Unsung Heroes 2021

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unsung Incredible stories of caring during the pandemic A special publication of The Berkshire Eagle | Saturday, June 5, 2021


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Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes

Earlier this spring, The Berkshire Eagle launched this Unsung Hero project, an effort to recognize some of the many people who’ve gone above and beyond to help others during the pandemic. We asked readers to nominate their Unsung Heroes -- people or groups of people whether they be independent or working on behalf of an agency or organization who responded in big and small ways to help others. We received several dozen nominations and we are proud to present many of them to you in this edition of “Unsung Heroes: Incredible stories of caring during the pandemic.” As you read their stories, some of their stories may sound familiar. You may be hearing others’ stories for the first time. Every story tells of a person or group of people who stepped forward to help others. (If you have a story of an unsung hero that has yet to be told, tell us! Visit berkshireeagle.com/heroes.) Is this the complete list of heroes in our community? No. Indeed, tens of thousands of us in Berkshire County owe hundreds, if not thousands, of our neighbors a debt of gratitude for their hard work and perseverance. These are merely some of them who went above and beyond. Thanks to all of you who took the extra time to nominate your hero and for providing us and your neighbors with their stories, many of which had not been told until now. If you’re inspired by some of the stories you read here, you’re not alone. We too were inspired. We thank the team of Eagle writers who helped put together these profiles. We thank The Eagle’s presenting sponsor for Unsung Heroes: Berkshire Health Systems, the premier provider of comprehensive health services in the Berkshires and surrounding area. Together, we are privileged to honor those highlighted here and wish everyone a bright and healthy year.

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021




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Dr. Aimee Bullett-Smith, DNP, MS, FNP-BC Dr. Jacqueline Krzanik, DNP, MS, FNP-BC Christine Rodriguez, RN Office Manager Susannah McAllister


Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com 4

THE PRESS AND MAILROOM STAFFS OF YOUR BERKSHIRE EAGLE The commitment and effort to make and assemble your printed newspaper is no small feat Among the people whose efforts helped the Berkshire community survive through the pandemic, the men and women who work in The Berkshire Eagle press room and mail room deserve recognition. They work on the ground floor of the building, often at night, so they can easily go unnoticed, making them true Unsung Heroes. Many Eagle readers have written in to appreciate how important the paper has been to them during this difficult time. We are proud that The Eagle is the place where the community turned to get the facts about the virus, its impact and later its cure. The pandemic has been an object lesson in the value of quality local journalism. However, the attention and appreciation is usually directed to the reporters, photographers and editors whose names appear connected to the stories that are so important. There would be no printed Berkshire Eagle if scores of people did not come into our production rooms every night despite the weather and the virus to literally make the paper.

The press room normally operates with a crew of about eight, who often work in close quarters. The work is physical and can be dirty; after all, we “buy ink by the barrel.” (Actually, it is delivered in tanker trucks.) The mail room is where the printed papers go from the press. It is where they are bundled for distribution to our carriers, honor boxes and retail stores. It is also where the sales flyers

and inserts, including the discount coupons that help so many of us get through the tough times, are placed into the papers. The number of people who work in the mail room varies depending on whether the next day’s paper has inserts, and if so, how many. In the old days, it was the place from which many papers were mailed, hence the name, mail room, which has stuck not only in Pittsfield

From all of us at Laureyns United, we wish to give a heartfelt thank you to all of the “Unsung Heroes”, who have demonstrated extraordinary bravery and resolve, helping their community throughout this pandemic!


but throughout the industry. In addition to bringing the Berkshires the news about the virus, having the daily paper during the pandemic perpetuated a small, but important, routine for so many of our readers. And we believe that those who worked night after night, here in our facility, are unsung heroes of the pandemic.


Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


The office coordinator at Northern Berkshire Community Coalition facilitated food resources, clinics, meetings during the pandemic.

Brianna Jones checks in on people at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at St. Elizabeth’s of Hungary Church in North Adams. Provided photo

“As many people adapted to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, some were not as fortunate. My Unsung Hero Brianna (Jones) Hantman has an essential job that deals with people stressed and worried about leaving the house. “As an assistant coordinator at Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Brianna felt the needs of our community as she scheduled meetings, answered questions about the pandemic and assisted those seeking support financially and emotionally. “She diligently showed up to assist where needed such as at the mobile food pantry, the UNO Center and the Berkshire Food Project, just to name a few. She referred those in need to the available resources to assist them. “After work hours, she did and continues to attend nearly every single vaccination clinic as an administrative liaison at St. Elizabeth’s of Hungary Church in North Adams, where she’s worked tirelessly to be certain not a single dose is wasted. “Who Brianna has become today goes back to her youth as a 10-year-old, when she helped raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. During her high school years she had the highest number of volunteer hours in her class. While attending St. Michael’s College in Vermont, she organized and ran a correctional volleyball team to play with incarcerated women in a Vermont correctional facility and was a youth mentor in the Burlington, Vt., area. “In the summer of 2015, she chose to volunteer at the Mother Theresa House in India working with handicapped orphans. “This is who she has always been and continues to be. This community is very much better off as a result of having her at NBCC.”

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Brianna Hantman was originally hired as the administrative assistant for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in charge of office work. Hantman’s mother, Deborah Jones, nominated her daughter for her helping out, through the coalition, with local food banks, attending as many vaccination clinics as possible and setting up community meetings to answer questions about how COVID 19 is impacting the community. As the pandemic raged, Hantman’s role changed. She often found herself coordinating activities the coalition organized or assisted other organizations in keeping up with the public demand for their services. She fielded phone calls from people she said were “anxious and confused” as to what social services were available and to what extent. Early on during the pandemic, Hantman helped administer a grant-funded mealson-wheel service. The grant paid for restaurants to prepare and deliver two meals for the “Weekend-a-Meal” program, which helped fill a void of meals for those who needed them on weekends, Saturdays especially. Hantman said the restaurants provided about 2,300 meals to 132 individuals across 74 households during the program’s 11-week run. Hantman found herself making decisions on the fly to handle immediate problems and asking people to volunteer on a moment’s notice. “I’ve worked in numerous service areas and I’m good at thinking and acting quickly,” she said. “I can be persuasive and try not to ask the same people to volunteer. I don’t ask unless it’s really important.” Hatman says the pandemic taught NBCC how to be adaptive. As a result, its first ever operational manual will have a lasting effect on how the organization is run. Hantman says she would like to be an executive director for a nonprofit, social service-based organization, but for now she is satisfied balancing her desk duties with field work. “I love the position I’m in. It’s all about the color-coded spreadsheets and interacting with the public,” she said.

— From the nomination put forth by Deborah Jones, Brianna Hantman’s mother


Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes


“When many other organizations closed during the COVID-19 outbreak, Alison’s forward thinking transformed the CRA overnight in order to deal with what was then an emerging crisis. “She saw the lockdown as an opportunity to respond quickly to act in the best interests of her ‘clients,’ the people of Dalton, the hilltowns, and many other central Berkshire residents as well.”

Executive director, Dalton Community Recreation Association In March 2020, when COVID-19 shut down schools, places of work and community gathering places, Alison Peters immediately asked, “What does our community need?” Even as the Dalton Community

Provided photo

Recreation Association building was closed — in normal times, the CRA, where Peters has worked for 12 years, is a community hub for fitness activities, children’s sports, camps and recreation — Peters was working to find ways to reach out to members. First, she said, it started with phone calls to check in on members who were isolated, and collecting letters from children to deliver to those alone. Next, the CRA started offering online fitness classes via Facebook. When conditions allowed for outdoor recreation, the CRA pivoted once again. An outdoor tent was set up for fitness classes by registration. Then, the CRA was able to re-start some sports programs for its young members. For most, those activities were the first time they’d interacted with other children since March 2020. The CRA also started an outdoor concert series, became

a licensed daycare program for children of essential workers, offered a safe place for students to come during remote learning school hours, and found ways to offer a little bit of normalcy with — From the nomination put forth by Patrick Halloween and holiday West, president of the Dalton CRA’s trustees lights walks. But when you ask Peters who are the unsung heroes at the CRA? She praises her We got through the whole summer, staff and the community members basically COVID free.” who pitched in whenever, wherever Serving the community — no she asked. matter in what capacity — is cen“Everything took so much more tral to the CRA’s mission, Peters time,” Peters said in describing the said, and she was happy she and effort it took to run programs dur- her team were able to do that for ing COVID. “There was so much so many, especially the children. spending time learning what the In the future, she is hopeful people new guidelines were. Writing poli- will feel comfortable being out in cies. Figuring out how many kids the community again. we could safely have or how many “I hope people feel warm and welstaff. come and safe,” she said in an inter“It was a big change for us, but view last month for Unsung Heroes. we’re up for the challenge. The staff “That we can go up and hug other did a phenomenal job working with people again. Wouldn’t that be nice? the health department in Dalton. And that kids can be kids again.”


