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.  

The Community Foundation manages several charitable funds that benefit cultural groups and organizations. In early 2023, the Kutztown Pipe Band, which is made up of students, faculty, and staff from Kutztown University, local students, and community members, requested a grant from the Juniper Fund to buy materials for its Learn About Bagpipes program. The band created this program to promote excitement and enthusiasm for Scottish music and culture.  

The band first introduced the program at both Conrad Weiser East Elementary and Conrad Weiser West Elementary. Band members gave demonstrations during assemblies in which students heard songs played on various forms of bagpipes. Laura Sherrod, pipe major of the Kutztown Pipe Band, and Diana Cook, member of the Kutztown Pipe Band and an elementary music teacher, gave these demonstrations. If students had questions, they could get answers from the pipers directly during a special panel called “Ask the Piper.”  

Kutztown Pipe Band hopes to expand its educational opportunities to include more adult programming. The first adult event took place at the Kutztown Public Library. Libraries pay a discounted fee to host the Kutztown Pipe Band for educational sessions, while demonstrations are free to schools thanks to the grant funding and the generosity of the members of the Kutztown Pipe Band who volunteer their time to educate students on Scottish history. 

The Kutztown Pipe Band began with five piping students in 2017 and now has more than two dozen members.  

In 2022, the band started the Learn About Bagpipes program to educate audiences about the instrument and to instill in them a deeper appreciation of Scottish Heritage. The musicians tailor each demonstration to the audience, and describe the history and functionality of the instruments, and play different tunes on different bagpipes.  

The Juniper Fund of Berks County Community Foundation was established in 2010 by The Murray Clan Society of North America to support the education, promotion and preservation of the history, heritage and traditions of Scotland. 

The fund provides financial support for the following purposes but is not limited to: 

The $300 grant from the Juniper Fund to the Kutztown Pipe Band supported the cost of these educational programs, which allowed, and will continue to allow, the Kutztown Pipe Band to offer programs free for schools. 

 The presence of the Kutztown Pipe Band at local schools and community events carries a transformative power. It sparks curiosity, ignites passion, and inspires young minds to explore the world of music and culture. By funding the band, the Juniper Fund is growing young talent, and offering musicians a chance to engage with a unique form of art. 

Reading, PA – Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading (YVCR) has recognized Wilson High School junior, Samantha Martinez, with its annual Youth of the Year Award. As the youth program arm of VOiCEup Berks, YVCR engages over 500 Berks County students annually in projects that serve the community. This award is given to one student who has shown exemplary leadership skills, has advanced the mission of YVCR through volunteerism and the development of creative YVCR projects, and has the highest level of volunteer commitment recorded in the program year.

This program year, Samantha served over 230 hours on community projects ranging from volunteering at homeless shelters, to helping develop and run summer story time and playground programs, to facilitating conversations about equality and justice for groups of students in her school and adults in the community. Since her involvement with YVCR began five years ago, Samantha has amassed over 500 hours of service with the program, making Samantha the first recipient of the YVCR 500-Hour Award as well.

Samantha Martinez – Photo Courtesy of VOiCEup Berks

Samantha began her journey with YVCR as a sixth grader at Reading Southern Middle School. In middle school she worked with a group of her peers, developing projects to help underserved women and girls gain access to menstrual products. As a high school student at Wilson, Samantha has gone on to be a leader within the Stand Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.) youth-driven initiative. She also serves as a YVCR Youth Mental Health Ambassador and served her first term on the Youth Advisory Board of Berks County Community Foundation and Youth Volunteer Corps.

“She is the epitome of grace, kindness and strength. Her leadership skills and ability to make everyone around her feel at ease makes her light impossible to ignore. She is a true leader and community changemaker.” says Lindsay Sites, YVCR Program Director.

“Having the opportunity to be a part of YVCR for the past five years has definitely changed my life for the better” says Samantha. “This program has not only taught me how to speak up for what’s right and be a better person, but it has also given me the chance to make lifelong friendships. I am beyond grateful to have accepted this award and hope to continue being a change maker in my community in the years to come.”

Samantha received the Youth of the Year recognition at the annual YVCR Awards Ceremony on August 1. Other students honored at the event included five of Samamtha’s fellow Wilson classmates – Jaida Garber, Kemi Ojikutu, Sindura Sridhar, Mia Worley and Athena Worley – who were each honored with the 100-in-One Award for completing over 100 hours of service to the community through YVCR in one program year. Cadence Perez from Muhlenberg High School received the Heart of YVC Award and the YVCR club at Northeast Middle School in Reading received the YVCR Project of the Year Award for its project addressing domestic violence and supporting Safe Berks.

Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading focuses on developing leadership skills and promoting a lifetime commitment to service among youth by offering student-driven volunteer projects for youth ages 11 to 18 on Saturdays, after school, during school, virtually, and during the summer. YVC of Reading, hosted by VOiCEup, is one of over 30 affiliates of Youth Volunteer Corps, headquartered in Kansas City. YVC of Reading has engaged hundreds of young people from diverse backgrounds in over 35,000 hours of service to help this community over the past 7 years. Find more information at www.voiceupberks.org/yvc.  VOiCEup Berks is a fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

To learn more about the fund, click here

Press release originally published by VOiCEup Berks. Contact Contact: Christi Terefenko, Executive Director, christi@voiceupberls

YVC Awards 8.01.2023

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In 2021, a $15,000 grant from Berks County Community Foundation to Our Town Foundation supported local arts in Hamburg. With a mission of revitalizing, promoting, and preserving the downtown historic district of Hamburg, Our Town Foundation wanted to reignite arts and culture in the community after the pandemic. The grant paid for performers and art teachers and marketing expenses. Activities included: 

Some of these activities were brought back to the community for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Town Foundation suffered financial loss during the pandemic due to the temporary closing of the Strand Theatre and the Art & Crafts Gallery.  

The community was very receptive to these planned events and opportunities. Many people took advantage of the art classes in the area. The movie screenings were popular among children and their families, especially movies related to holidays. The Polar Express movie screening around Christmastime sold out completely! With these movie screenings, Our Town Foundation entertained families and children while simultaneously supporting its mission by promoting and using a historical landmark in the town.  

Funding for these projects came from our 2021 Special Programs: Berks County Arts & Culture Ramp Up.  The goal of this one-time program was to provide grants that would support Berks County’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations as they ramped back up during the fourth quarter of 2021 or 2022.  The grant to Our Town Foundation was one of fourteen that was awarded through the program.

Local Youth Hope to Unite Community on MLK Day

Reading, PA–Local teens involved in a youth-driven initiative for social justice called Stand Together Against Racism (S.T.A.R.) are coming together on Martin Luther King Day to host a community event sure to leave an impact. The S.T.A.R. initiative was born through the support of Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading and VOiCEup Berks. These motivated high school students are providing an opportunity for families to learn, unite as a community, and pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King.

In honor of MLK Day on January 16, S.T.A.R. students will host a drop-in event at Berks County Community Foundation, 237 Court Street in Reading, from 1-4 pm. Throughout the entirety of the event, there will be a student-created art exhibit, mini-service projects for youth ages 8+, and storytime for ages 4-7. Additionally, there will be a screening of the student-directed documentary, created by S.T.A.R. members, entitled ‘Stand Together’ at 2 pm (recommended for ages 11+). Following the film screening, there will be a youth-led  discussion on racism and youth activism. This event will be fulfilling for all community members. More information can be found at www.voiceupberks.org/opportunity. This is a drop-in event and registration is not required but appreciated.

Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading focuses on promoting a lifetime commitment to service among youth by offering volunteer projects for youth ages 11 to 18 on Saturdays, after school, during school, virtually, and during the summer. YVC of Reading, hosted by VOiCEup, is one of over 30 affiliates of Youth Volunteer Corps, headquartered in Kansas City. YVC of Reading has engaged hundreds of young people from diverse backgrounds in over 24,000 hours of service to help this community over the past 6 years. Find more information at www.voiceupberks.org/yvc. VOiCEup Berks is a fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading MLK Family Full Event Schedule

READING, PA (July 28, 2021) – The Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks County Community Foundation has awarded $110,000* in grants to three renewable and sustainable energy projects.

Grant recipients, grant amounts, and projects:

“The impact of these grants will go far beyond the physical costs of the projects. The off-the-grid education center is an innovative way to teach children and adults about energy generation, while the anaerobic digester project will give smaller dairy farms and food processors valuable data about alternative ways to handle waste,” said Heidi Williamson, Community Foundation senior vice president for programs and initiatives. “And by using the results of an energy audit to guide its investments in new systems, Berks History Center will support the environment while ensuring its artifacts are protected.”

Colebrookdale Children’s Educational Grove

Colebrookdale Children’s Educational Grove will be at a wilderness site accessible only by the Colebrookdale Railroad’s restored trains or the railroad’s people-powered “railbikes.”

The site’s history means visitors’ discovery and exploration will occur within the context of the full arc of the nation’s industrial story, from iron pioneers, to industrial blight, to ecological reconciliation, said Nathaniel Guest, executive director of the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust.

“An off-the-grid education center nestled in the woods at the site of the New World’s first iron industry, the Grove will demonstrate wind, water, and solar energy,” Guest said. “These power sources gave life to the folks who first settled here hundreds of years ago and are our best hopes for a clean-energy future.”

Educational programs will be offered – in partnership with Berks Nature and the YWCA Tri-County Area – free of charge to Pennsylvania students, Guest said.

Guest characterized the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund grant as an innovative investment in the future. It will support the development of the overall energy generation plan for the site and the installation of a small solar array with battery backup.

Guests use the new people-powered railbikes at the Colebrookdale Railroad’s Boyertown Station. Both railbikes and the railroad’s train will access Colebrookdale Children’s Educational Grove.

Waste to Energy: Practical Anaerobic Digestion System for Small to Mid-Size Dairy Farms

The Dickinson College Farm provides hands-on educational resources for students, faculty, and the community on topics of sustainable food production, renewable energy generation, and responsible land stewardship.

“The Dickinson College Farm is grateful for the support of the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks County Community Foundation to help complete our waste to energy project, which is at the forefront of the College’s climate change mitigation efforts,” said Ben Sweger, Dickinson Associate Director of Sponsored Projects. “In 2020, Dickinson College became one of the first institutions in the country to achieve carbon neutrality in operations. The grant-funded project will convert agricultural and food processing residues into 200,000-plus kWh per year of clean renewable electricity via an anaerobic digestion system, allowing the farm to become net positive in energy production.

“The digestion system will also reduce water, soil, and air pollution while strengthening the local farm economy. Working with several community partners, we will use our expertise in public education to promote this state-of-the-art waste to energy technology to farmers, ag, and recycling professionals throughout the mid-Atlantic region, with the objective of increasing proliferation of anaerobic digestion systems on small- to mid-size dairy farms in the coming decade. The generous grant from the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks County Community Foundation will be used toward utility-interactive power supply components for the new energy system.”

The Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund is one of many sources of funding for this large project.

Dickinson’s College Farm is an 80-acre, USDA-certified organic farm and a living laboratory where students can gain distinctive, hands-on learning experiences.

Berks History Center Energy Efficiency Project

Berks History Center’s museum building at 940 Centre Avenue in Reading recently underwent an energy audit that was funded by the Met-Ed / Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund through Berks County Community Foundation. The audit included 10 energy conservation opportunities with the potential to save $10,000 per year in energy costs. Completing the recommended projects would create a more sustainable climate for the irreplaceable artifacts entrusted to Berks History Center and produce savings that can be reinvested into preservation and education initiatives each year.

One of the resulting recommendations was to seek additional financial support from the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund to implement a plan to replace the existing steam boiler.

The museum building is comprised of a structure constructed in 1928 and an addition built in 1988. The new addition has a hot water system that was added to the old steam system via a steam-to-hot-water convertor, new circulating pumps, hot water supply, and return piping.

This project will change the building heating system to entirely hot water.

“The Berks History Center is so grateful to the Met-Ed Sustainable Energy Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation for providing the first significant contribution toward critical upgrades to our museum’s heating system,” said Benjamin K. Neely, Executive Director of the center. “Our museum’s heating system will provide a more stable climate for the artifacts preserved here when completed.”

Met-Ed / Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund

The Metropolitan Edison Company Sustainable Energy Fund of Berks County Community Foundation and the Pennsylvania Electric Company Sustainable Energy Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies distribute money in the form of grants and investments for a variety of projects within the territories originally served by the two electric companies. The two funds share an advisory committee and are known in the singular as the Met-Ed / Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund.

More information, as well as maps and zip codes of areas serviced by Met-Ed and Penelec, is available at www.bccf.org/sustainable-energy-fund/.

The mission of the fund is to support:

Volunteers work on building structures at the old Colebrookdale ironmaking village site, which will also be home to the Colebrookdale Children’s Educational Grove.

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NEWS RELEASE

READING, PA (July 20, 2021) – Two established summer tennis programs and one pilot summer tennis program have received $10,400 in total funding from the Berks County Tennis Fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

The Berks County Tennis Fund of Berks County Community Foundation has awarded $269,860.20 in grants to area tennis programs since it was established in 2002.

