Mayor Richard Alcombright was given the community partner award.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Chris May has a resume that is tough to rival.
He's a professional photographer. He's won the sportsmanship award on his high school track team. He's traveled the world. He's met David Ortiz. He's testified in front of senators and congressmen advocating for funding on behalf of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress.
And, he has Down syndrome.
The Newton-born 28-year-old is a "self-advocate" for those like him. His hope is that others can follow a path like he had, which started with inclusion programs at the elementary school level.
"I am lucky and had the same aid all throughout elementary school. I went to middle school and then onto high school where I passed the MCAS and graduated with my classmates," May said.
In high school, he played sports like all of the others. And, he found himself really enjoying taking photos of the meets and games. After graduation, he lived independently in a dorm and took classes at Cape Cod Community College. He bought Nikon camera and started taking photos of nature, landscapes, and animals.
He got a job at Star Market and was honored as the bagger of the year in 2016.
"I really enjoy my work because I help people and interact with other employees," May said.
May shared his story with a jammed packed Berkshire Hills Country Club on Friday morning for Berkshire Family and Individual Resources (BFAIR) held its annual meeting.
BFAIR, which services individuals with disabilities throughout Western Massachusetts, is now up to having a $13.2 million budget, serving 547 individuals, and has more than 300 employees. This year it opened two new homes in the Pioneer Valley as it continues to expand its scope.
"Those two really represent a substantial move as an agency, expanding our footprint in the Pioneer Valley," Executive Director Rich Weisenflue said.
May was the keynote speaker, showing what the organization hopes all of its clients will be able to achieve. The same goes for Tara Quigley, who suffered a brain injury and ended up in a wheelchair and barely able to communicate. She became a client of BFAIR in 2016 and lives at the organization's home on Cascade Street in Pittsfield.
"She now stands and walks without assistance," Weisenflue said. "Through practice and speech therapy, she now communicates with little difficulty."
Quigley was honored with the Edward Frampton Self-Determination Award for her perseverance. That was one of a number of awards handed out Friday morning, from recognizing employees for lengths of service to management training certificates to leadership awards.
The community partner award was presented to former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. Weisenflue remembers clearly when the organization was looking to open a new home in the city and a neighbor had concerns. Alcombright had worked with a neighbor to show that having a home wasn't a detriment, but rather a positive addition to the neighborhood.
"His approach which from Day 1 included to the greatest degree possible that the citizens with disabilities who reside in North Adams fully participate in city life," Weisenflue said.
Tara Quigley was recognized for her perseverance.
Under Alcombright's leadership, the city offered jobs to BFAIR clients at the Memorial Skating Rink, Armory, City Hall, and now manages the Windsor Lake snack bar.
That idea of inclusion is what Alcombright said had become an inspiration for his eight years at the helm of North Adams. He said various groups from communities of color to communities of elderly to the LGBTQ community had all included him.
"When I look back at my eight years as mayor, I realize that the greatest gift that I was given was the gift of inclusion," the former mayor said.
And that extends to the disability community.
"It has been the inclusion with BFAIR that has enlightened me and motivated me to work hard to be certain that as a city we were leaders in employing BFAIR workers," Alcombright said.
Alcombright said he is impressed by the work BFAIR does and quoted Mary Kay Ash saying, "Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway." He said the workers at BFAIR are like bumblebees in using their brute strength, will and intellect to better the lives of those with disabilities.
Friday's breakfast was the largest annual meeting the organization has ever held.
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