Editorial: Nominees sought for citizenship awards

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin invite readers to nominate residents of Hampshire County who have made a difference through community service for two annual citizenship awards.

Nominations are due Feb. 28 for the Daily Hampshire Gazette Person of the Year and Young Community Leader awards. They will be reviewed by a committee representing the Gazette, its partner, United Way of Hampshire County, and other community members. Recipients will be announced in March and honored at a celebration April 25.

The awards recognize people who have made Hampshire County a better place through their exemplary volunteerism and service. The newspaper works with the United Way to select recipients as part of its effort to recognize good work in the community.

This is the fourth time that a Person of the Year will be named. Nominees must live in any Hampshire County community and have shown “a profound commitment to helping others.” Jack Finn, who founded A2Z Science and Learning Store in Northampton, was honored in 2015; Yvonne Freccero, past president of Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals, was given the award in 2016; and Barbara Black, the early childhood coordinator for the Northampton Public Schools, was last year’s recipient.

For the second year, the Young Community Leader Award will honor a Hampshire County resident between the ages of 15 and 30 who has “contributed through community involvement and volunteerism to making our county a better place for all.” The first winner last year was Allison Jenks of Hadley.

The Person of the Year is given a $500 prize, and $250 goes to the Young Community Leader. Each recipient donates half of that amount to a charity of their choice.

James Ayres, the former executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County, worked closely with the Gazette on the awards program in previous years. He said some of the recipients were not even aware that they had been nominated.

“It’s fun to be able to call attention to someone who’s done great work and thank them publicly,” Ayres said. “Their stories can be inspirational to others who might be interested in giving back.”

That was true in 2017 with the selection of two women at opposite ends of their careers who share a commitment to improving the lives of people with their compassionate and spirited leadership.

Black spent her career as an early childhood teacher and administrator, as well as an activist for expanding services to low-income families and improving the quality and accessibility of public education.

Black, who is blind as the result of the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, moved to Northampton in 1978 to take a job as a teacher at the former Hampshire Community Action Commission. She went on to direct its day care programs before becoming early childhood coordinator for the Northampton schools in 1996.

Black explained her commitment this way: “Children — especially young children — don’t speak up for themselves and say what they need. And so it’s our job as grown-ups to advocate for them.”

Jenks graduated last year from Hopkins Academy where she was president of the Pro Merito Honor Society, a member of the Student Council, a peer mentor, captain of the basketball and soccer teams and played a variety of instruments in the concert, jazz and marching bands. A year ago, Jenks volunteered in Nicaragua with eight other Hopkins students for La Esperanza Granada.

Receiving the first award for young leaders “made me realize all the stuff I do has an effect on people, and it’s a good one,” Jenks said.

We look forward to receiving nominations of worthy candidates for this year’s awards.

Nominations can be mailed to Alison Rollins at the Gazette, 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA 01060, using a form published in the newspaper; emailed to nominations@gazettenet.com; or completed online by going to www.gazettenet.com/personoftheyear.