NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition presented the Northern Berkshire Emergency Operations Center Team with the Hero Award at their 35th annual meeting.
"This goes to a group of individuals that came together as a team to make sure this community stayed connected, informed, and were supplied with the necessary resources," board President Jennifer Civello said Friday at the meeting that was held at Greylock Works. "All while ensuring the safety systems continued uninterrupted during the pandemic."
Every year at its annual meeting, NBCC presents the Hero Award to a group or individual who has made a difference in the region.
This year the choice was clear — the Northern Berkshire Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) Team, who quickly mobilized and reacted to a global pandemic that was firming its grip around Berkshire County.
"During this pandemic, we all became one regardless of location," Chairman of the NBEOC Amalio Jusino, who received the award on behalf of the team, said. "That is what makes us so unique. We value every individual's ability to assist. We started as a team, and we will continue as a team."
He thanked community partners for supporting their efforts with supplies, PPE, and other resources. He also thanked community partners for helping the NBEOC set up a fully functioning command center within a weekend.
Jusino also thanked the volunteers who helped set up and run the vaccination clinic at St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall. He was happy to say the clinic closed yesterday after administering nearly 25,000 vaccinations.
Community liaison Stacy Parsons also spoke and said during NBEOC's celebratory dinner Thursday night, the team asked themselves what advice they would leave the next group charged with protecting the region from a pandemic.
She had a list.
"No one is coming. There is no secret special knowledge. You're it. Wear layers, don't forget your socks, call your local senior center ... bring a sense of humor, be open to learning new things, and always play music," she said. "... Work the system, trust the wisdom of the team, and remember which hand has the temperature gun and which hand has the hand sanitizer."
She said she hopes the NBEOC team has set the groundwork for the future. She thanked the team and the community at large for making Northern Berkshire County a safer place.
"It was a pleasure over this last 15 months to work with everyone and to see the amazing work this community can do when they come together," she said. "We got through the toughest moments together."
The meeting not only marked NBCC's 35th year but also the first time many of its members and community have seen each other in 15 months.
One presence that was missing was Joe Manning, local historian, author, and champion of North Adams, who passed away earlier this year.
State Rep. and former Mayor of North Adams John Barrett III was asked to say a few words about Manning, who he worked closely with.
"When I was mayor I was great at taking credit for everything," he said. "But let me tell you something, it was the people underneath that got it done, and Joe Manning was one of the first. He gave us an identity and most importantly he gave us a sense of pride."
Barrett said Manning saw something in a city hurt from the closing of its then-largest employer Sprague Electric. Barrett, who was then mayor, said the closure left the city with a 19 percent unemployment rate and a vacant 800,000 square foot building.
"We didn't know what we were going to do. But a few people believed and we got Mass MoCA going," Barrett said. "That is when Joe Manning came in. He walked every neighborhood in this community ... and took pictures. He saw the city in a different way and was impressed by its peoples' grit."
He said Manning saw the importance of preserving the city's history and buildings, he considered artwork. He said he often used the NBCC as a vehicle to focus the community and drive it toward the formation of a North Adams identity that he then shared with the world through his publications.
Barrett said Manning made North Adams a better community, and he asked that everybody find some inspiration from Manning's legacy, especially young people who will be the force continuing to move the city forward.
A photo montage of Manning was then played.
There was no specific keynote speaker this year and instead attendees were asked to share their own thoughts.
After playing a game named Five you Five that asked attendees to get up and talk to each other, Amber Besaw, NBCC executive director, asked for members to share something that motivated them, inspired them, or just moments of rediscovery or difficulty from the past year.
Some were thankful for youth sports programming and some were happy to see their kids and spouses grow through the pandemic. Others were happy to be able to volunteer again.
Some people were happy to be able to continue to advocate for themselves while others were just happy to be vaccinated.
Mayor Thomas Bernard stood up and simply said he was thankful for everyone in the room and community.
"I look around and the answer to the question what inspires me is not just the people in this room, but what the people in this room represent in terms of the spirit of our community," he said. "What inspires me is knowing that none of us are alone and that every one of us does it for the community which makes our community stronger, better healthier, and more vibrant."
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