Reading, PA (May 9, 2024) – The Power of the Purse in Berks County Fund of Berks County Community Foundation recently awarded $75,000 in grants to nine organizations. The Power of the Purse Fund supports organizations and projects that focus on women’s education, economic empowerment, safety, rights, and health.

The following grants were awarded:

“From an outsider’s perspective, you think that there are these big mountains that you have to go over, but sometimes it’s a small amount of money or just a small gesture that can make the difference for someone being successful and getting out of poverty or getting a job,” said Chiara Renninger, founder of Power of the Purse. “I learned that just small things can really make a huge difference to people.”

“Being able to enhance the spirit of the Power of the Purse (POP) initiative is really empowering for the women in our community,” said Cindy Miliam, health and human services program officer. “POP funding for these organizations supports the belief that woman play a pivotal role in driving change and shaping the future of Berks County.”

Power of the Purse Fund was created in 2012 as a women’s giving circle. For more information, click here.

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

Over 100 students from the Berks County school districts came together on April 8th, 2024 at Muhlenberg High School for a mental health event. This inaugural event was created by the Youth Mental Health Ambassadors of Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC), along with students from Muhlenberg High School’s Avedium Club who saw the need in our community.

In the past decade, research has proven that psychological stress influences the physical body and can sometimes lead to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 is suicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that that one in seven 10 to 19-year-olds experience mental health conditions that are largely unrecognized and untreated.

The youth-driven and youth-led Building Unity in Our Community event took place on Monday, April 8th.  Student participants received information on mental health from local therapist Paige Schoelkofp from As You Are Counseling Services and from a youth-led panel discussion. Coping skills stations were set up to focus on art therapy, music therapy, journaling, equine therapy, and more! Each station had a hands-on experience. Students were able to participate and ask questions throughout the day.

This program was funded by the Home Health Care Foundation Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation. The Home Health Care Foundation Fund provides grants to organizations and programs that support preventative healthcare, community health, health-related charity care, and/or support in recovering from illness or a disability at home. This fund is available to organizations and programs that serve Berks County and/or those counties that are contiguous to it. To learn more about the fund, please click here.

“Without the funding, I strongly feel that our students would have made the program successful because of how passionate they are,” Lindsay Sites, YVC Program Director at VOiCEup Berks said. “Because of the funding, we were able to have a bigger impact and a bigger reach.”

VOiCEup Berks is an official affiliate of YVC. VOiCEup Berks creates opportunities for people to volunteer, learn and lead in their communities. YVC is a team-based service-learning program for youth ages 11-18. One of the many goals of YVC is to inspire youth to a lifetime commitment to service.

“I wanted to be part of YVC because my goal is to reduce the negative stigma related to mental health. When I graduate and move on from high school, my goal is for the students that come after me to continue reducing the stigma,” Addison McKittrick from Exeter High School said.

To learn more about VOiCEup Berks and how you can get involved, please click here.

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.  

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

On November 8, Berks County Community Foundation held its Annual Meeting at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Reading. More than 100 civic leaders attended the event, which included brief presentations by the Community Foundation’s program officers and an overview of the year by Kevin K. Murphy, foundation president. 

“This year marked the culmination of our plan to increase our impact in Berks County by expanding the number of program officers working on specific causes,” Murphy said. “Our annual event gave us the opportunity to introduce these new faces to the community.” 

The program officers oversee distributions from more than 346 charitable funds that were created by Berks County residents to support causes in the community that were important to them. In fiscal year 2023, those grants and scholarships totaled more than $6.2 million. That brings the total amount of grants and scholarships distributed since the Community Foundation’s founding in 1994 to over $101 million. 

In addition to Murphy, who provided a recap of the West Reading Disaster Relief Fund, attendees heard from: 

Vice President for Programs and Initiatives Monica Reyes about an effort underway with the Berks County Medical Society to share the results of a study about public health released by the Berks County Commissioners this year; 

Health and Human Services Program Officer Cindy Milian about the work she oversees to support animal welfare and to assist families who have children with special needs; 

Environment and Energy Program Officer Emily Smedley about grants that are increasing energy efficiency for local organizations and grants that are improving soil health by monitoring the flight patterns of birds of prey; 

Lifelong Learning Program Officer Kim Sheffer about teacher mini-grants, which support innovative classroom projects across Berks County. 

Details about each of these initiatives are available in the Community Foundation’s 2023 Annual Report. 

In addition to learning about the work the Community Foundation is undertaking, attendees were invited to pick up a brush and add their touch to a Berks County mural, and to listen to a trio of local student musicians. 

If you’d like to join the Community Foundation at future annual meetings, please send your name and email address to info@bccf.org and ask to be added to the invitation list. If you’d like to learn more about the Community Foundation, including how to start a charitable fund of your own, visit www.bccf.org. 

Annual Event

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/ 

Reading, May 26, 2023 – The Power of the Purse in Berks County Fund of Berks County Community Foundation recently awarded $56,000 in grants to seven organizations. The Power of the Purse Fund supports organizations and projects that focus on women’s education, economic empowerment, safety, rights, and health.

The following grants were awarded:

 “These grant recipients exemplify the spirit of the Power of the Purse initiative, which aims to uplift and empower women in our community,” said Cindy Milian, health and human services program officer. “The Power of the Purse Fund was established with the belief that women play a pivotal role in driving positive change and shaping the future of our society.”

Power of the Purse Fund was created in 2012 as a women’s giving circle. For more information, visit https://bccf.org/funds/power-of-the-purse-in-berks-county-fund/.

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

Media Contact: Erica Caceres, Communication Manager, Phone: 610-685-2231, Email address: ericac@bccf.org