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Tuesday, Mar 26, 2013

Volunteers help residential students

New 'Friends and Family' program brings students and staff together

“Ezra is enthusiastically determined to achieve his goals. He’ll be a great success!” That wholehearted prediction is from Margie Ortiz, an accountant at Berkshire Farm Center, speaking about one of the students at Berkshire High School. 

imageMargie doesn’t normally interact directly with the youth at Berkshire’s residential campus in Canaan, but she’s a volunteer with the new “Berkshire Friends and Family” program. Boys at the campus are connected with staff who aren’t there to supervise or discipline them and are not paid to spend time with them. They do it because they want to.

The new initiative by Berkshire Union Free School District (BUFSD) is designed to help its students succeed. The pilot program initially focused on students who don’t have family members or others outside of Berkshire who care for them. They have nowhere to go during school breaks and often feel alone and disconnected.

“A connected adult who is invested in the success of a youth can have a profound impact on his development and success,” said Bruce Potter, BUFSD Superintendent. “We are very pleased at the initial success of the program and plan to increase the number of students benefiting from it."

Each of these adults meets regularly with one boy and develops a caring relationship, without judgment or criticism. They are available to the youths to listen, offer advice when asked, and to show them that someone cares about them.

“We are delighted that our employees are volunteering for this,” said Timothy Giacchetta, President and CEO of Berkshire Farm Center. “These young men need support from caring adults who will spend time with them both inside and outside of school, and the wonderful volunteers in this program make that happen.” Mr. Giacchetta is also the president of the BUFSD Board of Education.

imageA good example is Melissa Daley, of Berkshire Farm Center’s Development Office. “It’s only been a few weeks, but Kalkin seeks me out and is beginning to trust me,” she said. “He’s now opening up and talking about his feelings and his family.”

The volunteers also benefit from the BFF program. “I wasn’t sure how this would work, Ms. Daley said. “Now I look forward to meeting with Kalkin and I make time to see him. This is very fulfilling and personally gratifying.”

The new program is just one pillar of the school’s collaborative “Failure is Not an Option” initiative. “We’ve already seen a very positive impact, from an adult volunteering with a student that has improved his academic engagement and reinforced the benefits of positive decision making,” said Potter.

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