Awards were given to those individuals who made great progress in the last year.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Those with autism, brain injuries or who are developmentally challenged should be treated just like everybody else and Berkshire County Arc tries to do just that.
Through numerous programs throughout the county, BC Arc doesn't just provide support and advocacy for those people, they work hard to integrate them back into the world.
"What would we be without BC Arc? What would we be if you weren't here? We'd be a community that doesn't take care of all of us, it doesn't give every single one of us an opportunity to live the life we want to live," said state Sen. Adam Hinds said.
Hinds would later pose for a photo with Tim Franchere. Franchere wanted to take driver's education and get his driver's license. He got a job at Big Y where he is known for being on time and a hard worker. He volunteers for Elder Service's Meals on Wheels Program. And he loves going to sporting events and trips to Virginia.
"He continues to set more goals for himself and meet them," said BC Arc President and CEO Kenneth Singer.
And now, Franchere has not only taken driver's education but also has a license and his own car. It is a success worthy of BC Arc honoring him with an achievement award for how hard he's worked to make his goals a reality.
Michael Doling always wanted to go on a cruise. He participates in BC Arc's self-advocacy groups and in the Spring of 2017 he set his mind to make it happen.
"Realizing going on this vacation will involve a lot of planning, he got ready for the challenge. Learning the costs of the trip would be quite expensive, he knew he'd have to save a lot of money. A good self-advocate got creative with his planning, for example, he asked his family members to give him money for his birthday and Christmas instead of presents. He directed every aspect of his cruise vacation -- destination, cruise line, trip duration, cost, and activities," Singer said. "With staff assistance, he created a chart to track his progress on paying for his trip."
He saved his money, tracking the progress, and one year later he was floating off the coast of Bermuda.
"Not only did he have a great time, he learned that if you really want something, you need to speak up," Singer said.
That's why he was awarded the Joan Grant Self-Advocate Award.
There are a dozen success stories like those that happen throughout the year. BC Arc recognizes their successes at the annual breakfast meeting, this year held at Berkshire Hills Country Club on Friday.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said the annual breakfast and award ceremony is one of her favorite local events because of how much it inspires her.
"I'm always very impressed by this event. I never miss one because I feel like I am among really good friends," Farley-Bouvier said.
"One of the reasons I come here every year is because I feel like I need constant reminders and you help bring me energy, I soak it up and bring it to the state house. When I am walking into the statehouse with my colleagues -- we have a strong unified delegation -- when it comes to supporting families, supporting individuals, and supporting the workforce and know that with this delegation we have your back.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure families and individuals get the resources they need and we are fighting to pay our workers."
BC Arc runs residential homes, provides employment training programs, and connects those individuals with jobs. Recently, BC Arc called Kelly's Package Store in Dalton and asked if they could partner and get BC Arc individuals jobs there. Owner John Kelly wasn't certain at first but he's now glad he made the decision to partner.
"We keep adding more and more hours. We're very happy with the crew, Chris, Dan, who are at this breakfast with us, Anthony and Pedro work with us also and do a great job. We're going to increase our hours. We've found a great need and we hope to keep going that way," Kelly said. "I want to think my staff who has done a great job integrating with the crew -- Paul, Mark, Jim, my son Andrew -- it was a new venture for us and one that we are so pleased that we undertook."
Kelly was honored as the employer of the year.
One of his new employees was Anthony Tanner and in the last year, it has helped him grow tremendously. He wanted to live more independently and when given the chance to work at Kelly's he took it seriously. Now he's not only cooking his own meals at his apartment but he is also continually helping to make community meals. Singer said in the last year he's "taken great strides in getting help without giving up independence" and deserves an achievement award for his progress.
The organization's Zip 'N Sort Mail Services is celebrating its 20th year. Hancock Shaker Village joined as a partner, letting the individuals at Zip 'N Sort handle all of its mailing needs. Hancock Shaker was given the Business Partnership Award.
The Village's director Jennifer Trainer Thompson recalled looking at crops the farm grows for the local community supported agriculture programs and restaurants and asked a co-worker what happens if somebody walked into the unfenced area and stole crops. The answer symbolizes why Hancock Shaker has remained such an important business partner with BC Arc.
"You know what the Shakers said, if somebody does that, next year we need to plant an extra row because nobody should ever go hungry. When I hear what Adam and others said, that is so true. We are a community in making sure if possible nobody goes hungry," Thompson said. "Zip 'N Sort has been our partner for 20 years. The good work that they do makes our work possible."
But the great work being done by businesses and individuals is only a piece. It takes dedicated staff members. The organization recognized a number of staff members for going above and beyond.
There is only one Employee of the Year Award to give out and Pam Kight's efforts in developing new life skills program and building the new transitions program, which Singer said has become a model program, earned her that honor.
"It has a great reputation with our funding sources, parents, and individuals and this has happened as a direct result of her dedication, drive, and creativity," Singer said.
Kight has been with the organization for 21 years, starting as an employment trainer where she's helped more than 20 individuals achieve in job programs and provide case management for more than 80. Now she heads the transitions program.
"Her flexibility and adaptability is admirable," Singer said.
For state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, the event keeps life in perspective and he said at some point everybody will have some sort of disability.
The efforts aren't just noticed on the very local level but even has the recognition of the U.S. Senate. Nyanna Slaughter from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's office read a letter Warren had penned to BC Arc.
"This work is incredibly important. I believe all people, including people with disabilities, are entitled to certain fundamental rights and opportunities. My first job after college was teaching public education students at a public elementary school and I understand how important it is for support services that allow people with disabilities to live full and rich lives," Slaughter read.
Warren's letter continued to vow to provide resources to help the organization continue its work and highlighted a few recent bills the Senator has introduced or passed to do so.
Awards presented were:
Board Member Service Award: Michael Ferry
Board Member Service Award: Thomas J. Hamel
Special Award: Paul Gavrity
Employer of the Year: Kelly's Package Store
Business Partnership Award: Hancock Shaker Village
Citizen Advocate of the Year: Katelynn Ruusukallio and Kim Scace
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