On the BRIDGE: Bear McHugh strengthens local teens | By JV Hampton-VanSant, Special to Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont

Bear McHugh of Berkshire Area Health Education Center supports local teens.

Bear McHugh of Berkshire Area Health Education Center supports local teens. (Eagle file)

With rolling hills and close-knit community, Berkshire County is known as nurturing — for artists and musicians, and for relationships that last for years.

Bear McHugh, project coordinator for Berkshire Area Health Education Center (Berkshire AHEC), grew up in Great Barrington and still regularly speaks to people he knew as a student at Monument Mountain Regional High School, and some of them now work at the high school. These time-tested friendships have withstood almost anything, even being known by a different name after graduation. McHugh has always been himself, but during high school he was known by a different name.

McHugh is a transgender man. A transman, also called female-to-male transgender (FTM), is a person who was assigned the sex “female” at birth, but who later in life, typically after deep soul searching and self-reflection, identifies as male. This is not an uncommon realization now, he said, but that doesn’t make it easy. Most often, trans* people are met with ignorance on the subject.

McHugh began to question his gender identity as a student at Ithaca College in upstate New York. He remembers that as a difficult time, coming after his Roman Catholic upbringing. He also remembers the love and support of his parents, who sought out the correct information to help him. He thinks the transition would have been smooth if it had happened in high school.


“I really think that, if I were still at Monument when all of this was going down, my friends would have still loved me and accepted me,” he said.

Familial understanding, or at least willingness to adapt, can be the most influential factor in the life of any youth. While a person’s gender identity is deeply personal, some chose to share their experiences in the hopes that they will benefit others, he said.

Many people facing this transformation have a difficult time. According to national statistics, McHugh said, 30 percent of LGBTQ youth will have reported a suicide attempt in the past year. Fifty percent of transgender youth will have attempted suicide before the age of 20.

One of the common contributors to depression and suicide is a feeling of being alone and being misunderstood, McHugh said. Mix loneliness with a lack of information about an important section of identity, and those high numbers are understandable.

People who do not encounter outright discrimination often encounter microaggressions, he said. Microaggressions are the little things people say, usually without malice, that alienate groups of people or belittle a group’s experience. That alienation is extremely dangerous to the health and safety of youth, he said. That is why sharing his story is so important: The more he shares the information, the more likely he is to save a life.

“You never know exactly how the information will impact someone,” he said.

Now, McHugh tells stories and gives information that saves lives by running the Youth Suicide Prevention Project. The project hopes to build resiliency among all youth, not just LGBTQ youth, he said. Resiliency means giving youth the ability to bounce back from depression, bullying and other causes of suicide. For those not at risk, it also can give insight and the tools to see when someone is showing signs of depression, anxiety and suicide.

Spreading this information can also be crucial to developing acceptance, he said: “A little bit of education can go a long way.”

He came to this work gradually. After college, he worked as a landlord in Albany for a while, he said. He was working at Berkshire AHEC when the high local suicide rate prompted action. In 2004, Berkshire County had the highest rate of youth suicide in the state. Berkshire AHEC created the Youth Suicide Prevention Project and put McHugh in charge. In 2011, Berkshire County had no youth suicides, which indicated strong progress.

“I didn’t go out looking for the work. It sort of just found me,” he said, and he has become passionate about his work.

McHugh lives in New Lebanon, N.Y., but spends most of his time in Berkshire County. Living up to the “Class Clown” superlative he earned in high school, he has a smile on his face most days. Despite the heavy topics he deals with day to day, he rarely gets discouraged. The Berkshires have a long way to go, but he can see a future that looks brighter.

On The Bridge

This profile is a collaboration between Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages. To learn more: berkshireeagle.com/onthebridge


Ralph and Jeanette Rotondo go together like a horse and carriage | By Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe

Ralph and Jeanette Rotondo reflect on their active lives together.

Ralph and Jeanette Rotondo reflect on their active lives together. (Courtesy of JV VanSant)

LEE — The obituary for a man who died in 1982 at the age of at 92 is yellowed and cut slightly unevenly out of a newspaper. It tells of the life of an early Italian immigrant, Ralph J. Rotondo Sr., who came to the U.S in 1908, when he was about 19. He worked on railroad construction in Geneva, N.Y., for a few years, sending money back to his family in Italy, choosing to live leanly.

On a visit to his mother in Italy he was drafted into the Italian army and served in North Africa for a couple years before returning to settle in Lee.

His son, Ralph Rotondo Jr., said his father never returned to Italy again. He had a disagreement with his only sister when she visited Lee, and he cut ties with his family overseas.

Rotondo Sr. worked at Lee Marble, making steam to run the cranes. He then worked at Eagle Mill as a fireman, firing the steam room to power the mill. He studied for his engineer’s license to become a steam engineer and worked at a tannery, where he was promoted to fireman and stayed until the place went out of business.

Rotondo Jr. speaks fondly of his father, who instilled his work ethic by making sure he got a job the minute school let out each summer. Rotondo Jr. said he loved horses and was delighted to find work as a farm hand, where he learned to ride and drive carts.

He worked at the paper mill in Lee as a day-time job for 37 years, but his love of horses led him to purchase horses for his five daughters.


