More than 200 volunteers gathered at the Church Street Center prior to participating in the 21st annual Day of Service on Monday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — In North County, Martin Luther King Jr. Day isn't a day off — it's a day on.
"I know it's nice to take some time off, but today as the event is, it's a day of service," said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, at a packed Church Street Center following lunch on Monday.
More than 200 volunteers entered the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' center early in the morning for the 21st annual Day of Service and were dispersed throughout the community to work on a variety of projects. Volunteers were sent to many sites, such as the Friendship Center, Louison House, various homes in Williamstown, Florida, Adams and North Adams for winterization, to the Adams Youth Center and more.
Mayor Richard Alcombright had two questions and a request for everyone after.
"Did you have fun," he asked. "Did you feel good?"
Both short questions elicited a loud, positive response.
"So we're talking about the gift of time, what we receive back on the gift of time," Alcombright continued. "Our receipt is to feel good and have fun. So that means we need to keep doing this ..."
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, who traveled up from a community service of knitting scarves in Pittsfield, stressed the importance of staying positive and rejecting cynicism despite social issues — lack of good-paying jobs, drug abuse, poverty, homelessness, hunger.
"We have the ability to change that," Downing said. "We have the ability to solve those problems if we reject that cynicism. And being here today, going out and doing that work today together we're reminded of that. That doesn't mean we solve every problem in the world over three hours ... but it means we pushed the rock a little bit farther up the hill."
Paul Austin of the Northern Berkshire Habitat of Humanity received this year's Peacemaker Award.
MCLA President Mary Grant credited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders for inspiring the community to join together and help each other out.
"When we have a chance on a day like this to gather together, to make a difference, to be part of the community, we do it because we're on the shoulders of Andrew Young, we're on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, we're on the shoulders of John Lewis," Grant said.
The celebration was capped off with the presentation of the Peacemaker Award to Paul Austin, the president of Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity. Alex Daugherty, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Committee, said Austin volunteers a lot of his time and encourages others to help any way possible.
"If you ever had the opportunity to know Paul or work with him, he's one of the guys that says, 'If you show up, you're on the job,'" Daughtery said.
Austin thanked the volunteers and his present and past board members at Habitat for all their work.
"I love you all, thank you so much," Austin said.
This year's celebration included numerous acts in between speeches. MCLA's a capella group Allegretos and dance group Nexxus performed. In addition, Drury High School Jazz Band singer Jake Daughtery and guitarist Michael Mazzu played "The General" by Dispatch and "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley. Percussionist Otha Day closed the celebration.
In addition to the regular celebration, the "Wall of Hope" was displayed in the hallway leading to the Church Street Center's back exit. In 1994, students from North County were asked to create essays, poems and drawings to share their dreams. Twenty years later, Northern Berkshire Neighbors, a program of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, asked about 275 fourth- and fifth-graders from Greylock, Sullivan, C.T. Plunkett, St. Stanislaus Kostka, Gabriel Abbott Memorial and Emma Miller Memorial schools to participate.
There were a variety of messages, many conveying the need for less violence and weapons, not smoking cigarettes and being more tolerant towards others.
The lunch was provided by MCLA's Aramark and the Berkshire Food Project.