By Rebecca Dravis
04:02AM / Monday, November 04, 2019
Frank Felix, left, receives an Achievement Award at Friday's BCArc annual meeting on Friday at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire County Arc looked back at its accomplishments over the last year at its 65th annual meeting Friday morning at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.
But for one recognition, it went way back -- 65 years, in fact, to the founding of BCArc in 1954.
President and CEO Kenneth Singer, who has been with BCArc for 40 of those years, said at the time of the agency's founding, the world was a very different place for people with disabilities, who were often institutionalized with little decision-making power over their own lives.
"The people we served were not treated very well," he said. "They were really second- or third-class citizens."
Enter 11 Berkshire County families who came together with one message: "We want something better for our families."
Those 11 families created what is now BCArc, which serves more than 1,000 people in the Berkshires and beyond, offering residential homes, day programs, employment services and more, all with the goal of enriching the lives of people with disabilities. And on Friday, the last surviving individual from that original cohort of 11 families was recognized with a special award.
Mary Manzolini, who was accompanied by her sister, Helen Horton, with whom she lives, has enjoyed a life in which she learned job skills, which she put to work at Jiminy Peak for years, does yoga and attends BCArc's Crossroads Center for Enrichment in Pittsfield.
At the agency's 45th annual meeting in 1999, Singer said they honored Manzolini's mother, who commented, "Who would have thought that BCArc would become what it is today?" And now, 20 years later, it's even more vibrant, the same for which can be said about Mary herself, whose journey through BCArc is also a journey through Berkshire County Arc itself, Singer said.
"Like BCArc, she refuses to slow down," he said.
Mary accepted the plaque with a big smile and one question: "Bring it home?" "Yes, you can bring it home," her sister said.
Many other people -- both individuals served by BCArc and the staff members serving them -- also received awards to bring home from Friday's annual meeting:
• The Citizen Advocate of the Year went to Chris Buffi. Berkshire County Arc’s Citizen Advocacy Program is a program that centers on volunteers reaching out to a person with a disability and becoming a central person in their lives.
In giving the award to Buffi, Singer said, "In one of her positions, she met Cindy. When she finally retired from her residential position at Berkshire County Arc in 2018, she signed up to be Cindy's Citizen Advocate. They have been friends for 13 years and still going strong," he said. "They have shared numerous experiences together, the ups and the downs of life. They routinely go for coffee, lunch dates, chat on the phone about anything and everything, and when the going gets truly rough, they go shopping. Anything they do together is filled with smiles and laughs."
• Achievement Awards went to John Abriel, who "battled to eliminate the fear of his illness and has worked hard to reach his goal of returning to a new day program"; Nicholas Moore, who came to the Social Development Center Day Program years ago with a list of goals and has "achieved his goals with great success"; Justin Plumley, who "gained the confidence to attend the Center for Development Day Program five days a week … routinely goes on outings with his outreach worker and is making new friends (and) attends BCArc’s game night regularly and goes out to community activities"; Patricia Minkler, who has "not only lost over 130 pounds, but she has kept the weight off, and because of that, she can spend the majority of her day walking" after arriving to services in a wheelchair; Kathy Clark, who "after much deliberation, decided to move out and is enjoying great success" after hesitating at changing her living situation; and Frank Felix, who has been working for 20 years at the Ponds at Fox Hollow and who employer calls him "a thorough, meticulous and a positive presence."
• The John Grant Self-Advocate Achievement Award went to David Gardner, who was recently hospitalized but was able to listen and participate in his medical care. "This was a long, hard road for him and he has learned to listen to full amounts of information, ask questions, and advocate for himself," Singer said.
• The two Citizenship Awards went to Ben Nguyen, "for his personal growth, for finding his voice, for becoming an active member of his community and for aiding others"; and Kimberly Campbell, who "is often soft spoken, (but) when she needs to be heard, she projects her voice loud and clear."
• The Carol Craighead Mission Award went to Kate Hood, nursing supervisor in the Pioneer Valley, who "has been critical in providing quality medical oversight to individuals and has built strong relationships with local medical providers, ensuring access to care."
• The Outstanding Administrative Employee went to Kristi Nastars; the Outstanding Employment Services Employee went to Nathan White; the Outstanding Brain Injury Services Employee went to Maryellen Lassalle; and the Outstanding Day Services Employee went to Kayla Lemaire.
• Forty-three BCArc employees were recognized for employment service anniversary awards of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years. Also,
* The 2019 Employee of the Year Award went to Rachel Nicola. "She continues to learn along and works with the individuals to help them accomplish their goals," Singer said. "While she encourages them, she also gives them space to make their own choices. … This amazing employee is the glue and foundation of Lakeway."
In addition, the Business Partnership Award went to Studely Press and this year's Employer of the Year Award went to Big Y World Class Markets stores in Pittsfield, Lee and Great Barrington for their long history of employing BCArc programs.
"Big Y World Class Markets' progressive and inclusive employment philosophy has resulted in success stories for many individuals with disabilities," Singer said. "Throughout the years, the management and staff of each store have been very supportive and helped these individuals resolve issues and succeed in their jobs. You can imagine how this feels to each of the individuals we serve."
Mike Messer, store manager of the Big Y World Class Market in Pittsfield, accepted the award, accompanied to the meeting by colleagues from the other two stores.
"In a Big Y tradition, you invite one, you get two more," he joked, before striking a more serious note. "At Big Y we really pride ourselves on being good community partners.
"We strive to offer an environment where people can grow," he said. "We look forward to strengthening our partnership even more in the future."
The partnership between BCArc and the county's elected officials is already a strong one, Singer said before the region's legislators and mayors, in addition to representatives from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's office and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's office, each spoke a few words. And that's important, as is BCArc's connection with greater Berkshire County community -- but Singer emphasized the success of BCArc relies heavily on the staff.
"I want to thank you for 65 years of unbelievable work and dedication," he said in closing the annual meeting. His final words, though, were for the people that his agency is honored to serve.
"Thank you to all the individuals for bringing joy into our lives," he said.