Cat Who Survived Tornado Visits Pittsfield’s Berkshire Pathways

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Full Story As Published by iBerkshires.com with slide show and video at http://www.iberkshires.com/story/47485/Cat-Who-Survived-Tornado-Visits-Pittsfield-s-Berkshire-Pathways.html

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
07:54PM / Monday, September 22, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The town of Brimfield was in chaos after a tornado had ripped through it in 2011. Paramedic Jonathan Hall was in the fire station the day after when a tree worker carried in a 6-day-old kitten that he found in a tree.

Somehow, the kitten had been sucked into the winds and deposited in the tree unharmed. Workers cleaning up the destruction found the kitty alone, grasping onto a tree limb. Hall and his fellow paramedics and firefighters took care of the little cat until the Animal Rescue League of Boston took him in.
On Wednesday, the now 3-year-old cat, appropriately named Toto, found himself on a much safer journey — this time to Berkshire Pathways on Eagle Street to help raise money for the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter.
“We couldn’t take care of him then, so we gave him to the animal shelter and then when we got our house together we were able to adopt him back,” Hall said. “I wrote a book about him and now it’s taken off. We’ve raised $49,000.”
Hall penned a children’s book of Toto’s journey into the tornado and expected the 200 copies he had printed to do nothing but take up space in his house. He wanted to sell the copies and donate the proceeds to the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
But the story had gotten out through the news and word of mouth, and his project grew exponentially.
“It’s been a fun project. … We wanted to do something to give back,” Hall said. “I don’t take a penny for the project.”
He started finding himself in libraries, schools, nursing homes and places like Berkshire Pathways nearly twice a week with Toto, telling the story and collecting donations for the local shelters. Brimfield’s Country Bank gave him a grant to print more books, boxes of which he brings to events.
Meanwhile, the books continue to sell for the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
And the “perfect media storm” followed. Toto has been featured in an array of cat magazines and on websites. A Japanese magazine even flew out a photographer to take photos of Toto for a story in the publication.
Berkshire Pathways Program Coordinator Donna Sorensen heard the story, too, and started following Toto on Facebook.
“I’ve been a Toto follower since he showed up on Facebook,” she said.
When she saw he was making an appearance at the annual Emergency Medical Services Committee of Berkshire County, she got a chance to meet Toto and Hall. Sorensen wanted the rest of the Berkshire Pathways “clubhouse” to meet the two, and Hall was willing to arrange it.
The members of Berkshire Pathways volunteer at the Sonsini Animal Shelter so it was a “natural thing” for them to have Wednesday’s meeting be a shelter fundraiser. And the members showed their support with a box full of donations and a jar full of cash for Sonsini.1_IMG_9768
Jonathan Hall wrote a book of Toto’s adventure and is using it to raise money for animal shelters
 “It just seemed like a natural thing. We have been working with them. We volunteer there with our members,” Sorensen said.
Berkshire Pathways is a nonprofit funded through the Department of Mental Health; its focus is on helping those with mental health issues learn vocational skills and then get jobs in the community.
But, unlike other similar programs in the county, they use a “clubhouse” model.
“The core mission of the clubhouse is to be a place to belong,” said Senior Employment Coordinator Francine Mead. “Just because they have a mental illness doesn’t mean they don’t do anything.”
The model stems from the 1940s when a group of people with mental illnesses lived in an apartment together. They handled all of the bills, shopping, cleaning, etc., and it proved to be helpful to those who lived there. The model has since been developed and replicated across the country to help those with mental illness.
Berkshire Pathways opened last year and has 130 total members, 88 of which are considered active. They have jobs within the clubhouse, whether it is cooking or working on the finances or administrative duties, and each task teaches job skills.
The members manage the clubhouse and organize events such as apple picking trips or group dinners or holding fundraisers like Wednesday’s event with Toto.
“Every unit has a purpose to teach a new skill,” Mead said, using an example of a new member who had an interest in finances, so they have him working on budgets and billing.
While there are some paid staff members, Mead said employees don’t have any extra authority unless there is a safety issue. Their votes on an issue count the same as the members.
“Members and staff work side by side,” she said.
Berkshire Pathways is a branch of Human Resources Unlimited.

 

New Fundraising Raffle for Forum House

FH fundraiser

 

With prizes ranging from gift certificates and dance lessons to a men’s Diamond Back bike, Forum House is conducting its first ever Calendar Raffle. Forum House, a program of Human Resources Unlimited of Springfield, is a not-for-profit, clubhouse model mental health facility. It is located at 55 Broad Street in Westfield, and its mission is to help its members forward their education and find meaningful employment.

New funding rules established last year by the State’s Department of Mental Health have placed an added burden on Forum House and many similar facilities across the state. “We strive to offer the highest quality of vocational rehabilitation services, but the new rules and increases in the population served present a real challenge”, says Barbara Moulton, the facility’s Acting Program Manager. “Keep in mind that funding levels haven’t materially changed in over fifteen years”, adds Jeff Lander, Coordinator of the facility’s advisor group known as Friends of Forum House. “Our objective with this campaign is to help Forum House to help itself.” The purpose of the raffle will be to raise funds for the purchase of maintenance equipment.   Owning a snow blower, for example, would enable Forum House to reduce the cost of contract snow removal.

“At these prices, everyone can participate”, says Vanessa Mathieu, Intake Coordinator. Raffle ticket prices are $5 for 1, $10 for 3 and $20 for 7.   One ticket will be drawn for each day in November. Daily prizes are valued at over $50. Winners will be notified and instructed on how to collect their daily prize. All tickets, including previous daily prize winners, will be eligible for the November 30th grand prize drawing. The grand prize is valued at over $900.

