Biographies - Construct
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Updated January 10, 2017

Executive Director: Jane Ralph


Jane comes to Construct from north central Vermont. She served as Executive Director of the Clarina Howard Nichols Center serving those affected by domestic and sexual violence -an organization similar to the Elizabeth Freeman Center. As affordable housing was a primary obstacle to safety, under Jane’s leadership Clarina expanded their response to that need. Jane has worked with housing and homelessness in Washington DC and Kansas City as well as Vermont. Jane’s educational background is in Music Education with a Bachelors degree from University of Wisconsin-River Falls and pastoral with a Master of Divinity from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Primary interests include building compassionate community through intersectional approaches to racial equity and social change. Jane and her partner, Ellen Maxon, are both originally from Wisconsin and, as such, as avid Green Bay Packer fans. They have four children and five grandchildren. They enjoy theater, music, books, good food and many seasonal New England/Berkshire outdoor activities.

Board of Directors

Michael Alper

After a long and rewarding professional career in Creative Services, traveling the world to design stores, packaging, advertising and promotional material, Michael decided to leave NYC and the corporate world to work on more personally creative and satisfying projects.  Moving to upstate NY, to what had been a weekend home, he and his husband started Red House Design. There he served as President of the local Chamber of Commerce and was a member of an ad hoc committee that successfully secured a regional hospital satellite as a local health clinic in our town. In 2012 we relocated to Great Barrington, after having been visitors to the area over many years.  We have been very fortunate in our business and personal lives here and are thankful to be in a position to give back to the community. As an architectural designer, I believe deeply in the power of places to transform peoples’ lives for the better.


C. Nicholas Arienti

Nick is a partner at the law firm of Hellman Shearn & Arienti LLP, in Great Barrington.  He is a Stockbridge native who returned to the Berkshires after practicing law in Boston from 2006 through the end of 2009, and currently lives in Lee with his wife Francine and their son Evan. Nick’s law practice focuses primarily on residential and commercial real estate transactions, zoning, permitting and land use matters. Nick is Chairman of the Lee Finance Committee, serves on the Board of Construct, Inc., and is a member of the Board of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.


Thomas Berkel

Tom Berkel is an Egremont resident, and has served on the Construct Board since late 2009 in various capacities. He was born in Freeport, New York, one of ten children, and raised in Alford, Massachusetts after the family relocated when he was age 9. He is a graduate of local public schools, the University of Massachusetts (Baccalaureate, Political Science), and the University of Connecticut (Masters, Economics) where he was the Connecticut State Legislature Non-Duty Fellow. His professional career includes 20 years  with Bestfoods, a food manufacturing company, where he worked in both the Corporate and Operating companies in areas of Treasury, Finance, Business Analytics, and Consumer and Customer Research and Intelligence. After Bestfoods he worked for Cadbury Schweppes/Dr Pepper Snapple Inc. for 4 years, retiring in 2008. Today Tom volunteers his time in support of both local government and a select group of non-profit institutions and organizations. As time permits, he is an on-call substitute instructor for middle and high schoolers in one of the south county regional school districts.


Stacey Billups

Stacey Billups is a design and product management consultant working in technology. She moved to the Berkshires in 2015 after growing up near Detroit and living in Chicago and New York City. Her love of nature and the community influenced her to call the Berkshires home. She enjoys hiking, skiing and yoga. Additionally, understanding why and how people do what they do fascinates her. She analyzes workflow and actions to design systems for change to reduce costs and improve operating efficiency. She has a strategic engagement with Construct to find ways technology can better support the organization.


Peter Cherneff

Peter is starting his 10th year as a Director of Construct, Inc., having served during that time as the organization’s Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. He also serves on the Board of several other local and regional nonprofit organizations. Peter is an attorney with a practice throughout the United States specializing in Commercial Real Estate. He has been involved in the construction of many housing projects and apartment buildings. He lives in Sheffield with his wife, Hester Velmans, a noted author and translator.


Tony Chojnowski

Tony resides in Pittsfield, but is known in Lenox as Tony Casablanca. His love is retail and is the owner of Casablanca (Lenox) and several new clothing and a shoe store in Great Barrington. Construct is delighted to have a merchant from Main St., Great Barrington on the board as well as representation from the Lenox area.


