Berkshire Taconic’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program
A sign on Route 44 in Salisbury CT, photographed by RI on November 20.
“Poverty is all around us but it’s more hidden in our region than in other places,” says Jennifer Dowley, the president of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, noting that 15,000 people in Berkshire County alone receive fuel assistance. “Whether you’re in Millbrook or North Adams, Pine Plains or Salisbury, the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program can help you help people in your community.”
Dowley, who lives in Millerton and works in Great Barrington, points out that some of the most industrious people in our region have a tough time making a living during the winter months. “It’s a resort economy and many people rely on seasonal work,” she says. “There is a serious underemployment problem for the people who mow lawns and work in coffee shops—everyone who makes $15 an hour or less. There’s a guy who does some outdoor work for me at my house. He works twelve hours a day from April to November, and every winter he falls behind on his mortgage.”
If You Need Aid . . .
Berkshire Community Action Council
Columbia County Healthcare Consortium
NED Corps Client Advocates
845.264.4675 or 845.235.5713
Northwest Litchfield County
Contact individual town social workers
The Neighbor to Neighbor program was created this June to provide emergency financial aid “for strategic intervention to help achieve a measure of stability and avert further crises.” Berkshire Taconic collects the money and distributes it directly to social service agencies in Berkshire, Columbia, Northeast Dutchess and Northwest Litchfield counties (see sidebar). “The social workers love our money because it’s the missing element in the aid package,” says Dowley. Most of the grants are for less than $500 and go for essential things like car repairs or daycare fees so someone can look for or get to a job; the money is not given to the client but checks are written to landlords, utility companies, medical facilities or other vendors. “It gives social workers discretionary money that can fit into their plan—it’s the wild card that makes the hand work.”
Dowley (left) acknowledges with a mournful sigh that a $500 grant does not offer solutions to systemic problems. “It won’t change a life but it may offer someone a helping hand out of dire straits,” she says. “The money is given to people who are working with social workers who can help them plan their way into a more productive state of sustainability.”
Though the Neighbor-to-Neighbor was designed to be used throughout the Berkshire Taconic region (which is nearly identical to the Rural Intelligence region), donors may designate their gifts for residents of a specific town or community. “People are very passionate about their local areas,” says Dowley. For the residents of seven Berkshire County hilltowns—Becket, Cummington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru, Washington and Windsor—there is currently a $100,000+ matching grant, which will kick in $7 for every $1 donated by local residents by December 21. Dowley emphasizes that donations to the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program provide direct aid. “We charge no administrative fee,” she says. “The idea is to spread the money around and help as many people as possible right away.”
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
271 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA