Freccero honored for work on behalf of homeless


For the Gazette
Published: 5/19/2019 11:48:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — “For me, it felt intimidating. It felt really rewarding,” said Yvonne Freccero, 90, of Northampton, of receiving an honorary degree Sunday from Smith College in acknowledgment of her years of activism for the homeless in Hampshire County.

Smith College President Kathleen McCarthy told Freccero that this degree “honors your lifetime of generosity and caring.”

Freccero was raised in England, where as a young girl, she saw many people become homeless from bombing during the Blitz. She moved to Northampton in 1976 and worked worked as a registrar at Smith before moving away in the late 1980s. After retiring, Freccero moved back to Northampton and got involved in activism to support the homeless, after a man froze to death in 1996.

Initially working in church basements, Freccero eventually created the volunteer-run Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals. Hundreds of “friends” volunteer alongside support staff of ServiceNet and Gandara Center, two organizations that support those seeking permanent housing, to run both temporary and permanent housing initiatives.

Freccero downplays any idea that she possesses advocacy superpowers. To Freccero, an unfilled need and hard work are what make tangible changes.

“Well, the need was there. If I didn’t do it, somebody else would. I just stepped in at the time of need,” Freccero said.

The Interfaith Cot Shelter on Center Street has 20 beds available from November to April for overnight stays. Additionally, two houses each provide permanent housing for six people who were previously homeless. Yvonne’s House, named after Freccero, was purchased in 2008 and is now managed and supported by ServiceNet. Gandara-Friends Center, a house for sober living, was purchased in 2011.

Freccero was one of five people awarded honorary degrees at Sunday’s commencement. Other recipients were: Ai-jen Poo, an award-winning labor activist and organizer; Elizabeth Alexander, a poet, scholar, educator and president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Drew Gilpin Faust, president emerita and Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University; and Nicola “Niki” Sauvage Tsongas, a 1968 Smith graduate and former congresswoman of Massachusetts’ Third Congressional District.

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