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This community volunteer helped sign up 278 (and counting) people for vaccinations. Most of them were complete strangers.


Bridget Keegan of Pittsfield has spent “hours and hours” booking 278 appointments (to date) for COVID-19 vaccinations — most of them for people she didn’t know. Keegan, nominated as an Unsung Hero for helping people book

appointments at area vaccination sites, has made it a point to also ensure the person has a second-dose appointment and has driven people — on her lunch hour or after she gets out of work — who don’t have vehicles to their appointments. “From working with the community, I saw people who didn’t have ac“Bridget was instrumental in providing cess to the internet, they senior citizens, and others, with appointdidn’t have email or even ments to receive their COVID vaccine. When have phones,” she said in she heard that residents were having trouble a phone interview. “They finding appointments, due to many reasons, had limited resources she reached out to them. She did not know [to get an appointment] most of the people she helped ... and the resources they “Not only did she arrange appointments, needed were based solely but she followed through, making sure they on the internet. I started received their vaccine and helping to book offering help to seniors, their second vaccine dose, and following getting their name, adthrough until they had received it. Bridget dress and birth date.” has a full-time job and a 10-year-old son. She Keegan would serve as has gone above and beyond and still does for the email and phone conanyone who needs her assistance.” tact for any person she helped who didn’t have — From the nomination put forth by Carol Mazza their own.

Assisted by her mother, Maryanne Keegan, and her brother, John Keegan, Bridget Keegan developed a system that involved nine electronic devices at the same time — iPads, phones and laptops — constantly refreshing them to secure appointments once vaccination slots were posted on various registration sites. “People had been trying to get appointments for weeks and I was Bridget Keegan and her son, Matthew, 10. able to get it for them,” Provided photo she said. “My system worked.” She said one of her most heart-warming experiences after a year.” was a teacher who hadn’t seen her Her hope is that everyone will get father for a year. vaccinated. “I was able to book appointments “Everybody is eligible to receive for both,” Keegan said. “I was able the vaccine. I encourage everyone to give her the gift of seeing her dad to get vaccinated,” Keegan said.

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021

ADAMS COUNCIL ON AGING STAFF The town’s residents ‘are so grateful’ because staff ‘really went above and beyond to help people get their shots’

“Erica Girgenti, Barbara Proper, and Liz Chapman of the Adams Council on Aging have worked above and beyond the call of duty. As of April 30, they booked 1,229 vaccinations and worked at 48 of the clinics. They arranged 105 rides, sometimes with up to three passengers. On many days, they worked from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. “They also spent their weekends booking appointments and arranging rides. “They brought such relief to the people of Adams and I believe they should be recognized.”

Kneeling, left, Adams Council on Aging Director Erica Girgenti and, right, community member Sarah Kline. Standing, from left, Pete Hoyt of the Adams Board of Health, Christine Hoyt of the Adams Select Board, Bruce Shepley of the Council on Aging board, Town Administrator Jay Green, and Outreach Coordinator Barb Proper and Administrative Assistant Liz Chapman, both of the Adams Council on Aging. Provided photo

— From the nomination put forth by Beverly Favreau

of people in town, and they are so grateful because many couldn’t get through to the vaccination website online, and that the COA staff really went above and beyond to help people get their shots,” Favreau said. Erica Girgenti, the Adams Council on Aging director, acknowledged the hard-working effort: “My staff has been putting in some long hours.” The good folks of Adams certainly know how to help each other. Even to give a pep talk. “One of the best things we’ve been able to do is to counsel the nervous with information,” Girgenti said. “Helping people through this pandemic is one of the greatest things we’ve been able to do.” Girgenti hopes more people turn to the Adams Council on Aging for all kinds of things. “I hope that now the community will know that no matter what happens the town can trust this department to help the community, and that they know they can turn to us for support,” Girgenti said.


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The Adams Council on Aging advocates on behalf of its seniors: Information, referrals, outreach, nutrition advice and health education. Identifying unmet needs in the community; networking with other social service agencies to fill those needs. And, in general, enhancing the quality of life for seniors and the community by providing educational, informational, recreational, and cultural programs and activities. And then came the pandemic. Its isolating, disquieting effect affected councils on aging all over and clamped down on the ability of seniors to gather, to socialize, to enjoy each other’s company. And then came the vaccine. The Adams Council on Aging jumped into action. Lately, the Council on Aging’s mission has been to get Adams seniors through the vaccination process by providing guidance on making appointments and, in some cases, booking those appointments. The council mobilized to provide rides to the clinics and even arranged medical transport for the homebound who are driven to the clinic to get the shot while not even getting out of the transport vehicle. Certainly, the number has risen since, but as of April 30, the Adams Council on Aging had booked 1,229 vaccinations, worked at 48 of the vaccination clinics and arranged 105 rides (sometimes with multiple passengers -- safely, of course) for people. The days were long. Some Council on Aging staffers and volunteers worked from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. some days. Some worked weekends, too, booking appointments and arranging rides. This is all according to Beverly Favreau, the Council on Aging volunteer who nominated the agency for Unsung Heroes. “I have heard from a number

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Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes


‘Rabbi Weiner’s acts of caring extend beyond the Jewish community. Even before the pandemic, he had adopted the greater Pittsfield area as his home.’


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Rabbi David Weiner delivers the invocation at the start of a Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Pittsfield.

Congratulations to all the Unsung Heroes of the Berkshires, and particularly to Berkshire County Arc’s heroes recognized today: Christina Brown & Pavel Slivka

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To the members of Knesset Israel Synagogue in Pittsfield and beyond, David Weiner — the synagogue’s rabbi since 2010 — has been an Unsung Hero of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, all 30 directors on Knesset Israel’s board praised him for his efforts to care for their spiritual community and beyond during the most challenging of times. They said it best when they signed on to the following testimonial by member Jesse Cook-Dubin: “Rabbi Weiner has ensured that prayer services would continue throughout the pandemic — which itself is impressive — but he also has performed incredible acts of caring for the entire community in central Berkshire County. “On almost every single Sabbath and holiday during the pandemic, Knesset Israel has offered worship services that all can access. “Within a week of the world shutting down last year, Rabbi Weiner charted a path through conflicting religious authorities on how to continue conducting services on the Sabbath, when observant Jews do not use technology. His forward thinking led to a year of creative and uplifting worship — in-person at times; over Zoom at others; and on other days just one person standing at the pulpit in the synagogue and being live streamed to hundreds. Last fall, he led services for the holiest Jewish holidays which were profoundly meaningful to many. “And yet he was always clear that safeguarding human life is the highest Jewish value: He stayed current on the spread of the virus, consulted medical professionals frequently, and responded quickly to adverse developments, including overseeing the rearrangement of the synagogue’s sanctuary to accommodate in-person prayer. “Like many clergy over the past year, Rabbi Weiner has been called upon to provide much more pastoral care than he did

prior to the pandemic. But he had prepared himself. “In 2017, even though he had already been an ordained rabbi for several years, he enrolled in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Baystate in order to develop as a pastor, spending many nights and weekends of his sabbatical at Baystate and BMC, counseling patients and families of all faiths. When the pandemic hit, he focused his energy on congregants who had little contact with others — our tradition warns against the impact of isolation on the human spirit — but was available to everyone who sought out his counsel, and there were many. This work was grueling, especially after Rabbi Weiner broke his ankle hiking and spent weeks in physical pain himself. “Rabbi Weiner’s acts of caring extend beyond the Jewish community. Even before the pandemic, he had adopted the greater Pittsfield area as his home. His commitment to our area was evident from his dedication to the Pittsfield Emergency Recovery Committee, which was organized in 2018 to help families displaced by house fires and other tragedies. During the pandemic, he identified ways for his congregants to rise above their own hardships and continue serving the community. He inspired numerous Knesset Israel members to volunteer for the South Church Community Food Pantry, making deliveries to hundreds of households in the Pittsfield area. He spoke memorably at Together We Breathe, an interfaith rally and march in memory of victims of anti-Black violence and police brutality. “An ancient Jewish proverb says that the world rests upon three things: Torah, service and kindness. At a time when it was easier to turn inward, Rabbi Weiner extended these values outward into our community. His caring has enriched the lives of many. We enthusiastically nominate him as an Unsung Hero.”

