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Northern Berkshire Neighborhood Group Celebrates 25 Years

Facebook: UNO Community Center
The UNO Community Center in North Adams, Mass.

A community organization in Northern Berkshire County is celebrating its 25th anniversary today.On October 1, 1990 some 60 people from North Adams met at the city’s Salvation Army to talk about one neighborhood’s deterioration. Among them was life-long resident Shirley Davis.

“I’ve been living in this house on 95 Bracewell for 62 years,” Davis said. “When I first got married and had my children Bracewell Avenue and this neighborhood was one of the best neighborhoods in the city. In the ’80s it started to deteriorate and it really got bad. Al Bashevkin called a meeting at the Salvation Army and a whole bunch of people met. We started a crime watch. David Dunn and Keith Bona were the first two organizers and I was publicity. Every time something good happened in the neighborhood I put it in the paper hoping that people would start to forgot how bad it had gotten. We did fundraisers, things with the kids to put them on trips, had picnics and parties and made them feel good about themselves. We just started doing good things and it kind of paid off.”

Davis is now lead organizer for the United Neighborhood Organization. It has a strong partnership with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition which was created in 1986 by the aforementioned Al Bashevkin during the scaling down of North Adams’ largest employer Sprague Electric. Soon enough, Davis says, UNO’s impact started to show.

“All the kids stopped breaking windows and vandalizing, we raised money and bought flowers and gave them to the neighborhood for free. They started to fix their yards up and make them look nicer. We had holiday house decorating contests for Halloween and Christmas. It got the people enthused and it just turned around. Everything just got better.”

The organization would go on to host community cleanup days and field trips along with building a playground. This past June, the UNO Community Center opened its doors on River St.

“There’s a full kitchen, a dining area, a living room and a work station with computers available if anyone wants to do job searches or work on a project for school,” said Annie Rodgers, the coordinator of Northern Berkshire Neighbors, which developed out of UNO’s success working to expand similar efforts to area communities.  “There’s an office space where Adult Basic Education has job coaches available and we have a small children’s area.”

The community center has drop-in hours serving as an informal meeting place for individuals or groups while also offering youth and adult programming.

“We are currently doing a door-to-door survey in the neighborhood to figure out what sort of things the residents would like to see and be a part of,” Rodgers said. “There is a lot of talent and wealth in the neighborhood so seeing what folks would be interested in doing themselves. There seems to be a lot of interest around open mic nights and movie nights so that’s probably coming in the future.”

The center was dedicated to Davis, which she says was a surprise and an honor. As for how many people UNO has impacted over the past 25 years – that’s difficult to nail down.

“Hundreds, hundreds and hundreds,” Davis said. “Everybody in North Adams knows about UNO. Take my word for it.”

To commemorate its 25th anniversary UNO is hosting a celebration at the community center at 157 River St. in North Adams from 5 to 7 today.

“When you do enough positive things it gets rid of the negative stuff,” Davis shared. “That’s my theory.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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