Berkshire Children & Families Celebrates Pittsfield Resource Center
Berkshire Children & Families recently celebrated the opening of new family resource center in Pittsfield.With the help of a half-million dollar state grant, the new family resource center inside the Berkshire Children and Families building at 480 West Street in Pittsfield will allow any child or parent who walks in the door to be helped or pointed in the direction of someone who can. Clinical physicians, support workers, school liaisons and mentors will staff the center. Diane Robie is the center’s director.
“By design we’ll be offering parent education, peer support, empowerment groups, skill building opportunities as well as social, recreational and culturally events,” Robie said. “They’ll be informed by our youth, families and community partners.”
Robie says the center will also pursue outreach services to meet people where they are. Through recent listening sessions, Robie says she’s heard about the impacts drugs, gangs and economic hardship are having on the Pittsfield community. Berkshire Juvenile Court Judge Joan McMenemy says the center can help address a child’s disruptive behavior, truancy or the beginnings of substance abuse before it becomes a major issue.
“From the court’s perspective, we can make orders, but they are really only orders focused on the child before us,” McMenemy said. “It doesn’t necessarily address the entire family or the support the entire family needs. We as a society have finally recognized that ideally more can be done to support the whole family and more can be done on the prevention front.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Berkshire County’s poverty rate from 2009 to 2013 was 12.8 percent, compared to a statewide level of 11.4 percent. Hampden County’s was 17.7, Hampshire 13 percent and Franklin County came in at 12.1 percent. McMenemy served on a state task force involved in implementing the family resource center network across Massachusetts as laid out in 2012 legislation.
“As a community we owe it to our youngest citizens to optimize their ability to reach their full potential, to keep them safe, to strengthen their skills and assets and to support their whole family,” McMenemy said. “And the work of the family resource center vital to the health of the community. We, as a community, owe it to the family resource center to support their work.”
Paul Fitzsimons, acting deputy commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families, says while the family resource center network is a statewide system, success comes from the local level.
“I’ve seen this kind of engagement be tried before and I’ve seen it not work,” Fitzsimons said. “I know why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when it comes from myself, a politician or agency director. It works when it comes from here. When it comes from the hearts of those kids. That’s when it works. When the true engagement is in the community in the Berkshires that brings people together and says ‘How do we help families be healthier? How do we help kids be happier?’ That’s when it works.”
The kids Fitzsimmons mentions are the Berkshire Children & Families’ classical music group Kids 4 Harmony from Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood. They performed during the center’s celebration.
Berkshire Children & Families reaches 3,600 families in the region. President Carolyn Burns says down the road the organization hopes to move some of its operations to the old Morningside fire station to be closer to the community members using its resources.