In March 2023, the Berks County Commissioners released a study about public health in our community. The study was conducted by Health Management Associates and listed four recommendations:

1. Create a Berks County Health Director position to lead public health collective action and coordination and serve as a trusted communicator about public health information. 

2. Establish a Public Health Advisory Panel and appoint members who can advise on public health assessment, assurance, and policy activities. 

3. Support the establishment of a “Healthy Berks” Coalition to serve as a coordinating body for public health efforts in the county. 

4. Create a Berks County Health Data Analyst position to improve Berks County-specific public health data completeness and accuracy. 

The report and its recommendations have received nearly unanimous praise and support from our region’s medical community and voices representing a wide range of public responsibilities. You can access the report by clicking here.

As the commissioners prepare for a final decision on the study, we are happy to support Berks County Medical Society’s virtual lunch and learn conversation on March 6th, 2024, about this study and its path forward. This event was supported through the Community General Hospital Healthcare Fund of Berks County Community Foundation. The goal of this lunch and learn is to review the report and have an open discussion on the future of public health in our community.  

For more information and to save your virtual seat, click here. 

VOiCEup Berks has developed the Youth Mental Health Education Initiative, which addresses the need for accessible mental health resources for local youth while recognizing that young people have an easier time communicating with others their own age. VOiCEup will educate youth about mental health issues and the support systems available to them. 

Fifteen student participants, also known as Youth Mental Health Ambassadors (YMHA), will work directly with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which will teach them about mental health topics, resources for support, and suicide prevention efforts. Once the YMHAs complete these learning requirements, they will assist VOiCEup Berks staff. This project was funded by the Home Healthcare Foundation Fund.

VOiCEup Berks promotes individual and community growth by connecting different sectors of Berks County through volunteer opportunities. The organization hopes to reach thousands of youths and adults in our community with this initiative, which includes the following activities:

To address the need for youth education on suicide prevention, VOiCEup Berks will educate local youth through “Question, Persuade, Refer” (QPR) training, a professional form of suicide prevention training. Certified VOiCEup Berks staff will train students on properly identifying and addressing a suicide crisis. Upon completion of the training, students should be able to persuade and refer someone to get help effectively. Young Mental Health Ambassadors, students at Yocum Institute, students from the VOiCEup Berks advisory board, and students from local high schools will receive training from the staff of VOiCEup Berks. 

The Yocum Institute will partner with VOiCEup to complete the “Suicide Prevention Through Art Collaboration” project. Yocum performers will bring a suicide awareness play called “Between Apt. 2B and the End Zone” to different high schools in Berks County. The primary goal of the play is to spark hope in the students watching while simultaneously reducing the stigma behind suicide. 

To reach as many Berks County residents as possible, Youth Mental Health Ambassadors will work alongside the Muhlenberg Aevidum Club and a marketing professional to create a suicide prevention marketing campaign. This campaign will be youth-driven and focused on normalizing discussions and treatment related to mental health. Promotions will include social media campaigns, printed content, an awareness video, t-shirts, and billboard advertising. 

To help parents handle mental health crises, there will be a workshop for parents to learn about the mental health needs of youth.

More information about the program can be found on the VOiCEup Berks website at www.voiceupberks.org.

The Home Healthcare Foundation Fund supports:

Applications are now being accepted until March 15. For more information about the fund and to apply, please click here.

John Paul II Center for Special Learning created a monthly “girls only” club for girls ages 10 through 21. The goal of Girl Talk 101 is to create a safe space where young girls with special needs can discuss topics they may not feel comfortable discussing in front of their male classmates or at home. 

The program provides a safe space for girls to ask questions without feeling embarrassed. It also provides a support structure for families who may not know how to approach a sensitive subject. 

“Some parents may find it difficult to respond appropriately when their daughters ask questions relating to their personal hygiene,” says Melissah Jablonski, director of advancement of John Paul II Center for Special Learning.  

The Power of the Purse (POP) in Berks County Fund has awarded grants to Girl Talk 101. POP is a women’s giving circle that started in 2012 to support causes that improve the quality of life for women and children in Berks County. The idea came from Chiara Sockel Renninger, a financial advisor who had taken part in something similar in Lehigh Valley. 

“I wanted to start a group that would give local women a place to pool their charitable resources to improve the lives of women and girls in our community,” Renninger said. 

Since its inception, POP has provided more than $439,000 to many local organizations, including John Paul II Center for Girl Talk 101. 

John Paul II Center helps children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They acknowledge the dignity of all learners while challenging them daily to reach their potential. 

Applications for POP are open until January 24. To learn more about POP and to apply for funding, please click here

One of the ways we help to improve the quality of life for Berks County residents is by funding programs that help support education activities and the general health of the community which can include youth sports.  

 There are so many benefits to youth sports. Through sports, children learn a variety of skills that they can apply to life, such as leadership, teamwork, and discipline. Additionally, children are given the opportunity to practice a healthy activity while making friends at the same time.  

Reading Youth Legion Baseball recognized the need for affordable sports in the Reading Area and created a summer baseball team for youths. To help cover operational costs, the 2022 Community General Hospital Healthcare Fund granted the program $6,000. The funding covered the costs of team registration and insurance, new uniforms, baseball equipment, and umpire salaries. The team played in the Senior Berks American Legion League for a total of eight weeks. These eight weeks provided Reading Youth with a baseball experience with a competitive atmosphere comparable to standard travel baseball.   

The 2022 Community General Hospital Healthcare Fund supports a variety of causes, all of which benefit the general health of the Berks County community. To learn more about this fund, visit https://bccf.org/funds/community-general-hospital-healthcare-fund/ 

K-9 units have been proven to strengthen local police forces by aiding in crime-fighting efforts. Thanks to the generosity of local residents, Berks County Community Foundation manages several charitable funds that benefit police K-9 teams in the area.  

Funding has supported several projects related to the training and maintenance of K-9 teams. The Cheltenham Township Police Department recently requested grants from these funds to support the costs of training for handlers in areas like decision-making, de-escalation, and threat assessment. A police team’s job looks different every day, so making sure the handler is well-equipped to handle various outcomes and scenarios is paramount to the success of both the K-9 team and the police team.  

Grants from these funds can also support the costs of certifying or recertifying police K-9s. The City of Reading Fire Department has one K-9 named Gracie who helps the fire department and police with arson cases. Gracie can tell the difference between the scents of various flammable liquids. She can alert officers where samples should be taken from, which provides investigators with more evidence of how a fire was started. The evidence that Gracie helps collect is vital in convictions of arson cases. The City of Reading Fire Department requested funding to pay for Gracie’s recertification so that she can continue to work in Berks County and surrounding counties.  

Grants from these funds can also support the costs of maintenance and upkeep of K-9 teams, which can be costly for police departments. Berks County Community Foundation has provided funding for a few different K-9 upkeep projects. Both the City of Reading Police K9 Unit and the Plymouth Township Police Department requested funding to finish renovations and upkeep for their K-9 buildings. Making sure the dogs have a safe and comfortable space to rest after a workday is imperative for the dogs’ well-being. Additionally, the buildings can serve as storage areas for K-9 supplies.  

The K9 Unit funds at Berks County Community Foundation have also provided grants to cover the cost of new training equipment, veterinary bills, pet insurance, and other necessary K-9 equipment. 

To learn more about the various K-9-unit funds that we manage, visit https://bccf.org/fund-directory/