The hospitalist at Berkshire Medical Center When the pandemic touched down in the Berkshires, Dr. Gabriela Goloman stepped right up to the front line. A hospitalist at Berkshire Medical Center, Goloman works on the COVID-19 floor. Her husband is also a doctor, and early on, the couple with a child at home decided that only one of them should work with the highly contagious patient population. “And I decided it’s going to be me,” says Goloman. In January, Goloman treated a patient, Marian Greenberg, after she was admitted to the COVID-19 unit. Goloman sought out a detailed health history from her son, Marco, and left no stone unturned during her treatment. Despite the stresses of the COVID-19 unit, Goloman initiated contact with Marco Greenberg, in Great Barrington, and his sister, Lara Kaplan, out in California, keeping them up-to-date on Greenberg’s condition. When it was clear the 82-yearold, who is described by her son as a writer and a free spirit, would not recover, Goloman shifted her

focus to ensuring her patient was not in pain, and helped arrange for Marco to visit his mother for a final time in the hospital in full protective equipment. “Dr. Goloman made a horrible situation into a situation that was more tolerable than I could ever imagine,” Marco Greenberg said. “I just know that because of Dr. Goloman, she wasn’t in pain and she was ready to pass on to the next side.” Goloman was by Greenberg’s side when she passed away. Marco has nothing but praise to heap upon his mother’s doctor, as well as Berkshire Medical Center’s Director of Development Jennifer Vrabel and Patient Experience Specialist Jennifer Bailey. “There are superstars in Pittsfield, Mass., and a lot of them work at BMC,” Marco Greenberg said. Dr. Goloman, who hails from Romania, “personifies how immigrants to this country and this

county are risking their lives to safeguard our lives during the pandemic and beyond,” Marco Greenberg said. He finds meaning in their families’ shared roots in eastern Europe. After their mother’s funeral, Greenberg and his sister dropped by the hospital so she could meet Dr. Goloman, who had cared for their mother so genuinely and deeply. The visit meant as much to Goloman as it did the siblings. The doctor ruminates over the

Dr. Gabriela Goloman, right, and Marco Greenberg, at left. Provided photo

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“From the moment I heard from Dr. Gabriela Goloman, after my mom, Marian Greenberg, was admitted to the COVID floor at BMC last January, I sensed that her caring was deep and genuine, along with her medical knowledge, and that she would do anything in her power to save my mom. She probed, took the time to listen and get a true sense of her health care history and, moreover, who she was as a person. “She left no stone unturned in the treatment provided, and when all options were exhausted, Dr. Goloman was committed to making sure my mom was not in pain. She was proactive in calling me and my sister with daily updates, arranged video visits, introduced us to other palliative and medical experts in the health system and helped me visit my mom with full PPE to say a final and tearful goodbye. Several others, including Jennifer Vrabel and Jennifer Bailey at BMC were also so helpful. “Dr. Goloman treated my mom as if she was a family member. When she called us on the morning of January 11, to tell us that our 82 year old mother had just passed away, Dr. Goloman cried and assured us that she was by her side, holding her hand in her final minutes. When my sister, Lara Kaplan, flew back to California after the funeral, she asked to meet Dr. Goloman on the way to the airport. She said she had to thank her in person for the exceptional care and snapped this photo of me and Dr. Goloman, standing outside BMC.”

lives that were lost during the pandemic, and wonders if things could have been different. What if we had different treatments, medications? “I am really appreciative for this family,” says Goloman, “for everything that they’ve done for the hospital, and for me, personally, to close that wound that doctors will have in the long run. The impact of every single patient that you lose.”

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


— From the nomination put forth by Marco Greenberg


Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes

CHRISTINA BROWN OF PITTSFIELD To the four individuals at Berkshire County Arc’s Lanesborough home, Christina is a light that brightens their days. In Lanesborough, Christina Brown now manages the Lanesborough home where four Berkshire County Arc clients reside. Five years ago, she started there in an overnight position. Today, Brown has developed a kinship with the individuals, some of whom have been living together for 30 years. Some are non-verbal, and some are in wheelchairs. “I love the individuals here, they are fantastic,” said Brown, who lives in Pittsfield. “They do have their rough days and everything.

“When Christina Brown enters the house, the whole house lights up. The non-verbal residents are visibly excited and come out to greet her and spend time with her.” — From the nomination put forth by Berkshire County Arc

But I know them well, so I really don’t mind doing what I do.” When COVID-19 stepped in, Brown stepped up. She took extra shifts at the home to fill ones that other Arc staffers were unable to fill due to the pandemic. Brown didn’t test positive for COVID, some of her co-workers did. Brown provided residents with rides when she could, and held outings for them as the weather turned warmer. “I tried my best,” Brown said. “It’s just kind of what I do. I really don’t think about it. I do what I have to do to get the shifts done.” She often filled in on weekends after having already worked a full week, sometimes adding 12 to 16 hours to her normal 40-hour work week. “It depended on the week,” Brown said. “Sometimes, it was two or three extra shifts a week.” Due to COVID, everyone in the house was essentially homebound for the past year. When cabin fever


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Battling her own illness, this community volunteer sewed thousands of masks. She gave them away. For free.

Photo provided by Connie Wood.


Connie Wood, a community volunteer, has sewn and given away more than 6,500 homemade face masks since March 2020. When the pandemic hit, Wood, who has thyroid cancer and a compromised immune system, was looking for a way to help her community without leaving the house. Then, a friend brought over a few homemade masks. Wood began making her own 100-percent cotton facemasks, in a variety of sizes and giving them away for free — at Friendly Fred’s Package Store, and from a clothesline outside her house. When the masks are

set in and tensions were rising, Brown had a knack for deescalating. “I’m very empathetic,” she said. Brown learned to observe, learn and communicate with the individuals. “I think that’s what made me start to bond with them,” she said. When one of the residents had to be hospitalized for a non-COVID illness, Brown visited the Provided photo individual nearly every day and arranged for others to visit him when she couldn’t. “I’m always happy to be here, it’s Going the extra mile for her resi- my second home,” Brown said. “I’d dents is something that Brown does do anything for them.” willingly.

“Connie, my Mom, has been battling thyroid cancer for two years. When the pandemic hit, she was unable to leave her house because she has a compromised immune system. She still wanted to find a way to help. She began sewing masks and giving them away for free. “Every morning, she hangs all the free masks on a clothesline in her yard in Windsor and every night she brings them back in. She posts on Facebook daily to let people know about them. “To date, she had sewn over 6,500 masks, all while dealing with many health issues. She is the most amazing woman I know! I would absolutely love to see her recognized for all her efforts!”

available, she posts on her personal Facebook page and in several Facebook groups including Berkshire Tag Sales.” She wouldn’t be able to make — From the nomination put forth by Carrie Barrett the masks, she says, without the support of her community. “The people in Windsor are awe- a zone. It’s my out. If I didn’t have some; they’re really supportive. sewing, I’d go crazy.” I post the materials I need on the She added, “I just hope everybody Windsor community Facebook gets their shots, wears a mask, and page and before you know it, [the stays safe and healthy.” A recent health issue has kept items] are on my back porch. They drop off cloth, elastics, plastic bags. Wood from making masks for over a month, but she hopes to get Anything I need.” Sewing, she said, has helped her back to sewing soon. “I’ll be back pass the time during the pandemic. at it again soon,” she said. “I’m When she first began making the just glad to help. It makes me feel masks, she was sewing as many as like I’m doing my part during the 20 a day. “When I’m sewing, I get in pandemic.”

The South County leader of Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative and the director of Emergency Management at Fairview Hospital has been busy helping others during the pandemic. Her morale-boosting pep talks are appreciated. Heather Barbieri has been a vision of calm at the center of an emergency, orchestrating COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Great Barrington and, most recently, expanding clinics for walk-in shots. Barbieri was nominated for her selflessness in running efficient and welcoming clinics that are imbued with kindness, and her dissemination of information and pep talks to volunteer workers. Barbieri exemplified compassion under pressure as an anx-

ious public couldn’t get a vaccine fast enough. People’s anxieties sometimes turned into meltdowns either at clinics or over the phone, and Barbieri said she was able to meet these calmly by understanding the terror and strain of some who hadn’t left their house in a year, for instance. She also found herself constantly fielding calls about logistics and vaccine eligibility. “I couldn’t get my mailbox

a masters degree in emergency management. She’s also been planning flu clinics since the 2009 onset of the H1N1 pandemic caused by a novel strain of the influenza virus. She also represents Fairview on the steering committee of the Western Massachusetts Health & Medical Coordinating Coalition. All this experience has prepared her for the COVID-19 emergency, and Barbieri says she is grateful to be in a position to help. “I am totally blessed that I’m the one that gets to do this,” she said. She’s also grateful to her family for their understanding of her “crazy hours” at work. It continues, as Barbieri spreads the word of abundant vaccine supplies and clinics, since vaccine demand has dropped and the collaborative has plenty of shots to give.

