Champion for children: Clare Higgins earns nonprofit’s Changemaker Award

  • Executive Director of Community Action Pioneer Valley and former mayor of Northampton Clare Higgins, center, talks with Kerry Homstead, left, and Tara Brewster before being presented with the Friends of Children 2022 Changemaker Award on Wednesday evening at the Look Park Garden House in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Executive Director of Community Action Pioneer Valley and former mayor of Northampton Clare Higgins listens to speakers before being presented with the Friends of Children 2022 Changemaker Award on Wednesday evening at the Look Park Garden House in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Executive Director of Community Action Pioneer Valley and former mayor of Northampton Clare Higgins, right, talks with Valley Dwight, Phil O’Donoghue and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra before being presented with the Friends of Children 2022 Changemaker Award on Wednesday evening at the Look Park Garden House in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Clare Higgins, center, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley and former mayor of Northampton, talks with Kerry Homstead, left, and Tara Brewster before being presented with the Friends of Children 2022 Changemaker Award, Wednesday evening, at the Look Park Garden House in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/30/2022 8:36:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For her advocacy on behalf of vulnerable young people and children, former mayor Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, has been recognized by Friends of Children.

Higgins, who was mayor from 1999 to 2011, was presented last week with the nonprofit’s Changemaker Award at a dinner at the Garden House in Look Park.

“For 32 years we’ve been devoted to creating change for kids who are thrust into child welfare and juvenile justice systems through no fault of their own, and each of our programs fosters the dignity of kids and young people, as we peel back layers, kind of, to unveil the truth of their circumstances. And in our work, we talk a lot about truth, action and change. And that is so much of who throughout her career, thus far, who Clare Higgins has been,” said Jane Lyons, executive director of Friends of Children. “She is a person who has always been a steadfast advocate for under-resourced, vulnerable kids in the Pioneer Valley, including those served by our organization.”

Lyons said Higgins was a huge proponent of housing for people and early childhood education as a gateway for children. Her work as a progressive leader helped promote economic justice and improve the quality of life for people with lower incomes, she added.

Prior to her time as mayor, Higgins also served on the City Council, beginning in 1993.

“The welfare of children, young people at risk and families, that’s just the essence of Clare. When people refer to her, they refer to her intelligence and fluency in all things social justice and she does it with this particular ease. You never get a sense that she’s parroting, it’s deeply felt and held thoughts and beliefs,” said former City Councilor Bill Dwight, who spoke at Higgins’ ceremony. “And all this is balanced by a remarkable, dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. She can pull out a quip swiftly to defuse any tense situation.”

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, who was presented with the Changemaker Award by Friends of Children in March, served as emcee of the event. Sullivan, who has known Higgins for more than three decades, said she’s always been oriented to helping children and particularly vulnerable families.

“She’s really a hero of mine for what she’s done for children and families,” said Sullivan. “I think (this award) recognizes how she has made the really important changes in the community to not only protect children, but to help them grow and be nurtured by their community. And she underscored that when she talked about how it’s all of our responsibility to make sure that vulnerable children and children in general get the help and nurturing that they need.”

In addition to Dwight and Sullivan, the ceremony was attended by numerous colleagues and friends of Higgins from throughout her career.

As a rule, Higgins said, she does not relish attention being pointed her way and often prefers to avoid any spotlight, but was grateful to see so many people she has connected with over the years in one place.

“It’s especially wonderful to be recognized by Friends of Children, which is an organization that I just have so much respect for, because they understand that it’s both thinking about individuals, children and families, and what they need, but also thinking about policy change, and how we make policy changes that are necessary to make this a better world for kids,” she said. “So for them to honor me in this way is humbling and gratifying.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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