This year’s grant recipients:

Participants in the COR Tennis program at Hampden Park on Tuesday, July 20 (photo courtesy of Reading Recreation Commission).

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Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County. More information is available at www.bccf.org.

NEWS RELEASE

READING, PA (June 15, 2021) – The mission of the former First United Church of Christ in Reading continues. A charitable fund that the church established before closing has awarded nine grants totaling $40,245.

The First United Church of Christ Mission Fund of Berks County Community Foundation recently released its fourth annual round of grants. The beneficiaries were organizations that feed and clothe those in need and provide activities for children and seniors.

In 2017, after 264 years of serving the community, First United Church of Christ closed. The church transferred its endowment to the Community Foundation to continue the church’s mission.

Since the fund was established, it has awarded more than $150,000 in grants to local organizations.

This year’s grant recipients, award amounts, and programs supported:

In addition, the fund supports St. Peter’s United Church of Christ of Wilshire and the First Senior Center of St. Peter’s through multiyear commitments. The grant to St. Peter’s UCC Wilshire supports its Opportunity House Service Group, which serves hot, nutritious meals to the homeless residents of Opportunity House in Reading. The First Senior Center of St. Peter’s offers meals and opportunities for socialization, education, and exercise to seniors.

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Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County. More information is available at www.bccf.org.

PHILADELPHIA, PA (June 11, 2021) – The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) elected Berks County Community Foundation Chief Operating Officer Frances A. Aitken as its president today for the 2021-2022 year. Aitken, a certified public accountant (CPA) from Exeter Township, was elected at PICPA’s 124th Annual Meeting held June 11.

Aitken is chief operating officer for Berks County Community Foundation in Reading, overseeing the management of the foundation’s assets and the operations of the foundation’s building. Aitken also works with local estate and financial planners on complex estate planning functions and assists their clients with designing charitable legacies.

In her address to the 20,000 members of the PICPA, Aitken said, “As I start my term as president, I am committed to ensuring the PICPA has the resources CPAs need for a post-COVID accounting profession. In some ways, the pandemic accelerated changes in our industry that were becoming inevitable. Now, it is up to all of us to embrace the positive ones for the good of the profession.”

Mike Colgan, PICPA’s CEO and executive director, added, “Franki has demonstrated excellent leadership throughout her years of PICPA membership at both the Reading Chapter and state level. We look forward to her unique perspective as a thought leader who operates in the not-for-profit space as the PICPA begins to navigate the post-pandemic business environment.”

Aitken received her Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Widener University. In 2014, Lehigh Valley Business gave Aitken the CFO of the Year Community Service Award and the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Industry selected her for the ATHENA Award, which honors professional excellence, community service, and active assistance to women in their attainment of professional excellence.

Aitken is a past president of PICPA’s Reading Chapter and a current member of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation and CPA-PAC boards. In addition to her volunteer leadership with the PICPA, Aitken is a trustee of the Law Foundation of Berks County.

Frances A. Aitken

Other elected officers at the annual meeting include Aaron R. Risden, chief financial officer and treasurer of Vision Benefits of America in Carnegie, Pa. (president-elect); Thomas H. Flowers, managing partner with Flowers & Flowers CPAs in Harrisburg, Pa. (vice president); Ryan G. Lafferty, partner with Attolon Partners LLC in Philadelphia (vice president); and Elizabeth Krisher, manager partner with Maher Duessel in Pittsburgh (treasurer).

For a complete list and photos of the 2021-2022 PICPA leadership, visit www.picpa.org/leadership.

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The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) is a premiere statewide association of more than 20,000 members working in public accounting, industry, government, and education. Founded in 1897, the PICPA is the second-oldest state CPA organization in the United States. To learn more about the PICPA visit www.picpa.org.

READING, PA (May 20, 2021) – The Gilmore | Henne Community Fund of Berks County Community Foundation has awarded $3,000 in grants to support three summer recreation opportunities. Three organizations each received $1,000.

This year’s grant recipients and projects:

The Gilmore | Henne Community Fund supports recreational park programs, improvements and maintenance at Berks County parks.

Wilson High graduates and NFL players John Gilmore and Chad Henne established the fund in 2010 to improve the community and the lives of children through the revitalization of parks and recreational facilities. To learn more about the fund or to donate to it, visit https://bccf.org/funds/gilmore-henne/.

A Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading volunteer greets a student at a Reading Recreation Commission playground program.

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Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County. More information is available at www.bccf.org.

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