Girls Scouts Bring Spruces Residents TogetherBy Stephen Dravis
Special to iBerkshires
01:01PM / Saturday, June 02, 2012
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Long after the hurricane has passed, the healing continues for residents and former residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
The dinner was part of a yearlong community service project. The first two badges, 'The Power of One' and 'The Power of Team' are seen on the tunic of Scout Anna Welch of New Ashford. The third badge in the sequence, 'The Power of Community' was earned Friday.
On Friday, that process continued thanks to the hard work of a local troop of Girl Scouts.
The Scouts, from Troop 40036 of Williamstown and Lanesborough, hosted a community supper for their neighbors most affected by last summer's Tropical Storm Irene.
"This is such an act of kindness and outreach from the Girl Scouts," said Cynthia Clermont-Rebello, president of the tenants association at the park. "It's a bittersweet reunion. For the people who had to leave and the people who had to stay, we really miss our neighbors and friends.
"We needed this to help us all in the process."
Clermont-Rebello said there were some similar suppers held over the winter by different community groups and local churches, but Friday's event in the Sts. Patrick and Raphael Parish Center was the first such gathering in some time.
"We haven't been together for months," she said. "It's good to see everyone."
The party was a service project for the Junior Girl Scouts, who spent the year earning badges in a program, or "journey," titled "Agents of Change," troop leader Julie Gill explained.
"In February, the girls met with a panel of community leaders to find out the needs of the community," Gill said. "[The troop] voted and decided the greatest area of need was the Spruces."
Both Gill and Scout Anna Welch, a fourth-grader at Lanesborough Elementary School, credited the coordinator of the Williamstown non-profit Higher Ground with helping inspire the service project.
"Mrs. (Robin) Lenz told us about how bad it was there," Anna recalled while taking a break from helping serve the baked ziti. "She showed us a map and told us about all the people who had lost their homes.
"I had seen it on the news. But I had no idea how bad it was."
Lenz, who attended Friday's dinner, was not taking any of the credit for the event.
"This was all the girls," said Lenz, who served on the panel of community leaders with Selectwoman Jane Allen and Williamstown Community Chest Executive Director Anne Singleton.
"They did it. ... I suggested maybe planting some flowers at the park. When they told me they wanted to do something like this, I thought it was too much."
Gill said the girls planned the menu, drafted the invitations and solicited help from local businesses to help make it all happen.
Among the businesses who contributed were Williams College, Mezze, Guido's Market, Wal-Mart, Shine Wire Products, Where'd You Get That, Price Chopper, Cricket Creek Farm, Storey Publishing, Big Y and Mount Williams Greenhouses, which provided flowers for centerpieces.
Scouts planned and served the dinner, wrote the invitations and solicited local businesses for donations.
Of 225 homes at the Spruces, 67 are currently habitable, Lenz said. Although all of the displaced residents are currently in housing, Higher Ground estimates that about 40 families are in housing that they cannot afford long term.
Her group, Higher Ground, was founded in the aftermath of Irene to address the issue of affordable housing in the town.
"What we're seeing here is people who survived a disaster — and people from a vulnerable population at that," Lenz said. "Their resilience is remarkable."
On Friday, the residents had a chance to break bread and share stories.
"Now is the most difficult step," Clermont-Rebello said. "It's the grieving — the sadness of it all."