Community leaders stress importance of college to local youth


NORTH ADAMS, Mass. - More than 25 pupils from Brayton Elementary and Hoosac Valley Middle schools met with community leaders to learn about the importance of going to college as part of Berkshire United Way's YOU First Day of Caring program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Thursday.


"I just want these kids to know they have a community that supports them and really wants them to succeed," said Brenda Burdick, the senior manager of marketing and public relations for General Dynamics and the vice chairman on the Berkshire United Way Board of Trustees.


The program, which also took place at four other locations - Dalton, Lee, Pittsfield and Great Barrington - throughout the day, aimed to encourage middle-school-age students to strive for higher education regardless of their backgrounds.


"You're very fortunate to be in Berkshire County where there's so many caring people and businesses and colleges and teachers that really are interested in you and making sure that you have all kind of opportunities," Annette Jeffes, dean of admissions and enrollment management at MCLA, said. "...That you can believe in yourself and that you understand that education and going to college is a possibility for everyone."


Pete Mirante, senior vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union, told the pupils that his grandparents emigrated from Italy with little money and education. They raised 12 children in North Adams, and his father worked from when he was 9 years old until his 60s.

His father pledged to him and his siblings that they had no choice but to attend college.


Pete Mirante told pupils to work toward their strengths.

Mirante also told the Brayton and Hoosac Valley pupils to work towards their strengths, using the example that he excelled in math and wanted a leadership role and worked towards that in his career.


The pupils also watched a video, which is available below, that featured stories of different people in Berkshire County , including Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn and Mission Bar + Tapas owner Jim Benson, discussing why college is important in various careers. The video also stressed the importance of starting to plan higher education and future goals as early as middle school.


Afterward, the pupils participated in an activity called "Make Your Mark" to help them clarify their aspirations, where they wanted to live and career goals and then participated in a raffle with donated prizes.

The event fit into the goals of the Berkshire Compact, a collaboration of business, education, non-profits and state and local officials to instill a love of lifelong learning and to encourage the county's youth to consider higher education at a young age. MCLA is a leader in the compact and frequently sponsors such programs as "Berkshire County Goes to College."


Burdick said she hopes for the YOU First program, which just had its first run, to continue as a countywide event.