Green, a longtime community activist and former campaign co-chair with his wife, Susanne Walker.
"While our hearts in our community at large are at a loss for a man who truly embody all of the characteristics and traits that we acknowledge as Northern Berkshire, such as honesty, integrity, commitment, selfless service, dedication, we can be comforted in knowing that his legacy lives on," said Jennifer Meehan, vice chair of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, of which Green was a board member and former president. 
Kathy Keeser, executive director of Louison House, described the history of the shelter that opened more than three decades ago after the closure of Sprague Electric and other local mills devastated the economy. Founded by Theresa Louison, the agency has expanded to provide emergency shelter, family housing, transitional housing, preventive services and, soon, a youth shelter facility. 
Housing is a growing need while at the same time, housing costs are rising, she said, and this effects particularly the people Louison House serves, people who don't have savings or credit — "who are at the last chance of an apartment."
"People are really struggling, but it's our community connections and it's our work with other agencies," Keeser said. "We do a piece of the puzzle. Ours is about getting them out to housing — working with mental health, substance abuse, all the other agencies around to help us do that. And the United Way has been a big part of that, along with Williamstown Community Chest, and so many other businesses and individuals that support us. So it is the community that helps us succeed and helps us do what we're doing."
She asked those who had struggled with housing or who knew someone who has to raise their hands, and a quite a few went up. Almost anybody could end up needing Louison House's services, she said. 
"I wish I could say we're going to go out of business or I hope to a few years," Keeser said. "It won't happen. But we'll be around and we'll be around with all your guys' help, so thank you."
Jennifer Dieringer, managing attorney for the Northampton and Pittsfield offices of Community Legal Aid, explained some of the services that her agency provides. 
"We consider ourselves a legal arm of the social services community, which of course is all of the partner agencies of Northern Berkshire United Way that are in the room today," she said. "What I have found in the decades of time that I've done this work, and really this has been my life's work from when I graduated from law school, is that legal aid attorneys are really good at solving the legal problem. 
"But that's putting a very small beam of data on a really big moment. And folks who have legal issues have many, many issues underlying those legal issues."
Dieringer thinks of legal aid as being part of a holistic service in which it covers the legal aspect and it can rely on its partners to work with clients on the support they need. 
One of the biggest referrals Community Legal Aid gets is related to housing and its primary efforts are on eviction defense work. It also takes cases in elder law, veterans benefits, employment law in terms of discrimination and wage theft, and immigration and naturalization services. Growing areas are education law, such as working with parents on ensuring their children get the services they need, and sealing criminal records so formerly incarcerate people can housing and employment. 
"We can help people in a really systematic way," she said. "So thank you all for all that you do and for the Northern Berkshire United Way for supporting all of the work that we do."
To support those two agencies and its other members, this year's campaign goal is $480,000, up from $450,000 this year but still far below past campaigns prior to the pandemic, noted interim Executive Director Patti Messina.

Sharon DeMyer-Nemser, board vice president for campaigns, and Messina. 
"However, we and our member agencies are nimble and responsive to change and know that these dollars will be well utilized to our community," she said. 
Christine and Peter Hoyt were recognized as this year's campaign co-chairs. Christine is chair of the Adams Selectmen and director of member services at 1Berkshires and Peter a professor of biology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. 
The vice president for campaigns is Sharon DeMeyer-Nemser, who said going door to door to collect for the Community Chest as a young woman instilled "such a comfort of giving and receiving to help others. 
"We don't ask people to give until it hurts. We asked you to give until it helps and every dollar helps," she said. 
"And everyone that's in this room is here because they're community centered. They love our community and you love the people within it."


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