Community Action Pioneer Valley presents awards to volunteers and supporters

Community Action Pioneer Valley Executive Director Clare Higgins speaks at the agency's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College.

Community Action Pioneer Valley Executive Director Clare Higgins speaks at the agency's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE—

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks at Community Action's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College after receiving the Sargent Shriver Public Service Award.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks at Community Action's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College after receiving the Sargent Shriver Public Service Award. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE—

Cheo Ramos, of the Center for Self Reliance, speaks alongside Community Action Pioneer Valley Associate Director of Community Engagement Jess Thompson at the agency's  2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College.

Cheo Ramos, of the Center for Self Reliance, speaks alongside Community Action Pioneer Valley Associate Director of Community Engagement Jess Thompson at the agency's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE—

Center for New Americans Executive Director Laurie Millman accepts a congressional citation from Koby Gardner-Levine, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern's regional manager, at Community Action Pioneer Valley's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College.

Center for New Americans Executive Director Laurie Millman accepts a congressional citation from Koby Gardner-Levine, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern's regional manager, at Community Action Pioneer Valley's 2024 annual meeting and 60th anniversary celebration Friday morning at Greenfield Community College. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE—

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-04-2024 3:01 PM

GREENFIELD — For the first time since the pandemic, Community Action Pioneer Valley welcomed volunteers, legislators and community partners for its annual meeting — and celebrated an important milestone, too.

The regional supportive service agency celebrated its 60th anniversary Friday morning at Greenfield Community College and highlighted its vast array of programs and network of volunteers, while also honoring state Sen. Jo Comerford, Center for New Americans Executive Director Laurie Millman and the workers at the Center for Self-Reliance’s Food Pantry.

Community Action Executive Director Clare Higgins outlined the history of community action agencies in the U.S., which date back to 1964 after the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, bringing forth a host of new social programs designed to combat poverty.

“Lowering poverty means better outcomes for children, better outcomes for families and better outcomes for seniors,” Higgins said. “Those programs that we kind of take for granted, that are baked into our lives — Medicaid and Medicare, student loans, youth employment, meals programs – that whole set of things that people say, ‘Oh we’ve always had that,’ they came out of this work.”

“We believe that every child should thrive, every family should be safe and warm and every community has a mutual obligation to each other to make those things happen,” Higgins continued. “And that’s why you’re in the room, you share those thoughts, you share those beliefs and we count you as our community supporters.”

Comerford was awarded the Sargent Shriver Public Service Award, which honors an elected or appointed official who demonstrates outstanding service. Shriver was the architect of the so-called “war on poverty” launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson and served as a director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, which administered the Community Action Program.

Higgins said the state senator from Northampton has had “boundless energy” working for the Pioneer Valley that “embodies the values of Sargent Shriver.”

“I believe that Community Action Pioneer Valley is the embodiment of the world as it ought to be … Poverty is nothing but a failure of policy and budget decisions. So we can and should make government work better and I came to believe that as well.” Comerford said. “Shriver worked to win, like you work to win. He was intolerant of half-measures, impatient for justice – an impatience, I’d venture, shared by everybody in this room.”

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Millman and her work with the Center for New Americans was then honored by Community Action with the Jane Sanders Award, which honors an individual demonstrating leadership and outstanding commitment to community service.

Higgins noted the award was named after her predecessor at Community Action and said Millman has been a “core part of welcoming new folks to our community.”

“The fact is, none of us can do this work alone. When the Hatitian immigrants first started arriving in the community and found their way to our door, we connected them with Community Action because, yes, you can offer free classes in English; yes, you can connect people with the career center and our advisors and volunteers and our teachers did all of that,” Millman said. “Immigrants thrive when all their basic needs are met and they have no idea how to do that when they arrive … together we linked arms and created that safety net that connects people to the other fabulous resources in this amazing community.”

Millman and Comerford both received congressional citations from Koby Gardner-Levine, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s western Massachusetts regional manager.

The volunteers at the Center for Self-Reliance’s food pantry also received the Volunteer Award for their efforts in providing food to those who need it.

“I’ve got 25 volunteers and they’re great, they’ll do anything for you,” said Cheo Ramos of the Center for Self Reliance. “When I was asked, ‘Hey, do you want to find a volunteer to be Volunteer of the Year,’ I was like, no I’ve got 25 volunteers, I cannot break that up. They have donated over 3,000 hours in one year … They treat every person that walks in with dignity.”

For more information about Community Action Pioneer Valley and its programs, visit the agency’s website at Communityaction.us.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.