Kate Lauzon, the current, passionate chair of the Morningside Initiative in Pittsfield, is volunteering her time to help bring community programming and a light to the Tyler Street area, an area she calls home. With the help of other dedicated volunteers, the Morningside Initiative has been able to host family-friendly events such as a Game Night and a Harvest Dinner at Morningside Community School. Kate is also assisting the Transformational Development Initiative (TDI) for Tyler Street with its new Tyler Street Lab which kicks off with a soft opening today from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at the Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires, 158 Tyler Street.
“The Tyler Street Lab is a space that allows community members (artists, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and residents) to propose, test, and implement programs and solutions to underused spaces on Tyler Street.” At today’s 2-hour launch event enjoy free performances, a kids’ bike corral and obstacle course, arts and crafts, fresh popcorn, and more. The Pittsfielder, Nick Russo, and Lauzon will lead a community bike ride around the Morningside area at 6:30 pm. Expect Lauzon to be at today’s event with bells on. This event is exactly the kind of programming she hopes to maintain and grow in the Morningside area.
Shirley Edgerton and Youth Alive will host a Youth Chill Zone at the Tyler Street Lab at the Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires for the next three consecutive Tuesdays (August 14th, 21st, and 28th) from 3 to 5:30 pm; and for the next three consecutive Mondays (August 13th, 20th, and 27th), 2:30 to 4 pm, the Goodwill will host Life Skills Training for Young Adults where participants can learn to identify their strengths and how to best utilize them to achieve lifetime goals and priorities.
“The Tyler Street Lab Collaboration evolved from the 2017 Pittsfield Better Block. It builds on the ideas of the community that emerged out of the Better Block process”, says the group of Tyler Street Collaborators. “The primary goal of the Collaboration is to activate a space with community programming with priority given to activities focused on youth development, healthy food/ nutrition, small business development, entrepreneurship, and performance and visual art.” The second goal is to create pop ups in different underused spaces on Tyler Street. Lauzon is looking forward to working with Manos Unidas on a bilingual summer reading program at the Lab next year.
Lauzon has dedicated her spare time to helping with as many projects as she can and, most importantly, being a spokeswoman for the Tyler Street area even beyond her capacity as chair of the Morningside Initiative; and she is only just getting started. Lauzon got the bug for community activism helping with last year’s “March for Science” organized by Alisa Costa of Berkshire Bridges. Then she took on the Umbrella Alley Project at last year’s Pittsfield Better Block event on Tyler Street, an event organized by TDI. Hearing about the Better Block event rather late, she still wanted to help. Not sure about the logistics, she brought forth the idea of creating an umbrella alley and the event organizers gave her some funds and told her to go for it.
The beautiful Umbrella Alley was created between the Tyler Welding building and the former Café Reva. This showstopper came together in 2 days. “That’s the amazing thing about doing projects like this in Pittsfield; you don’t think it’s going to get done and then all these people come together to help you, and it gets done”, says Lauzon. After a 6 hour round trip to purchase all of the vibrantly colored and patterned umbrellas she could find, Lauzon enlisted the help of a dozen willing volunteers, fishing line, and a commercial ladder to mount the creation, and with a lot of patience, the Umbrella Alley was completed in time for a successful Better Block event.
After Pittsfield Better Block, the Tyler Street District’s TDI MassDevelopment Fellow, Sika Sedzro, asked Lauzon to help her with the Tyler Street Lab Collaboration. “The Pittsfield Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) is one of ten TDI districts selected by MassDevelopment during an open competition for all Gateway Cities in October-December 2014. TDI is a flexible, multi-pronged program that works by concentrating resources in compact districts, collaborating with local public/private partnerships, enhancing stakeholder engagement, and providing planning and implementation technical assistance customized to local conditions.” Lauzon jumped at the chance to be a part of this important project in her neighborhood. In addition to helping with the planning and logistics of the Tyler Street Lab, Kate, along with Sedzro and Nick Russo, are working on the marketing and social media.