He was unhappy with the local farrier, the man who forged horse shoes and shod horses in the neighborhood, and he learned how to shoe horses himself. When others noticed he was doing this, they asked him to do their horses.A professional farrier, Clarence Martin of Sheffield, who learned to shoe horses during the war, saw his handiwork and asked him to be his apprentice. Rotondo Jr. smiled as he told how, at the end of his one-year apprenticeship, the farrier split the payment for a job with him, telling him he was good enough to go out on his own.

What had started as his attempt to do a better job grew into a business, and Rotondo Jr. traveled throughout New England to shoe race horses and even the Budweiser Clydsdales. He said the harnesses for Budweiser horses were made in the gray building next to the present-day Briarcliff Motel.

Rotondo Jr. kept shoeing until he was about 79. Then he trimmed shoes until he retired at 81. He and his wife still keep a pony on their farm in Lee.

His wife, Jeanette, whose mother immigrated from Quebec, also grew up loving horses. The couple met at Jeanette’s uncle’s house, according to their daughter, Donna. Ralph had come for a meeting — he rode with Jeanette’s uncle in the Powder River Riding Club in 1953.

Jeanette taught people how to ride and care for horses and then build trust in them. She enjoyed working with young people, she said, especially those with special needs. She still teaches her great grandchildren, though the Rotondos no longer give lessons or carriage rides.

Their eyes lit up as they took turns talking about their carriage business. Besides shoeing, showing and grooming horses, they discovered the tradition of carriage parades. Jeanette believed the tradition began in the early 1900s, when rich wives paraded up and down Main Street, all dressed up and riding in horse-drawn carriages.

The Rotondos got involved in showing horses and carriages in various town fairs and festivals, like the Colonial Carriage and Driving, Tub Parade and Norman Rockwell Christmas. The spoke with excitement about their favorite and most expensive carriage, white with a maroon velvet interior, which they bought for $4,000.

“It was always amazing to see [my dad] and his horses pulling diffeent apparatuses in parades and events,” Donna said. “He took my son to the prom in his white carriage, and he was the last one to get a ride in that.”

They provided horses and carriages for the weddings of four of their five children and a grandchild. They turned the carriages into a side business and did local weddings. Rotondo Jr. boasts Town & Country magazine once did a photo spread of their carriages.

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” Jeanette said, quoting Winston Churchill.

They’ve used that motto as a guiding principle in all their years of working with horses, she said.

Donna Rotondo is the executive assistant at Multicultural Bridge.

On the bridge: This column is a collaboration between this magazine and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds. berkshireeagleblogs.com/onthebridge


On the Bridge: Sonsini family keeps Italian traditions alive in the Berkshires | By Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe


Joe and Theresa Sonsini, above, own Main Street Cafe in Stockbridge and 528 Cafe in Great Barrington. They pride themselves on keeping their Italian

Joe and Theresa Sonsini, above, own Main Street Cafe in Stockbridge and 528 Cafe in Great Barrington. They pride themselves on keeping their Italian heritage alive. (Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe / Special to Berkshire Week & Shires of Vermont)

For centuries, immigrants have been seeking a home in the Berkshires. Though the landscape of immigration has changed considerably over the last century, the Berkshires continues to welcome people from many parts of the world. The Italian family of Sonsinis look back to an earlier wave of European immigrants.

Joe and Theresa (nee Troiano) Sonsini own Main Street Cafe in Stockbridge and 528 Cafe in Great Barrington. Joe’s parents came with an earlier generation of Italian immigrants to settle in Stockbridge. Three of his grandparents immigrated from Italy, and one grandparent came from the Ukraine. Theresa’s parents were also first generation, descending from Italian immigrants who arrived in New York City around 1928.

Joe and Theresa met on a job in the early 1990s, and they have been married for 19 years.

They show pictures of their children around the Main Street Cafe. They had four children but lost the second one to cancer about 10 years ago. The photographs show the family active and relaxing. Joe said he loves being outside and makes it a point to bring the outdoors into their family routines.

Food has also always been a part of his history, he said. His maternal grandmother worked as a cook in a restaurant, and she worked her way up to own her own restaurant.

In Joe’s family, meals were served at specific times and everyone gathered to eat together. Today, his nuclear family gathers at Theresa’s parents’ home every Sunday after church.

Being Italian comes with being Catholic in Joe’s family and in Theresa’s, he said. In his childhood, the family’s communal life outside of home and work was organized around their local parish. His parents taught cathechism, and he laid bricks for some of the many construction projects around the church.

He laughed as he said the stereotype of Italians loving to eat, being loud and passionate and sometimes prone to outbursts, is partly based in truth.

“They are a passionate people,” he said. They eat well, work hard and play hard.

Being passionate sometimes means disagreements, he said, but generally they deal with them in the moment and move on, with no hard feelings.

Sonsini and his wife have always been hard workers, an ethic he credits to their fathers.

“They worked almost round the clock to put food on the table and yet rarely missed a football game or recital,” he said.

He and his wife together have about 50 years of the cooking and restaurant business under their belts. Their penchant for good food and community led them to purchase Alice’s Restaurant. Two years later they took over the Main Street Cafe and Market. Almost 20 years later, they purchased the old Friendly’s in Great Barrington and renamed it the 528 Cafe.

“Theresa is the mastermind behind everything,” Joe said.