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Thank you to all of our Unsung Community Heroes. We appreciate your dedication and hard work over the past year.

— From the nomination put forth by Irene Aquino

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“As many have attested, her clinics have been efficient, welcome, positive and caring. Heather is the heart and soul of these clinics. Her organizational skills are amazing — everyone knows their job, has what they need to do their job and access to help and information if needed. “She meets with all workers and volunteers before each clinic, sharing the latest pandemic information and giving encouragement to all. Last week’s pep talk was about the kindness of the workers and volunteers. “Heather, you have demonstrated kindness throughout this massive effort to get everyone vaccinated. You have been kind to all, even when it was hard to do so. You have been selfless, caring and compassionate to so many. We all thank you!”

unfull, even if I called 30 people back in a day,” she said. Despite the long hours and intensity, Barbieri says she and her team are impassioned by this work that will help the community and Fairview Hospital move towards normalcy as soon as possible. “After a clinic day, we’re both exhausted and exhilarated and we look forward to the next clinic,” she said. She credits the volunteers. “It’s everybody else that makes this experience — not just me.” The masterful operation didn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of many years of hard work and education through Fairview Hospital, where she has worked for 26 years, starting out as a secretary. The hospital paid for Barbieri’s undergraduate and graduate work, and that led to

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


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Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com 12

KENDRA RYBACKI OF OTIS The food service director at Farmington River Regional said: “More people began to ask how they can help. That is such a good thing for a small community.” As the food service director of the lunch program for prekindergarten through sixth grade students, Kendra Rybacki and her staff have worked to safely feed nearly 75 percent of students enrolled in the Farmington River Regional School District throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She would even wake up in the

middle of the night and jot notes onto her phone regarding the food program — you never know when inspiration could strike. Rybacki worked side-by-side with Candy Chaffee, who also works in food services, since the pandemic began. The duo developed a plan to safely deliver food to students and their team

“Kendra Rybacki is a tireless worker for the Farmington River Regional School District in Otis. She manages the breakfast and lunch program for the students. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and schedules were thrown into disarray during remote learning, Rybacki rose to the occasion to try and fill the resultant nutrition gaps. She mobilized her team to provide breakfast and lunch for homebound students. For those parents who could not arrange to pick up food at the school, she organized home delivery. “When it became apparent that many adults (parents and senior citizens) were nutritionally deprived, she expanded the program to fill this gap. This required food and monetary donations from the Otis community and town merchants, as well as rallying the assistance of the AMVETS and the Council on Aging. This was especially crucial during the summer months of 2020 when the school budget was not providing meals. “Rybacki could not have done this yeoman work without the assistance of various entities, people and her staff. Her dedication to the effort as well as her positive and encouraging demeanor made everyone’s tasks that much easier.”

of eight delivered prepared food each week during the early stages of the pandemic. The initiative eventually expanded to help others in need. “Late March 2020, the Council on Aging reached out and asked what we could do for the senior community,” Rybacki said. “Older people were impacted the

At right, Kendra Rybacki stands with Candy Chaffee, left. Provided photo

— From the nomination put forth by Arlene Tolopko

most. They were scared and we were scared. We didn’t know how bad the pandemic was.” Rybacki, her staff and volunteers parlayed different grants and donations to support kids, parents, seniors and even pets that were nutritionally deprived. “More people began to ask how they can help,” Rybacki said. “That is such a good thing for a small community. And I am so blessed to live in Otis; everyone looks out for each other. “Arlene Tolopko is certainly an unsung hero, too. She gathered people in her neighborhood and was our contact [to get extra supplies], reaching out to her friends to go to Costco and buy whatever we needed.” Rybacki, Chaffee, Tolopko and countless volunteers worked to guarantee food sustainability throughout Otis. Families continue to take advantage of the opportunities set forth by Rybacki and the Oits community. She has also received emails, texts and an occasional box of chocolates from people showing their gratitude, fueling her passion to keep helping. “Everyone goes through food insecurity at some point in their life, it happened to me,” Rybacki said. “It is scary to not know what is going to happen next month or even next week. “Preparing each week, if we needed more food, we always found more.”

Thank You

to all of our unsung heroes!

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Equal Housing Lender

Last spring, as fears surrounding the coronavirus swirled and folks hunkered down at home, the Rev. James Lumsden sensed that those who in normal times would find fel-

lowship at church could use a space to gather and reflect online. A self-described technological “dinosaur,” Lumsden taught himself the ins-and-outs of “going live” on Facebook. Lumsden, the former reverend at First Church “Reverend James Lumsden is an Unsung Hero. of Christ in Park “Since the pandemic, every Sunday at 9:55 Square, began live a.m., Rev. James has live streamed a complete streaming spiritual spiritual service. He calls it a quiet and simple services on Sundays time for reflection. starting at 9:55 a.m. “He performs music, reads scripture and Lumsden begins prayer, offers virtual communion and an honest his online Sunday message of hope. services by playing “His services are appropriate for a small intimusic on his acousmate group or a packed cathedral. tic guitar. When his “His messages and spiritual support has proonline audience is all vided comfort and hope to so many during this settled in, he reads a time of unsettled feelings of political unrest, rabit of poetry — odes cial divide and COVID-19.” by Mary Oliver, Lucille Clifton or Billie — From the nomination put forth by Laura Mick Collins to name a few.

He uses his virtual platform to read scripture, offer communion and share an “honest message of hope,” says one of his parishioners, Laura Mick. On any given week, somewhere between six and 15 people watch the services live, and dozens more watch the recordings of the services, says Lumsden. The virtual services provide a space for fellowship, and has proved a draw for those beyond Pittsfield: Lumsden says he’s received notes from individuals based in Arizona, Montreal and the United Kingdom. To Lumsden, participation in his virtual services belied the urge for human connection, and self-betterment. “The pandemic has shown me that there’s a small niche for quiet tenderhearted, spiritual talk that isn’t about judgment, isn’t about

James Lumsden plays his guitar. Provided photo

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


damnation, but rather says, ‘We’re all in this together,’ and think about what can we do both to nourish our own hearts, and also be the people that we want to be when we are able to be more public,” he said.


Speak with your physician first Anyone, but especially seniors, who wants to volunteer during the pandemic should discuss those aspirations with their physicians prior to offering their services to charitable organizations. Doctors can discuss the acute and chronic threats posed by the COVID-19 virus and examine each individual's medical history to help potential volunteers decide if working with

a local charity is safe. In addition, doctors can check patients for COVID-19 symptoms and even have them tested to make sure they won't be putting anyone in danger should they decide to volunteer.

Contact the organization prior to volunteering Some organizations may not be allowing potentially at-risk volunteers to perform in-person tasks. Contact the organization you hope to work with prior to signing up to confirm your eligibility, but also to discuss the safety protocols they've put in place to protect the health of their volunteers.

Monitor your own health If you've signed up to volunteer, it's vital that you monitor your own health. Health officials believe the COVID-19 virus has spread so rapidly for a number of reasons, including the likelihood that many people have had the virus but shown no symptoms. Charitable organizations will no doubt assess the health of each volunteer when they show up to work, but volunteers also should make such assessments on their own. Check your temperature


each day and familiarize yourself with the symptoms of COVID-19. If you suspect you are unwell or are even slightly under the weather, contact the charity and tell them you won't be showing up that day. Operating with an abundance of caution during the pandemic can save lives.

Consider virtual volunteering Virtual volunteering is a safe way to give back that won't ex-

pose volunteers or others to the COVID-19 virus. Charitable organizations need behind-thescenes help just as much as they need volunteers with their boots on the ground. Virtual volunteers can help with fundraising efforts and event planning, but also help charities overcome the logistical challenges of operating and meeting their missions during the pandemic.

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The global pandemic changed many aspects of life as the world knew it, and that includes volunteering. Volunteering continues to be one of the best ways to help your community and perhaps even to become an unsung hero in your neighborhood or town. A report from the Mayo Clinic Health System noted that adults over age 60 experienced greater life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteering. Many people have continued to volunteer during the pandemic, and those that want to do so can take these steps to make sure their efforts to give back are as safe as possible in order to help everyone get back to a sense of normality.


Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com 14

JULIETTE HAAS OF EGREMONT She holds several jobs in town. But her work as director of the Egremont Board of Health since March 2020 has been inspirational. Juliette Haas wears many hats in the town of Egremont: town clerk, sustainability coordinator and director of the Board of Health. In her role as the latter, Haas became the town’s point-person for COVID-19 information distribution. With her positive and calm demeanor, she made sure local, state and federal updates made it to the townsfolk in a timely manner. And when COVID-19 vaccinations started rolling out, she made sure residents had the latest information, and spent hours assisting those who needed help setting up vaccine appointments. Haas says she’s just one of many public servants who played a role in getting information out to Egremont residents through weekly emails, a neighborhood Listserv, a quarterly newsletter, an Egremont Facebook group and telephone calls. “I have to say that I owe it all to the Board of Health and their direction. Very early on, the Board of Health decided our role in the community was one of communication,” she said. “I guess I was the front person for the Egremont Board of Health, Board of Selectmen and Council on Aging. “Many people in Berkshire County are doing the real heavy lifting. I’m getting information from the Berkshire County

Boards of Health Association and Berkshire Health Systems — those are the real champions — and bringing it back to our community in Egremont.” In addition to helping stem the tide of misinformation, Haas has helped many Egremont residents sign up for the COVID-19 vaccination program, with the individual on speakerphone while she navigated the website. “When the vaccine rollout began, we realized that many people were anxious “Juliette Haas is a dedicated and caring emabout being able to get it,” ployee of the Town of Egremont. Her work during Haas said. “We didn’t know the past 18 months, as Board of Health director, week-to-week how much inspired me to nominate her. vaccine we were going to “She always communicated clearly and in a timeget. We knew communicaly manner in all matters related to the pandemic, intion was key. Provided photo cluding COVID-19 facts and guidelines, COVID sta“We told them what we tistics, and more recently how to sign up for COVID knew; we wanted to stop vaccinations. She helped countless Egremonters in misinformation and dispel the latter endeavor. Always helpful and positive and local rumors. We knew our calm, she is a true Unsung Hero.” messages had to be concise and factual and that’s what — From the nomination put forth by Peggy Barrett we were striving for,” she said. “Just scheduling that appointment [for them] waylaid so Haas said her biggest wish for environment. I’m not asking for many fears. Now that current her community is for things to much. Getting back to normal is going to happen through vaccinainfection rates are low and the “get back to normal.” “Normalcy -- when we don’t tion, social distancing in a semimajority of people being vaccinated, we’re focused on sharing have to worry about getting in- normal way and mask-wearing in information about the things we fected with COVID and gathering appropriate situations. It’s going with family and friends in a safe to take … vigilance.” can do, safely.”

THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE’S CARRIERS Delivering the local news when it mattered most in the pandemic. Gathering and reporting the latest news of the pandemic was, and remains, a vital service to the Berkshire community. And a group of about 30 people with whom The Eagle contracts delivers the papers to our readers’ homes and to the various retail stores that sell single copies of the newspaper. The carriers’ work is always done alone and in the predawn hours, and often in various weather extremes. With the newspaper delivery, their work most often goes unnoticed unless something interferes with the success of that day’s deliveries.

The carriers’ work did not change appreciably during the pandemic, although they were unable to work remotely. Whether the work can be categorized as heroic is a question that others can decide, but the good work these people do is often unsung. We believe that those who drove through the night on the Berkshires highways and byways despite challenging road conditions to bring daily paper to our readers and preserve a modicum of their morning routines are also heroes of the pandemic.


The lead public health nurse at the Berkshire Public Health Alliance helped coordinate thousands of vaccinations. For thousands of Berkshire County residents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the team of public health nurses led by Leslie Drager helped make that possible. In the fight to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic, Drager’s team has worked behind the scenes to track possible exposures to the virus and, more recently, to coordinate clinics for people to get vaccinated.

Since last March, her team conducted contact tracing for more than 20 municipalities, which recorded nearly 3,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. And for the highly praised regional vaccine collaborative, Drager coordinates scheduling and staffing, in addition to physically putting needles together ahead of clinics. During the pandemic, Christmas has been the only day that Drager, who also works a day job at Berkshire Medical Center, hasn’t spent fielding calls from school nurses, businesses or others “I would like to nominate Leslie Drager, our lead worried about pospublic health nurse with Berkshire Public Health sible exposures. Alliance, for all of her hard work since the pan“We wouldn’t be demic started. Leslie has been an exceptional part where we’re at without the team,” Dragof our community between contact tracing and er said. “Our ultibeing the lead clinical manager in our COVID vacmate goal is to work cination centers. Leslie works so hard for the wellas hard as we can to being of others, and I would love for her to know make sure that we her hard work doesn’t go unnoticed!” protect our community. I’m grateful for — From the nomination put forth by Ticia Cormier this team, and I just

happen to be the lead.” In an interview in early May for this publication, Drager said that while vaccine clinics will start to phase out, she hopes that more people will take the opportunity to get vaccinated. As more people do so, she said, life in the Berkshires can regain some degree of normalcy. Gov. Charlie Baker tours the COVID-19 vaccination “I think we all are center at Berkshire Community College in looking forward to getPittsfield with Leslie Drager. Eagle File Photo ting our lives back,” Drager said. “None of us really know what’s going to happen, but I know that my goal is band and two daughters, who she to be able to sit at a restaurant and said have gone to clinics to work talk with people I’m friendly with alongside her. “It’s rewarding work, because it’s and not having to fear being too close or worrying about somebody spread- for the good of everyone,” Drager said, adding that she and other ing the disease.” Drager credits those around her nurses have formed friendships for making the public health re- with people for whom they have sponse to the pandemic as strong done contact tracing. “There’s no as possible. That includes her hus- real downside to it.”

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Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


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Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com

LAURA KITROSS OF LENOX The director of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association and of the Berkshire Public Health Alliance was on the ground early and proved to be a guiding force for countywide vaccinations. Laura Kittross needed to be the calm at the center of the storm. In her work this past year, she played a pivotal role in helping local boards of health respond to the pandemic. Month after grinding month. And as a guiding force for the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative, Kittross shaped and steadied the effort to stand up three local clinics and administer COVID-19 vaccines. A tough assignment, especially when the vaccine supply was short — and patience out there was even shorter. The person nominating Kittross said she is a hands-on expert who keeps her focus on the mission. Early in the pandemic, Kittross helped Berkshire County residents, and their health officials, understand the enormity of the crisis. Getting information out early was key. When asked to name the toughest time she faced

in the past year, it was those early days. “Probably the hardest moment was that first week,” she said. “We had the first case of community spread in Massachusetts. We felt very much on our own. And we weren’t getting a lot of support from the state. There was just that feeling of panic. I expected the state to jump into action and come out here and save us. There was the realization that we were really kind of on our own.” Local health officials built upon an existing network of shared services, though the financial collapse of Porchlight VNA early in the pandemic sent people scrambling. Seven towns formerly served by that group came under her oversight in terms of public health nursing services. Outside of the Berkshires, Kittross has served as a liaison

We are grateful to live in a community where heroes live .... be they health care workers, first responders, grocery store or gas station employees, municipal or essential workers, teachers, cemetery workers, clergy, fellow colleagues, vaccinators, neighbors, friends or friends we have yet to meet .... we have prevailed together! Let us continue to practice the kindnesses that have sustained us .... John, Caroline and Korey

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to the state Department of Public Health and consulted with farflung colleagues and groups. “I get to hear what’s going on in other parts of the state and advocate for Berkshire County,” she said. Kittross believes the past year has strengthened the local public health system. It is a “system,” but, more importantly, it’s a lot of dedicated people.

P r o u d a ff i l i ate o f C a rr i a g e S e r v i c e s Joh n W. Bre s nahan

Provided photo

“This is so not a one-person or a two-person or a three-person effort,” she said. “There are an enormous number of people working really, really hard, and many of them are ‘unsung.’ There are dozens of people out there who are working just as hard as I am and who are just as integral to this effort.”

