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. 

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. 

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 

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. 

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/