He blends construction and management of the properties, and he plans to renovate the Stockbridge facility in the next year.

“It needs a make-over. It’s not been renovated since it opened about 17 years ago,” he said.

The Berkshires and its diversity play an important role in the cafe menus, he said. The Sonsinis try to incorporate foods from around the region and from different ethnic groups in their planning: Gyros, chicken Masala and shrimp carbonara. They also try to follow the seasons: butternut bisque soup, New England clam chowder. pumpkin French toast with syrup, walnuts and cranberries, or a French toast sandwich dripping with cheese and a choice of bacon, ham or sausage. They make “American fare” like hamburgers and ribs with locally grown produce and meats from Berkshire and Columbia counties.

The Sonsinis treat many customers as family, often greeting people by name as they stroll in and asking about their lives.

“The usual?”

“How is Jaime?”

“How was Joey’s game last night?”

These questions roll off the tongues of the baristas and wait staff as they busy themselves fixing those “usuals” and put in orders with specifications for “vegetarian,” “gluten-free” or “no nuts, please.”

Sonsini welcomes guests as his father did. He remembers his father as open in his outlook in approaching diverse people and incorporating ideas and values from different cultures, he said. He does the same today, following in his father’s footsteps.

Thinking over immigrantion and assimilation, Sonsini said he laments not having had the chance to learn Italian. Early waves of immigrants shed their native language and culture intentionally to fit in and become “American.” This is different from the approach some have to assimilation now, when preserving language is key.

The Sonsinis are keeping the Italian traditions of good food, gregariousness and welcoming, open arms as a daily part of their work and their lives. Both cafes have cheerful staff, and the Sonsinis mingle and chat with customers even when the cafe is bustling.

“All are welcome here,” Joe said. “Come give us a try.”

This profile is a collaboration between Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices of all backgrounds in these pages. For more local stories, visit the On the Bridge blog.

What Makes Sense for Kids Today: Sue Maguire | by Margot Welch

“The Community School is both a place and a set of partnerships between school and other             community resources. It has an integrated focus on academics, youth development, family             support, health and social services, and community development. The community school’s             curriculum emphasizes real-world learning through community problem solving and service. By         extending the school day and school week, it reaches more families and community                 residents.” (communityschools.org)

“At first glance Bennington appears to typify New England life at its best,” Sue Maguire wrote, in her introduction to the book she and Joy Dryfoos wrote together, Inside Full Service Community Schools. (1)  Dryfoos was a life-long educational consultant with a long-term interest in adolescent health, preventive interventions, and high risk youth. The two met after Maguire had long been working at Bennington’s Molly Stark Elementary School – first as teacher, then as Principal. Maguire describes the context for her work.

“But there is another part of Bennington. Molly Stark School is in an isolated area of the community not typically seen by tourists driving through town. Its student population of nearly 380 is considered large by Vermont standards. The school is literally located on the other side of the railroad tracks…” she wrote, adding that this was actually how people talked about it. When I visited, more than ten years ago, I was told that some of the children rarely saw “downtown Bennington” – which is no more than a mile away.  But, she recalls, as a new teacher, she had great ideas.

“Two and a half decades ago, I came to Vermont to teach fifth grade… I was ready to change the world for kids. I thought little about poverty or its ramifications because I truly bellieved it didn’t matter; I could make education the ticket for a happy and productive life for all kids, whether rich, middle class, or poor. Through my training, I had learned that teaching consisted of high standards, strong curriculum, and solid instruction delivered by a caring teacher. All these years later, I know that I hadn’t learned enough.”

After being at Molly Stark for a few years, an raising her own two children,  Maguire began to understand what “tremendous opportunities they had. She was reading to them incessantly, taking them on all kinds of trips and outings, preparing them with relevant vocabulary and social skills for all kinds of discoveries, encouraging them at every turn.  The result?

“They entered school healthy and eager to learn. They knew education was important in our family and they thrived….What I slowly came to realize is that not all children have lives filled with these basic supports and opportunities. Far too many kids exist in a world without stimulation. Many live in a constant state of chaos and are isolated from everything beyond their own neighborhood. They don’t go to parks and museums and librairies, they don’t eat in restaurants, and they don’t make regular visits to doctors and dentists.”

Very frequently Maguire encountered heart-breaking troubles in her students’ families. She  references, for example, a mother who calls two days before school opened to say that the family had been evicted, and were living in a car without an address, but could she still register her kids? A boy wanted desperately to join the after-school running program but didn’t have sneakers. Two young children had nearly burned down their apartment when their mother was out. With her help, a boy whose mouth had never not hurt him saw a dentist: after he’d had seven teeth extracted, he told her he’d never before “known what it was for his mouth not to hurt.”

As Maguire understood how many things block a child’s chances for academic, social, physical and emotional growth, she began developing a full-service school – before she’d even heard the term.

“The services and opportunties we developed at Molly Stark happened because they make sense for kids and their families.” Solutions, for Maguire, were obvious.

“Through collaborative partnerships with a wide range of service providers in our community, we… tried to create the opportunities that most of us would expect and demand for our own children. Along with quality instruction, our school offers extended-day and extended-year services, health and social services, and parent education and support – the things we believe that children need to do well in school and that families need to live productive lives in their community.”

