MLK Committee members Kathy Keeser and Alex Daugherty speak at Monday's Martin Luther King Day gathering.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Martin Luther King Jr. Committee awarded Kenna Waterman the 2019 Peacemaker Award and Shine Wire contributed almost $40,000 to her cause.
After a morning of community service Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, those who took the day on instead of the day off met at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to recognize local community leader and addiction assistance advocate Kenna Waterman.
"It is an honor to be recognized for using my voice and telling my story and spreading my passion for assistance and recovery for opioid addiction," Waterman said. "As a community, we have come together to help others understand that addiction is not a moral failing and it can happen to anyone and when it does we have to do whatever we can to assist in recovery. ...
"To be recognized and awarded for this is proof that stigma is fading and that is further motivation for me to continue this important work."
Waterman lost her son Josh Bressette in 2014 when his addiction to heroin led to his murder. In the aftermath of that tragic loss, she founded the nonprofit Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life that provides financial, inspirational, and peer support to those seeking recovery from addiction.
Waterman has spoken publicly about her son's battle with addiction and has worked tirelessly to support recovery, combat stigma, and educate others about the impact of addiction in Northern Berkshire County.
"Josh is the inspiration that keeps me going every day," she said. "With Josh's death came the realization that I needed to make people understand the plight of those suffering from opioids just as he had. I believe today he is looking upon us proud of those who have succeeded in recovery as well as those who have helped along the way."
Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness for Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, touted Waterman's impact in the community and said her organization has financially supported more than 425 people seeking recovery and even more have received peer support.
Waterman said the organization has provided transportation to treatment, information to those struggling with addiction, payments for Suboxone, and rent money for sober living homes.
Greg Shine, CEO and president of Shine Wire Products in Adams, wanted to make sure Waterman could continue her work and presented her with a $3,500 check on behalf of the Shine employees and pledged $35,000 from the Shine family
"Today we have a love story. A story about service, a story about a family who saw a crisis, and amongst that crisis also tragedy was woven in," Shine said. "With that tragedy, decisions were made based on love and service and because of that today ... I think I identified my purpose clearly when I listened to Kenna speak this fall at Williams College. Something hit my heart and today I know our relationship going forward is true."
State Sen. Adam Hinds read a Senate citation on behalf of the organization said much of the positive progress Waterman talked about is because of people like her.
"I want to break the news to you that it is because of your work that people are now facing addiction with a great sense of compassion and purpose," he said. "So you are the reason we are seeing that in this community ... can't thank you enough for what you brought to the battle."
Waterman thanked everyone for their continued support.
"I believe in my heart that the answer to the opioid crisis is compassion, kindness, and understanding," she said. "Just as Dr. King believed treating people with love is the answer."
The day began with community members tackling projects at the Northern Berkshire Family YMCA, Goodwill Industries, Louison House, and Adams Youth Center among others. Volunteers also collected donations throughout the region and helped winterize area homes.
At the college's Venable Hall, other volunteers made mittens, scarfs, and blankets as well as other crafts to be given out throughout the community. The 26th annual event culminated in a luncheon for participants, speakers and the Peacemaker Award presentation.
State Rep. John Barrett III looked back to the early days of the Day of Service and said it ceases to amaze him how the community comes together — especially in subzero temperatures.
"I can't say enough about this community and how they come together on this community day of service," he said. "This is the type of activity that we need throughout our country bringing our young people together so they can see the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day."
Mayor Thomas Bernard also spoke and said North Adams is a welcoming and inclusive community that supports each other in times of strife. He cited community efforts to help those affected by a recent house fire as well as Waterman's own efforts to battle addiction in the community.
"Anyone that looks at our community and views its differences in race, ability, immigration status, gender identity, socioeconomic status as a weakness does not know what strength or what real justice looks like," he said. "It looks like us and it only gets stronger the more people we welcome into our world so let's get to it."