“Laura Kittross has been an essential, and unsung, hero in the Berkshire County response to COVID and especially the vaccine rollout through the Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative. She heads up the Berkshire County Boards of Health coalition — and more — and never seeks the spotlight. I’ve seen her on the ground behind a table at the vaccine clinic as well as on the computer day and night. “She also: Manages the public health program. Supervises public health staff. Provides leadership and guidance on technical aspects of public health programs. Develops and administers the public health program budget.” — From the nomination put forth by Megan Whilden

Collaboration of eight Northern Berkshire municipalities which means cooperation was a given well before the pandemic. In the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis, the center worked in collaboration with other Northern Berkshire officials to open the county’s first COVID-19 Operations Center, said Jusino, which helped serve as a model for other parts of the Berkshires. “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the “As convener of Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning the COVID-19 OpCommittee (REPC) has coordinated planning and erations Center, response efforts in collaboration with eight Norththe REPC has faern Berkshire communities as well as the Massachucilitated communisetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College. cation, alignment “As convener of the COVID-19 Operations Center and distribution of the REPC has facilitated communication, alignresources, engagement and distribution of resources, engagement of ment of community community partners through a focused, intentionpartners through a al, and innovative community liaison program, and focused, intentionthe management of [a] regional vaccination site. al, and innovative “This work stands as a best practice and exemcommunity liaison plary model program for the Berkshires, Western program, and the Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth. Even management of … more importantly the REPC has been a resource [a] regional vacfor clear, reliable, trusted, respectful information cination site,” said and positive messaging to the community at an Mayor Tom Berincredibly challenging time.” nard, who nominated the REPC. — From the nomination put forth by In April, the OpNorth Adams Mayor Tom Bernard erations Center div-

When the pandemic hit, the Northern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee was ready to react. The committee, led by Chairman Amalio Jusino, works on emergency planning and coordination for eight Northern Berkshire municipalities,


Provided Photo

Pavel Slivka, who works in a group home in Southampton, originally said no. “The day before it happened, I changed my mind,” he said. “I said if you guys need someone, I’ll be willing to help for two weeks.” He didn’t need to wait long to get an answer. Two days after that, one of the group home’s three residents tested positive for coronavirus and the facility was placed under quarantine. “So that’s how it worked out,” he said. Slivka, 25, a native of the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, lives in Westfield and attends Springfield Technical Community College where he is studying to be a psychiatric nurse. Unlike some of his coworkers, Slivka still lives at home with his parents. When COVID first hit, older people were more susceptible to the illness than younger people. But Slivka said his parents were

“Pavel lives with his parents. When he told them he would ‘shelter-in’ with individuals who tested positive, they reacted differently. “‘I’m young, I’m healthy, and I want to help these guys’ is what Pavel told them. He said, they need help. My parents figured if I stay there, then that’s OK and it doesn’t put them in any danger. I would like to keep a close eye on them, but they have each other.”

fine with his decision. “They were actually pretty supportive,” he said. “They’re older and they thought it would be better — From the nomination put forth by Berkshire County Arc if I did that (sheltered-in) regardless, because if I was positive and I didn’t know it I of the individuals go to the hospicould have caused a risk for them. tal at least two or three times. The The fact that this individual at the other one went two times as well. house was testing positive and I was So dealing with the patients was the working with them I could have most difficult part.....But then later had it already and not shown symp- on they were both hospitalized, so toms. … So actually working there the rest of the week was just mainunder quarantine was a good idea.” taining and living in the position in The hardest part of living under the house.” quarantine occurred at the beginDespite his initial hesitation, ning, Slivka said. Another resident Slivka said he would welcome the also tested positive for COVD-19, and opportunity to do it again. “I honestly miss those times,” they both spent time in the hospital. “The first week was probably the he said. “It was kind of a great most hectic,” he said. “We had one experience.”

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When COVID-19 began affecting the community last spring, Berkshire County Arc asked staffers if they would be willing to shelter with the individuals they lived in at the group homes where they worked if those facilities had to be quarantined.

vied up responsibilities and began to work, said Jusino. The center became a central hub for PPE and disinfectant supplies delivered from the state and distributed those materials. It also helped with food distribution and delivered meals directly to people forced to isolate or Amalio Jusino, chairman of the Northern Berkshire quarantine. Regional Emergency Planning Committee, directs vaccine “We early on recrecipients at the North Adams clinic site. Eagle File Photo ognized that we had to come together on this,” said Jusino. “And it was just a team effort. Every- team went out to see the site before body had something to give.” the first public clinics. This year, the REPC and COV“We stood in the parking lot, and ID-19 Operation Center, as part of I said, ‘Let’s act like we’re 100 years a Berkshire Vaccine Collaborative old, we can’t walk, and let’s think of effort, stood up a vaccination site every step of what’s going to have staffed by police, firefighters, local to happen to get this person vaccihealth officials, other government nated,’” said Jusino. officials and many volunteers. The site has now operated for four Jusino recalls putting together months, vaccinating thousands of a 14-page plan in the span of just a people from all age groups, includfew days that would serve as a tem- ing through walk-in clinics that plate for the site at the St. Elizabeth have lowered the hurdles for people of Hungary Parish Center. The who may be vaccine hesitant.

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021



Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com

KRISTEN LOVALLO OF PITTSFIELD Lead medical assistant and customer service representative at Berkshire Health Systems was key at the COVID-19 hotline, testing center. At Berkshire Health Systems’ COVID-19 hotline and testing center, Kristen Lovallo’s duties include scheduling appointments, conducting tests and making phone calls to share results. Working at both the Pittsfield and North Adams testing sites, Lovallo devoted much of her time during the pandemic to ensuring that people have sufficient access to testing, which has been a key strategy for monitoring infections during the pandemic. Lovallo started at the center in September, but by January, she was working weeks of 70 to 80 hours as the county saw a surge in COVID-19 cases. In addition to working weekends, Lovallo would come in on days off to check on how the center was doing and help as needed. “Wherever they needed me, that’s where I was,” Lovallo said. “But that was everybody here — we were a small group. We went from zero to 100 during that surge in January and February, but I like the challenge of building new things and expanding.” As the testing center transitioned to offering vaccinations, Lovallo said she expects to become “a different kind of busy.” She hopes if more people can get vaccinated, the county can make progress in stopping the spread of the virus. On May 19, Lovallo took her first vacation day in over a year. Through the pandemic, she also continued working at her second job, at Patrick’s Pub in Pittsfield. “I just kept going,” she said. “Patrick’s got hit hard. They needed to deliver food, so I turned from a waitress into a delivery driver to help keep them open.” The testing center, Lovallo said, has been a great place to work because the team works well as a group. While she said it took some time to figure out how to make things run with a limited number of staff, the center adapted to make sure it could get people their test results as quickly as possible.

“Kristen works at the Berkshire Health Systems COVID-19 testing center both in Pittsfield and in North Adams. Within the past year, she has gone from being a new hire to being one of the top members at the center. “She works overtime, weekends, and even goes in on her days off to make sure everything is running smoothly. She devotes all her time to the center even when it causes her stress to ensure that people can have access to testing, which is very important during this pandemic.” — From the nomination put forth by Anissa Lovallo


NORTH ADAMS PUBLIC SCHOOLS STAFF Every member “has been data-driven, safety focused, and committed to the educational, emotional, and social well being of students, families and caregivers, their colleagues and the community” The North Adams Public Schools District educates around 1,200 students in North Adams and surrounding towns. When the coronavirus hit, the district shifted to remote learning and began to implement its response to the crisis, which would eventually involve shifting between hybrid learning methods, ensuring families could connect to online curriculum, training teachers and feeding children through the public health emergency. “Every member of the NAPS team has been data-driven, safety focused, and committed to the educational, emotional, and social well being of students, families and caregivers, their colleagues and the community,” wrote North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard, who nominated the district. Through the crisis, the district handed out nearly 1,500 electronic devices to staff and students, as well as more than 200,000 meals for students. NAPS also built a curriculum that could be transferred between online and in-person learning based on virus spread and shifting state regulations, updated its technology to meet the moment and helped staff become overnight experts in remote teaching. “Now we know that when we need to be

North Adams Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Malkas. Eagle File Photo

adaptive, we can. And we can actually be quite innovative in that process,” said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. Malkas said that when the district realized that remote learning would last longer than two weeks, staff jumped to create resources for teachers and families, including professional development and drop-in centers that would support families who wanted to remain remote for the entire year. The district also tried to distribute public health information and offer food to students who had relied on meals at school. The sped-up learning process will impact how the district makes changes to its curriculum for years to come, Malkas said, and the lessons about remote learning will continue to help students who have to remain at home for reasons other than the coronavirus. “Everybody had to pull together and work together,” she said. “It’s a team effort. I wouldn’t be able to single out individuals, because every single person holds this district together, from the facilities crew to food services and teachers and teaching assistants, to our secretaries, who took phones home with them to be that line of communication to families.”

“Since March 2020 the North Adams Public Schools (NAPS) district has managed school closures, remote learning, reopening planning, remote-hybrid-in person learning models, fluctuating and inconsistent state guidance, and the ongoing public health challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “From district leadership to school administration to classroom educators to health, facilities, and food service professionals every member of the NAPS team has been data-driven, safety focused, and committed to the educational, emotional, and social well being of students, families and caregivers, their colleagues, and the community. “The district has provided nearly 1,500 laptops and electronic devices to support remote learning; served over 200,000 grab and go meals, and provided staff with thousands of hours of professional development on topics related to online learning, social emotional support, curriculum and instruction, and pandemic response. They also offered hundreds of hours of parent, family, and caregiver engagement to make sure that remote and hybrid learning happened as smoothly as possible.” — From the nomination put forth by North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard

This team at Pittsfield Public Schools prepared more than 500,000 meals so no student would go hungry during the pandemic.