Maguire is as certain as ever that education is the critical ticket. Even today, looking forward to mentoring principals when she eventually retires, she is not about to stop educating – and leading by example.


“I am working with the children of children I taught years ago, and I continue the search to find what it is that might make the difference for this generation and the next.” (2)

End Notes:

(1)    Sue Maguire has given me permission to quote extensively from this introductory passage, which I think describes the context for the full service school model in a way that is relevant in communities all over the United States. Inside Full-Service Community Schools was published by Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California, 2002.

(2)     The term,  “Full Service Community School” is, today, commonly abbreviated again to     “Community         School.” But today it is possible to build a much stronger program, under that name, than ever before.         The clearinghouse for resources and information about the Community School is the Coalition for             Community Schools  (c/o Institute of Educational Leadership, 4301 Connecticut AVe. NW Ste 100,             Washington, DC 20008 Tel: 1-202-822-8405. Access their website;www.communityschools.org. Email:      ccs@iel.org). The Coalition’s evolved definition of the Community School follows:

    “The Community School is both a place and a set of partnerships between school and other             community resources. It has an integrated focus on academics, youth development, family             support, health and social services, and community development. The community school’s             curriculum emphasizes real-world learning through community problem solving and service. By         extending the school day and school week, it reaches more families and community                 residents.” (communityschools.org)

On the Bridge: Sue Maguire reaches out to help teens | by Margot Welch, Special To Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont

Sue Maguire, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, has built many local partnerships.

Sue Maguire, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, has built many local partnerships. (Bennington Banner file)

BENNINGTON — After 15 years as a teacher and 23 years as an administrator in the Bennington public schools, Sue Maguire has come to understand the impact of poverty on children, and she has found herself in a position to try new solutions.

“If it’s good for kids, let’s make it happen,” she said in her sunny high school office.

Maguire served as principal at Bennington’s Molly Stark Elementary School and took over as principal of Mount Anthony Union High School (MAUHS) in 2002. MAUHS serves roughly 1,000 students from Bennington, Shaftsbury, Woodford and Pownal. They come from many backgrounds.

“My job is about giving all kids the same opportunities my children and grandchildren have,” Maguire said. “Why wouldn’t all kids have that?”

Poverty, she said, can devastate childhoods. It can bring hunger, domestic violence, and chronic and acute physical and mental health problems, including unaddressed vision and hearing needs and learning disabilities. Any of these can keep a child from learning.

When Maguire wrestled with these troubles for her young students at Molly Stark, she reached out to the community. She was following a model that grew into a national movement in the 1970s: A Community School creates partnerships between the school and local resources.

Over the years the term has often meant an afterschool program, but the Children’s Aid Society in New York launched a broader model in the 1990s, and today a community school often means far more, as it does in Bennington.

The model more often appears in elementary schools — bringing these services to a high school, as Maguire has done, is rarer.

“For me,” Maguire said, “the Community School means access, opportunities for kids who don’t have them.”

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., and a long-term resident of Bennington, Maguire has always believed in the value of this kind of partnership.

MAUHS has developed strong collaboration with the local town tutorial center, a summer Bridges program — helping kids make a big transition from middle to high school — connections with the local community college and a day and evening program for students who are pulling away from school. They take day jobs with local nonprofit and governrment agencies and receive real wages they deposit in local banks. If they miss their evening academic program, they lose the jobs and the wages.

“Kids need multiple pathways to learn,” Maguire said, “and we have many alternative academic programs to help them succeed. We provide mental health and drug and alcohol counseling, a free clinic with a doctor once a week, and five full-time tutor mentors — caring, dynamic adults who become part of kids’ academic schedules.”

A mentor may spend many hours a week talking with a student and giving support, taking a student to visit colleges and advocating for a student with teachers.

The long-term community relationships Maguire has forged can support her students in difficut times. Bad things happen — students find themselves suddenly homeless, become truant because of difficult home situations, lose access to transportation or experience significant, unexpected trauma — but she and staff work together, she said, like a family.

“When I was a child, this might have been hard for me to understand,” she said. “We were never rich, but I always had what I needed and my parents’ love. But my experience has acquainted me well with hardship. Though our main job is academics, you have to address other parts of kids’ lives too — and you can’t do this without working with the community. And we’re influenced by how we grow up. I saw my dad making a huge difference in kids’ lives.”

Her father was a schoolteacher, principal and superintendent, and her son is a teacher now, she said. She plans to mentor people in the field when she retires.

She is thankful she can hire people who care strongly about students, she said, people sharing values and passion. She sets the tone, and the people around her do the work

“Lots of people care,” she said, “but some people see barriers. I refuse to believe we can’t figure out ways to make things better.

“What’s most meaningful is when a kid in their 30s approaches me in a store and says, ‘Remember me? That time I was all upset and you calmed me down?’ or ‘Remember when you told me I’d be good at computers?’ … These moments always show me how important an educator’s job is.

“Kids will remember — the good, and the bad. The words we say are so important. Education is a noble profession: I believe that we can make a huge difference.”

