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Students in the Leading Minds program at Williams College were in North Adams on Friday doing community service. Aanya Kapur, left, and Yaznairy Cabrera are painting the pole.
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Roger Eurbin welcomes the group, including co-leaders Olivia Jackson, to his left, and Joseph Wilson, far right.
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Heavy lifting at Hillside.
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Painting light poles.
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The newly painted cross walk at Holden Street.
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Cleaning up brush near the Hoosic River.
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Williams College Students Cleanup, Paint Up in North Adams

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Leading Minds students had lunch at the UNO Center.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — At Hillside Cemetery, William College students set to work straightening out gravestones and scrubbing them clean.

On Main Street, they were painting the vintage-looking light poles shiny black and a crosswalk in bright colors. Still more were over at Christopher Columbus Drive clearing brush around the Hoosic River.

The green T-shirt clad students on Friday morning were participating in the Leading Mind program, one of a half-dozen "EphVentures" designed to introduce the class of 2020 to the bucolic Williamstown college and the Northern Berkshires.

"We welcome all these students to Williamstown and we call it the Purple Bubble," said Benjamin Lamb, the college's assistant director for student organizations and involvement. Lamb's also president of the North Adams City Council, so who better to introduce the young Ephs to the Steeple City?

"There's two goals of getting them over here in North Adams: one, to show them what North Adams has to offer so they get to see all the things that are happening here, so they see our Main Street but also just to learn from the different people who are doing really cool work here locally, whether that's at the cemetery or the Hoosic River Revival or right here on Main Street."

Ephventures offers opportunities from learning about the area to getting involved in issues of culture and sustainability. For the Leading Mind group, it was a chance for learning about leadership and community service with upper classmen

Mid-morning Friday, Roger Eurbin of the Hillside Restoration volunteer group was giving some history of the cemetery to the seven or so volunteers. It was the resting place of one of their own, he said: archaeologist John Henry Haynes, Williams class of 1876. Something of a non-traditional student — he was at least 23 when he entered the college — he would be considered the "father of American archaeological photography" and become the first U.S. Consul to Baghdad.

"Don't lean against the stones whatever you do," cautioned Eurbin. "Don't push against them."

Joseph Wilson, a sophomore, had suggested working at Hillside, where volunteers have been repairing and straightening stones dating to 1798.  

"The freshman had to choose their EphVenture and they chose Leading Minds," he said. "Over the summer, we, the leaders, had to decide what service projects to do and we chose the cemetery."

His co-leader, senior Olivia Jackson, a senior from Connecticut, was fully on board.

"We did this last year, too. When Joe wanted to come here as the project, I said, 'yes absolutely,'" she said. "We had a really good time and it's a really good way for everyone to bond over something ...

"Even if it's not their top choice activity, I think it's a really good way to sort of come together and help the community."

Jackson said he was inspired by similar volunteer work he'd done at home in Georgia.

"I've enjoyed being able to fix this part of history because most people neglect cemeteries because it's full of dead people ... but they deserve the most respect."

On Main Street, the students were getting paint on the poles and street, and also on themselves, with many sporting black handprints on their T-shirts. "It's not coming off so we might as well," one joked to Lamb as he walked by.

Yaznairy Cabrera of Lawrence and Aanya Kapur of London were touching up the bases of the light poles.

Both had attended their respective orientations — first generation for Cabrera and international for Kapur — but hadn't done much in the community yet.

"We decided to do Leading Minds, the project, and one of the things that are part of the project is to do a community activity like showing leadership and service," said Cabrera.

Both were enjoying their time that day and liked what they saw in North Adams. "It's a lot like my hometown," said Cabrera. "It was a mill town, too."

Kapur said she "very excited" to be attending Williams.

Students had already completed the colorful crosswalk, a project of Art About Town, with Phil Sellers. That group has been behind the creative patterns on some of the city's downtown streets. Lamb said he'd like to get Williams students more involved with that project as well.

Students were also clearing away brush with Hoosic River Revival Vice President David Willette around Christopher Columbus Drive to make it easier for HRR representatives to get into that area where a proposed riverwalk and reconfiguration of the river will begin.

"They're working hard over there," Lamb said.

The entire group later had lunch at the UNO Center and got to hear about the space, the UNO organization and reflect on the day's activity, he said.

"This is really just to get them engaged beyond the borders of Williamstown," Lamb said. "And realize they're part of North County at least for the next four years while they're students here. "

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