Friday, July 6, 2012

Berkshire Dream Center Visits Interfaith Action Initiative

Cathy Chapman of the Berkshire Dream Center holds up the book The Church That Never Sleeps by Pastor Matthew Barnett, founder of the Dream Center in Los Angeles.

I wish more people could come to our monthly interfaith meetings. We had 15 people at our June meeting, but our conversation and presentations were so interesting and moving that I wish many more could have been present.

On Friday, June 29, we had two great faith sharings, one by Sue Walker and one by Wendy Krom, from the Christian and Buddhist traditions respectively. Then we had three great presentations: on the Berkshire Health System Outreach Van by Michelle Sylvester, on the Berkshire Dream Center by Cathy Chapman, and on harmful products meant to hook kids on tobacco by Corinne Case.

The Berkshire Dream Center

I hope to attend the Berkshire Dream Center Orientation and Training on Saturday, July 14, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Vietnam Veterans Center on River Street in North Adams. (The newest location the Dream Center is working from in the city).

Come and learn more about the Dream Center and see how you can be involved. Call 413-522-3495 or email with any questions.

The Berkshire Dream Center started three years ago in Pittsfield with an adopt-a-block effort in the Morningside neighborhood. A year ago a landlord gave them use of a renovated space on Cherry Street. Volunteers have been doing outreach on Chase Avenue and River Street in North Adams since last October.

Cathy Chapman, who grew up in Clarksburg and now teaches in Greenfield, is the assistant director. She came to the June 29 meeting at our invitation to tell us about the Berkshire Dream Center, which she did movingly with much humor.

Her daughter, the Rev. Katelynn Chapman, is the director.

Cathy Chapman told us that the project had its origins from when she and her daughter took a mission trip five years ago to the Los Angeles Dream Center. She recommended the book “The Church That Never Sleeps” by Pastor Matthew Barnett. “It really changed our view and perception of what it means to be a church in ministry.”

The LA Dream Center, founded by Barnett, is called, as the book title indicates, “the church that never sleeps.” It’s open 24 hours a day, has 200 ministries and has really revolutionized the neighborhoods in Los Angeles, she said.

Of her experience in Los Angeles: “They just put you right to work in their ministries,” Chapman said. “They dropped us off at midnight on Sunset Blvd to minister to prostitutes. As the van lieft, I remember thinking, ‘The van’s leaving. I grew up in Clarksburg ... This is not my element.”

It all worked out. “We had an amazing time. The thing that really really changed our view is called “adopt a block, “which is what we’re doing today, because they took us out into the neighborhoods where the LA riiots took place...And we went door to door with ex-gang leaders – if I can talk about this without crying, I’ll do a good job — ex-gang leaders who had accepted Christ and were now leading people to Christ.”

Chapman said to her daughter, “We’ve got to do this at home, if it works here how much more would it work in Pittsfield.”

Though it started with an Assemblies of God church in Pittsfield, the Berkshire Dream Center has morphed into a non-denominational effort. As noted above, they work in the Morningside neighborhood in Pittsfield. 

“Our pastor left the church and the church changed and we all ended up at different places but we kept the non-denominationall Christian group going for three years and we went door to door.”

“And basically with adopt a block you just knock on the door, and you’re just getting to know people. You build relationships with them. The agenda,  it isn’t like sometimes people are waiting for the ohter shoe to drop, we don’t go with Bibles our agenda is not to convert you or tell you about God, it’s to get to know you,” she said. “And through that process over a course of time they ask questions about God. They know we’re Christians and we are able to share our faith, but it’s relationship building.” 

The first day of doing adopt a block in Pittsfield they ran into a local landlord. Two years later he gave them use of a renovated space on Cherry Street.

Chapman said they have worship services and discussion groups at the site. They give out bags of 12 non-perishable food items two times a week; they also have a clothing room. They have a nice office, which is also a meeting space.

So they no longer have to work out of the trunks of their cars as they did when starting out.

Coming to North Adams last year, the first thing they wanted to do was to adopt a block: “Our philosophy is that we go out. We believe that Jesus as the Son of God could have sat in the temple 24/7...but He didn’t. He went out,” Chapman said.

She recalled that when she taught at Conte Middle School she brought a boy home one night toa house on Chase Avenue. “He got out of the car, and he looked at me before he shut the door, and he said, ‘Miss Chapman, don’t ever come down here at night.’ And I said, ‘I have no reason to, honey, but thank you.”

So in coming up to North Adams last year to look at possible streets for their work, she stopped by Chase Avenue. “And so I did and I felt the same thing the first time I drove over Cherry Street, just that feeling that this is the one, if it works here it’s going to work anywhere.”

“So we started with Chase Avenue and River Street in October and with what we feel are wonderful results. There are some peoplle, of course, who don’t want to be bothered and you have to be respectful but the majority of people are interested, want to know your story, They want you to know their story, so very well received,” she said.

They have been working at the COTY Center at St. Elizabeth Parish Center and giving out food and clothing. They also have a neighbors helping neighbors program, where people can donate things such as beds, which are a much needed item. “Of all the things that we’ve ask for since we opened our doors that’s number one. There are so many people that sleep on the floors you’d be amazed.”

“Eventually what we’re looking for is a space that can be our space,” she said. “it doesn’t have to be forever but a place we have in Pittsfield, we can set it up, and it’s our home.” 

