Most Dedicated, Most Creative, Most Influential for 2018
The Berkshires is home to a community of people of all ages, backgrounds, and personalities—residents who take their passions and run with them, creating a diverse, meaningful, compassionate, and spirited lifestyle. From entrepreneurs to activists, these individuals create the foundation that makes the Berkshires what it is. This is our fifth year honoring a select group of individuals who are eager to move mountains for fellow members of our community. Each brings forward the best of what humanity has to offer, setting the bar high for those who follow. It is our distinct pleasure to present to you the 2018 Berkshire 25.
Photographs by Edward Acker
Dr. Trevor Bayliss was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 19. An athlete at Williams College, this former track and hockey star survived a negative prognosis and went on to pursue a medical degree. He is now a hematologist/oncologist and director of Integrative Medicine at Berkshire Medical Center, where cancer patients receive free amenities such as acupuncture, music/art therapy, meditation, and guidance throughout the treatment process. His kindness and understanding is warmly regarded.
Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance, has diplomatically and strategically guided the integration of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Creative Economy Council, Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation into a single economic-development agency to ensure business prosperity. An early success was the Berkshire Initiative for Growth, or B.I.G. Born and raised in Cheshire, Jonathan is driven by his passion for the Berkshires.
Christine Condaris has been involved with the Fine and Performing Arts Department at MCLA for 32 years. Professor Condaris served as the director of the college’s concert choir and assisted in the formation of multiple art, arts-management, and performing-arts majors. This past summer she has been traveling and sharing her own research with art educators in Prague and Athens, and was responsible for the organization of the STEAM (sciences, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) conference at the Athens Institute for Education and Research.
Jason Cuddihy manages Advocacy for Access, which aims to help the community of Pittsfield and beyond get health insurance and enroll in other health programs. Jason and his team help uninsured and underinsured people access programs that can pay for healthcare services as well as navigate Mass health-insurance programs. His expertise and personal attention have allowed his team to enroll almost 6,000 residents in healthcare programs over the past year.
Michelle Daly is the director of the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center at MCLA, and has helped revitalize the creative arts in North Adams through multiple arts programs and initiatives. Her redesigns of DownStreet Art, Gallery 51, and MCLA Presents! have allowed local artists and art-lovers to experience unique musicians, performances, contemporary works of art and beautiful public murals all in one place. In her free time, she likes to knit, paint, and enjoy the Berkshire sunshine.
Allen Harris, founder and CEO of Berkshire Money Management, has spent the last 17 years growing his business into a core part of the Berkshire economy. He gives much of his own time developing events and fundraisers, and he published Build It, Sell It, Profit, a book for owners intending to sell their business. He also publishes the Berkshire Business Confidence Index and regularly hosts the BMM Business Roundtable.
Suzy Helme, director of community events for North Adams, has organized some of the area’s most-attended events, such as Motorama, WinterFest, and the Fall Foliage Festival. She also co-manages the North Adams Cultural Districts and the North Adams Exchange, and is a pivotal board member of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, North Adams Makers’ Mill, North Adams Chamber of Commerce, the City of North Adams Human Services Commission, and MASS MoCA Foundation Board of Trustees.
Jennie Kassanoff, a member of the Board of Trustees at Jacob’s Pillow, is a major philanthropist who came up with innovative ways to connect the dance center with the surrounding community. Jennie personally funded buses for Pittsfield residents to Pillow events and donated $1 million to the Pillow to create a community center and outreach program. The Adolph S. and Effie Ochs Chair in American Studies and History at Barnard College in New York, Jennie is a professor of English and directs the Program in American Studies. She is a supporter and advocate for many Berkshire culturals.
Jana Laiz, educator, author, and activist, has been aiming to change the world one book at a time. Alongside teaching English to immigrants and refugees, her writing career revolves around topics such as climate change, history, animal welfare and equal rights. She is the first and current writer-in-residence at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead. Her novel, Weeping Under This Same Moon and her co-authored novel with Ann-Elizabeth Barnes, A Free Woman on God’s Earth: The True Story of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, The Slave Who Won Her Freedom, are currently in development for film.
Ghazi Kazmi, founding executive director of the Whitney Center of the Arts, has been providing local artists with a place to perform and connect since 2014. Set in the 1865 Thomas Colt House, the Whit houses two art galleries, Gallery W and the Colt Gallery, where artists from over 200 countries have been represented. The Whit is also a producing theater company, quickly taking its place in the Berkshire theater community. The Whit has become a hub for education and creativity, welcoming artists and performers of all ages through many diverse programs. A dedicated advocate for the arts, Ghazi volunteers much of his time to the community and to the center.
