The graduating class of the Community Outreach Volunteer program poised for a picture with Northern Berkshire Neighbors' Wendy Krom, sitting left, and Annie Rodgers, sitting right. For more photos, see the slideshow.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Northern Berkshires Neighbors honored 12 Community Outreach Volunteers at the graduation ceremony at the North Adams Public Library on Thursday morning.
"My mother often told me that the best gift you can give anyone is the gift of time, and how true is that, it is an absolute truism," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "Today as you graduate from this program, this wonderful, wonderful program, what you'll be giving people in this community is your gift of time, which is truely the best thing you can give to your neighbors and friends."
Wendy Krom, the NBN coordinator at Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, explained that the 15-week program focused on accessing different service agencies and community resources. Guest presenters also visited the sessions, describing the service and eligibility for it.
"What we really need to do is engage the entire community, in relationship with each other, to be able to address the issues that we have in a way that is important," said Alan Bashevkin, the director of the coalition. "This program, really does do that."
Rich Davis, a two-year volunteer at the Friendship Center food pantry, joined the program so he can learn about more services that the Interfaith Action Initiative can provide.
Ivelisse Rodriguez, who moved to North Adams from Springfield in September, initially joined the program to learn about the programs for herself and her autistic daughter. Rodriguez said she's intending to help her friend when she moves to the city with her knowledge of resources so she can find a place to live, employment and a day-care program. Rodriguez also is now on the leadership committee with the coalition and translated the resource guide to Spanish.
Keynote speakers Natalie Cain, left, and Risa Silverman spoke at the graduation ceremony.
Eric Wilson, who graduated last year, congratulated the latest class, and offered his own words to them.
"You can make a difference," Wilson said. "[The program] did help me and I am growing. You're going to keep growing, you're always going to find out something new in the community."
Keynote speakers Risa Silverman, an outreach director at University of Massachusetts at Amherst's School of Public Health, and Natalie Cain, a Sister of St. Joseph who was key to the formation of Northern Berkshire Neighbors, closed the ceremony.
Cain told a moving story about a man who lived in Northern Berkshire and had three questions: "In all the time of the world, what was the most important time to have lived? Of all the people that lived throughout all time, who were the most important people to make a difference...? Of all the things that human beings can do with who they are, for one another, that can make a huge difference, what is the most important significant thing he can do?"
He traveled around the world to learn these answers and failed to find the answer. Back in the Berkshires he was directed toward a wise, friendly women who lived in a cabin on Mount Greylock. She concluded that the answers were the most important time to live is now, the most important people are the people right next to you and the most important thing to do is to "show kindness and love and do them no harm."
Silverman shared how outreach and prevention links and is important to overall public health.
"The health and social service systems we all know about can't do it alone," Silverman said. "We need each other to be part of this system."
This year's class is: Aldona Adams, Fran Berasi, Dan Connerton, Rich Davis, Joe DeOrdio, Carol Estes, Elaine Mattern, Helen Puccio, Ivelisse Rodriguez, Pat Stefanski, Ron Sheldon and Catrina Therrien.