Another amazing opportunity for Lauzon to give back came out of her participation with TDI. She was elected chair of the Morningside Initiative in September 2017. According to their website, “The Morningside Neighborhood Initiative was started in 2004 by concerned residents of the neighborhood. Working with the City, the initiative developed an action plan and steps to implement desired neighborhood improvements. Today, the Morningside Initiative Steering Committee continues to meet in an effort to address the issues impacting the community.” Goals of the Morningside Initiative are to “promote the neighborhood in a positive way, support youth and families, help with beautification efforts, plan fun and engaging events, and to maintain safety and support in the area”.
Lauzon’s goal since becoming chair of the Morningside Initiative is to reconnect her committee and forge relationships with the organizations in the Tyler Street area such as the Tyler Street Business Group (TSBG)* and TDI. She wants to work cohesively with these organizations to accomplish their common goal of revitalizing the area for residents, families, businesses, and eventually tourists. The Morningside Initiative Steering Committee is currently made up of 3 to 4 city officials and 4 to 5 representatives from community organizations, but Lauzon stresses that they need residents to serve on the committee alongside her. “We need residents, people in the community, on the board to speak their truths and what they need”, says Lauzon. “The movement, the power, comes from the residents”.
“If we are going to really make change here in Pittsfield, people have to step forward and say, ‘what can I do to help?’ And, it doesn’t have to be a lot; everybody has something to bring to the table. I think people forget and say, ‘What do I have to bring?’ Believe me you have something, you may have to tease it out, but everybody has something that they’re good at.”
Lauzon is aiming for more focus in the Tyler Street area for the community and for the kids. She hopes to address the lack of community and family programming with a centralized community space in the Morningside area where every organization can have programming in a shared space. The Morningside Initiative is working to address these holes in programming, but they need help from the community. “Change moves slow,” says Lauzon, but she is optimistic, “I have a lot of help and a lot of resources”. She wants to credit past chairs of the Morningside Initiative, Pete Marchetti and Gail Krumpholtz, for all that they have done and continue to do.
Some of the Initiative’s successful programming includes the annual Morningside Pride Night. Pete White has been the liaison for this successful 14-year strong event at the Morningside Community School. The event which started out as a resource fair has grown to include giveaways and games for the kids. Another successful event is the annual Morningside Clean Up. City funds and CBG grants allow the Initiative to order dumpsters for one day each spring so that residents of the area can dispose of their unwanted junk safely. Lauzon is hoping to make the event a larger, team-driven community clean up day in 2019.
In April 2018, Lauzon and Dina Guiel hosted the Initiative’s first game night at Morningside Community School. Local organizations hosted game tables, math teachers had math games, and no electronics were allowed. Fifty kids and their families attended this event. Considering this a big success, the Initiative will host another game night on October 25th, 2018.
Another successful event was last year’s Harvest Dinner. The Morningside Initiative partners with the Community Gardens at the Rice Silk Mill Apartments and behind the elementary school. The leftover food in the gardens at the end of the growing season is used to prepare a meal for the families (parents and kids) attending the parent teacher conferences at Morningside Community School. Last year, 80% of parents showed up for the parent teacher conferences and dinner. “This is what the people want,” says Lauzon. On September 20th, 2018 they will host their third annual Harvest Dinner at Morningside School.
If you are interested in helping the Morningside Initiative, meetings are open to the public and are held every second Monday of the month at 5:45 pm in the Morningside Community School Cafeteria. You can also reach out to Lauzon via Facebook or any of the committee members at MorningsideInitiative@gmail.com. You can also call 413-841-5841.
By Kimberly Gritman, Downtown Marketing Coordinator
*“The Tyler Street Business Group Inc is a membership organization dedicated to the success of Morningside neighborhood and business district, striving to increase community awareness of our great shops and businesses.
Tyler Street Business Group (TSBG) works to provide focus and leadership towards creating and supporting a vibrant Morningside business district in the City of Pittsfield Massachusetts for the benefit of residents and visitors.
This group of businesses, property owners, residents, cultural and non-profit organizations join forces to increase economic activity through promoting Tyler Street as a great place to do business, obtain professional services, shop, dine, work, live, attend events, and enjoy recreational activities.”
Header image of Kate Lauzon – photo credit: Nicholas Russo