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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Ventfort Hall names programming director; Canna Provisions employee ownership; Co-op Bank hires officer; GFCU promotes branch manager; BHS appoints trustees; BAV market match campaign

Appointed in January, Gaia has wasted no time in programming a full 2024 Season for the mansion, promising an array of enriching events and programs under the theme “Reviving the Spirit of Festival House.”

Ventfort Hall names first director of programming

Lenox— Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Mansion & Museum is thrilled to announce the appointment of Chelsea Gaia as its first ever Director of Programming and Events. Under the leadership of Executive Director Wendy Healey, who took the helm in December of 2022, Gaia’s role will be pivotal in shaping the mansion’s future as a beacon of culture, progress, and inclusivity in the Berkshires. Appointed in January, Gaia has wasted no time in programming a full 2024 Season for the mansion, promising an array of enriching events and programs under the theme “Reviving the Spirit of Festival House.”

Chelsea Gaia. Courtesy Ventfort Hall.

Gaia, a dynamic leader with more than 20 years of experience in business development, audience growth, marketing strategy, and entrepreneurship brings a fresh perspective to Ventfort Hall. She has a proven track record of community revitalization and cultural engagement. Her previous roles in the Berkshires include serving as the Director of Marketing and Box Office at Barrington Stage Company and subsequently engaging several local cultural organizations as clients through her Public Relations & Engagement company, Green Bird Business Services.

At Ventfort Hall, Gaia aims to honor and build upon the mansion’s storied legacy. Gaia states, “There is a Renaissance unfolding at Ventfort Hall, and it is undoubtedly driven by the spirit of those who have kept this place alive in this era and eras past. While I am humbled to be part of this chapter, I intend to honor the work and stories of everyone who has shaped the legacy of Ventfort Hall as a foundation for my time here.”

New Ventfort Hall Gilded Age Mansion & Museum logo.

Gaia, a seasoned graphic designer, personally spearheaded and executed the updated logo and branding design. In an effort to signal the organizational momentum to the community at large, leadership believed the timing was right to freshen up their visual presence outside of the mansion itself.


Canna Provisions announces transition to employee ownership

Lee— Canna Provisions, Massachusetts’ most award-winning dispensary, proudly announces its transition from a privately held company to an employee owned company. This significant move marks a milestone in the company’s journey towards a more inclusive and sustainable business model, emphasizing employee empowerment, community, and sustainability.

“Providing an opportunity for our team to benefit from the value we are all building in Canna Provisions has been our top priority,” says Meg Sanders, CEO and co-owner of Canna Provisions. “We are incredibly proud to ensure that with this move, we now all win together. This transition, and now our ‘ownership’, will extend to a diverse spectrum of the community across social equity, veterans, and women in cannabis.”

Staff at the Canna Provisions Lee store.

The transition to an ESOP signifies a commitment to embedding core values of empowerment, community, and sustainability deeper into its business practices. It enables employees, who have been key to the company’s success, to partake in the growth and prosperity of Canna Provisions as stakeholders.

The team at Canna Provisions, viewed as a family, has propelled the company to the forefront of the Massachusetts cannabis market, establishing it as one of the state’s most profitable cannabis operators. The transition to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) ensures that employees are not just participants in the company’s journey but are key drivers of its future. This initiative underscores the company’s belief in collective ownership and shared success.

Sustainability lies at the core of Canna Provisions’ operations, from cultivation practices to retail operations, aiming for a positive impact on the environment and community. The ESOP aligns with this mission, fostering a culture of long-term thinking and collective responsibility. As owners, Canna Provisions employees will be even more invested in the company’s success and the well-being of the community.


Pittsfield Cooperative Bank hires new branch officer

Pittsfield— Pittsfield Cooperative Bank (Co-op Bank) announced the hiring of Reinaldo Román as Vice President, Branch Officer. In this role, Mr. Román will manage the institution’s branch operations at its main office located at 70 South Street in Pittsfield. Additionally, he will assist the organization with its further development of Spanish-focused materials.

Reinaldo Román, Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, Vice President, Branch Officer.

Román joins Co-op Bank after a successful twenty-three year tenure at Greylock Federal Credit Union. He has extensive experience in branch operations and management, business development, retail lending, and customer relations. Román received his Business Administration in Banking from Berkshire Community College.

“Pittsfield Cooperative Bank is thrilled to welcome Reinaldo to our team,” said CEO J. Jay Anderson. “He is an exceptional individual and brings years of branch operations and business development experience in the financial services industry.”


Greylock Federal Credit Union promotes Kathie O’Neil to branch manager at Kellogg Street branch

Pittsfield— Greylock Federal Credit Union is proud to announce the promotion of Kathie O’Neil to branch manager of its Kellogg Street branch in Pittsfield.

Kathie O’Neil, Greylock Federal Credit Union branch manager.

In her role, O’Neil manages a staff of eight, and plays an active role in business development. Key responsibilities include, but are not limited to originating mortgage and home equity loans, overseeing branch compliance, originating and underwriting consumer loans, and maintaining a wide variety of member accounts. O’Neil began her career with Greylock as a Loan Processor in June 1994.

“I am thrilled about Kathie’s promotion to manager of the Kellogg Street branch,” said Senior Vice President, Retail Services Robert Sims. “This was our very first branch location and it’s one of our busiest. I couldn’t think of a better person to lead the team there.”


Berkshire Health Systems appoints three community leaders to board of trustees

Pittsfield— Berkshire Health Systems is pleased to announce the election of Shaun V. Cusson, Deborah Renzi, RN, and Jeannette Smith, PhD, to the BHS Board of Trustees.

“We are excited to welcome Shaun, Deb and Jeannette to the BHS Board of Trustees,” said President and CEO Darlene Rodowicz. “All are recognized leaders in our community, and BHS will be lucky to benefit from their perspectives as we continue working to advance health and wellness for everyone in the region.”