 Margot Welch and Sue Maguire first met in 1998 at the first of five national conferences Welch ran about Full Service Community Schools at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

This profile is part of an ongoing collaboration between the magazine and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from many backgrounds in these pages. To learn more, visit berkshireeagleblogs.com/onthebridge

Speeches | transcribed by JV Hampton-VanSant

Miriam (PHS):

“What is Immigration? Can someone explain it to me, because I surely don’t understand? People have taken this too far. Immigrants come here and get sent back very quick without fault, just because they don’t have papers? A green card? You tell me, you know them? Do you know the reason they are here? No, you don’t know their back stories, and the difficulties they have gone through. I’m asking why; why are we treated differently? I’m asking why; why are you continuing the same actions in all fairness from the past? I’m asking all of you: do any of you feel good? Do you sleep at night, thinking of the many families torn apart, because I surely can’t. Many immigrants work many hours under the burning sun just to provide a better life for their families, and you’re telling me they are doing something wrong, and that that’s the reason they get sent back? Maybe they are escaping the violence from their countries. America, the Great? I don’t think it’s very great. Immigrants are here to work hard to provide for their families, or to study hard to meet the goals that is very hard to meet in their homelands. So you tell me: What is immigration? Is it fair?”

View here: http://youtu.be/EM0VNP-9es8

Estefania Arias:

“The children have a dream of having a good education, good clothes, etc. They have a dream of a better future here. I think that if the government sends them back to their countries, if they come here, it is because their families are here, or because they think that their life may be better here. Maybe their family sends them. And this makes me angry because, if their home countries had a better education system, or their own countries were better countries, then the children won’t need to come to the USA. When the children are in the USA, they may wish to go back to their countries, but they can’t because if they go back, they can’t come back to the USA. It is not fair, because they may want to go back for vacation or to visit their families. These children, they cannot go back. And I, like those children, have a dream that this country can accept those children because they came to the USA for a better life. And also, I have a dream that other countries can change.”

View here: http://youtu.be/MRJDCNXlFOU

Sumowo Harris:

“I want to tell you about Drugs. Doing drugs is not good. Abusing drugs is bad and it messes up the nation. Many people get in trouble when they do drugs; they steal money to try and get the drugs. Being on drugs makes them try to do anything. They don’t want to try to work and get the money, but drugs are expensive, so they steal. They don’t know what they are going to get [themselves] into. Drugs, it’s messed up, man. People need to stop this life. People need to stop not working hard to get the money to feed their family. People need to stop this useless life. Thank you, everybody.”

View here: http://youtu.be/qTEzjabNPu0

Prosper Boua (aka African Precious)

“Have you ever heard of the word, “drug dealers”? I have. When people hear the words, “drug dealers”, they may think of people who sell drugs and also kill for money and all that. But did you ever know that your doctor could be your drug dealer? Have you heard of Michael Jackson? If you have, then you might have known that he died of a drug overdose [on drugs] that he got from his doctor. So Michael Jackson’s doctor is supposedly supposed to be his drug dealer. Many people take pills every day (even I do) for pain killers. But there is one certain painkiller, called oxycodone. It’s a drug that is basically heroine that comes in a small size and you are able to take it [in pill form]. People take oxycodone for pain, for example, when they break their arm, they use it so their body goes numb and they can’t feel any pain. So if you take pills from your doctor, your doctor could be YOUR drug dealer. The thing is, sometimes doctors give pills without thinking sometimes. Like, for example, I get headaches a lot, very frequently, so every time I go to the nurse, she gives me Tylenol, but I don’t really need Tylenol. What I really need is sleep. If you have a problem and your doctor is trying to give you a prescription or pill for you to take, and you don’t think you really need it, and you think you just need [this], you can tell them you just need [this] and if they say no, you can leave and stop seeing that doctor. The next time you hear about a drug dealer, and think these people are “so bad”, don’t forget that when doctor’s give people prescription pills, there is a 50/50 chance that you might get addicted. So if you’re going to take pills, make sure you take the right amount. “

View here: http://youtu.be/5loUH8wcoY4

Christina Englyshe

“Some family members think that, when a person from Africa comes here, they don’t have time to call them or chat with them. They think that person doesn’t know them anymore. But Africa and America have different time zones, and some people are busy. So I am here to inform people today, different countries have different time zones, and people in different countries are busy at different times. People must understand that I haven’t forgotten them, and I have not forgotten my family members. People must understand that I still love my family and my friends. People must remember that I still love my family and friends and I will always remember them. People must understand that I don’t think I am better than them, but we are all the same. People must understand that there is a solution to solve this problem. We can figure out someplace where we can all have fun by calling each other.”

View Here: http://youtu.be/WxTvpNwUQ30

Rossana Quispe

“We are not enemies because we want a job. We are not what you think. We might be immigrants, but that doesn’t make us any different from you. We are all human. [Some of us] might be illegal, but we are all hard workers. We might be illegal, but we take risks to try and help our family. We aren’t trying to take your job; we are just trying to have a better future for our families. Immigrants are not what you think. All the myths that they told you are all lies. We are not bad people, as the myth has said. We are loving and caring people. If you get to know us, you’ll find the myths are untrue. What you hear can brainwash you. We all have dreams, we want to be healthy, we want to be equal. But Most of all, we want to be free. Immigrants pay taxes, as do you and I. We work as much as you, we care as much as you. So, why can’t we join the same society as you?”

