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Mary Lou Accetta Honored for Advocacy In North Berkshires with Peacemaker Award
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:51PM / Monday, January 16, 2023
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Around 200 volunteers participated in a dozen projects throughout the Northern Berkshires and returned to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for lunch in the Venable Gym.
While the coalition has celebrated MLK day for almost 30 years, it has marked the holiday with a day of service since 2013. Due to the pandemic, activities were suspended for the last two years.
NORTHADAMS, Mass. — Brooklyn Street Neighbors President Mary Lou Accetta was recognized for her decades of advocacy with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's Peacemaker award on Monday.
 
"Mary Lou Accetta has been a tireless advocate for all residents of Berkshire County since her first days as a volunteer at the Mary Jezyk Sunshine Park in North Adams at the age of 13," Alex Daugherty of the Martin Luther King Day Committee said. 
 
"Throughout the years, Mary Lou has been a voice of the underserved and underprivileged, the abused and rejected and neglected. She has always stood up for what was right and just, using her voice to represent those who have no voice…and those voices who fear to speak for themselves." 
 
Accetta humbly stated that her work is a group effort and thanked everyone who has been a part of her journey. 
 
"Everybody in this room deserves this award," she said. 
 
The award concluded NBCC's contribution to the national day of service that celebrates the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday.  
 
Around 200 volunteers participated in a dozen projects throughout the Northern Berkshires and returned to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for lunch in the Venable Gym. 
 
The Brooklyn Street Neighbors —developed by Accetta— is an intentional, inclusive community that encourages people of diverse ages, abilities, incomes, and backgrounds to prosper in the area.  It is aided by Habitat for Humanity, who adopted this street, and Nonotuck Resource Associates. 
 
Accetta's nearly lifelong tenure of community service is robust and ranges from serving on city panels to being a foster parent. 
 
She has fostered over a dozen children over the years, served on commissions including the North Adams School Committee, and is a special advocate in the Berkshire County court system. 
 
"I've just been really fortunate in my life to have many, many good role models, both professionally and personally," Accetta explained. "And that's where it all really started." 
 
When she began volunteering in her early teens she simply wanted something to do but wound up finding lifelong friendships. 
 
"And what I learned was that it doesn't really matter if you're young, you're old, or if you spend your days at Williams College or BFAIR or McCann technical school, or what [your] ethnic background is, we're all in this thing together," Accetta said. 
 
"And if we can get past our prejudice and our fears, there's chances for real friendships. There's chances to learn and grow together, and we can all make a difference in this crazy world of ours." 
 
The awardee's grandmother was one of her first role models,  as she would make sure that nobody would leave the house hungry or lonely. Accetta said this contributed to her charitable values. 
 
"She was Italian and one of my first memories was her being at the stove every day, stirring that endless pot of sauce, Pasta Fagioli, and she knew how to stretch it. We didn't have a whole lot of money but she could feed 12 extra people a wonderful meal," she explained. 
 
"She would shake her wooden spoon at me and say in Italian every day 'nobody ever leaves our house feeling hungry or lonely.'  Every day she'd say that in Italian and she'd say 'it's your job, don't let anybody leave our house hungry or lonely.'"
 
About 70 years later, the essence of Accetta's goal with Brooklyn Street Neighbors is to make sure that no one leaves hungry or lonely. 
 
State Rep. John Barrett III said that he has nothing but the greatest admiration for people that are in public service for the right reason, adding that "so many" people get into politics for the wrong reason. 
 
"In this particular case, you tried elected politics, you got elected to the school committee.  She saw that side of it," he pointed out. 
 
"She's also seen so much other in the need that exists not only in the North Adams community but also the Northern Berkshire community, a need that was overlooked for so long, had to be addressed, and she decided to take it on with her multitude of other duties.  Volunteer, every one of them." 
 
Though Accetta is not breaking the bank with her countless hours of volunteering, Barrett said that she is wealthy in her contributions to better the lives of people who will never know her. 
 
"That to me is a true volunteer, a true citizen who commits to a community, and you can touch the lives of people that you will never meet," he added. 
 
"And that's what you've done, young lady." 
 
Barrett read a list of feedback from community members that detailed Accetta's positive impact.  They could not think of a better person to honor with the award and said that she makes the world a better place. 
 
"Our family has no idea that when we bought our home and moved to Brooklyn Street, we were becoming part of a true neighborhood and a legacy that you built for your son and so many others," one person wrote. 
 
The state rep said that Accetta is in the top five of individuals who have given so much and receive little recognition. 
 
"What you've done is right here in your heart," he concluded. 
 
"And you've trapped a lot of others in your heart along the way." 
 
While the coalition has celebrated MLK day for almost 30 years, it has marked the holiday with a day of service since 2013.  Due to the pandemic, activities were suspended for the last two years. 
 
Projects included: Louison House, NB Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires, weatherization for homes, food collection sites, and projects onsite at the MCLA Venable Gym.
 
During the luncheon, the Williams College Gospel Choir performed while volunteers ate. 
 
"We weren't really sure how this would go after a couple years of not having a day of service and it was wonderful," Executive Director of the Louison House Kathy Keeser said, observing that there was a lot of youth, school-aged, and college volunteers as well as many others. 
 
She reminded attendees that volunteering isn't just for this day but is for any day that yields a chance to help others. 
 
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