— From the nomination put forth by Sylvana Bryan, Judith Kirchner, Laura Newton and Katherine Zahn

Members of the Pittsfield Public Schools Food Service Staff working at Conte Elementary School show their love. Provided photo

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The COVID-19 pandemic placed a cloud of uncertainty over society. One thing that was guaranteed — the Pittsfield Public Schools Food Service Staff worked around the clock to combat food insecurity among students. In fact, more than a half-million meals have been prepared and served for students enrolled in Pittsfield Public Schools since the pandemic began in March 2020. “It’s been a lot of meals, served by a lot of people,” said Pam Burton, the cafeteria manager at Egremont Elementary School. “It’s been all about teamwork; the Pittsfield Public food service team all came together to make it happen.” Schools closed in March and roughly 20 members of the food service staff were asked to provide nutritional food for kids throughout the city that are enrolled in the school system. The staff formed teams at Conte and Morningside Elementary Schools, churning out food to be passed out among students. The staff grew throughout the summer of 2020, continuing to prepare food while adhering to COVID-19 protocols. “It was really hard to come in every day wearing masks, staying six feet apart and keeping ourselves safe for our families and still do our job,” said Burton. “We did it for the children and their families, we wanted to be there for them.” Adjustments to school protocols, including the move from virtual to in-person learning, forced the staff to switch how meals were provided on more than one occasion. The amount of meals being prepared grew as students returned to the school, food was to be delivered to different sites and schools, staff juggled fridge space and even passed food out of the back door in cafeteras. COVID-19 protocols and guidelines are always changing, but the Pittsfield Public Schools food service staff never missed a beat. “It was very rewarding to know we did our job and prevailed,” Burton said. “It made you feel good and it put a smile on your face when the week was done. “Over the past 12 months there has been plenty of uncertainty, but the kids and their parents could always count on Pittsfield cafeterias to provide fresh meals daily.”

“This group of dedicated front line workers have been committed to providing meals to the children of Pittsfield from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the staff stepped up to make sure the children of Pittsfield had meals during school closure and beyond. They did not miss a beat. School closed on Friday, March 13 and the food service staff began a grab-ngo meal service on Monday, March 16. No one knew exactly how it was going to work, but they quickly developed a system and fed our kids. “Cafeteria workers not only had to rethink meal service, but also put safety protocols into place and ensure the wellbeing of their coworkers, as well as those they were serving. Staff developed a system to bag meals for distribution. From April through August they cooked, packaged and bagged over 136,400 meals for children in our community. “From September through February, 285,486 meals were distributed to children throughout Pittsfield. Meals were handed out through all kinds of weather and in the evening for parents who worked during the day. Many days they worked short staffed, all to make sure that our children here in Pittsfield had nutritious meals. “Students were back to hybrid learning in March and once again, another meal service model was implemented. In early April, in-person classes began for elementary school students, again another meal service was needed. With each change the Pittsfield food service team made the best of it, finding creative ways to organize and pack meals for our students. “The Pittsfield Public School Food Service Staff has prepared and served over a half million breakfasts & lunches for children (approximately 567,902 meals) since the pandemic started. “Between preparing healthy meals for Pittsfield’s students, adhering to strict nutrition standards, navigating student food allergies and offering service with a smile, school nutrition professionals are true heroes. The dedication of this remarkable group needs to be recognized by the community during these unprecedented times.”

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021



Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes

ROOTS RISING: JESSICA VECCHIA AND JAMIE SAMOWITZ ‘Rather than suspending activities until they could resume to something more normal, Roots Rising stepped up and organized an effort to bring the community together to help one another in a variety of ways’

Jessica Vecchia, left, and Jamie Samowitz, co-founders and co-directors of Roots Rising. Provided photo

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would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Unsung Heroes in our community for their dedication throughout this pandemic.

During the pandemic when inperson activities were discouraged, Roots Rising launched a virtual farmers market, an eightmonth emergency relief program that allowed shoppers to order and buy online from more than 20 farmers and food producers. “It became clear we needed to launch a virtual farmers market and get food to people’s doors,” said Jamie Samawitz, co-founder and co-director of Roots Rising. Roots Rising is the nonprofit organization that empowers youth and builds community through food and farming. Roots Rising and its teens operate the Pittsfield Farmers Market, one of its signature programs. With in-person work curtailed due the pandemic, Roots Rising needed an alternative. “Our farmers were seeing a lot of their sales outlets — farmers markets, restaurants and weddings and events — closing,” said Jessica Vecchia, also cofounder and co-director of Roots Rising. “At the same time, farmers didn’t have the ability to do virtual sales.” In eight months of operation, Roots Rising processed more than 5,700 orders; generated $225,000 in sales to support the local food economy; gave out $100,000 in fresh food to our neighbors in need through its financial assistance program; purchased $9,160 of fresh food from farmers and donated it to a local food pantry; and provided nearly $16,000 worth of delivery services for free to the elderly, those at high risk for the virus and those suffering from economic hardship. A Virtual Farmers Market shopper and participant in the financial assistance lottery has this to say about it:

“These are tough times. In another lifetime, I would probably be one of the volunteers for Roots Rising. Then life changes, and I find both my health and my wealth compromised. I’m not sure how mere words will convey how helpful the Virtual Farmers Market has been. It reminds me that no person is an island. We all need each other to make it through. Thanks for all you do to make it happen — you really make a difference.” “I hope that 2021 is a year of reconnection,” Samowitz said. “I hope that people can reconnect with each other, the community and with the land — and that’s what we’re offering.” “We saw the community come together to help take care of one another and we hope that continues beyond the pandemic,” Vecchia added.

“As spring 2020 drew to a close, the reality that we would all be a bit confined over the summer started to settle in. Access to fresh and healthy food for all became a concern as going to the store would be difficult, if not impossible, for some of our communities’ most vulnerable. “Jess, Jamie and the team at Roots Rising stepped up and deployed an army of volunteers to move their weekly Pittsfield Farmers’ Market to a virtual platform. “The enormity of their efforts ought to be recognized. They were able to process, package and deliver 5,736 boxes of food to the community all while putting over $225,000 into the pockets of our community farmers. Rather than suspending activities until they could resume to something more normal, Roots Rising stepped up and organized an effort to bring the community together to help one another in a variety of ways.” — From the nomination put forth by Jeffrey Belair

A retired elementary school teacher (who may or may not be The Easter Bunny’s helper), she says, ‘We’re on this earth to help each other.’ If you were one of the nurses, doctors or hospital workers who got a visit from the Easter bunny at the Berkshire Medical Center parking

lot in April 2020, you can thank Sharon Vincent. Although, she would rather no one knew she and her husband and daughter were responsible for the little bit of Easter cheer in those early days of the pandemic. “We ordered every last egg they had at Target,” she said, with a laugh, explaining how they filled each with candy and thoughtful messages of encouragement. “I went to security and asked if it would be OK if we went around and put them on cars in the parking garages. We did it at night so we wouldn’t ‘get caught’ and just hoped that we reached as many Provided photo as possible.” Vincent has also spent

“Sharon is an incredible, thoughtful and proactive member of our community. From the beginning of the Pandemic, she started making masks for anyone who needed one, at her own expense of time and money. … I don’t know of anyone who is more deserving of this honor! She has done so much, for so many, in so many different areas! I am proud to call her mentor and friend!”

countless hours making more than 1,000 masks — which she donated to friends, family, a — From the nomination put forth by Eileen Moynihan U.S. Air Force battalion, and an entire plumbing firm — on her vintage 1928 sewing machine, interview as she took a break from until that one stopped working and making that night’s dinner for the she had to borrow another one. She priests: breaded pork chops and is still using that machine to pump spaghetti squash. out masks and teddy bears she Vincent is quite embarrassed makes as part of BMC’s Teddy Bear by any special attention she’s getBrigade volunteer program. She is ting for her deeds. To her, it’s all in also a volunteer for pastoral care at a day’s work. “At night, I’m pretty the hospital, a ucheristic minister at pooped,” she admits, though said St. Joseph’s Church, where she also she is happy to do whatever she can began cooking meals once a week to help someone. for the priests when she learned “My hope is that more of us will that they had to let go of their regu- volunteer to help others and will lar housekeeper due to the financial appreciate and be grateful for famstrain of the pandemic. ily and the little things in life,” she “We’re on this Earth to help each said. “It’s the little things that make other,” Vincent said during a phone the biggest difference! Right?!”

