The Scene | Brien Center’s Annual UNICO Dinner shines light on Berkshire Health Systems

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PITTSFIELD — In her moving, honest and inspirational speech, The Brien Center’s Annual UNICO Dinner guest speaker, Amy Alexander, spoke in memory of her father when she quoted Norman Vincent Peale, the American minister and author known for his work in popularizing the concept of positive thinking: “Hold an image of the life you want, and that image will become fact.” 

Alexander has been a public speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Berkshire County for 10 years.

On May 11, a Thursday evening, more than 160 attended the The Brien Center’s Annual UNICO Dinner at the ITAM Lodge that honored Berkshire Health Systems for “sustained advocacy and support of the Brien Center and the community,” with individual tickets priced at $40, including a table of sponsors at different levels and other contributions toward the event in addition to a raffle. 

Named in honor of Ray Brien and his service as executive director to the organization for 20 years, The Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse  mission is “Providing a continuum of care for children, adolescents, adults and families who suffer from serious and persistent behavioral health disorders. We are guided by the belief that everyone in Berkshire County benefits when people are mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.” Ray Brien envisioned the agency would become the premier provider of behavioral health services for the county and today his vision has come into fruition.

Taking tickets at the event were Mateo Martello of human resources at The Brien Center and Lois Hobbs, director of human resources.

“We are really excited to host our sixth annual dinner.”  said Martello, “This is a successful staple fundraiser for the Brien Center.”

Underwriting support and sponsors included UNICO; Berkshire Health Systems; Mountain One; The Feigenbaum Foundation; Austen Riggs Center; Berkshire Bank; Greylock Federal Credit Union; Hillcrest Educational Centers; Berkshire Children and Families; Cohn  Kinne Valicenti & Cook; Community Health Programs; Gobel & Hollister; and Lombardi, Clairmont & Keegan. The Brien Center thanked friends at Interprint Inc. for their gift.

The Brien Center’s executive assistant to the President and CEO of the Brien Center Mary Murphy led the flow of guests to their tables and assisted in organizing the event. “We organize this event every year and this year we are happy to honor Berkshire Health Systems.” 

Sitting at a nearby table overlooking the placid Pontoosuc Lake were Dr. Alex N. Sabo, Berkshire Medical Center’s chairman of the department of psychiatry; Berkshire Health Systems President and CEO David E. Phelps; the president of Fairview Hospital and BMC Hillcrest Campus, Eugene Dellea; and Diane Kelly, the chief operating officer at BMC. 

“It’s been a lovely collaboration with The Brien Center throughout the years,” Sabo said.

Phelps added: “We are just happy to be here for The Brien Center. We share in the treatment and recovery of our patients and it’s great to celebrate our progress and visualize the future.” 

For the dinner, The Brien Center teams up with The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Berkshire County. The organization is in its sixth year “supporting, educating and advocating for Berkshire County residents whose lives are affected by mental illness.” And there to represent the organization was NAMI Executive Director Brenda Carpenter and board President Deborah Sadowy-Dargie.  

Carpenter said, “Our role is to bring awareness on mental illness, through crisis intervention of the community and training with law enforcement and first responders. We work to support and educate not only the patient, but the patient’s family.”

“I think this is a great event and fundraiser for The Brien Center,” Sadowy-Dargie said. “Together we are a cut above the rest in the treatment and support of the community.

“I think it’s important to stress that NAMI does not just work with the patient, but we teach and work with the families keeping with the legislation.”

UNICO catered the event and set up a Italian smorgasboard made to warm and comfort guests in preparation for the beginning of the evening's lineup of speakers. Guests piled on their plates pasta, meatballs and roasted chicken. A basket of rolls and salads were also served followed by tempting sweets.

Prior to dinner, Dr. Jennifer Michaels, the Brien Center’s medical director, spoke with enthusiasm and empathy: “I’ve been with the Brien Center for over 25 years and I couldn’t be more thankful and passionate about the work that The Brien Center does. This is fundamental to our community and to our community's well being. … Our mission is to help our patients reclaim their lives so that they can be happy, healthy people and this fundraiser helps us with this mission.”

Rick Lombardi, chairman of Brien Center board, said, “ I think this is a wonderful event and fundraiser and a nice operation to thank BMC for their continued care and support.”  

Supporters of the event, David and Deborah Rimmler of Lenox, sat while partaking in dinner. “We are here with friends and think supporting mental health is important for everyone in the community,” said Deborah Rimmler.

At 7 p.m., Brien Center President and CEO Christine Macbeth took to the podium and welcomed all to the dinner. 

“We are here tonight to celebrate the Brien Center, but more importantly, we are here to celebrate the people we serve in the community and their tremendous courage -- courage like Amy Alexander, our first speaker this evening,” Macbeth said. “We are also honoring and recognizing longtime Brien Center Community partner Berkshire Health Systems for their sustained advocacy and support for the past 25-plus years.”

She added,  “It is apropos we are having our celebration in May as it is Mental Health Awareness Month. As Berkshire County’s primary community-based behavioral health provider, the Brien Center works every day to address the needs of our community through our continuum of services; to facilitate a better understanding about how behavioral health affects everyone; and, to ensure those who are affected by mental illness and/or addiction get the support they need. 

“We are guided by the belief that everyone in Berkshire County benefits when people are emotionally healthy. Our goal is to promote healing, health and hope in the future.” 

And with that she introduced the first speaker Amy Alexander who shared her truth of mental illness and her journey through depression. She thanked The Brien Center.

“I know there is a reason and I know there is hope through the darkness, and I’m coming out of the darkness into the light,” Alexander said.

Macbeth next introduced Sabo, the BMC doctor, and credited the BMC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and its clinical collaborative with The Brien Center. Sabo said, “We have been tremendously fortunate to have Chris Macbeth for her dedication and services throughout the years.” 

Macbeth next introduced Phelps, of Berkshire Health Systems, and Ray Lombardi, of The Brien Center board. 

Lombardi said he’s been a board member for more than 30 years,

“And one of the best opportunities I had was working with Ray Brien,” Lombardi said. “He was a visionary and the catalyst of this organization and the shining example of community working together to achieve common goals.”

Phelps added, “Ray was a logical visionary, he understood the needs of the community and he influenced them with logic. We’ve been at this for 25 years and I want to recognize the people who serve on this board with their voluntary service. We thank the board much and best wishes for another 25 years.” 

And with that, Macbeth came to the podium with her affiliates, for the award presentation.

“On behalf of the Brien Center’s board of directors, our staff and those we serve in the community and with my sincerest thanks and deepest appreciation, I want to present [Berkshire Health Systems] with the Brien Center’s Community Partnership Award for your sustained advocacy and support of the Brien Center over the years and the community we both serve,” Macbeth said.

Mental Illness can be a lonely disease and thanks to organizations like The Brien Center, Berkshire Health Systems and NAMI, Berkshire County is given hope, and with hope, the community can triumph over adversity. 

In final reflection of the evening, Macbeth’s words stood out: “We know people don’t recover from an illness in isolation; they recover in a community.”


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