Every year, Earth Day is celebrated across the globe with tree plantings, festivals, and various volunteer activities that remind us of our collective responsibility to steward the natural environment and limit impacts on the earth.  

The Berks County Earth Day Committee hosts an Earth Day celebration every year to bring the community together and educate about environmental and conservation subjects while encouraging participants to make sustainable choices. Thousands of people gathered in City Park on April 20 to enjoy live music and food from local vendors and participate in a range of educational activities from planting seeds and trees to litter clean ups to wildlife demonstrations.  

“The pure joy of seeing little ones bouncing from booth to booth, learning about our Earth, made my heart smile. They’re the future of our planet, and their enthusiasm gives me hope for a brighter tomorrow,” said Lazarely Martinez, a first-time attendee of the Earth Day celebration in City Park.  

The Youth Volunteer Corps held a table at the event that promoted planting vegetables in a bag. The bag was recyclable, and dirt was donated from Ridgewood Soils in Birdsboro. Kids of all ages were instructed to scoop dirt into their bags and then were provided with lettuce or spinach seeds to plant in the soil. Participants were encouraged to place the bags in sunlight and watered regularly. When leaves start to sprout, they can be cut and are ready to be eaten.  

“I like spinach because it makes me feel strong and planting it makes me feel like a farmer,” said Avian Robles, an 8-year-old student at Muhlenberg Elementary Center after planting his spinach planted bag.  

At the Community Foundation, our goal is to keep Berks County a beautiful place by supporting projects and programs that recognize the value of our open space and provide education on how to reduce our impact on the planet. The Earth Day celebration was made possible by the Hawley and Myrtle Quier Fund of Berks County Community Foundation. This fund makes distributions to improve the quality of life for the residents of Berks County. This support not only benefits the present generation but also lays the foundation for a more sustainable future for generations to come. 

Berks County is home to hundreds of houses of worship in both the urban and rural areas, many built throughout the 1700s and 1800s. These buildings have been vital cultural vehicles that have helped knit the fabric of our cultural heritage for generations. But these sacred places are at risk, like many others across America. With this threat to Berks County’s sacred places in mind, it’s important to preserve the contributions that are being made in the community. Sacred places are ubiquitous in our communities, forming an integral part of social safety nets. This started the “Sacred Places” project to set out to build an inventory of the purpose-built sacred places within the city.  

Berks County Community Foundation is collaborating with Partners for Sacred Spaces, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that brings people together to find creative ways to maintain and make the most of America’s older and historic houses of worship.   

For more than five years, Partners for Sacred Places and Berks County Community Foundation have collected the history of local houses of worship, assessed the condition of the buildings and the stability of their congregations, and encouraged partnerships to preserve these sacred places. 

As a result, the Community Foundation will continue its partnership with Partners for Sacred Places in 2024 to provide its New Dollars/New Partners program. Several congregations spanning across denominations, locations, sizes, and missions – will have the opportunity to focus on building capacity to better serve their communities as anchor institutions, nurture transformation, and shape vibrant, creative communities.   

If you lead or volunteer with a congregation in Berks County, we invite you to a free informational session on Thursday, April 18, 2024, at 6:00 pm at Berks Nature (575 St. Bernardine Street, Reading, PA 19607). 

You can register for the informational session by clicking here. In the months that follow, the New Dollars/New Partners training program will be available for congregations interested in participating.   

Funding for this project came from James P. Born, Sr. Fund of Berks County Community Foundation. The fund supports local houses of worship, interfaith dialogue, and inclusive programs for all children, including those who are underprivileged.  

We look forward to seeing you at the session and collaborating with places of worship in Berks County.  

Six-year-old Timothy begged his mother to let him take skating lessons after seeing one of the Reading Royals ice hockey games. Observing the players skate so quickly excited him. Timothy’s mother requested help paying for the skating lessons from the Royals Youth Hockey Fund of Berks County Community Foundation. Timothy started participating in the Royal’s Learn to Skate program not long after.  

The Royals Youth Hockey Fund of Berks County Community Foundation was started in 2023 by the Reading Royals Hockey Club to provide financial support to youth who want to participate in hockey lessons, camps, or leagues. 

