Tracy McConnell is this year's Spirit of the Future Award recipient.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Steve Green reached into the past on Thursday in expressing what he liked so much about volunteering.
Green and his wife, Susan Walker, were being presented with the second annual Al Nelson Spirit of Caring Award, presented by the Northern Berkshire United Way to recognize their many efforts on behalf of the community.
"The one that I spoke about particularly is one that I long felt was incredibly important to me," he told the gathering at the Richmond Grille at the Holiday Inn Berkshires of his reason for volunteering. "And that is being with people like you, with people who share the same ideals and want to do good and to make things happen that are important things our community or the region needs."
It had put him in mind of what he'd said back in 1994 at NBUW's annual meeting and, with apologies to those who had heard it before, he read off the last paragraph of the speech he'd given almost 25 years ago to the day that thanked the "team" he and Walker have worked with for so many years.
"The work that you do, the ideals that you stand for, the concern which you and others share, are a testimony to your commitment to being a piece of the safety net," he read in part. "You care. You care a great deal. You are all owed far more gratitude than you receive. But you're not doing what you're doing for that type of reward. You do it because you know that what you do can make a difference. Making that difference is essential to your health and that of your neighbors."
It was a theme picked up earlier in the evening by Christa Collier, executive director of NBUW, as she dedicated to the "Spirit of Caring" event to the late Al Nelson — the first recipient of the award given in his name.
"This event is really about celebrating the relationships and work that we all do. Our honorees have really contributed to this community and truly have no expectation of awards and recognition," she said, adding when the honorees were apprised of their awards, "they're usually shocked or they say to us, this is just the work. This is thing that I want to do."
Tracy Rougeau McConnell was presented the Spirit of the Future Award; Dianne Cutillo and Bernie Pinsonnault with the Spirit of Community Award; and Specialty Minerals Inc. the Campaign of the Year award and its longtime campaign coordinator Leon "Butch" Parrott was recognized.
State Rep. John Barrett III was also on hand to speak about each award recipient and to present him or her with a resolution from the state House of Representatives (each also received a similar document from the state Senate, courtesy of Sen. Adam Hinds).
Green and Walker were longtime friends of Nelson and volunteered at the Al Nelson Friendship Center Pantry, which Green and Nelson helped co-found. They have served on the board and numerous committees of the United Way and past campaign co-chairs along with their many years of volunteering, including with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, and All Saints Church.
Walker noted that the couple were not natives but arrived 45 years ago with their infant daughter.
"As the years have gone by, we have been increasingly impressed by our community of North Adams and Northern Berkshire," she said, and referring to the recent publication of "The Gritty Berkshires" by her husband's colleague Maynard Seider, added "I think it says a lot about the people of Northern Berkshire, who have worked hard and shown through true grit over changes that have happened, many depressing and difficult.
"There has also been a gritty determination that our neighbors will not be ignored or forgotten in the midst of bad news."
Green, a sociology professor, retired from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in 2009 as vice president for academic affairs; Walker, a psychotherapist, had worked for the former Northern Berkshire Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in private practice. Both have been honored in the past for their professional and community work.
"Getting to know you both over the years, I came to know so much of what you both do," said presenter Richard Alcombright, the city's former mayor and recipient of the first Spirit of Community Award last year. "But most importantly, who you both are: you're kind, considerate, caring, loving, compassionate, generous and giving people. It's that simple.
"Both of you have shown so many of us the way, in the most effective way possible, through your example of leadership."
Collier presented the Spirit of the Future Award to McConnell, a volunteer in several areas, including coaching in youth sports, and board chair of member agency Northern Berkshire Family YMCA. She is vice president of business banking at Greylock Federal Credit Union.
McConnell in reflecting on the "why" she gives so much time to coaching said it was because of the example the coaches she had in her youth who taught her so many life skills.
"They taught me integrity, compassion, drive, sportsmanship, how to be a gracious winner or loser, and respect," she said. "They taught me that win or lose, it's how we work together as a team that mattered and how you lifted up and supported each other. ...
"It is my hope that in my own small way, I'm supporting the kids that I work with, either on the T-ball field, basketball court or soccer field, in the same manner."
Christine Hoyt, last year's Spirit of the Future Award recipient, presented the Spirit of Community Award to fellow Adams residents Cutillo and Pinsonnault.
"Christa asked me to speak about community. I started to think about what community means to me, the community can be measured by the actions and compassion of its members and partners," said Hoyt. "Community is what you make it what you want it to be and what you put into it."
The couple have been volunteers and supporters to NBUW, including as the 2018 campaign co-chairs, and Cutillo chairs the board of trustees for Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School and Pinsonnault is a trustee of the Berkshire Community College Foundation, Berkshire Fund and Adams Community Bank.
"It is a great privilege and pleasure to be involved in this community and support this wonderful place," Cutillo said in thanking the gathering.
Specialty Minerals was honored for its contributions in leadership and resources, with an average donation rate of nearly 90 percent or about $500 a year per employee.
"In addition, the company provides a generous corporate gift each year and in the most recent campaign, this generosity produced a total of $107,000, nearly 25 percent of our campaign," Collier said to applause. In all, that's added up to $2.5 million total from the company over the past three decades.
Adams plant manager Steven Thompson accepted the award on behalf of the employees and company and a special recognition was given to Parrott, a member of the NBUW board and longtime campaign coordinator at Specialty Minerals until his retirement last in March after 42 years.
"One organization that came through throughout our most difficult times in this city, in this area, was your operation," said Barrett. "Without it, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish the many things that had to be done. There wouldn't have been the charities and groups that you've supported over the years without your help."
The awards were established last year as a way to recognize the volunteer efforts being done on behalf of NBUW and its member agencies.
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