Legislature to honor Hatfield resident with Black Excellence award

By Scott Merzbach

Staff Writer

Published: 04-12-2023 1:45 PM

HATFIELD — More than 20 year of service by a Hatfield resident to those living with chronic mental illness, development disabilities and autism is leading to his recognition by the state Legislature.

Shawn Robinson, director of vocational services at ServiceNet, is being honored with the Black Excellence on the Hill Award from the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus for Exceptional Leadership. Robinson was nominated by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and will be part of an event in the Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House Friday at 11 a.m.

Since 2011, Robinson has served as the founding director of ServiceNet’s Prospect Meadow Farm, a therapeutic vocational farming program that provides meaningful employment opportunities for over 80 individuals, living in the four westernmost counties, with developmental disabilities, autism or brain injury.

“By actively addressing barriers to our farm-based vocational program, we have bridged the racial divide that typically exists in agricultural work,” Robinson said in a statement. “More than 15% of our program participants are people of color, and all are learning skills which enable them to take an active part in the local food economy.”

“As we see it, expanded access to vocational programs for disabled individuals of all income levels and all racial and cultural backgrounds is central to assuring greater employment equity and food security throughout the Pioneer Valley,” he added.

During his tenure, Robinson has implemented various initiatives to remove access barriers, such as a ServiceNet-run transportation program and subsidized farm shares.

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“In his role as director of vocational services, Shawn is leading western Massachusetts and the Commonwealth in a bold and necessary effort to expand the diversity of those actively taking part in the local food economy through farm-based vocational programs,” Comerford said. “This award is well-deserved by Shawn, who has long had an unparalleled and inspired commitment to food security for all.”

Robinson began his career as a summer employee of the Department of Developmental Services, where he was responsible for planning activities for individuals living in a residential group home. He then worked in direct care roles with Department of Mental Health-funded programs serving children and adults with chronic mental illness, before becoming a manager of a community-based mental health outreach team.

In 2015, the Department of Developmental Services Central/West Region and the Massachusetts House of Representatives awarded Robinson a certificate of appreciation and recognition for his “vision, creativity, and outstanding leadership at ServiceNet’s Prospect Meadow Farm.”

Robinson also is active in both the town and the region, serving as chairman of Hatfield’s Council on Aging, chairing the board for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and being a member of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital Ethics Committee.

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