Evan Hardcastle

Evan Hardcastle was born and raised here, in the Southern Berkshire County, on a small dairy farm. He now lives in Housatonic with his wife Sarah. Evan’s early twenties were spent guiding outdoor adventures for kids between the ages of 12 to 18. At age 23 he began a career as a builder and is now a part owner of the company 377 Builders; a profit share building company based out of Housatonic MA that specializes in high performance buildings.


Rabbi Neil Hirsch

Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch joined the Hevreh community in July 2015. Originally from Houston, Texas, he came to the Northeast for college and stayed for the weather and the hiking. He attended Tufts University for his bachelor’s degree, and received his masters and ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York City. Prior to his time at Hevreh, Rabbi Hirsch served Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts. He is married to Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch, who is an assistant director at the URJ Eisner Camp, located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.


John A. James

John James is an architect practicing in the Berkshires since 1986.  He received a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University.  Since moving to the Berkshires he has been actively involved in civic and community affairs, having served as a selectman in Sheffield and is currently on the Sheffield finance committee.  He has also served on the boards of trustees for Jacob’s Pillow, The Mount, Hancock Shaker Village, and the Berkshire Bach Society.


Sara Koffman

Sara Koffman, woman, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend but if I had to describe myself in one word it would be that I am a volunteer.  Volunteerism has been my avocation and passion for over 65 years as I worked in government, education, the arts and social services and the rewards have been enormous.   I have helped change many lives for the better and helped make the world a bit better place than it might have been. That, more than anything else I have been or done, has given my life meaning.


Marcia Lawrence Soltes

Originally from Pittsfield, Mass, Marcia earned her Master’s Degree from Columbia University. From 1969-2003,she taught Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition at Great Neck North High School in Great Neck, New York. She is the author of the book Menopause and Madness, the Truth about Estrogen and the Mind, 1998. She also authored Acing the New SAT, New American Library/ Dutton Publishing Co.,1994; Test Taking Strategies for the SAT and PSAT, NAL/Dutton 1978 and 1985. She founded Test Prep, Inc. in 1978 and since then has prepared students for taking the SAT. She also was co- producer, writer and host of “The Israel Culture Caravan,”  a NY Cable TV Series, 1986-1991.


Elizabeth Rosenberg

Recently retired, I was Director of a Municipal Library for 23 years.  During that time I was on a Library Cooperative Board. I served as a National Trustee of the ALS Association for 7 years and as a Board member of the Greater New York Chapter of the ALS Association for 15 years. I was elected to both a local school board, serving for 6 years, and then a regional high school board for 6 years. I currently live in Southfield and NYC with my husband Eugene.


Mark Rosengren

Mark Rosengren lives in Great Barrington with his wife Caren and 3 children: Christa, Lukas and Liam. I moved here 20 years ago from Chicago, and is a Designer/Builder of custom homes.Mark became involved in Construct shortly after moving to the Berkshires by wanting to “Give Back,” and Construct was a good fit. He has volunteered countless hours on various building projects through the years, including the offices and Men’s Transition House, Jordon House and 314 State Rd. He also recruited volunteers and contractors, working alongside of them, in building the Women’s Transition House and Priscilla’s Room. Mark has helped with many Walks and co-chaired two Mayfests. He has served on the Board 13+ years and is currently the vice president.


Deborah Ryan

Deborah Ryan moved to Great Barrington five years ago.  She spent most of her career involved in food and chocolate manufacturing on an international scale, but was also involved in ranching in Wyoming and Montana. She and her husband Bill retired here, enjoy the Berkshires community, and are committed to promoting opportunities for others who live here to improve themselves through education.   Deb also serves on the Berkshires Agricultural Ventures committee of Berkshire Grown, and CCAP, which provides scholarships and internships in the Culinary and hospitality field.


Anne Schnesel

I have resided in the Berkshires for 34 years. I was a principle owner in the Loring Gallery  in Sheffield from 1992-2008 until my retirement. I became involved with Construct along with my husband the late Ernest Schnesel sometime in 2000.  I am a former Board member of Construct. I currently hold positions on the Board of The Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, and the Executive Board of The Jewish Women’s Foundation, & Fairview Hospital, Gala Committee. I worked along with my late husband to see the fruition of Priscilla’s house at Construct.I am actively involved in “The House That Ernie Built” Campaign. Looking forward to helping Construct to become more known in the Berkshires, branding, fundraising events,  etc.It is my pleasure to continue Ernie’s vision of affordable housing and related help to this community.


