Berkshire Immigrant Center Gala

Event at Shakespeare & Company Raised $125,000  

By: - Jun 07, 2023

About 200 hardy souls braved a damp and chilly Sunday at Shakespeare & Company in support of a fundraising event for Berkshire Immigrant Center.

There are some 10,000 immigrants in the Berkshires and the organization provides support and services.

My Haitian BFF, Robert Henriquez told me “They do great work and were very helpful when I applied for Citizenship during Covid.”

His wife, the performer Lisa Avery, was co chair with Mary Spina of the One World Celebration Committee. She was keeping a watchful eye as the event unfolded on a tight schedule.

It started with a meet and greet outside the Tina Packer Playhouse. There was a groaning board of cheese and charcuterie. Guests enjoyed flutes of champagne, wine, and craft brewed beer.

Having imbibed we repaired to a large tent for the program.

There were opening remarks by BIC board president, Kate Burton, who introduced the recently appointed executive director, Melissa Canavan. They described the mandate and need of the non profit organization.

The mission of the Berkshire Immigrant Center is to advocate for the rights of all immigrants by helping them navigate the complex U.S. immigration system with affordable legal services, local resources, and education.

The British born actor and director, James Warwick, with charm and wit commented on himself as an immigrant and now a citizen. This summer he will direct a world premiere of Donald Margulies’s Lunar Eclipse for S&Co.

He introduced the Chilean vocalist Natalia Bernai who was accompanied on seven string guitar by Jason Ennis. She spoke of her heritage and a broad selection of musical genres from Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Peru and Brazil. There was a fluid arc through the enchanting, mesmeric music. She accented the performance with dance movements including grabbing and waving her long skirt.

There was a seismic mood swing when Wanda Houston and her band belted out soulful show tunes. She was well known to many in the audience as “The Diva of Berkshire County.”

Indeed, and then some.

With great and powerful range it is no surprise that she has Broadway credits both musical and dramatic. At an earlier point in her career she prepared to audition for the Metroplitan Opera but opted for musical theatre.

She busted loose with the Cuban anthem “Guantanamera.” It was cold in the tent and she invited the audience to get up and shake their booties.

The first to do so were the old smoothies, our friends from the Berkshire International Club, Cookie and Enrico. Soon others jumped in and the tent was a titubating mass of gyrating bodies.

Houston stoked the stove and it slid into party time.

Astrid was dancing with Lisa and pulled me out onto the floor. Braced by my rocker I made some moves. It was great to shake out the kinks.

After her set State Representative, William “Smitty” Pignatelli, shook the money tree. The back of programs had a paddle number. Patrons raised them to pledge for contributions that started at $1,000 and ended at $50.  Pignatelli announced that if $20,000 was raised a grant would match that.

To get the bottom line I e-mailed Sheryl Lechner the Development Director.

She was still tallying but stated that some $125,000 was raised overall.

As to paddle pledges she wrote that “We received  news of a $20,000 grant from the Donald C. McGraw Foundation, via Robin McGraw, a trustee of the foundation who lives in the Berkshires and is active with several nonprofits. He asked us to use the news of this grant to inspire people to match that amount at the paddle raise. We haven't pinned down the exact amount yet but it was well over $20,000 -- our guests were incredibly supportive!”

In every sense it was a wicked cool event.