Jim Ayres: What goes into Person of Year selection?

  • Llewellyn Simons—

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

To choose Hampshire County’s Person of the Year is no easy task. We invited last year’s award winner, Jack Finn, to join us — Sarah Buttenwieser, Chuong Son, Russ Peotter, Laura Dintino and myself — on the decision-making team. Jack exemplifies the spirit of this award: a person who works toward opportunity, fairness and improved quality of life for everyone.

The names and stories put forth by Gazette readers let us know, again, our area is thick with such unsung local heroes. Today, we announce the winner.

Universally, we were struck by the personal nature of the nominations. These were not accolades for local celebrities admired from afar, but rather statements of deep appreciation for ordinary citizens written by those who know them best. Submissions from nominees’ own children, spouses, siblings, co-workers and friends were the norm; people who were moved by the passion of their friends and loved ones, not in a particular incident or gesture, but through their lifetimes of commitment.

Stunning, too, was how multi-dimensional our nominees were in their approach to service. The group included nurse practitioners active in our arts community, pharmacists dedicated to those struggling with addiction, Hilltown residents committed to the inclusion of transgender people, new American restaurant owners who cook for the homeless, nonprofit leaders who transcend the strict boundary of a job description because they care that much, and retired people who volunteer tirelessly for the public committees that allow our small town governments to function so well. Noted amongst their collective efforts were ambitious projects and everyday moments — all of which resonated to make us laugh, cry and be awed.

While the decades-long service of Yvonne Freccero, selected unanimously as our awardee, is truly remarkable, it is not, in fact, exceptional in the literal sense of the term. So many others, whether in Easthampton, Hadley, Amherst, Hatfield or Worthington, also step forward each day, steadfast in their dedication to building lasting positive change.

These individuals epitomize the spirit of our local United Way and its approach to community betterment. The idea is simple: that when we each do our part, in a way that is sustained, deliberate and reflective of our own values, our impact is transformative.

This is particularly so when we know that our actions are complemented by those of so many others, and each of those people acts upon their own aspirations for our community.

As we concluded our deliberations for selecting our Hampshire County Person of the Year, one of our readers exclaimed, “Wow, our community rocks!”

That it does. Generosity, service and humble leadership are widespread throughout our extraordinary community, and with that in mind we say, “Keep on rockin’ Hampshire County.”

Jim Ayres is the executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County and a longtime resident of Hampshire County.