Keith Seidman

In his role as Chief Financial Officer, Keith has led financial operations at companies across the spectrum from technology startups to Fortune 500 firms. Keith has more than 30 years of financial expertise at innovative, rapidly growing companies. Keith recently retired from Thinking Phone Networks, where he was responsible for financial guidance, strategy and oversight for the company. Before joining Thinking Phones, Keith held CFO positions at several Boston area technology companies including Kiva Systems (acquired by in 2012) and Acme Packet (NASDAQ: APKT), where he was responsible for securing venture financing and leading its successful 2006 initial public offering (IPO). Prior to that, Keith served as EVP and CFO at Duracraft Corp. (NASDAQ: DUCR) where he led the company’s 1993 IPO and 1994 secondary offerings and the company’s subsequent acquisition by Honeywell, Inc.. Keith began his career as a certified public accountant at Coopers & Lybrand. Keith and his wife Arleen recently retired and became residents of Great Barrington. Prior to relocating to the Berkshires, Keith and Arleen resided in Sharon, MA  where Keith was involved in financial leadership positions at Temple Israel of Sharon. Keith is also an AARP Tax-Aide volunteer in Southern Berkshire County.


Elaine Silberstein

Caring about housing for all, precipitated Elaine Silberstein’s involvement with Construct. She has been on its board for 8 years. Many of these years she has helped with planning MayFest and the Walk. Currently she is chair of the Development Committee. Elaine is also co-president of Jewish Women’s Foundation, as well as founder of ERL Design Associates. She is married to Ben and has resided in the Berkshires for 16 years .


Father Bruce Teague

Before being assigned to Our Lady of the Valley in Sheffield, Father Bruce Teague served as Chaplain to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center( a major Harvard teaching Hospital.) Father Bruce has also served for 25 years in Higher Education(including Amherst College.) as a college and university Chaplain. Father has been the Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Springfield, President of the Western MA Interfaith Council and has been committed to ecumenical and interreligious affairs. He has lived in five inner-city neighborhoods and has been ben active in Latino ministry in Holyoke, Springfield and Amherst.


Susie Weekes

Having raised her son Charlie in Washington DC Susie moved to the Berkshires in 2001 to completer her degree in Media and Philanthropy. In DC she owned 4 retail stores and served on the Board of Directors of the Lab School of Washington. Since living in the Berkshires Susie has divided her time between Real Estate and Volunteer work. While building her design and renovation business, Walker/Weekes Design she traveled to China and South Africa to capture stories for a number of NGO’s . She is been deeply involved with the Mother of Peace Orphanage in Ilovo South Africa, visiting there annually with her partner Don Roeder. Susie has been on the Board of Construct for 6 years during which co-chaired the WALK and Mayest for a number of years. She is currently finishing up a comprehensive governance handbook for Construct Inc. At the same time her design business has expanded into staging and property management with a crew of six and she is launching a campaign for a model Montessori School in South Africa.


Shirley Friedman-Yohalem

Shirley and her husband Ira have been coming to the Berkshires for thirty-five years making it their primary residence in 2013. With a personal commitment to philanthropic causes, Shirley has worked hard on the Maccabi Games, including co-chairing the Sponsors Mission to Israel; has been an active fundraiser and one of the founding members to create the “Laugh for Life” event, raising millions of dollars for Multiple Melanoma; and also has worked on events for Barrington Stage Company. Today she brings this same energy to Construct’s MayFest and the WALK, while being co-president with Elaine Silberstein of the Jewish Women’s Federation. Professionally, Shirley has been an interior designer for forty years working on both residential and commercial projects locally, in New York, and as far away as the Caribbean.


The Reverend Janet Zimmerman

The Rev. Janet Whaley Zimmerman, Ph.D. serves as Priest in Charge at Grace Church: an Episcopal Community in the Southern Berkshires here in Great Barrington. Janet served as a priest in Texas and Washington DC before coming to the Berkshires.  Prior to studying for the priesthood and being ordained, she worked as a teacher of children and later as a university professor training undergraduate and graduate students to work with children and youth with disabilities. She lives in Great Barrington with her husband.