Kent & Shiobbean Lemme’s philosophy is to help their community stay active while remaining healthy, motivated, and uninjured. Owners of the Berkshire Running Center, Kent and Shiobbean educate and instruct people on the basics of safe exercise and proper training methods for runners of all levels. The two donate their time and energy to fundraisers and events, sharing their experiences and passion for running with the Berkshire community. Their dedication has inspired many runners to take on marathons and other races, and meet the challenges successfully.
Dennis Powell is president of the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP, member of the Pittsfield Licensing Board, vice chair & treasurer of the Clinton Church Restoration Project, and member of the Pittsfield School Committee. He has been a devout advocate for human and civil rights. Through the 4 Freedoms Coalition, he aims to raise awareness of the issues of bigotry, prejudice, justice and human rights in modern society. Dennis teams with his son Jabari’s company, MadJacks Barbeque, to provide BBQ-themed catering throughout the Berkshires.
Jen Salinetti founded and operates Woven Roots Farm & Education Center with her husband Pete. The no-till CSA farm in Tyringham feeds over 260 people and supplies local stores with ecological, nutrient-dense produce. Jen leads a diverse body of courses relating to gardening, nature, self-care, and food justice for youth, and regenerative agricultural methods to farmers both on-site and in the community. She regularly partners with local organizations like Greenagers where she is the Agricultural Program Coordinator. Jen also works collaboratively with Gould Farm and the Lenox Library and serves as a board member for the the Berkshire Co-op Market, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and the Montessori School of the Berkshires.
Emily Schiavoni serves on the Board of Directors of the Louison House, which pays special attention to the issue of homelessness in the region. She is a member of the Berkshire Family YMCA board and offers spin classes to promote wellness. Emily is community outreach coordinator for North Adams Public Schools. She had a role in the launching of TEDx North Adams and has been a strong advocate for Berkshire Nursing Families.
Marney Schorr launched Arts in Recovery for Youth (AIRY) in 2017, an expressive arts and skills based suicide prevention program for youth ages 13-24. A teaching artist and art therapist, Marney combines her passion for art with her desire to help others. Her 16-week program, which meets at three locations in Berkshire County, helps participants develop strategies for coping through the expressive arts and meditation.
Chin & Sabrina Tan, owners of Flavours of Malaysia in Pittsfield, are more than Asian-food connoisseurs. The duo host fundraising benefits, participate in charity runs, and support the Berkshire Immigrant Center. Each winter, Sabrina provides homemade soup (5,000 servings last winter) to St. Stephen’s and First United Methodist Church parishes. The couple’s kindness is matched only by Chin’s eccentricities—he changed his Facebook profile picture 111 times in 2017 to highlight friends’ and customers’ birthdays.
Arlene Tolopko, a proud resident of Otis for over three decades, has been honored by the state for her service with the Otis Cultural Council. She volunteered for years at the Literacy Network and participates in The Hoping Machine folk chorus. Arlene fulfilled a lifelong dream of bringing print news to Otis with the establishment of the Otis Observer. Her powerful spirit and deep love for her community has inspired others to get involved and enjoy everything Otis and the Berkshires have to offer.
Liana Toscanini started the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires (NPC) in the spring of 2016, which has quickly become a vital resource for the nonprofit community. After volunteering in the Berkshires for over 20 years, Liana wanted to help more organizations connect, learn and grow. This year, in addition to educational workshops, publications and referrals, the NPC organized an awards breakfast that recognized individuals who work in the nonprofit sector.
Kristen van Ginhoven is co-founder and artistic director of WAM Theatre (Where Arts and Activism Meet), an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for women and girls. Inspired by the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Kristen combined theater and philanthropy to advocate for the voices and rights of women and girls of all ages. Since 2010, WAM has produced 11 world-class plays, hired more than 400 theater artists, and donated over $40,000 to 13 community beneficiaries.
Jennifer Vrabel has served as the executive director of the Literacy Network of South Berkshire since 2016. A Berkshire native, Jennifer—along with LitNet’s dedicated staff, volunteer tutors and Board of Directors—shares a deep commitment to LitNet’s mission to transform the lives of immigrants and adult learners through the power of literacy, education, and advocacy.
Jay Weintraub & Mark Lefenfeld formed Backyard Bounty of the Berkshires after noticing that large amounts of unpicked fresh fruit were falling to the ground and going to waste. Their non-profit organization supplies food to people in need by gathering and distributing excess fresh vegetables and fruit from Berkshire farms, local property owners and supermarkets. In 2017, Backyard Bounty volunteers gathered and distributed over 8,200 pounds of fresh produce to those in need. During 2018 to date, they have collected over 10,000 pounds of produce and expect to at least double the 2017 total for the entire year.
Megan Whilden has been a creative force since her arrival in the area two decades ago. She served as Pittsfield’s first director of cultural development, originating numerous events, including Pittsfield’s 3rd Thursdays street festival. She is now the executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College, which provides educational, social, and volunteer opportunities for older adults, and is a co-founder of the 4 Freedoms Coalition.