“We hope this will become a yearly event”, says Sue Smith, Senior Employment Coordinator for Forum House. To purchase tickets or for more information, call Alison at 562-5293. Last year, Forum House served over 300 adults in the greater Westfield area. It has over 1000 lifetime members.

Pyramid Project Car Show

HRU SHOW

Senator Moore and Tradewinds Honor Local Employer

BOSTON – During the annual Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition (MCC) Employment Celebration at the State House, Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, recognized a local employer for their contribution to the employment success of Massachusetts residents with mental illness. Flanked by staff and members of Tradewinds Clubhouse of Southbridge, Moore presented awards and Senate citations to The Salvation Army.

“The work Tradewinds and every Clubhouse program across the Commonwealth, is integral in meeting the needs of individuals recovering from mental illness,” stated Moore. “Part of that recovery is becoming a productive and contributing member of society. Through their employment programs, The Salvation Army has provided Clubhouse members with this important step in recovery while simultaneously filling their own employment needs.”

Employment Celebration 2014

Sen. Richard T. Moore joins Tradewinds Clubhouse at the annual Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition (MCC) Employment Celebration at the State House. Pictured here, from left to right, are: Winnie Siano, Senior Employment Coordinator at Tradewinds; Emily Mew, Western Massachusetts Field Representative for The Salvation Army; Brittany Walker, Program Manager at Tradewinds; Wil Leslie, Service Extension Director for The Salvation Army; Tom Vantre, Member of Tradewinds Clubhouse and Salvation Army Bell Ringer; and Sen. Moore.

 

First Annual Mental Health Resource and Educational Fair at Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Star Light Center will be participating in the First Annual Mental Health Resource and Educational Fair at Cooley Dickinson Hospital on Saturday, May 3rd from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Please stop by our table to learn more about HRU’s mental health programs and services!

Mardi Gras at Star Light Center

Star Light Center celebrated Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday last week and held a Mardi Gras themed party during lunch hour. The Mardi Gras queen rode around on a decorated float and gave out candy and bead necklaces while we listened to Jazz music. Lunch was chicken gumbo and bread pudding. Can you guess who the Mardi Gras queen was…?

SL fat tuesday

A Holiday Donation!

During the Holiday season, the Lighthouse members and staff realize the importance of giving. For the 2nd straight year, Lighthouse members and staff have donated toys, coloring books, puzzles, games, gift cards, and other items to the Shriner’s Hospital. The gift drive, led by member Shaunelle Smith, was started to help the children at Shriner’s have a memorable holiday season. The first year, the Lighthouse gathered a full box of toys and delivered them by hand. Shaunelle, Coco as she is known at the club, posed for a picture with the donations that is proudly displayed in the Outreach Unit. This year, 2 boxes of toys were collected and again Coco led the efforts, encouraging everyone at the Lighthouse to participate. The donations were received with great enthusiasm by the Shriner’s staff and Coco felt great about the entire club’s efforts. When asked why this is important for Coco to do, she stated “to make the children feel happy. My brother is part of Shriner’s and I always wanted him and the others to be happy and that they have what they need.” Coco’s generosity is greatly valued and her willingness to help others is infectious. We are so proud to be a part of this and to have a member taking the lead in such an important activity.

HRU Opens New Office in Connecticut

HRU’s Workforce Alternatives program began providing services in Connecticut on December 1, 2013.  We are working with the Department of Rehabilitation Services/Bureau of Rehabilitation Services in the Northern Region and are contracted to provide assessments, education and training, job placement and employment supports to individuals with disabilities. Our new office is located at 641 Farmington Ave., 3rd Floor, Hartford, CT.  Over the past month we’ve been meeting with members to assist them in reaching their employment goals.  We have also been meeting with employers and community leaders to develop new partnerships.  We are excited to be expanding our programs to Connecticut and look forward to providing services in this area.

Forum House Hosts Coffee with Mayor Knapik

Mayor Knapik

WHEN:

Monday, October 7, 2013

8 am to 9 am

WHERE:

forum

                                             The Forum House
                                            55 Broad Street

westfield                     Westfield, MA 01085

  The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce invites you to have coffee with Mayor Knapik in a very informal setting.  Please join us to hear first-hand from Mayor Knapik   about key issues and to get an update on construction projects. The mayor also welcomes any questions or concerns you may have.

The coffee hours are free, informative and open to the public, so come and join us!

To register please call Pam Bussell at the Chamber office 413.568.1618 or email her at gro.zibdleiftsewnull@ofni.

Odyssey: (n) a long and eventful journey.

Let us introduce ourselves.  We are Odyssey House, one of HRU’s newest clubhouse modeled Programs, located in Holyoke.  Since our opening on July first, we have been working very hard to develop our program and to establish ourselves in our community… It has truly been an odyssey.  Throughout the past two and a half months, we have spent a great deal of time working with our members to create a fun, exciting, work focused environment.  We have been focusing on the strengths, talents and abilities of our members, while sending a consistent message of “you can.” Our members have taken a lead role in the development of our different departments, our policies, and organizing our clubhouse space. This has been a very exciting time for all of us.

Over the next month, Odyssey House staff and members will be reaching out to our local community to promote our program and to get our name out there.  We have scheduled a number of businesses, agencies, and politicians to come in and tour Odyssey house this fall, including our Mayor, who will be visiting with us twice this month!  Also, our open house on October 11th is expected to be well attended.  Odyssey house colleagues are eagerly looking forward to continuing on our journey of providing high quality recovery based services in the greater Holyoke area.