NBCC founder Al Bashevkin accepts the award from District Attorney David Capeless.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Some years ago, a mother, her boyfriend and her 4-year-old daughter walked into a business to rent furniture for their apartment.
The clerk took notice of multiple bruises on the little girl.
The child had a black eye, bruises all down her arms. The mother pulled the girl's arm a little too hard. When the child asked for a drink of water, she was denied.
The clerk finished the business transaction but those images stuck with him. He called the Department of Children and Families and immediately an investigation opened. Police went to the house and found the child with a broken wrist, sitting in a bare room, and the bruises were determined to be from the boyfriend and mother, who would beat the her.
Judge Joan McMenemy, first judge of the Berkshire Juvenile Court, remembers this story well. It was back when she was an assistant district attorney. On Wednesday morning, she told that story to a large collective of agency leaders fighting child abuse.
That story has a happy ending because of those advocates — from the police to the therapists to DCF to the district attorney to the medical staff. More importantly, for that clerk who reported it, she said.
Through the efforts of all of those various agencies, the two parents were jailed and the child was placed in a better home through the foster care system.
"Child abuse is everyone's business," McMenemy said.
In the Berkshires, there is no shortage of cases, according to District Attorney David Capeless. But the trend is turning and more children are finding help. They receive that help from the local agencies and on Wednesday one of them was honored with the 10th annual Gerard D. Downing Award.
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition founder Alan Bashevkin was the recipient of this year's award named after the late district attorney. Bashevkin founded NBCC in 1986 with the idea of bringing the community together and providing an array of programs to create the best environment for children to grow up in.
"He wanted it to be a place where neighbors help neighbors," Capeless said of Bashevkin's vision for NBCC. "Al is more than a good citizen. He's a community champion."
NBCC develops programs to combat poverty, hunger, provide resources to neighbors and, of particular importance to Wednesday's ceremony, provide help to parents.
"I'm most proud of what we've done for children," Bashevkin said, citing the Family Place program implemented for the seven Northern Berkshire County towns. "The Family Place is a place where parents can learn to be the best parents they can be."
The programs help alleviate outside concerns in an attempt to let the inherent "love" parents have for their children shine through, he said. The organization builds "resilient families" and helps set the structure and groundwork needed for a good upbringing.
"He is the head of a highly effective and well-respected coalition of community advocates," McMenemy said.
His group is one of the most important, according to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, the son of the late Gerard Downing. Benjamin Downing said he knows that every program he advocates for on Beacon Hill on behalf of Bashevin is worth it. Knowing the dollars will be well spent through the NBCC is "invaluable" to his job.
"You never worry about going to bat for Al and going to bat for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition," Downing said.
Bashevkin exemplifies a good leader because he brings the community together, identifies problems and solutions and the sets the wheels in motion to solve them. Bashevkin isn't the loudest or seeking headlines, Downing said, but instead focuses his time and energy on the community.
The award itself is what Downing believes is the best one to be named after his father.
"This award, more than anything else, speaks to the person he was," Downing said. "It speaks to why he did what he did. Being a community member is what really mattered to my father."
Gerard D. Downing was the county's district attorney from 1991 until his death in 2003. He was a strong advocate for spreading awareness and advancing the rights of victims while also being a basketball coach, mentor and performing
Al Bashevkin founded Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in 1986.
The award is presented each year to someone who has made an impact in fighting child abuse. It is given out by the Berkshire County Sexual Assault Intervention Network, which is a collaboration of local services combating child abuse.
The network is compromised of police, DCF, the Brien Center, local doctors, medical consultants, the state medical examiners and the Berkshire County Kids Place. While 30 years ago each of those services operated separately, the Kids Place now houses all of those services to streamline the investigations, medical services, therapy and eventually, if needed, through the court system.
"We are all partners. We can't do this alone," said Kids Place Program Director Christa Collier. "We are all responsible for assuring children are protected in our community."
Collier said hearing about child abuse cases keeps her up at night. But she is proud to be the head of an agency working together to stop the abuse.
Hillcrest Education Centers Executive Director Shaun Cusson said it is easy to dwell on the negative when hearing these stories. But then he looked at the attendance list for the award ceremony and saw the 31 agencies represented as something that is "right."
"We're not just connected to each other. We depend on each other," he said. "I can't help but to take a step back and dwell on what's right."
The multitude of agencies is what led the SAIN network to revamp the ceremony. Capeless said the switch was made last year from a typical ceremony, which was being held at the Beacon Cinema recently, and turn it into a "unity breakfast."