View here: http://youtu.be/D_WgdPACy50

On The BRIDGE: Stephanie Wright: Deep Berkshire roots | By Renée Nik Davies, Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont


Stephanie Wright, at the Barrington Brewery.

SHEFFIELD — In the year 1909, William Howard Taft was America’s 27th President, the American flag sported only 45 stars and sugar cost a mere four cents a pound. It was a time before the invention of zippers, Band-Aids, traffic lights, penicillin or bubble gum, and it was also the year Minnie Gertrude Golden was born.

I sit across from Stephanie Wright, Minnie’s oldest granddaughter. I listen raptly to stories of her large, tightly knit family and am awed that I have stumbled across a branch of one of the oldest African American family trees in Berkshire County. Wright’s family roots trace back to 1855 when Sam Golden, her great grandfather, moved from Fishkill, N.Y., to begin a farming life in Sheffield. Sam’s grandson, Cornelius Golden Jr., met and married Minnie.

When Minnie and Cornelius, an African-American man, married in 1928, it was a controversy. They went through trying times as a mixed raced couple raising bi-racial children in the early ‘30s and ‘40s.

“Popi and Gram met in Norwalk, Conn. He met her and refused to return home to Sheffield without her. He was a very convincing man,” Wright said. “Sometimes [their life together] got tough, but they always made it through. My grandparents were hard workers. They never gave up.”

Minnie worked as a housekeeper until age 85. Cornelius worked as a carpenter to help construct the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and with his own construction company he built many homes in Sheffield that still stand to this day.

“Popi was somewhat of a short man,” Wright said, “but I remember Gram being a tall, stately woman [in her early years.] It was when Gram retired that our relationship became stronger. I visited her nearly every day. We would talk about anything and everything. She was very news-conscious. She had an opinion on everything, and she wanted to know your opinion too. Gram was a hot ticket until the day she died.”

Wright smiled as she recounted the years of Minnie’s long life.


Stephanie’s Grandmother, Minnie Gertrude Golden.

Minnie and Cornelius had been married for 48 years when Cornelius died in 1974. They had eight children, and those children have produced a legion of grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and even a few great-great-great grandchildren.

“Gram loved her family, Wright said. “She loved having us all around her every chance she could get. She kept us together. Family was important to Gram, and it’s still important to all of us. We were all so close when we were growing up. We just love each other so much, and I am so thankful for that.”

Wright’s close-knit family was the driving force behind her success when she moved from South Carolina to Berkshire County.

“Mom was born in Great Barrington, but she married my father, who was from the south and moved there,” she said. “I spent most of my young years in a segregated school in South Carolina. We eventually moved back to Berkshire County, and in 1963 I started school at Mt. Everett, [a predominately white school.]

“It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement back then. The South was in flames, people were killing and fighting over race, but I was clueless here. I had so many cousins at school, some with blond hair and blue eyes, but they loved us and were proud of us, and [the tension in the rest of the country] didn’t seem to touch us. My family made my experience in high school fun.”

Perhaps it is Minnie’s strength that continues to keep their family close to this very day.

“Gram was a very strong person,” Wright said. “She always wanted things to be fair and straight. If she ever had a problem, she went right to the source, and she wouldn’t leave until the problem got solved. She taught me to not only speak up when things are bothering me but to speak up and applaud the good in the world too.”

Many have described Minnie Golden as a wonderful woman. She grew to love her home in Sheffield and became a treasured and respected member of her community. When asked what she remembered most about her grandmother, Wright was moved to tears.

“She believed that an apple a day kept the doctor away, so she grew her own fruit,” she said. “She also raised her own chickens and maintained her own gardens. Now that I reflect on her, I realize that she believed in excellence. She pursued excellence, expected excellence and showered excellence upon us.”

Minnie was 100 years old when Wright pulled out an old tape recorder and captured her reciting from memory “Come Little Leaves,” a poem by George Cooper. On the tape, Minnie’s strong, rhythmic voice speaks these final words.

“Cricket, goodbye, we’ve been friends so long.

Little brook, sing us your farewell song –

Say you are sorry to see us go.

Ah! You are sorry,

Right well we know.”

Minnie’s life began on Feb. 11 in Sharon, Conn., and came to a sweet conclusion in Sheffield just a few months before her 105th birthday last November. This may seem like the end, but Minnie’s story will continue to live on in her family and her beloved home.


Ed Shaw Pt 2 | By Katherine Abbott

As vice president of the union at the Fox River Paper Co. in Housatonic, Edward Shaw had a tough job, one that needed skill and understanding. He had to negotiate both for the people he worked with and for the company he worked for.

Sitting at a negotiating table took patience.

“They have their agenda, and you have yours,” he said. “You swap agendas, and you can see where they’re coming from.”

When the negotiators reached a compromise, he then had to present it to the workers — who could over-ride it by a vote.

In his time, he saw only one strike, a short one of about a week. The company had offered a five-year contract instead of the standard three-year contract.

“People have a hard time with change,” Shaw said. “We tried to advise them to accept. Long contracts are often better because you can plan,” knowing employment will last that much longer.

“Our people voted the contract down,” he said. “They took a strike vote. The company was shocked. But the people had the power of the vote.”

In that case, a brief strike brought a compromise.

But strikes, Shaw said, came at a high price.

