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Berkshire County Kids' Place Gala Celebrates Courage
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:18PM / Sunday, October 20, 2019
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The annual gala fundraiser for Berkshire County Kids' Place was themed 'A Night in the Emerald City' on Friday.

Rosemarie Phelps, chair of the Kids' Place board, addresses the gathering.

Board Vice Chairman Paul Fortini.

RoAnn Vecchia-Wendling, recipient of the Thomas J. O'Brien Community Leader Award.

William Gale, recipient of the Children's Champion Award.

Guest speaker Nicole Laughrey.

Michael Supranowicz was presented with the Founders Award. He was president of the Kids' Place board for two years and retired from Hillcrest Educational Centers. 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The "Wizard of Oz's" the Cowardly Lion finds his courage by facing his fears with the help of his friends. 
"Like the Lion, many children just need someone to help them realize that the courage they need to heal from the abuse they have suffered is already inside of them," said Rosemarie  Phelps, chairman of the Berkshire County Kids' Place Board of Directors. "For 26 years, the Kids' Place has helped lead these children and their families down the path to recovery."
The path on Friday night was a yellow brick road to "A Night in the Emerald City," the theme for these year's fundraising gala for the nonprofit that was held at Country Club of Pittsfield. Phelps donned a purple witch's hat to welcome guests to the event that also included recognition of several individuals for their work for Kids' Place. 
Berkshire County Kids' Place has been providing a safe and healing place for abused children for more than a quarter century. The agency is funded through the state Department of Children and Families, grants and donations. It works closely with related agencies and the Berkshire County district attorney's office to serve the more than 400 children that pass through its doors each year. 
"Trauma. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter what age, it doesn't matter what race it doesn't matter what gender you are," said RoAnn Vecchia-Wendling, on receiving the Thomas J. O'Brien Community Leader Award. "It affects everyone and what our goal has always been is to get a child, and the family, to go from victim to survivor."
Vecchia-Wendling has worked for the state Department of Children & Families for 28 years as a child protective investigator and the last two as a resource social worker. Her efforts have been on a statewide basis in developing and presenting trainings on child abuse, reporting, and the benefits of the multidisciplinary team in investigating abuse cases. 
"An an interviewer, I always figured if a kid could live through it and they could talk about it, the least I can do is listen," she said, adding Kids' Place, "it's a safe place and there's no place like home."
William Gale was presented the Children's Champion Award for his more than 25 years working in the probation system. He recently retired as chief probation officer of the Berkshire County Juvenile Court but insisted that he was lucky to surround himself with the right people. "It's not what I know it's what they know," he said.
The Founders' Award was presented to Michael Supranowicz, who completed a two-year term as president of the Kids' Place board and his retiring as director of business development for Hillcrest Educational Centers.
Supranowicz has spent decades working on the economic and educational development opportunities for the county, including leading the former Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. 
"The founders word means to me that someone has injected themselves into our community and done something wonderful to make sure that this community perpetuates itself," said board member Sheri Quinn on presenting the award. "He has impressed me so much, and his wisdom and his experience and his knowledge and his ability to be a resource for Heather, and everyone in the organization has been outstanding."

Direcctor Heather Williamston welcomes attendees.
The evening also featured a silent auction with items ranging from ski packages to local services. Speakers also included board Vice Chairman Paul Fortini, board member Aubrey Shields, Robin McGraw who once again lead a fundraising round and guest speaker Nicole Laughrey, who has been a social worker at Kids' Place for eight years.

Director Heather Williamson thanked the attendees and the sponsors for the event, including major supporters Greylock Federal Credit Union, Black Rock Foundation, the Petricca family, Berkshire Health Systems, Hillcrest Educational Foundation, MountainOne and Fenton Quinn PC.

"We are a small nonprofit so we have to turn toward such a generous community," she said. 
Laughrey also picked up the them of courage in her address, recalling how she had been described as brave speaking with her own therapist about the bullying she had experienced in her past — an experience that had led her to the work she does today.
She had been confused at first but then it hit her.
"In that moment, I began thinking about all of the children who have walked through the doors of Kids' Place, and beyond. The children who have been on my caseload or currently still are," she said. "The amazing kids who show up every single day. Despite their fears. Those who face adversities regularly, but keep going, they persist. ...
"None of this would be possible without your support your belief that it shouldn't hurt to be a child. And for that, I sincerely thank you. Let's continue to provide a space for children to bloom, to face their fears and overcome adversity, to recognize the superheroes that they are. Glenda said it perfectly: 'You've always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.'"
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