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Retired Milne Library Director Pat McLeod, left, accepts the Town Employee of the Year Award on Thursday from Polly Macpherson.

Williamstown Volunteer of the Year Speaks for the Voiceless

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Andi Bryant was presented the annual Community Service Award. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Inclusion was a big topic at Thursday's annual town meeting — and not just because of arguments about the inclusivity of the Progress Pride flag.
 
The winner of this year's Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Community Service Award had some thoughts about how exclusive the town has been and is.
 
"I want to talk about the financially downtrodden, the poor folk, the deprived, the indigent, the impoverished, the lower class," Andi Bryant said at the outset of the meeting. "I owe it to my mother to say something — a woman who taught me it was possible to make a meal out of almost nothing.
 
"I owe it to my dad to say something, a man who loved this town more than anyone I ever knew. A man who knew everyone, but almost no one knew what it was like for him. As he himself said, 'He didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.' "
 
Bryant was recognized by the Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Committee as the organizer and manager of Remedy Hall, a new non-profit dedicated to providing daily necessities — everything from wheelchairs to plates to toothpaste — for those in need.
 
She started the non-profit in space at First Congregational Church where people can come and receive items, no questions asked, and learn about other services that are available in the community.
 
She told the town meeting members that people in difficult financial situations do, in fact, exist in Williamstown, despite the perceptions of many in and out of the town.
 
The volunteerism-award selection committee got the message.
 
"Andi has opened the eyes of many in our community who were unaware of the many who experience these hardships," Town Moderator Elisabeth Goodman said in reading the proclamation for the honor. "Our community is a much better place for having you in it. We all ow you our deep and abiding gratitude."
 
And Bryant said she is proud of the work done by Remedy Hall and proud of the people who benefit from it.
 
"It takes courage and bravery to accept help," she said. "As I tell them at Remedy Hall … always hold your head high. Be proud of who you are. You are below no one, no matter what.
 
"I'm proud of this hall, as well as those who give their time and effort to support it."
 
Remedy Hall is currently open 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the back of the church on Main Street and accepts donations of anything but weapons, tobacco products or medications (except diaper rash cream, which it does accept).
 
The other honor bestowed each spring at town meeting is the Town Employee of the Year Award given by the Williamstown chapter of the League of Women Voters.
 
The League's Polly Macpherson announced that longtime director of the Milne Public Library Pat McLeod is this year's honoree, the second time she has received the recognition.
 
"In 25 years, a lot of things change in the library world," Macpherson said, referencing McLeod's efforts to modernize the library's services as well as renovate the inside of the Main Street facility.
 
"Patronage of the library has increased significantly, as has use of the building by outside groups" Macpherson said.
 
McLeod thanked her staff at the library, its dedicated volunteers, the trustees who govern the library and the non-profit Friends of the Library group that raises money to support library programs — for decades at an annual used book sale in April and more recently at a year-round used book shop on Spring Street.
 
"I also need to thank our donors," McLeod said. "All these renovations that Polly mentioned that have been going on over the last nine years were totally supported by private donors and did not cost the taxpayers any money. It was a vision that I had that I was able to share with them, and they were able to give to the library."
 
McLeod retired from the Milne at the end of last year, part of a mass departure of veteran town employees in the last 12 months.
 
Town Manager Robert Menicocci used Thursday's meeting to express his thanks to dedicated employees like McLeod and Julie Snow, a 20-year employee in the town accountant's office who died in December. The annual town report was dedicated to Snow's memory.
 
"There is close to 200 years of experience that has left the town this past year," Menicocci said.
 
"It's important to acknowledge the great work folks did in that time period and acknowledge that there's a huge vacuum. It's getting harder and harder to get folks interested in the public service thing.
 
"We'd appreciate any and all help. Send people our way."

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Williamstown Select Board Discusses Justice Department Program for Schools

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday discussed inviting a U.S. Department of Justice program into the local public schools to help address bias incidents.
 
Randal Fippinger told his colleagues about the DOJ's "School-SPIRIT" initiative, which is similar to but not a part of the federal agency's Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships program, which came to Williamstown two years ago.
 
SPIRIT, which stands for Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together, involves bringing trained facilitators from the DOJ to the schools to lead conversations addressing "tension and conflict related to issues of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability," according to the DOJ website.
 
While stressing that SPIRIT and SPCP are separate programs with different constituencies, Fippinger indicated that the process will be familiar to those who went through the law enforcement program in 2022.
 
"The folks who led that program enjoyed working with the Williamstown community, so they are very open to working with us again," Fippinger said. "There was a three- to six-month planning process to come to a facilitated community conversation to identify what the priorities are and what the needs are.
 
"Part of it is meant to be restorative practice, where we get to identify the problems and try to address the problems by the people who are suffering from the problems, as opposed to some outside group coming in. It's meant to be problem solving from within."
 
Fippinger said he hopes the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee will consider inviting the DOJ to run the program in the district.
 
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