Catherine Yamamoto is introduced by Moderator Mark Gold as recipient of this year's Faith R. Scarborough Award.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Catherine Yamamoto is never shy when it comes to speaking before a group or in front of a television camera about an issue she passionately supports.
Put the focus on her, and it's a different matter.
At Tuesday evening's annual town meeting, Yamamoto stood before the crowd at Mount Greylock Regional High School and kept her head down, shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked like a person who would rather have been anywhere else in the world as Town Moderator Mark Gold read the citation honoring her as the 2013 recipient of the Faith R. Scarborough Award.
When Gold was through, Yamamoto took the microphone and, predictably, started talking about other people.
"It has been my privilege to live here and interact with so many of you over the past 29 years, and I look forward to meeting more of you as we travel this path together," she said. "I can accept this award only if I may share it with my colleagues on the Affordable Housing Committee: Charles Bonenti, Cheryl Shanks ... Van Ellet, Bilal Ansari and Leigh Short, my fellow Higher Ground board members and, really, with all of you, my fellow Williamstown residents.
"All of us are pulling together to solve a very large problem we face. Though there may be different opinions about what the solution may be, I am convinced that we all agree a solution we must find. And I believe a solution is out there."
As both one of the founders of Higher Ground, the non-profit that started just after 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, and as chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee (a role she took on just before Irene), Yamamoto has been a vocal and highly visible advocate for those who would benefit from more subsidized housing — particularly residents and former residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
In presenting Yamamoto with the 32nd Scarborough Award, the selection committee recognized that her role has not always been an easy one.
"While many of us agree that we need more affordable housing for our children, parents and those who work in town, we have not been able to agree on a solution," the citation read. "As a lightning rod on this issue, you have not flinched away from doing what you think is right.
"You believe in your community and believe that we all have an obligation to help each other. This core belief has allowed you to cope with the stress and contentiousness that you have faced in the past few months."
Kathy Vareschi, left, is this year's Town Employee of the Year for providing services 'above and beyond' in helping the town's elderly get where they need to go.
Indeed, an otherwise uneventful annual town meeting offered a window on that contentiousness.
A floor discussion on a proposal to fund a residents cooperative to purchase the flood-prone park included one Spruces resident who questioned the motives of the proposal's author. Gold was forced to interrupt the speaker twice to ask her to stay on point and avoid personal attacks.
Ninety minutes earlier, Gold was praising Yamamoto for having the skills needed to help the town get past the attacks and reach an agreement.
"You are patient, persistent and a good listener," read Gold, who served on the committee that selected the honoree for the community service award. "You are dogged and do not give up, an essential trait if we are ever to solve this long-term issue. You have devoted countless hours to help us reach a consensus, and though your work is not yet done, we are confident that you will persevere and help us to a successful outcome, whatever it may be."
Yamamoto, who earlier this month was named the Williamstown Community Chest's Volunteer of the Year, joked that persistence and perseverence may not be enough.
"Please, if anyone has some pixie dust, that might help too," she said.
Tuesday's meeting also featured the awarding of the town's Employee of the Year award.
Kathy Vareschi was honored for her service driving the Council on Aging's van, an increasingly necessary service to the town's older residents.
"We have noticed that there are an increasing number of elders using the services of the fabulous wound clinic at (North Adams Regional Hospital) and those particular medical transport numbers are way up," COA Director Brian O'Grady wrote in the annual town report. "In addition, there have been increases in all other types of travel, particularly grocery shopping trips and transportation to medical appointments, including doctors and rehabilitative services.
"These latter items, medical travel and grocery shopping, we call 'life support,' and they constitute our principal priorities for van use."
Vareschi provides service that goes above and beyond the call of duty, according to Williamstown League of Women Voters President Anne Skinner, who made Tuesday's presentation.
"She knows them, their lives, their families and their likes and dislikes," Skinner said of Vareschi. "I've been told she's like having an additional family member around."