BHS Trustee Shaun V. Cusson. Courtesy BHS.

Shaun V. Cusson serves as President and CEO of Hillcrest Educational Foundation, Inc. (HEF), which offers a wide range of therapeutic services for children, families and the community, including Hillcrest Educational Centers, Inc. (HEC), Hillcrest Dental Care, Inc. (HDC), and Berkshire County Kids’ Place & Violence Prevention Center, Inc. Cusson is also President and CEO of HEC, which is a non-profit providing residential treatment and special education for some of the region’s most disabled children, and HDC, a large dental practice specializing in MassHealth patients and patients with special needs.

Cusson began his career at Hillcrest nearly 30 years ago as a Direct Care Worker, and has held multiple management positions during his ascent including Director of Admissions, Program Director, Executive Vice President, and Executive Director. He was appointed President and CEO following the planned retirement of Jerry Burke in June of 2022. In addition to his work with Hillcrest, he serves on numerous other non-profit boards including the Massachusetts Association for Approved Chapter 766 Private Schools, the Association for Children’s Residential Centers, the Coolidge Hill Foundation, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the Berkshire Business Roundtable, 1Berkshire and others. Cusson has a master’s in education from Cambridge College and a Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration from Westfield State University.

BHS Trustee Deborah Renzi, RN. Courtesy BHS.

Deborah Renzi, RN is a Berkshire County native with an extensive background in patient care at Berkshire Health Systems. Starting at a young age with in-home patient care, she went on to dedicate 32 years in the field. Her journey at BHS began in 1989 as a nursing assistant, staff nurse, community health nurse, quality and improvement specialist, Clinical Manager, and Pain & Spine Service Line Manager. Throughout her 29 years at BHS, she collaborated with healthcare providers, professionals, and community sources to coordinate care, developed, and implemented disease management programs, led interdisciplinary teams, and worked with management across departments to meet quality and regulatory goals. 

Renzi earned her Registered Nurse degree from Berkshire Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UMass Amherst, and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a major in Health Care Administration from Elms College. She was honored with the BMC Physicians’ Award for proficiency in nursing skills and the MSN Capstone Award.  She currently holds a RN license in both Massachusetts and Florida. Renzi has continued her late husband’s business, Michael Renzi Painting Co., LLC. Aside from her professional endeavors, she serves on the Board of the Boys and Girls Club of the Berkshires.

BHS Trustee Jeannette Smith, Courtesy BHS.

Jeannette Smith is Vice President for Student Affairs at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her research areas of interest include higher education administration, and retention and persistence of students from traditionally underrepresented communities. Her doctoral journey was informed by a curiosity about decision-makers and led to a hermeneutic phenomenological qualitative study on policy. That work has infused every position she has held with a belief that approaching policy from an equitable lens can contribute to dismantling oppressive structures in post-secondary attainment.

A first-generation college graduate, Smith is intentional in collaboratively working across the college to holistically support students through the curricular and co-curricular experience. Smith has worked in academic advising, residence life, financial aid, student unions and facilities, grant management, student engagement, and foundation stewardship.

Departing the BHS Board of Trustees are Carole Siegel, Bronly Boyd, and Erwin Stuebner, all providing exceptional lengthy service to Berkshire Health Systems. “On behalf of BHS, I offer my deepest appreciation to Carole, Bronly and Win for their commitment to furthering our mission and their invaluable contributions in support of our community.”


BAV launches market match fund campaign for 2024 

Great Barrington— Ready, set, match! Berkshire Agricultural Ventures (BAV) kicked off its 2024 Market Match Fund campaign this week with a goal of raising $30,000 during the month of April to increase sales for local farmers and make fresh food more available to low-income households in the Berkshire region. Thanks to a generous donor, the first $10,000 raised in the campaign will be matched dollar-for-dollar. 

Now in its third year, BAV’s Market Match Fund is amplifying the impact of SNAP matching at Berkshire-area farmers markets by providing reliable funds to fully support Market Match programs. This centralized funding source enables partner farmers markets across the region to consistently offer a $1-to-$1 SNAP match up to $30, giving SNAP customers a total of $60 to spend on fresh food grown and produced by local farmers. 

Berkshire Agricultural Ventures 2024 Market Match Fund campaign.

“Market Match” refers to a nutritional incentive program that doubles SNAP dollars (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps), enabling low-income shoppers to stretch their purchasing power further at farmers markets for items such as vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy products, and more. Food insecurity is a significant problem in our region. In Berkshire County alone, a total of 23,156 residents (18% of the county population) received SNAP benefits in 2023. These benefits provide needed monthly funds for low-income residents to buy food. 

Despite the critical need for increased food access programs, there has been no single “umbrella” source of funding for Market Match initiatives in Berkshire County that covers all SNAP-eligible products. As a result, the burden of fundraising for SNAP matching has fallen to individual market managers who may lack the time, resources, and expertise to consistently raise funds for Market Match programs. After talking with market managers throughout the region, BAV determined that there was strong interest in a centralized fund to fully support SNAP matching programs at Berkshire-area farmers markets. This led BAV to launch a Market Match Fund pilot in the spring of 2022.

This fund, initially supported through corporate and foundation sponsorship, enabled $1-to-$1 SNAP matching up to $30 at partner farmers markets. Based on the success of this effort, BAV expanded the program in 2023 with a crowdfunding campaign that helped support full SNAP matching at 10 Berkshire-area markets. This year, BAV has set a goal of raising $30,000 to fully support consistent, year-round Market Match programs to increase local farmers’ sales, strengthen farmers markets, and ensure low-income shoppers have meaningful access to fresh local food.


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