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MLK Service Day at Habitat for Humanity in Pittsfield: the first on-site since start of pandemic

Martin Luther King Jr. Day service activities Monday, organized by Berkshire Community College, began with breakfast and speakers at the First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Volunteers then went to several sites, including a house that is under construction by Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. It's the first time since the pandemic that Habitat has had MLK Day volunteers in-person.

"This year we are very fortunate that we are back on-site again," said Beth Frederick, director of impact programming at Central Berkshire Habitat.

Upstairs about a dozen people from Berkshire communities like Pittsfield, Otis and Becket brushed a base-layer of primer onto sheetrock in what will be three bedrooms and a hallway. Most of the volunteers were organized by the college, but three were AmeriCorps members who are training with Habitat for Humanity. Several said volunteering helps build community.

Savannah Stanley, a 49-year-old Pittsfield resident, said it's also fun and vital.

"We're all instrumental in making the world the place that we want it to be. So, if I believe that, then I have an obligation to do it," she said. "Although I'm lucky and joyful that I get to do this."

Another volunteer from Pittsfield, 54-year old Anahid Avsharian, pointed out much of MLK's vision was communities coming together to help groups that need the most support.

"I've brought my kids up, recognizing this day of service," she said. "The trick is always to move it into the rest of your life — the rest of the time."

Brian Getchell, the construction superintendent for Central Berkshire Habitat said volunteers make a difference.

"We strive for making things affordable for homeowners and with COVID we weren't able to have volunteer groups for a long time," he said. "It's good to have them back here really producing work."

Getchell said besides the MLK Day volunteers, a "core group" who are trained in construction, volunteer at least once a week.

The 2,800-square-foot two-family building is slated to be finished in April, with families moving in as early as May.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.

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