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Women Helping Women

At recent networking dinners held by Berkshire Business and Professional Women (BBPW), topics for discussion covered domestic violence (with Hillery Hinds-Maxymillian of the DA’s task force), the role of women in local politics (with Amy Diamond of the Berkshire Committee of the Mass Women’s Political Caucus), Alzheimer’s (with local author Joan Cohen of Land of Last Chances), and the launch of EforAll (with executive director Deborah Gallant).

“These themes deal with equality for women, who besides having a career are often caregivers and must struggle to balance personal and workplace demands,” says BBPW president Celia Clancy. “We are working very hard to be relevant.”

Topics like these there were a big reason why Shela Levante, director of development for Berkshire Community College, joined BBPW four years ago after moving here from Arizona. Meeting women who had been working for years here was another. “The Berkshires are a lot different than Phoenix.”

Since becoming president in June, Clancy has seen membership grow to 94 at last count, and is in the throes of recruiting women at all stages of their career path, especially among the younger generation. One idea is to offer a student-level membership to help offset the annual $40 fee.

“We are also striving to draw people from different disciplines, including education and healthcare, and from around the region by varying the venue so we can meet people where they are at,” says Levante, BBPW’s VP of programming.

Each September BBPW awards scholarships to women 25 and older who live and work in the county and are enrolled in an educational program. This year, $11,000 of donor funds were granted to 12 women. “It’s not a huge amount, but each scholarship makes a difference in getting educated in the field the recipient is interested in,” says Clancy. The money can go toward anything, whether buying a laptop or books or paying for tuition and fees, or even for a more experienced person to tack on a certification program. “We are not here to micromanage that,” says Levante.

Funding for the scholarship and other programs mostly comes from the annual Woman of Achievement award dinner, held in May. Dating back to 1965, BBPW has used this platform to celebrate someone for outstanding professional achievement and community involvement. This year it went to Gwendolyn VanSant, and the committee is now selecting next year’s honoree.
The communications committee has re-launched a monthly e-newsletter for members to stay up-to-date on BBPW initiatives and share content about business or professional pursuits. A mentoring program also will be launched next year, something both older members and younger members have expressed a strong desier to participate in.

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