HorizonsMay 23, 2022

updated Jan 20, 2023

Empowered Changemakers

Sophomores tackle projects to make a difference

Her hometown of Belgrade, Serbia, is 4,400 miles from the Berkshires, but Iva Knezevic ’24 wanted to help her adopted MHS community in the Berkshires.

As a sophomore, she participated in the 10th grade Horizons “Empowered Changemaker” project, which asks students to choose a cause or issue of importance to them, then devise a meaningful action in response. Passionate about science, specifically biology and chemistry, Iva looked for how to combine that interest with a local impact.

When a classmate told her about Volunteers in Medicine (VIM), a nearby Great Barrington nonprofit that provides access to free, comprehensive health care for the uninsured or under-insured, Iva found her match. With COVID-19 being part of our daily lives for more than two years, she decided to fundraise for VIM and learn more about how COVID has affected local residents.

Iva set up a donation box in the Ferguson Sun Room and also established a GoFundMe page, to support the effort.

I wanted my project to be specific to the Berkshires, making a greater impact for a number of people.

Empowered Changemaker

Iva connected with VIM’s Director of Advancement to learn more about healthcare needs in the community and how to help. She also reached out to MHS alums who work in the public health and social justice fields to ask them about the impact of COVID.

Her biggest takeaway? That COVID exacerbated the underlying healthcare issues, such as access to quality care and affordability of that care, that already exist.

“I was interested in seeing how specifically the Berkshires has been dealing with the pandemic,” Iva adds. “A lot of factors weigh into it, but, often, the people who have had the toughest time, it is related to their socioeconomic status. Peoples’ living or working circumstances affect their chances of getting COVID and then affect their ability to get treatment, and those are the people who VIM most frequently helps.”

Sophomore Horizons — Sense of Place

In October, Horizons sophomores visited three local farms to learn more about local food systems and participate in harvesting and other work. Next, they visited three museums that were hosting special exhibitions related to indigenous history and culture, including the history of the Mohican people who first inhabited the Berkshires.


More Empowered Changemakers

Zoe Ozawa, Oumou Sidibe, Daniela Labori Boix, Diana Calle, and Nat Williams-Jack collected blankets, socks, coats, sweaters, shirts and pants, supporting Western Mass Labor Action, which operates emergency food, clothing, and other programs for members.

Alida Perri, Maddie Tillem, and Leora Cook-Dubin collected donated arts and crafts, snacks, and other play items for children at Pittsfield’s Berkshire Kids Place, which supports children who are victims of or witness to abuse, and the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which supports victims of domestic violence.

Sophia Tillem held a vegan bake sale, with proceeds benefiting Farm Sanctuary and the Food Empowerment Project.

Joana Zimmermann published a poetry collection, “A Young Woman’s Symphony,” exploring themes of transracial adoption, being black, racism, growth, loss, memories, and family.

Najma Yusuf presented on the history and development of her home country, Somaliland, and organized a petition in support of the country’s independence.

Malena Carraro organized a viewing of the documentary Speak What We Feel, which tells the story of the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, as part of her work to build connections with nearby Shakespeare & Company.

Kyla Gore and Naomi Hopkins compiled information about financial backing for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates, to inform voters in the next election. Great Work!