“People felt the union was so powerful, if we didn’t get what we wanted we could just strike and get it that way. It’s not true. No one wins in a strike, and the biggest loss is to the workers. The company’s not making money because it’s not making paper.”

He felt the company and the people could both benefit when the company’s and the workers’ interests aligned.

He remembered a mill owner from Malden, in the Clinton administration, who took care of his people. He had a fire in one of his two plants, and a lot of his people could not work until the company could rebuild. He made sure they had food and at least a small income, Shaw said, and when people asked him why he did more than he needed to do, he said that his people had made him successful, and he knew what he gave them now they would give back ten-fold.

“You earn and they do,” he said. It works “as long as you’re able to talk. When you can’t talk anymore, then you have a problem.”

Ed Shaw Pt 1 | By Katherine Abbott

The Rev. Mr. Edward Shaw used to ask his mother to tell him stories about the faith she was born to.

She was raised Roman Catholic, and she loved her faith and missed it. But she had married a Protestant, and in those days, after her marriage she felt excommunicated.

Shaw grew up Episcopalean, at St. Paul’s in Stockbridge. But he loved to hear her stories.

Then one afternoon, as a teenager, he was playing basketball in Housatonic with friends, and they told him a folk group would perform that evening at All Saints Church there. He had the evening free, and he went to listen.

“I sat in the back pew and listened to the most wonderful music,” he said.

Mass began after the concert, and it captivated him. The strength of the spirituality in the ritual grabbed hold of him, and he had to keep going back. He went to a Catholic Mass on Saturday nights and to the Episcopal service with his family on Sundays for some time, and finally he went up to the priest who led the Mass and asked to learn more.

So for a year he went to the rectory on Wednesday nights and studied. At then end of a year, the priest told him he had finished studying, and Shaw asked when he could become a Catholic.

“You can’t,” the priest told him — but a “yet” hung in the air.

“You can’t,” he said, “because you need to contemplate all you have learned, to reflect, to think about it.”

So Shaw went on a retreat on his own. He went up ito the mountains in Vermont, where his brother and his in-laws had a camp. He sat on the hillside above the reservoir to watch the sun rise. And that morning he felt a warmth — his spirit became alive, he said. And he knew the Catholic faith had called him.

He went back to the rectory and rang the doorbell.

“And the Father said, ‘you don’t need to say a word — you’re beaming like crazy,’” he said. “My mother was happy, and her twin, my aunt, was my godmother.”

He was 21.

He became a choir member and a soloist at St. Peter’s, and he still felt pulled, he said. He had a sense that he wanted to do more. He became a Eucharistic mnister and a reader.

Then one day, at Mass he was in deep prayer, and Father Wallis NAME touched him on the shoulder and handed him two books. One was the “Liturgy of the Hours,” the prayers an ordained Catholic says throughout the day.

Father Wallis said, “you might be in need of these.”

Shaw took courses for his ordination at Elms College for four and a half years, two days a week, while he was working 10-hour days at the Fox River Paper Mill.

“You want this so badly, you sacrifice,” he said.

His wife and children supported him. And in 2007, when the mill had closed and he was moving between jobs at the Great Barrington schools, he was ordained.

His ministry as a deacon has become a large part of his life.

“I believe the church is not just an institution or a building,” he said. It’s what you have in your heart.”

The word Deacon comes from the Greek, diakonos, one who is of service.

When he talks of ministry, he talks of giving help and comfort — “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go to the imprisoned, reach out because it’s what Christ did, always reaching out for those in need. It’s who you are,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t make a difference, but you try.”

He has sat with people in nursing homes, with people at the end of their journey, with people who could not respond because they had had a stroke, and he would sit and hold their hands and know from the look in their eyes that they thanked him.

When he retires, he wants to do more to help the Rev. William P. Murphy, who now runs two parishes as a pastor and as an administrator for St. Peter in Great Barrington and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Housatonic. As churches close, as fewer priests serve larger areas, clergy are getting steadily busier, Shaw said.

So many people are in pain, he said. He wants to reach out, and to teach people to reach out, to anyone who needs someone to listen.

“I’ve seen it in the mills, and I’ve seen it in the schools,” he said. “Young people want to know they’re heard and they’re loved. You are who you are, you show them respect and you show them you care.”

He had read an article recently saying that better than 60 percent of children in the U.S. go home to an empty house.

“In my day, you put your books on the table and went out to play whiffle ball, or you went sledding until mom called you in to dinner,” he said.

And family around the table would talk to each other. Talking was key, he said, having the time to share what mattered.

“You have to listen with heart,” he said.

He remembered challenges he has faced and people who have stood by him. After living in Housatonic for 28 years, renting from the elderly woman who lived in the other half of the house, their longtime landlord died, and he and his wife had to move. Shaw was a week from his 62nd birthday.

He found himself in prayer: “God, this is tough. We don’t know what to make of it.”

But he and his wife have made the move to Pittsfield, and they now own a house here.

He has had physical difficulties too. He suffered a small stroke in 2010, and in 2013 he collapsed and ended up in Fairview Hospital, where his wife works. He woke to find himself heading into surgery with a perforated colon. And his wife and daughter came in just as the surgeon was insisting that the surgery could not wait any longer for them to arrive.

