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Northern Berkshire Coalition Brainstorms Topics for Year
By Rebecca Dravis, Staff
03:59AM / Monday, September 16, 2019
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Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw speaks at the monthly forum on Friday in North Adams.

Jacob Schutz, assistant principal at Mount Greylock Regional School, speaks about keeping communication open between the community and its schools on Friday at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition first monthly forum.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition held its annual "needs assessment forum" on Friday to gather ideas for future forum topics.

But when the topics are narrowed down and announced, Executive Director Amber Besaw warned, the more than 100 people in the room on Friday shouldn't be surprised if they see ideas they hadn't heard mentioned in the room at The Green. That's because, for the first time, the Coalition held a call-in session on Aug. 23 to gather ideas. And, Coalition staffers will be hitting the streets and community events to talk to still more people about the needs.
"We realize not everyone can make it to this forum, so we make every effort to hear from the community in other ways," Besaw said. "We will be incorporating that, too."
But for those people actually in the room on Friday, they heard another message that slightly differed from past years: Instead of just bringing up topics that need to be addressed, Besaw welcomed conversations about what assets the Northern Berkshire region already has in addition to projects already under way that would be worth hearing more about. And, she wanted people to speak about past topics they wanted updates on, because often there already has been work done after a forum that the Coalition would be happy to share.
"Our conversations are not one and done," Besaw said.
A few people on Friday did mention topics that have been explored in the past, and Besaw herself shared a quick update on a new community reintegration program about to begin that came about after a past forum with the trial courts. Many participants were happy to point out the assets of the community, which included items like the Coalition's own Resource Guide, senior centers, local government officials, tree-planting and bike-sharing initiatives, addiction recovery services, and more. 
But the bulk of the suggestions on Friday dealt with ideas and problems the community felt like still deserved another forum devoted to it.
A few topics that elicited conversation included prevention issues around adult alcohol use and misuse and youth and adult vaping, which is seeing a nationwide crisis with unexplained deaths; climate change and the effect on local communities, as well as how to encourage the "greening" of local towns; the support of immigrants, people of color and the LBGTQ community; the crisis of mental health issues in our youth and the lack of support and professional help for them; inter-partner violence; and engaging youths and attracting younger professional to live and work in the community, by recognizing the need to offer affordable housing, child care and nightlife, among other assets.
While the Coalition culls down those topics and engages people in voting, they already have planned the next forum, which will be in October but on a date and time to be announced in the ongoing effort to spread meetings beyond the 10 a.m. Friday time slot. The topics will be "part three" of the gentrification discussion that started last year, Besaw said, and she has two words of encouragement for people to help increase community engagement on the topic.
"Bring someone," she said.
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