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 to19-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 Berks County Community Foundation. The Home Health Care Foundation Fund provides grants for organizations and programs that serve Berks County and/or those counties that are contiguous to it. The fund was created to support charity care and other programs for the good of the community. 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. 

The generosity of our donors allowed us to award $610,000 in scholarships in 2023. Each scholarship has specific eligibility criteria based on the donor’s intention when the scholarship was created. Our scholarship application opens on January 1 each year. The deadline to submit all applications is 11:59 P.M. on March 1. Applications cannot be edited or submitted after the March 1 deadline. To maintain a fair process, we cannot make exceptions.

All of the scholarship opportunities currently offered by the Community Foundation are available to students with no need for any documentation from FAFSA for this year only.

How do I apply? Create an account in our online portal using a personal email address. Do not use your school address. Once you create an account, this account will serve as a hub for your universal application. Ensure you have ample time to complete the application, as it may require up to an hour.

What’s a universal application? It’s a single form that matches your answers to the scholarship(s) for which you may qualify.

How do I know if I am eligible for a scholarship? After submitting your application, check your dashboard for additional questions or requests that need to be considered for the matched scholarship.

Where is my dashboard and how do I access it? Click here to watch a video guide on accessing your dashboard.

Should you have questions during the application process, our FAQ section provides helpful information. We wish you the best of luck. If you have questions, you can email scholarships@bccf.org or call us at 610.685.2223 and ask for Kim Sheffer, Lifelong Learning Program Officer.

For nearly 30 years, Berks County Community Foundation has helped individuals, families, organizations, and businesses achieve their charitable objectives. We know that change radiates outward, and we help people create a brighter future and a legacy of real transformation for all of us. This often includes creating a fund to honor the memory of a loved one or support a cause about which the individual or family cares deeply. In either case, a member of our staff works with the people involved to determine the best way to meet their charitable objectives.

How does it work?  First, think about what you are passionate about supporting.  We can help you achieve your charitable goals, no matter the cause or motivation. Let us help you discover the type of charitable fund that best matches your goals.

Different funds fulfill different dreams.

Which of these types of funds works best for your dream? 

Ready to put your charitable vision into action?  We are here to help. Click here to use our short questionnaire to set your journey of generosity in motion. Questions? Email give@bccf.org. We look forward to helping you fulfill your charitable goals.

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.

READING (January 19, 2024) — Reading, PA – Berks County Community Foundation is proud to announce the addition of a new team member, Molly McCullough Robbins. Molly will be joining the organization as the Vice President for Philanthropic Services.

In this new role as Vice President for Philanthropic Services, Molly will be responsible for creating new funds and delivering services to donors.  Molly will serve as part of the Community Foundation’s senior leadership team, advising the president on corporate strategy and management issues.  She will seek opportunities to expand the foundation’s impact and oversee the management and development of the Community Foundation brand.

Before her role at the Community Foundation, Molly spent five years as Executive Director of Wyomissing Area Education Foundation, where she led development initiatives, cultivated donor relationships, planned fundraising events, managed the content creation for all promotional materials, provided leadership and support to Board and committee members, and served as a liaison between the Education Foundation and the school district.  Prior to WAEF, Molly spent 10 years as Director of Communications and Assistant to the Director of Advancement for an independent school in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Molly graduated from Wyomissing Area High School and then earned her Bachelor of Arts from Hobart & William Smith Colleges, with a major in psychology and a minor in Women’s Studies. She completed the Berks County Community Foundation’s Nonprofit Management Certificate program in 2020. After living in Colorado, Maui, and St. John for over 20 years, Molly returned to Berks County in 2017.

“We are excited to welcome Molly to our team,” said Kevin Murphy, President of Berks County Community Foundation. “Her background aligns seamlessly with our commitment to sparking positive change in our community.”

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About Berks County Community Foundation 

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 

We are shocked by the shameful comments made at a local school board meeting regarding students from the Antietam School District. These comments are a reminder of the need to value all students in our community and to recognize that potential is distributed evenly but opportunity is not.

The challenges facing the Antietam School District are unprecedented in the history of our Commonwealth. Rather than cast aspersions and make derogatory comments about our children, we as a community need to find a way to provide opportunity for these students whose school buildings have been made uninhabitable by previously unimaginable flooding.

We condemn in the sharpest language possible the comments made at the Oley Valley school board meeting and urge our entire community to condemn them as well.

Kevin Murphy
President
Berks County Community Foundation

Every year, Rutter’s organizes a Secret Santa event where they select 100 employees throughout the company to decide where to donate $1,000. This holiday season, Matthew Commons was one of the lucky individuals to donate to a charity of his choice. 

Matthew decided the donation should go to a fund at Berks County Community Foundation. “What better way to give back to my community than choosing the foundation that goes above and beyond to support every aspect of the place I grew up in?” 

The impact of Matthew’s choice reaches far beyond the monetary value of the donation. 

Matthew decided the donation should go to a charitable fund that supports local businesses. The donation will be put into the Business Jump Start Incubator Fund. This fund supports startup businesses. Startup businesses pay a reduced rent and in return get a fully furnished office, Wi-Fi, and use of the conference facilities. By supporting local businesses, Matt is contributing to the economic impact of the community.  

Matt’s story serves as an inspiration for us all. It reminds us that change starts with a spark. Your spark. And every act of generosity, when directed with purpose, can have a profound impact on the lives of those around us. 

Want to make a positive difference in Berks County? We’re happy to answer your questions, discuss charitable options with you, and do everything we can to ensure your charitable objectives are fulfilled. We’d love to chat. Contact us today. 

Matthew Commons delivers a surprise donation to help support local businesses in the community.

Matthew Commons delivers a surprise donation to help support local businesses in the community.

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