And finally Shaw remembered sitting with his mother at Berkshire Medical Center. Both of his parents died in their 60s, he said. On this afternoon, he knew his mother had only a few days to live. He was there with her, praying quietly, and he heard a Catholic chaplain walking past, down the hall.

Shaw called out to him and told him his mother had been brought up Catholic and had loved her faith.

“He says ‘you don’t need to say anything more,’” Shaw said, and he anointed her.

And Shaw felt that she had felt that touch — that last connection.

On the Bridge: Ed Shaw faces changing times | By Kate Abbott, Berkshire Eagle


GREAT BARRINGTON — The Rev. Mr. Edward Shaw and his wife of 37 years moved to Pittsfield three years ago, into the first house they have owned, after 28 years in Housatonic.

For 31 years, Shaw worked for the Rising Paper Mill, which became the Fox River Paper Co. When the local owner sold the Housatonic mill to a rival company, Neenah Paper, in 2007, Neenah shut the mill within two weeks. According to Eagle records, 137 people lost their jobs.

“It was a tough time for me,” Shaw said, “thinking I had spent 31 years in a secure establishment, that I could retire and care for my family.”

He grew up in a family of nine children — his mother had been raised Catholic, singing “Adeste Fideles” with her twin sister every year at the Christmas Eve Mass in Lenox Dale.

But she married a Protestant and stayed home to care for her children.

“We had tough times, but we learned through the times we struggled financially,” Shaw said.

When his father became ill and could not work, the family came together.

“You did yard work, you raked leaves, you shoveled snow, and you gave the money to your mom because that might be your dinner that night,” he said.

Sometimes, he would come home to find the lights out until they could pay the power bill. But neighbors helped neighbors and his family reached out to each other.

“We dealt with it,” he said.

Shaw started working at Fox River when it was still the Rising Paper Mill. Rising was a private, family-owned company, he said, and, in 1976, Robert O’Connor sold the mill to another private company, owned by Robert Buchanen.

Rising and Fox River were a lot alike, Shaw said. Small orders kept them afloat in tough times. Because they were small companies, they could take on smaller orders that larger companies ignored. They made many kinds of paper and were known for art paper.

Their source of water was an artesian well, he said, and their customers valued their paper so highly that when Neenah announced that the mill was closing, one of their largest customers tried to buy the mill, Shaw said, to keep it running.

Shaw did shift work and moved to different jobs wherever the company needed him — the paper machine, the beater room, where they prepared paper to be machined — but he spent most of his time in the finishing department, converting paper: taking the paper made on the rolls and running it through cutters and guillotine trimmers, getting it wrapped and sealed into boxes and sent to the shipping department.

He spoke well of O’Connor as a boss.

“He knew your family,” Shaw said. “He knew who you were. He’d come down on the floor [to say] ‘How’re things going — how’s your wife, your children?’ He came down at holidays. People got free turkeys. We’ve gotten away from what makes us go.”

Shaw became vice president of the union, representing the workers and negotiating contracts. It takes skill, he said, to sit at a negotiating table.

“You have the company on one side and the people on the other, and you’re pulled from both sides,” Shaw said. “You try to represent people as best you can for their own good, and you have to look at the company’s side also. They’re trying to make a business work. We represent the business, and we want to be compensated for our hard work. And sometimes … personalities can get in the way.”

When the negotiators had reached a compromise, Shaw would then have to present it to the people he worked with, and they could reject it by a vote.

“You have to go back and explain,” he said. “People felt the union was so powerful, if we didn’t get what we wanted, we could just strike and get it that way. It’s not true. No one wins in a strike, and the biggest loss is to the workers.”

He saw only one short strike on his watch.

“You hammer out the hard issues and make a go of it,” he said.

And they did, until Neenah stepped in.

When Neenah first bought Fox River, Shaw said, staff members were glad to be bought by a large company with public stocks. They never anticipated they would be shut down.

The closing was a time of heartache for him. Young people just starting their lives had new cars, new homes and babies and now had no jobs.

“BerkshireWorks got involved with them,” Shaw said. “I’m sure a lot of young employees went back to school. Times are tough. We know that now. A lot of manufacturing jobs have gone overseas.”

“When something like that happens, you feel devastation. You feel bitter — why did this happen to me? But you do what you have to do.”

He worked for Monument Mountain Regional High School for a year in 2007, then came to his present job as an evening custodian supervisor at Muddy Brook Elementary School.

“I feel blessed to have this job,” he said.

In 2007, too, he was ordained. He now serves as a Catholic deacon for St. Peter in Great Barrington and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Housatonic, both parishes under the care of the Rev. William P. Murphy.

Shaw became Catholic at 21, returning to his mother’s faith. Later, he took courses for his ordination at Elms College for four and a half years while he was working 10-hour days at the paper mill.

He remembered the day he first heard a Catholic Mass, by chance after a folk concert — and the day, after a year of study, that he first knew he wanted to become Catholic.

He had gone up into the mountains in Vermont, where his brother and his in-laws had a camp. He sat on the hillside above the reservoir to watch the sun rise. And that morning he felt a warmth, he said — his spirit became alive.

This profile is written in colaboration between Berkshires Week & Shires of Vermont and Multicultural Bridge, to bring many voices to this magazine. To har more about Ed Shaw and On the Bridge, visit our blog at berkshrieeagleblogs.com/onthebridge.