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WILLIAMSTOWN >> The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition held its 30th annual meeting on Friday at the Williams Inn and honored Benjamin Downing, who has been the area's state senator for the past 10 years.

After a decade of service in the Legislature, the Pittsfield Democrat, who is not seeking another term, was presented with the Northern Berkshire Hero Award "for his tireless commitment, dedication and advocacy to the Northern Berkshire region."

"It means a lot to me," Downing said, in an interview with The Eagle following the meeting. "The community coalition; I think they're what's best of the Berkshires. It's such an inspiring organization — how they go about their work, the positive attitude that they bring to it, the mission of listening to the community and empowering their community to begin to solve their problems."

And though Downing was informed ahead of time he would be honored, he was a bit surprised to witness a trivia game that included images of his face hoisted into the air.

During his tenure, Downing tried to attend the coalition's monthly meetings whenever possible, he said.

"Politics can get a little bit tough, and you can get cynical about it," Downing said. "[But] you go to the community coalition meetings and you get reminded how it's supposed to work."

The 30th year of operation has been one of change for the coalition. Adam Hinds, who was appointed executive director in 2015, has launched a state Senate campaign to replace Downing. In doing so, he stepped aside from the coalition and has been replaced by interim Executive Director Amber Besaw.


"This past year has been marked by change and growth at the coalition," Besaw said. "But what could be more exciting than celebrating 30 years of continued work and dedication?"

The creation and opening in 2015 of the United Neighborhood Organization center on River Street, in which the coalition played a major role, was also celebrated.

The coalition also touted the progress made in community wellness by its Community Health Workers.

Bret Logan and Chelsey Roy described how they utilized the programming at the coalition's Family Place to regain custody of their child, while Sapphire Holland described her participation in the Teen Writing Workshop and read a piece that she had written.

The event also included state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, former NBCC Executive Director Al Bashevkin, and Mayor Richard Alcombright, who thanked Downing for his dedication to the community and lauded the coalition for its work.

The coalition, Alcombright said, "despite difficulties can make us all dive in, make us all work together, [and] make us think through the issues."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-3676.