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Northern Berkshire Coalition Recognizes Good Works
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:27PM / Monday, July 13, 2020
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Myles Whitney poses with the citation declaring him the 2020 Northern Berkshire Hero with NBCC Executive Director Amber Besaw and Executive Committee member Steve Green.

NBCC remembers Gail Nelson, longtime volunteer with the coalition. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The annual meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition is normally a time for neighbors to gather and consider the good works the coalition and its volunteers have done over the past year. 
This year was different, as so many things are because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
Instead of congregating for breakfast and speeches and recognitions, Executive Director Amber Besaw turned to another model of neighborly engagement for the group's 33rd annual meeting. 
To the strains of "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood," Besaw walked onto the screen to don a sweater and put on her sneakers for a Facebook video chat with the help of Paul Marino at Northern Berkshire Community Television.
"I know that this is not our normal annual celebration," she said  in the prerecorded section. "However, we did not want to miss the chance to celebrate our community and connect with each of you."
The half-hour program emulating Mr. Rogers included greetings, testimonials of how programs sponsored by the coalition have affected participants lives, and the presentation of the Northern Berkshire Hero Award, given this year to Myles Whitney. 
Whitney, a sociology professor, was recognized for his efforts at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in developing the student intern program that has benefited local organizations, the creation of the Whitney Girls Basketball League and his 
"I'm particularly pleased to present this because the recipient is someone who I respect and admire is someone, who I turned to whenever I needed advice and direction, who is my mentor and who has profoundly influenced my life," said Spencer Moser, an NBCC board member and director of civic engagement & volunteer programs at MCLA. 
The community has benefited greatly from the student interns who have contributed to local agency through service learning opportunities and later becoming employees who were trained by Whitney, Moser said. "More importantly, by listening and asking, Myles learned of the local needs, made friends and connections in the community, and identified and trained aspiring MCLA social workers how to be part of the solution. ...
"One simply can't measure the social and economic impact of this vast and far-reaching internship program. The same point can be made about Myles when it comes to the MCLA service learning and the overall MCLA community service efforts. Myles was the driving force in the college's efforts to encourage and challenge students be involved and engaged in the community ad to be problem solvers and doers."
Moser said Whitney helped the college live up to its good neighbor responsibilities and to teach students to approach local residents as experst of their own condition. 
He and his wife, Margaret, developed the girls basketball league in the late 1980s when their daughters wanted to play (it was renamed in their honor in 2008 and is now a division of the North Adams Youth Basketball League).
"There are hundreds of women in this county who have fond memories of youth basketball, who were offered equal access, competition and empowerment due to Myles," Spencer said. 
Beyond that, he said, Whitney participated in various efforts to create programming for youth, was chair for many years of the North Adams Human Services Commission and served on the original steering committee for the Northern Berkshire Health and Human Services Coalition, today's NBCC. 
Besaw said Whitney was an example of what can be done by one neighbor who really cares about the community. 
The program also featured Alex, who spoke about his relapse last year and how he became involved in the Beacon Recovery Community Center, which encouraged him to facilitate a meeting of the peer counseling program and to add his poetry to the Voices for Recovery. 
"For somebody that lost their voice for such a long time, it meant the world," he said, adding that the center also entrusted him with counseling a young local college student who had lost their way. "They also encouraged me to become part of the community outreach. And little did I know at the time, that would instill all the confidence that I would ever need to entertain going back to school."
Alex says his life has changed for the better and he feels he's making a difference. "I couldn't be prouder to say that North Adams has adopted me as a community member. I love you guys and I look forward to continual growth of NBCC and BRCC and everything that this community holds."
Joaquin Barnes has been part of NBCC's youth programs for several years, including the teen writing workshop and the leadership project. The McCann Technical School junior said the leadership program "ended up being one of the best experiences I've ever had relating to school and extracurriculars. I have made many good friends and I have  picked up many, many valuable skills throughout my time there."
He said he isn't the type to recommend things unless he has "the utmost confidence" they are worth it and feels these programs fall in that category and encouraged two friends to join him. 
Tony Pisano got involved in the bike collective and the Downtown Bike-Around. He described it as a great "skill building" opportunity for those interested in learning how to maintain and repair bicycles by learning from professionals and then helping others. The collective also has a program for working toward a bicycle. A biking enthusiast, Pisano hasn't missed a bike-around, a regular group that bikes around the downtown area of North Adams to promote biking and raise awareness of safety issues.  
"The good thing about a bike community is it's healthier riding a bike than driving a car," he said.
The coalition also recognized longtime member Gail Nelson, a retired nurse who died March 8. She was actively involved with many programs at the UNO Community Center, the Mary Spitzer Center, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars and cheered on the North Adams SteepleCats. 

'All of us at some time or another need help, whether we're giving or receiving help each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world, that is one of the things that connects us as neighbors and our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver,' Amanda Besaw said, quoting Mr. Rogers. 
"Gail was a healer," said Glenda Matos-Carter, coordinator of neighborhood development. "In addition to her long nursing career, she served as a peer advocate and mentor to many. She was a role model to her friends and family and an example of the saying, it's never too late. ...
"Her absence is felt throughout the community. Gail, we hope that you continue to root for your home team from the skies you are missed."
Sara LaLumia, president of the board, welcomed everyone to the meeting and Besaw listed off all the staff members and thanked them for their efforts. She shared a poem and video, "Paper Skyscrapers," created by one of the teen writing workshop participants. 
Besaw also said the coalition has made a strategic move to integrate its many vertical programs under the NBCC umbrella. This will allow the nonprofit to divide up its areas of focus as health and wellnes, prevention and recovery, family support, education leadership development, youth development and connecting community. 
"Some things will be no more and our specific efforts may change, but our commitment to support our neighbors is as strong as ever," she said. "So join us, there's a seat at the table and we want you to know that you're invited to be a part of making our community a better place for everyone."
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