In North Adams the Dream Center is at the COTY Center at St. Elizabeth Parish Center Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m. and on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at the Vietnam Veteras Center at 30 River St.

I was happy to give Cathy a tour of the Friedship Center Food Pantry and I and other members of the IAI hope that our two groups will find ways to work together going forward.

Here is the local Dream Center blog:

Here is the website for the Los Angeles Dream Center:

Berkshire Health Systems Community Outreach Van

The Community Outreach Van in a photo taken from the Berkshire Health Systems website.

Our friend Michelle Sylvester from WIC tolld us about the Berkshire Health Systems outreach van, on behalf of Kim Kelly, health education coordinator Berkshire Health Systems, who planned to attend our meeting but was unable.

Michelle said the van travels all over Berkshire County. It’s a 39-foot, air conditioned van. They will do blood pressure screenings, tobocco education, prostate cancer education, cholesterol screenings and more. “It’s whatever that area would like. And because we all work with at-risk populations, the service is for free,” she said.

People can get referrals to area hospitals and sign up for MassHealth coverage.

We discussed the possibility of having the van come up and do blood pressure screenings at the Friendship Center. We all agreed that parking the van on Eagle Street would not work, but we could sponsor a special event., and maybe park it in the big city lot behind 85 Main.

The van was in North Adams for last year’s Downtown Celebration. 

Here is some information about the van from the BHS website:

“The Berkshire Health Systems Community Outreach Van was purchased with grant funding in late 2007 and has been on the road throughout the Berkshires, providing important free health information, health screening services and community resource referrals. The van is staffed by professionals from BHS and is equipped with two state-of-the-art treatment and exam rooms, both of which provide a confidential space for visitors to receive information on available health insurance enrollment programs or to be screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol and other health risk factors. 

“The Community Outreach Van visits several public locations each month, including supermarkets, shopping centers, community organizations and more. To schedule the Community Outreach Van, contact Kimberly A. Kelly, Community Health Education Coordinator at 413-395-7976 or”

Oppose Underhanded Tobacco Tobacco Tactics

Corinne Case gives her presentation on tobacco products aimed at children, some of which can be seen on the table.

Also at the June 29 Interfaith meeting, NBIAI Steering Committee member Corrine Case gave a presentation on insidious tobacco products meant to hook kids on tobacco. She gave a lively presentation with plenty of examples of the products. 

She also had petitions available for people present to express opposition to the products. I think I’ve signed it twice – and would be happy to do so again!

According to the website 

“The tobacco industry depends on kids’ impulse buys. The impulse control part of adolescents’ brains is not fully developed, leaving them vulnerable to making decisions without thinking them through. The industry takes advantage of this, encouraging impulse buys through three tactics: attractive packaging, widespread availability, and low prices.”

Products aimed at kids include: Little cigars and tip cigars; Blunts and blunt wraps; “Snus”; Dissolvable tobacco; Electronic cigarettes; Make /Roll your own tobacco products; and other novel nicotine products.

The tobacco industry is pricing these products very inexpensively to encourage impulse buys by young people. Some single cigars are sold for as low as 25 cents.

Corrine would be happy to make her presentation to other community groups. For more information, contact Joan G. Rubel with Berkshire AHEC, 413-447-2417.

Well that’s about as much writing as I can handle on a Friday night. God Bless and hope to see you soon,


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Music ‘In the Company of Friends’

Dale Ott, Mark Berman, and Tony Pisano play music during "In the Company of Friends" on Channel 15.

“MoCA Jam” will play traditional folk tunes on “In the Company of Friends” on Friday, July 6, at 5 p.m. and Monday, July 9, at 1 p.m. on Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp.’s Channel 15.

“MoCA Jam” is an informal group of musicians who meet and play on Saturday mornings at the cafe at MASS MoCA. They have frequently raised money from the Friendship Center Food Pantry from tips they have received for their excellent musicianship.

Three members of the group came to the studio at Heritage State Park on June 29 to be featured on the program, which will no doubt air several times over the month. The musicians featured on the program are Dale Ott on upright bass, Mark Berman on tenor banjo and Tony Pisano – a regular volunteer at the Friendship Center – on accordian.

On the program they play a variety of folk tunes from the American, Celtic, and French traditions. They also answer questions about their music and instruments.

The program starts off with co-host Mark Lincourt giving a quick update on the status of funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) which has been facing cuts. Then Mark Rondeau gives a few quick highlights of the Interfaith Action Initiative meeting earlier on the day of taping, June 29.

During the regular monthly Interfaith meeting, which was held at the First Baptist Church of North Adams, 15 people had a discussion with Cathy Chapman of  the Berkshire Dream Center about the great faith-based outreach they do in Pittsfield and North Adams, spoke with Michelle Sylvester about Berkshire Medical Center’s van that offers health checkups around the county, and participated in Corinne Case’s presentation on harmful tobocco products meant to make smoking attractive to kids.

We hope to have new posts up about these soon on this blog. 

The NBIAI is a group of people of various faiths and denominations working together with others of good will to find ways to serve our community. In addition to the food pantry, the Initiative runs an emergency voucher systems and its monthly meetings focus on various topics of community interest. 

For more about the NBIAI and the Friendship Center, visit our Facebook page, our blog at or call Mark Rondeau at 664-0130. The Friendship Center Food Pantry is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Wednesday. Phone: 664-0123.

Mark Rondeau and Mark Lincourt co-host the July edition of "In the Company of Friends."