Natalie Cain credited every organization and community member who made her what she is for the honor.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Since 1993, Natalie Cain has been organizing after-school activities for at-risk children, neighborhood camps, parenting grounds and providing support for foster care families.
But when District Attorney David Capeless called her recently to tell her she is going to be honored for her work, she thought he dialed the wrong number.
"I can only claim that I am who I am because of the community around me," Cain said Tuesday morning when she became the ninth recipient of the Gerard D. Downing Award.
The annual award is given in honor of the late Berkshire district attorney to those who exemplify extraordinary commitment to the county's children.
Cain, a North Adams native and a Sister of St. Joseph, started her efforts to help the county's youth when she joined the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in 1993 as a neighborhood development specialist. As a community organizer, she tried to empower others through counseling and youth programming but said she did it only to give back to the community that supported her family when she was growing up.
"All the paper knowledge in the world doesn't matter if you don't listen to the people around you," state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, Gerard Downing's son, said, adding that Cain's whole life has been focused on listening to others and providing them with support.
Downing recalled his father's coaching days at the Catholic Youth Center as an example of the dedication he had to listening to the community and the county's children. Just as Cain does, Gerard Downing went above the call of duty to help them, he said.
Cain said listening to the community is the key to giving back. She asked the crowd at the Beacon Cinema to point to themselves and noted everyone pointed to their heart.
"When you talk about 'this is me,' you point right to your heart and that's what this is all about," Cain said. "We have an ear in our heart and when we listen to that, you can't go wrong."
District Attorney David Capeless said he has a personal connection with presenting this award because of his time working side by side with Gerard Downing.
Her work has helped further a culture of collaboration among county agencies that is dedicated to helping children, Capeless said. The numbers of reported abuse are growing but that doesn't mean that there are more abused children, Capeless said, it means that the reporting and protecting groups are working better.
"Last year, we've had far more reports than we've had cases and that shows our education efforts are working," Capeless said.
Capeless was joined by North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright to present the award. Alcombright was a co-nominator of Cain and talked about her dedication, saying her mentoring of children is the most important aspect. He gave her a city certificate honoring her work.
Donna Mattoon, representing Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, and Benjamin Downing also honored Cain with certificates.
"If at this point in my life if I can be characterized as someone who listens, that's pretty good," Cain said in response to the honors. "Let's just continue to love those kids and remember that the middle word in child is I."
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