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021


HOW TO GIVE BACK TO HEALTH CARE WORKERS Keep it simple Efforts to give back to health care workers need not be extraordinary. Simple gestures like preparing a weeknight meal for health care workers and their families, offering to babysit on a weekend afternoon or tackle a few chores around the house can help exhausted health care workers catch their breath.

ing people to continue donating blood so health care workers can meet the needs of patient care.

Support efforts to procure more funding for hospitals Since the outbreak of COVID-19, both the American Hospital Association and the American

Nurses Association have expressed hospitals’ need for more financial support as they continue to battle the virus. By supporting such efforts and encouraging others to do the same, people looking to give back can send a message to health care workers that they’re supported and that their voices are being heard.

Donate more than just your time and effort An actively engaged general public can reassure health care workers that they’re not alone in the fight against COVID-19 and other potentially deadly viruses and diseases. While blood is not used to treat COVID-19, various health organizations, including the U.S. Surgeon GeneralÕs Office, have expressed concerns that hospitals will not have enough blood on hand to treat accident victims and sick people who need blood to survive. Social distancing measures may be keeping potential blood donors away, but the American Red Cross is urg-


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Millions of people across the globe donate to charities or volunteer as a means of bolstering their communities and helping the less fortunate. Such help is valuable no matter when it’s offered, but giving back in 2021 has proven to be an especially necessary endeavor. As a global pandemic took hold in 2020, millions of people found themselves battling a potentially deadly virus, while millions more found themselves out of work as the economy came crashing to a halt. Health care workers have been on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus for months on end. Stressful working environments and concerns about bringing the virus home and potentially infecting their families have made the challenges of fighting the pandemic even tougher for health care workers. Supporting such workers in these uncertain times can be a great way for people to show just how much they appreciate the extraordinary efforts of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others who continue to confront COVID-19 every day.


Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes The Berkshire Eagle | BerkshireEagle.com

RIVERBROOK RESIDENCE STAFF Riverbrook Residence, Inc., Stockbridge Riverbrook’s staff of 45, led by Executive Director Becky Amuso Wendell, provide around-theclock care for 21 women of all ages at a residence nestled at the end of Ice Glen Road in Stockbridge. Joyce Butler, president of Riv-

erbrook’s board of directors, nominated the staff as Unsung Heroes for their tireless and selfless acts of kindness and care during the pandemic. “Every day, the staff arrived for their shift, rolled up their sleeves and did what they needed

to do,” Butler wrote. Early in the pandemic, Riverbrook staff searched high and low for as many masks, sanitizers and other personal protective equipment, or PPE, they could get their hands on. By April 2020, the facility was running low on

Riverbrook Residence staff, left to right: Clinical Program Director Lynn Ciccone, Staff Development Manager Ruth Hanley, Executive Director Rebecca Amuso Wendell, Residential Supervisor Tammy Kalinowski, Day Program Director Colleen Powers and Weekend Supervisor Kirstie Surber. Provided photo

“It is my pleasure to recommend the staff who work at the Riverbrook Residence in Stockbridge for their sustained and selfless acts of kindness, creating a bubble of safety for the women during this year of COVID stress, uncertainty and a very real level of fear. “Executive Director Becky Amuso Wendell stayed vigilant with regard to the health needs of the Riverbrook community. The staff engaged in a no touch policy; strict hand washing protocols; deep cleaning and disinfection practices; and close monitoring of residents’ health. Staff education took place regarding monitoring for signs and symptoms of illness and the need for staff to stay home if one felt unwell. “Riverbrook was shut off from the larger community of Stockbridge. The women, like the rest of us, were unable to go to work, church, shop or engage in any community involvement. Yet, online options such as their Community Access to the Arts classes and church were created with those organizations. Staff redesigned activities for each day, managed health risks, and stayed positive for the women. “The staff made the commitment early on in this process to ramp up self-care, their care of their families, and their care of the women and co-workers at Riverbrook by being vigilant when they were on and off the property. “To this day, staff continue to wear masks and practice all safety protocols, even with the vaccination process having been completed. The staff has stayed the course, come to work and demonstrated excellent attendance, and put themselves at risk by coming to work, even when COVID had reached our small community. “The staff has also worked to improve the organization so that when we return to a new normal, we are ready to hit the ground running. All aspects of the sprinkler and elevator projects, put on hold in 2020, are now underway. “The staff is working on creating a more robust supported employment program; has maintained a focus on capital improvements; has written grants and developed an outreach program for women who are aging out of their public school settings; and is examining and proposing improvements to our IT situation. The staff has also recently engaged in exploring whether any options exist for adjusting the facility’s physical capacity to be better equipped for any future pandemics. “The staff at Riverbrook have brought us through this crisis. The Riverbrook Board, the families of the women, and the larger community sing the praises of the staff.” — From the nomination put forth by Joyce Butler, president, Riverbrook board of directors.


supplies until one day a Massachusetts Army National Guard truck rolled up with more masks and other safety gear to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Aside from the established safety protocols, Riverbrook still kept the residents engaged in programs on site and remotely, the women adapting well to the mix, according to Wendell. She said the staff were at their best keeping the residents at ease through every challenge that arose each day. “The staff did an amazing job of keeping residents calm; their bravery and dedication kept me going,” she said. “I was also impressed by how resilient our residents were.” The pandemic, Wendell added, has had an upside, showing how adaptive the staff and residents can be. COVID-19 protocols have improved how the staff care for the women and have them prepared if another crisis emerges in the future, she said. Wendell often put her medical training to use, donning her scrubs for weeks to help out the staff. Riverbrook, she said, did have several women and staff come down with COVID-19 in early January this year, but everyone infected was able to be isolated so the illness wouldn’t spread. She noted everyone has been fully vaccinated, except for those few residents and staff that can’t get immunized for medical reasons. Butler says she and the board couldn’t be more proud of the staff during these trying times. “They put the health and well-being of others ahead of themselves. It is because of them that the women of Riverbrook were safe and engaged in their everyday life,” she said.

Unsung Heroes | Saturday, June 5, 2021

THE SINGH GHAI FAMILY OF PITTSFIELD Founders of the Anup Singh Ghai COVID-19 Memorial Scholarship at Berkshire Community College. In their grief, they bring hope. ncial aid because of their country of origin. The family was nominated for helping others amid grief over the loss of Singh Ghai, the first Berkshire County resident to die of illness caused by the coronavirus. Singh Ghai and his wife Rita Ghai had moved the family to Pittsfield from New Delhi, India, in 1998 and made it possible for their four children to go to BCC, where they excelled and later went on to advanced degrees and successful careers. Still grief-stricken amid their

Provided photo

Relations Toni Buckley. “It’s for so many others.” “The tragedy of COVID-19 to our global community in general, and to the Singh-Ghai family in particular, has sparked the wish for the family to give back to Berkshire Community College and support future students,” the family wrote. Buckley said she spoke to the family about how Anup Ghai Singh, a suc-

cessful engineer in New Delhi, moved the whole family to the Berkshires to expand his children’s opportunities. She said the scholarship will be awarded next year, and she praised the siblings, “all over-achievers.” “They are all very successful professionals,” she said. “They really benefited from their father’s passion for their education and the sacrifices he took for his children.”

are so very grateful to all the essential “ We and frontline workers who selflessly served and protected our community.

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Thank you all! Pittsfield, you did your part.

Now, let’s bring on the joys of life!” –Mayor Linda Tyer

City of


photo credit Susan Geller

father’s illness and fast decline last March, Rita Ghai and siblings Samta Ghai, Gagan Singh, Raina Ghai Mehta and Naval Singh set up a scholarship near the one-year anniversary of their father’s death. In a statement, the family said education was dear to their father, an engineer: “He told us that education will open you up as a person so you will understand the world. Education was like a sacred thing for him. He always said, ‘Your destiny is in your own hands, you and only you, can make it or break it.’” And Rita Ghai said, “I never saw a man like him, so caring and loving. He gave everything for his “I don’t know the family, but I heard about family.” Now the family [their efforts to establish the scholarship in has extended this caring their father’s name]. And I thought the story through the scholarship was so selfless. They had such a horrible in a place they love. loss, and now they’re turning it around to “It’s not just for our benefit others. In their grief, they’re helping.” dad,” said Gagan Singh, — From the nomination put in a videotaped interview forth by Kirsten Wanamaker with Samta Ghai and BCC Director of Alumni

For the latest events and happenings, view the 2021 online guide at DiscoverPittsfield.com For more information, visit CityofPittsfield.org 23

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Saturday, June 5, 2021 | Unsung Heroes

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