Youth Ambassadors Sought for Local Currency Initiative
by John Townes, originally published in the Berkshire Trade & Commerce, July/August 2017
BerkShares Inc. has created a new initiative, BerkShares Ambassadors, in which young people will help to spread the word about the local currency while learning about entrepreneurship and sustainable community-oriented economics.
BerkShares is currently accepting applications and nominations of young people from age 16 to 30 for the 10-month-long training program, which begins in September.
It will include workshops, classes and other activities covering economics, history, organizing skills and professional develop- ment to prepare them to become BerkShares Ambassadors.
Also known as “community economists,” these young ambassadors will help to expand awareness and usage of BerkShares, and build relationships with their peers, community leaders, community banks and participating businesses.
BerkShares Inc. is a nonpro t organization focused on sustainable, community-oriented economic development. It works in partnership with local businesses and community banks to issue BerkShares, a local currency designed to encourage spending at local businesses, to keep money circulating within the region’s economy.
BerkShares are issued through several local banks, including Lee Bank, Salisbury Bank, Adams Community Bank and the Great Barrington branch of Pitts eld Cooperative Bank. (In Pittsfield they are available at the Pittsfield branch of Lee Bank.)
BerkShares dollars can be spent in the same way as U.S. dollars at about 400 participating businesses. It includes a built-in discount because they have an exchange rate of 95 U.S. cents for one BerkShare dollar.
Originally, BerkShares was focused on southern Berkshire County. Recently it has expanded to become a countywide currency by adding distribution at bank branches in the central and northern Berkshires (see october 2016 BT&C).
“Now that BerkShares are available at banks throughout Berkshire County, we want to increase awareness and use of them in those areas,” said Alice Maggio, executive director of BerkShares. “To do that we need to reach out to businesses and the public. The members of the BerkShares Ambassadors will help us to extend our outreach.”
Rachel Moriarty, program assistant with BerkShares, will oversee the new initiative.
“This is an opportunity for young people to experience both personal and professional growth while also serving their community,” said Moriarty.
The program was inspired by Entry to Entrepreneurship, a locally focused educational business planning program for young people that BerkShares has conducted for three years.
“One of the great things about this program is that it will not just be classroom based, but will include active learning experiences,” noted Maggio. “The young participants will help to develop the scope and activities as the program moves forward.”
The concept for the program was suggested by Michael Tesoro, a member of the board of BerkShares, and co-owner of the marinara sauce company Ooma Tesoro’s. He will also serve as an advisor.
BerkShares has received a grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund of Newmarket, N.H., to fund the initiative.
The program is currently recruiting young people who are open to collaboration, enthusiastic about engaging with their community, and interested in learning more about our local economy.
Community members and business leaders are encouraged to nominate young people by visiting www.berkshares.org/ nominations. Young people may also apply directly through the form found at www. berkshares.org. Candidates must have access to a vehicle. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 11
Public information sessions will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. on July 26 at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge in Pitts eld and Aug. 3 at the North Adams Public Library. (A session was held in south county on July 12.) Those who are interested in attending one of these sessions or want more information can call 413-528- 1737 or email [email protected].