“Hockey is a special kind of sport in which success depends on every single player pulling in the same direction and supporting one another,” says Dakota Procyk, Vice President of Operations at the Reading Royals Hockey Club. “This fund is a great opportunity to invest in the Berks County community and offers a chance for our local youth to get involved with hockey.”  

Young people’s development and well-being are greatly impacted by youth sports. Their physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development is aided by them, and they provide a number of positive aspects, such as health and wellness, confidence, teamwork, and skill development. 

Recipients of the fund explained how the fund made a difference and gave them a spark of hope.  

“Receiving this grant has shown me we can still help each other. Cutting ice hockey out of our budget would have left a void in my son’s winter.”  

“This fund helped allow my son to continue to play the game he loves so much while allowing me a little breathing room with inflation.”    

Since the fund opened in July 2023, the Community Foundation has granted $12,535 to 18 children. The grants assisted with registration fees for several of the Royals’ youth programs, including Learn to Skate, Learn to Play, Youth League, and Selects Team programs. 

Funding can cover registration fees and equipment. Applicants can request a Slapshot Starter Kit, which includes hockey skates, pads, and a stick. Applications are open year-round.  

To learn more, click: Learn More 

To give to the Royals Youth Hockey Fund, visit: bccf.org/fund 

Earlier this year, more than 45 Berks County leaders met with the Community Foundation to talk about community resiliency and environmental health. The leaders hailed from government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses whose work focuses on critical issues such as stormwater management, land conservation and preservation, health, transportation infrastructure, and the built environment.

We were joined by experts from the Institute for Conservation Leadership (ICL), who posed a series of questions aimed at determining ways the Community Foundation could deploy its resources to address environmental issues in Berks County.  

Based on the answers to those questions, ICL made three recommendations:

  1. Support collaboration and create a series of regular interactions to ensure information and ideas are being exchanged.

  2. Create an innovation fund to put money behind collaborative and pilot projects that improve community resiliency and environmental health in Berks County.

  3. Pay for additional research when needed to ensure a full understanding of the often-complex geographic and human interconnectivity of local environmental issues.

We look forward to continuing this work and providing space for these important conversations to happen. For now, click here to learn more about this project and to read the full set of recommendations.

Having a community-based summer camp opportunity for children can be beneficial – and in some cases necessary – for families. The Salvation Army Reading Citadel has long recognized the need for affordable summer childcare and hosts a summer day camp for children ages 6 through 13. The program is supported in part by a grant from the First United Church of Christ Mission Fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

Last year, the Salvation Army’s summer camp provided 42 children with a healthy environment where they could spend their days during the summer. The camp offered activities to keep the kids entertained, such as academic instruction, arts and crafts, unstructured playtime, opportunities to explore science and nature, field trips, bible lessons, and more.

This summer camp first ran in 2021, and the Salvation Army Reading Citadel was able to host 26 children. The following year, the camp expanded, and a decrease in COVID-19 cases in the area allowed for more field trip opportunities.

The primary goal of summer camp is to further develop academic, artistic, and leadership skills while helping children retain the academic progress they had made during the school year.

To achieve this goal, the camp staff had the children take math and reading assessments during the first week of camp. Based on the performance of the campers, the camp staff assigned children math and reading lessons that would benefit them the most. At the end of the camp season, the children took a new exam at the same difficulty level. The camp staff found that the children had improved their scores by an average of more than 16 percent.

The First United Church of Christ Mission Fund supports causes that were important to the mission of the First United Church of Christ in Reading, PA, including helping Berks County children participate in activities that their families would otherwise not be able to afford.

When asked about the impact that summer camp had on student life, Victoria Schrag, secretary of Salvation Reading Citadel, said, “It felt like we were building a family here at the summer camp.”

In the coming years, the Salvation Army Reading Citadel staff hopes to expand to support even more campers.

To learn more about the First United Church of Christ Mission Fund, visit https://bccf.org/funds/first-united-church-of-christ-mission-fund/

To learn more about the Salvation Army Reading Citadel, visit https://easternusa.salvationarmy.org/eastern-pennsylvania/reading-pa/