PITTSFIELD -- Just as state Sen. Ben Downing was about to be awarded "Irish" person of the year Thursday at Country Club of Pittsfield, Robert Quattrochi, 87, an Italian, hit the floor.
As the crowd, attendees of the Robert "Bees" Prendergast St. Patrick's Reception, waited for paramedics to arrive, Quattrochi spoke.
"I want to hear Ben," he said.
The senator stood and approached. He'd prepared a speech on the need for helping one another.
"Bob, it's not that good of a speech," he joked.
Quattrochi, who'd had prior heart troubles, turned out OK. He walked out on his own, headed for an ambulance, and said he felt fine.
Primed by the events, Downing first thanked the helpers of the evening -- a paramedic on the scene and responders who arrived -- before continuing on to the night's topic: Hillcrest Educational Centers and the work they do to help others.
Specifically, youths with autism spectrum disorder. The reception benefited the center's residential program for youths who suffer this neurological condition. Hillcrest is looking to expand the program in the coming years.
"We all have challenges, and we're all broken," Downing said. "Never is it the case that we become strong at those broken places by ourselves alone. We need someone to give us a helping hand."
Hillcrest's staff, Downing said, does this for youths who live there.
"They help kids find that inner strength, to become strong at that broken place. To recognize and understand that it doesn't make them different, but rather it's what unites each and every one of us," Downing said.
Kandi Schmidt, guardian of a child in the program, attested to the program's vitality.
Brittany Furman, 17, who was diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, spent time at various institutions across the state before her arrival at Hillcrest two year ago.
Schmidt said the other places had refused Furman time outdoors or even off the ward and overmedicated her, despite a need for "the least restrictive environment."
Things changed at Hillcrest, Schmidt said. The staff spoke of "helping" and "teaching" Furman.
"I've got to tell you, this is the first time that anybody ever alluded to the notion that Brittany could be an active participant in Brittany's life," Schmidt said.
Ample outdoors time, trips off-campus to places all over the Berkshires, one-on-one time with clinicians and diet advice comprise a few cornerstones of the treatment. The improvement, Schmidt said, came quickly and persists to the present.
"For the first time ever, she is making effective progress," Schmidt said.
Nineteen-year-old Melanie Encarnacion, another Hillcrest resident, made her own remarks at the reception. Encarnacion struggled after her parents left for the Domincan Republic, and she was transferred to Hillcrest.
Now, years later, she's looking forward to a college and a degree in business.
"I'm never going to forget the skills I've mastered [at Hillcrest]," Incarnacion said.
In other events Thursday, Mick Callahan was awarded the Judge John A. Barry Community Service Award. Callahan has for years been active in Pittsfield civics, particularly in the area of economic development.
To reach Phil Demers:
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