David Fix | Berkshire Edge
BerkShares is well-known as a tool for elevating local businesses in the Berkshires and fostering a vibrant regional economy. Now, as an innovative partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE demonstrates, the local currency is also augmenting the impact of social and economic justice work in the region.
Multicultural BRIDGE was founded 15 years ago in Great Barrington by Gwendolyn VanSant, Marthe Bourdon, and Bob Norris. While working as a certified medical and mental health Spanish interpreter, Gwendolyn became deeply immersed in the Latinx community in the Berkshires and noticed a lot of needs that mirrored her own as a Black single mother. “I realized that some of the same barriers, although they were dressed up differently, existed for both me and the immigrant population that I was advocating for,” Gwendolyn shared. At the same time, she observed similar gaps surrounding people living in generational poverty in the Berkshires regardless of racial or ethnic background.
Thus, Gwendolyn helped found Multicultural BRIDGE—a non-profit that could identify resource gaps for members of the Berkshire community left on the periphery and provide access to those resources. BRIDGE is short for Berkshire Resources for the Integration of Diverse Groups and Education. At the heart of BRIDGE’s programming is its Women to Women initiative, an immigrant women’s support group, and Happiness Toolbox, which focuses on youth programming.
For Gwendolyn, the partnership between BRIDGE and BerkShares is a no-brainer: “It just aligns with BRIDGE’s values: follow the money, support local community.” Gwendolyn also hopes that BerkShares can help break down what she refers to as a “societal ‘either or’ around race relations” by advancing a model through which diverse groups in the Berkshires “can see themselves as one community where there is mutuality and value on all sides.”
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