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Community Matters - Safeguarding the Safety Net

March 1, 2018 - Sometimes people need a safety net. This is why Northern Berkshire United Way believes it is important to invest in people during life's toughest moments. If people cannot afford to keep the lights on or put food on the table, that is going to affect other parts of their life dramatically. For example, it's hard to do well at school if you're always hungry or it gets hard to pay for transportation to work when all your money goes to keep your house heated.

As part of our obligation to the community we recognize that emergency and crisis situations can affect any of us at any time. In addition to providing funding to member agencies that provide health, education and financial stability programs, we are committed to provide funding in the area of safety-net services. These programs provide emergency food, clothing, shelter and assistance for older adults and those with disabilities. It provides services for victims of domestic violence and child abuse and services that respond in times of disasters and other emergencies. These safety-net services are delivered by a wide range of agencies, including the Berkshire Food Project, Elder Services of Berkshire County, Louison House and Elizabeth Freeman Center, among others.

Deb Leoncyzk, President and CEO, of Berkshire Community Action Council is one of the member agency directors committed to providing safety-net services. As the federally designated anti-poverty agency for Berkshire County, she directs programming designed to help alleviate poverty in the county. By working with a talented and committed staff, they address issues at a grass-roots level, as well as administering a large federally funded assistance program that provides fuel assistance and weatherization. Deb states, “In the fight to end poverty and provide for the basic needs of all, we are joined by dozens of other agencies working together to improve the quality of life for our neighbors. Our vision is to move from being just individual providers of services to being an integrated countywide effort to develop deep collaborative strategies that will guide Berkshire families along the path to security, stability and sustainability”.

Leoncyzk further states, “Thankfully, Northern Berkshire United Way is committed to funding the safety-net programs that many of our neighbors and family members rely upon to make their daily struggles easier to manage. They still continue to fund the programs that shelter the homeless, provide a safe haven for victims of domestic violence, put meals on our senior citizens’ tables, support mental health programs, provide services for our disabled neighbors and help make emergency resources available to our low-income neighbors. Northern Berkshire United Way is still here to fund these critical safety-net programs, when some funder priorities may have shifted. By providing flexible-funding to member agencies, they enable us to address poverty and other critical needs, specifically addressing those needs that are unique to our communities.”

Northern Berkshire United Way has a ripple effect although it funds member agencies. It serves the senior applying for fuel assistance who also gets meals delivered by Meals on Wheels and attends programs at the local council on aging. It supports a child who has finally disclosed abuse at school to receive mental health interventions in their own community and who must now work with the legal system. In short, it serves our whole community. It is important to note that 15 of the 20 member agencies funded by Northern Berkshire United Way serve areas outside of Northern Berkshire. Six of them have limited funding to address safety-net services throughout their coverage areas.

As you might suspect, the federal commitment to fund these programs is waning and state resources are also feeling the strain. The Presidents 2019 budget was released last week and is proposed to cut the federal housing assistance and food stamp program in addition to eliminating heating aid. “This is putting our most vulnerable neighbors at even greater risk. Now more than ever, we need community support for our “safety-net” programming here at home and Northern Berkshire United Way is our safety-net.” says Leoncyzk. “Please consider making a gift to the annual Northern Berkshire United Way campaign. Together we can change the lives of those struggling in our communities”.

Northern Berkshire United Way knows that crises happen, often beyond one’s control, and we believe that we must support each other during those times. People should have their basic needs met: a safe place to stay, a full stomach, and a safety net for when life throws us a curve.

Deb Leoncyzk is the President and CEO Berkshire Community Action Council



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