Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation announced in a press release Monday (Jan. 25) the distribution of over $48,000 through its Bridging Divides, Healing Communities grant program, a new initiative to support community-building activities aimed at strengthening relationships and trust at the local level, especially among people who hold different points of view or come from different backgrounds. Twenty-one organizations in four counties received grants of up to $2,500 for projects that seek to bring people together for the purposes of exploring shared interests, addressing a problem through dialogue and action, or considering an issue through a range of perspectives.

President of Berkshire Taconic, Peter Taylor made the following statement:

At a time marked by extreme polarization, often rooted in assertions of white privilege, we can take action in our towns and cities to promote trust and reconciliation in an effort to help counter the forces and events that are instilling distrust, bigotry and hate. We are inspired by the creative and inclusive ideas from grantees who want to confront issues like racism, the stigma of homelessness and mental illness, and eroding trust between police and communities.

Libraries, health centers, and civic, arts and school groups are among the funded organizations, for accessible and innovative projects that involve storytelling, community dialogue, trainings, and arts and the creative process. Nearly half of grant-funded activities are explicitly designed to involve youth. Each successful applicant will be asked to provide a brief narrative on activities, observations on what occurred and reflections on what was learned through planning and implementation, which the foundation will compile and share in coming months. With 70 applications received, BTCF is currently planning a second round of grantmaking for the spring.

Bridging Divides, Healing Communities is part of Berkshire Taconic’s nearly $2 million, multi-year investment in its community engagement focus area, in partnership with other funders. This includes the Arts Build Community initiative, and training and networking for area board members through the Board Leadership Forum and seminars.

Grantee Descriptions

The following are listed by county and name of the grantee:

Berkshire County

Arts in Recovery for Youth: $2,500 for its first-ever Art for Social Justice Project, in partnership with Barrington Stage Company, pairing mentor guest artists with young people from varied backgrounds for dialogue, engagement with civic leaders and a community art event

Berkshire Area Health Education Center: $2,500 for a virtual continuing education program for health and human service providers from across the region on food insecurity as a social determinant of health and lessons from COVID-19 response on meeting the needs of vulnerable residents

Downtown Pittsfield: $2,500 to conduct a facilitated learning experience with downtown stakeholders as part of the process prescribed by Pittsfield’s Community Development Board for ensuring ongoing communication between management of a local homeless shelter and the surrounding neighborhoods

The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center: $2,500 for a two-night program, in collaboration with Clinton Church Restoration, using LeLand Gantt’s one-man show “Rhapsody in Black” to explore how performing arts can advance ongoing discussions of racial justice

Norman Rockwell Museum: $2,500 in support of its public discussion programs based upon Rockwell's Four Freedoms that will bring together members of the general public from different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs to discuss aspects of freedom today

Regional School District Planning Board: $2,500 for training and facilitation in conflict resolution for the eight-town, 24-member board currently evaluating the educational and financial feasibility of consolidating the Berkshire Hills and Southern Berkshire regional school districts

Sheffield Historical Society: $2,500 for an interactive art installation sharing the story of the local indigenous people who inhabited the area until the 18th century, in partnership with the Stockbridge Munsee Community and the Southern Berkshire school community

Stanton Home: $2,500 to launch an outreach and education program for police, firefighters, EMTs, first responders and other public service employees focused on identifying and responding to emergency situations that involve residents with intellectual and developmental abilities

Columbia County

Art Omi: $2,500 for “The Community Voices Virtual Tour,” a series of short videos to feature youth and adults of different races, ages and abilities as they gain insight into the creative process and experience onsite artworks that address immigration, land acknowledgement, racism and accessibility

Claverack Free Library: $1,145 to create “The Immigrant Experience: Remembered and Imagined,” a youth-led project to investigate personal and familial immigration experiences through various forms of expression, culminating in a free public performance

Free Columbia: $2,450 for a series of six facilitated discussions among diverse residents of Philmont to share individual experiences of and perspectives on systemic racism and social injustice, building on a successful initial session last summer

Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood: $2,200 to expand on and engage Hudson residents in the work of the Police Reconciliation and Advisory Commission, through which civic and business stakeholders are examining topics such as trust between police and citizens, incidents of misconduct or brutality, and police response to mental health and substance use issues

Northeast Dutchess County

NorthEast-Millerton Library: $2,500 to continue an anti-racism book group, which brings together a diverse, multigenerational group of residents with a noted author for discourse on the effects of racism, the prevalence of racist ideas and beliefs, and how to create a better community

Town of Amenia: $2,500 to partner with Wassaic Boarding School to provide weekend skateboard sessions where youth and adults from different backgrounds can learn together the art of skateboarding, which a recent study suggests can improve mental health, foster community and encourage resilience

The Wassaic Project: $2,500 for a free high school art club organized around a group project that will encourage creativity and facilitate social-emotional development among youth of diverse backgrounds through peer engagement, the creative process and adult support

Northwest Litchfield County

David M. Hunt Library: $2,100 for “Small Town, Big Talk,” a documentary photography installation by Rebecca Bloomfield that will share stories and portraits of dozens of residents with diverse experience and identities, to be exhibited on the library’s popular Art Wall gallery and online

Friends of the Goshen Public Library: $2,300 for “Telling Our Stories,” in which high school students and new town residents will be partnered with a range of community members to produce videos that showcase Goshen’s diversity and the hardships of current times

Litchfield Performing Arts: $2,500 for Litchfield Jazz Camp, a weekend program this spring for teens and adults of all abilities and backgrounds to improve skills, explore the varied cultures and histories that have influenced jazz music and help students forge connections with one another

McCall Center for Behavioral Health: $2,500 to hold a virtual event on behavioral health disparities among people of color for providers and community leaders, with an aim to address cultural stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment and promote awareness of available programs

Salisbury School: $2,500 to create a day of celebration and a permanent witness stone honoring James Mars, the last slave bought and sold in Connecticut, in a partnership of the junior and senior history classes at Salisbury School, the social justice team of the Church of Christ Congregational, Norfolk, and the Norfolk Historical Society

Scoville Memorial Library: $1,000 for a series of online community discussions tackling subjects such as societal polarization, bias, the climate crisis and strengthening the social fabric, with prompts from pre-assigned articles, podcasts and videos as a starting point for exploration.

(information sent to WSBS from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for online and on-air use) 

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