The Campus Community Reaches Out

Illustrations by Sol Cotti and Carmen Segovia

When the implications of the outbreak of Covid-19 became clear in the spring, Williams stepped in to help support the community’s medical and economic health.

The college donated $50,000 to the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County. And, in hopes of mitigating the effects of a financial crisis caused by the pandemic, Williams made a commitment to avoid furloughs and layoffs of college employees and waived rents for all college-owned leases to retail businesses on Spring Street.

Students, faculty and staff also came out in force to support the local community, often using social media and the college’s Daily Message emails to coordinate their efforts and respond to needs.

Several groups sent cards, video greetings and meal deliveries to residents of Williamstown Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where more than a dozen residents who tested positive for Covid-19 died. Lily Goldberg ’22, who read about the deaths in the Berkshire Eagle, asked friends, faculty and staff (including Chaplain to the College the Rev. Valerie Bailey Fisher, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and President Maud S. Mandel) to record video messages of support to residents and staff, which Goldberg compiled and posted on the Commons’ Facebook page. “I care about Williamstown, and I wanted to make sure the residents of the Commons heard from our administration that we mourn their loss,” she says.

Members of the campus community also delivered food from the local food pantry to families in need and did grocery runs for at-risk community members through the Williamstown Council on Aging.

Students who had previously volunteered in the local schools took their outreach programs online, providing educational content and after-school tutoring at schools including Brayton and Greylock Elementary in North Adams and Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown. “Even as they adjusted to their new circumstances in various locations around the world, Williams students remained dedicated to sharing their time and passion for education with our local school partners,” says Molly Polk, the North Adams Coordinator for Williams Elementary Outreach at the Center for Learning in Action.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, which is both a Winter Study class and a community service program that provides low-income taxpayers with assistance filing their income taxes, completed their work remotely, helping more than 150 local families.

Some faculty and staff created an informal sewing group that donated masks to the community. And two student groups emerged. The Williams Mask Initiative, formed by three students and supported by 30 volunteers, made and donated more than 1,000 masks to people from high-risk populations in Berkshire County. Mask Moovers, led by two other students, raised money to send Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.

When Associate Professor of Geosciences Phoebe Cohen determined that staff at Southern Vermont Medical Center and Berkshire Medical Center were in need of personal protective equipment, she organized donations from the college’s science departments. Cohen estimates that she delivered a few thousand pairs of gloves, upwards of 40 face shields, about 100 pairs of goggles or protective glasses and a dozen N95 masks to the two hospitals.

Paula Consolini, the Adam Falk Director of Williams’ Center for Learning in Action, which helped connect Williams people to areas of need, praised the depth and breadth of campus outreach. “I found it heartwarming to see so many students, faculty and staff step up to help so quickly and so generously,” she says. “The commitment to our community shines through in all of this work.”

—Julia Munemo