Chamber of Commerce holds first breakfast since pandemic started: United Way reps speak on merger

  • Ashli Stempel-Rae, who co-chairs the United Way’s annual campaign, speaks at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Franklin County Technical School on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Kathy Sisson, manager of the Greenfield office of the Melanson regional accounting firm, speaks at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Franklin County Technical School on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Members listen to speakers at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Franklin County Technical School on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Diana Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, speaks at the chamber’s breakfast at Franklin County Technical School on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Members listen to speakers at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Franklin County Technical School on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Franklin County Technical School students Zachary Serrell, left, and Gabriel McCassie wear maks as they stand behind the buffet-style food line at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast at the school on Friday morning. McCassie is part of the school’s Apprentice Restaurant and Serrell, in the school’s carpentry program, was helping out. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2021 7:10:06 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The first Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic included representatives from the United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire Region, who took the opportunity on Friday to speak about the recent merger as well as the organization’s goals and programs.

Executive Director John Bidwell spoke of the work the United Way conducts to battle societal issues. He said the local nonprofit provides grants, recruits volunteers, provides donated items and helps get emergency shelters up and running.

“In my position, I’m privileged. I get to meet with the 63 social service agencies supported by the United Way across Franklin and Hampshire counties,” he said inside the Franklin County Technical School gymnasium. “I meet the leaders, I meet the front-line staff, and I meet those who are helped. Instead of hunger, homelessness and poverty, I see unparalleled compassion, dedication and service. It is inspiring and it is humbling. These are people and organizations dedicated to giving back at a stunning level. Almost all of it is related to poverty and near-poverty.”

Bidwell implored people to give — or continue giving — their time, talent and money to support those in need.

Ashli Stempel-Rae, who co-chairs the United Way’s annual campaign, took to the podium and sentimentally explained what community support has meant to her family. She explained she and her brother grew up in a single-income household with a construction foreman father and a stay-at-home mother, due to the high cost of child care.

“My parents did what they’ve always done — make sacrifices to make it work,” Stempel-Rae said, fighting back tears. “Looking back, I have fond childhood memories of racing out to my grandfather’s car … on Monday afternoons to help bring in the groceries. It was always a fun surprise to see what we had each week. Usually, we’d be looking first for the Dunkaroos, and I was a strange kid so I’d be wondering if there was also broccoli.”

She revealed that it wasn’t until she was much older that she came to a realization — her grandfather was bringing groceries every week because her family was among the 24 percent in the area facing food insecurity.

“What set us apart was that we had family support,” she said. “And the reality is that, for many, that’s just not the case.”

Stempel-Rae also said becoming a mother in December grew by tenfold her appreciation of others’ sacrifices, and made her more keenly aware of daily struggles and expenses families endure “just trying to keep their kids alive.”

“How did my parents do it? I think about this all the time. How did they do this?” she said. “They did it with the support of family, a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice and our community.”

Preceding the United Way, Donna Yetter and Kathy Sisson, of the Melanson accounting firm, spoke about what the company does. Melanson, which has an office in Greenfield, was the breakfast’s sponsor.

The work includes tax returns, loan consultation, QuickBooks assistance, municipal finance and client advisory services.

“Essentially anything is available. You just have to reach out to us,” Sisson said.

Roughly 60 people attended the breakfast. Tables were spaced apart to allow for social distancing, and attendees were asked to wear masks while in line to get buffet-style food.

The next Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast will be held at Terrazza in Greenfield on Oct. 29. The topic will be “Celebrating Chamber Members.”

Reach Domenic Poli at:
dpoli@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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