Claire Eurich

For a woman who loves to travel, Claire Eurich hasn’t moved very far from where she grew up –the village of North Egremont, where she had a pony and there were still dirt roads.

“It was a quintessential Berkshire childhood, which couldn’t have gotten much better,” says Claire.  She attended the Rudolf Steiner School and the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf High School, a bucolic setting where students are involved in helping work the farm, as well as growing their imaginations and their sense of community.

Claire’s first taste of far away places came when she organized a high school trip to Nicaragua to help support a small village that had experienced a catastrophic mud slide. The village of Posoltega had basically become a refugee camp. Claire says: “As soon as I touched down there, I knew it was for me.” For the first time, she used her high school Spanish language skills in a real-life situation.

That trip was Claire’s first taste of Latin American culture. She was impressed with the sense of communal support she witnessed; as the villagers were in the process of rebuilding, homeowners would not move into their own rebuilt house until all the buildings were ready for occupation. The town was run entirely by women.  The mayor was a woman and Claire recalls visiting a town office to find all the women busy painting their toenails! She returned the following winter.

While Claire has traveled extensively in Latin America since that first experience, she has not been back to Posoltega.  She stays in touch with people from the area and hears that they are doing well. These days she returns to her favorite places in Mexico as frequently as she can – and has even driven there with her two dogs to stay during the winter months.

“Mexico is closest to my heart,” she says.

Back in the Berkshires, Claire’s mother owned a small gardening business.  Claire had been working with her Mom since her teens and began to take over the business when her mother fell ill. After her death, Claire took over the company – Stepping Lightly in Your Garden.

“From there, I have grown my own business,” says Claire, going from 15 clients to 40. Claire attended the horticulture program at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens and last fall, completed a permaculture program.

Now, Claire has cut her gardening client list in half so that she can concentrate on an experimental permaculture garden she  has created on her father’s property in Egremont.

“Permaculture is a “very large concept:  basically creating a gardening situation that mimics the patterns of nature as much as possible – a system that manages itself,” says Claire.

Claire’s sister Davin was a medical assistant at VIM, and so Claire became involved with the organization as a part-time, paid assistant in the clinical area. After some time she decided she wanted to do this work pro bono and added time at VIM’s reception desk to her volunteer activities.

Claire’s language skills are very helpful at VIM. She lived in Mexico for a number of years, had taken a Spanish immersion course in Costa Rica, and also took a medical interpretation course in Pittsfield.

“I think I have realized more and more that the Latino community in the Berkshires is a big part of my life, and that VIM is completely necessary for that community – otherwise these people would not receive healthcare. In many cases, some have never had any medical care to speak of in their lifetime. I have often interpreted for dental patients who have never seen a dentist before. “

One of the things that impresses Claire about VIM is that they use the brief time they have with patients to great advantage. She gives an example of a new patient who really had trouble with transportation.  By the time the patient had completed just one appointment with Ilana, VIM had figured out how to find transportation for the patient and had scheduled the patient for several services in the one visit – using the patient contact time to maximum advantage.

Claire says patients are “completely blown away by the sense that someone actually cares about them. Some of them see Ilana as a sort of mother figure. She takes everything so far beyond just medical appointments – she knows all their names, their family connections, who their kids are, how things are going at school, what their schedules are — her reach and memory are amazing.”

Claire is encouraged to see the cross pollination of cultures that occurs at VIM, with people from different walks of life and different cultures appreciating each other.

“My mom raised us to think if you could be of help to someone in need, you should do it. {It was important} just to be there for people who don’t have anyone.”

How does she make time for all this? How does she keep going? Yoga has been a great help to her – “I don’t think I could keep up the gardening work without it.” She also loves any other activity that keeps her outdoors, like hiking.

Claire is excited about the changes and growth of VIM. As things slow down in the landscaping business by July, she usually realizes she misses VIM and the people there and wants to get back in again. “I love the energy there – it feels so great! “