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North Adams Marks Martin Luther King Jr. With Service and Honors
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:33PM / Monday, January 15, 2024
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The Rev. Mary Frances Curns, recipient of the 2024 Peacemaker Award, with state Sen. Paul Mark, state Rep. John Barrett III and NBCC Executive Director Amber Besaw at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The luncheon at the MCLA Church Street Center followed volunteer opportunities in the morning.

Serving up chili and pizza for volunteers.

Senator Mark and Representative Barrett with MLK Jr. Day of Service Committee member Kathy Keeser.

Curns with family and friends.

Besaw recalls the longtime volunteers who passed away this year.

The Williams College Gospel Choir performs.

Longtime volunteer Susanne Walker and Curns.

The Rev. Mary Frances Curns of All Saints Episcopal Church urges the gathering to plant 'seeds of light.'
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — This year's recipient of the Peacemaker Award urged the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service gathering to plant seeds of light and seeds of love.
"My friends I'm so glad to be here on this day and to be honored and I'm humbled. But this award is not about just today. This award is about our lives, being the light to those that live in darkness, who have no hope, have no peace and let us be seedlings of light," said the Rev. Mary Frances Curns of All Saints Episcopal Church. "Let us be planters every single day."
The presentation capped the "day on" of volunteer service coordinated by the MLK Jr. Day of Service Committee at locations around North County, including helping sort items at the Flood House, make mittens and prepare care packages, and participate at other service sites like Goodwill and Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
The morning began with coffee and registration at the Church Street Center at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and concluded at the center with the luncheon of chili and pizza, speakers and a performance by the Williams College Gospel Choir. 
State Sen. Paul Mark visited a number of sites and thanked the group for their community service. 
Thinking about King, Mark said it's the last speech, the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address that comes to mind. Because he was speaking at a labor strike, supporting sanitation workers in Memphis. 
"The idea of service, that you serve, and people that are picking up our trash, people that are working for the city are serving all of us," he said. "That you deserve respect. You deserve fairness. You deserve dignity. There's a dignity, in labor, in work and being service to others.
"I think spending a day like today as a holiday where we reflect, and we think about what service means to all of us, and we spend time serving the communities is an amazing thing."
Curns was the 50th recipient of the award, presented by MLK Jr. Day of Service Committee. The award was instituted in 1996 and, said Amber Besaw, executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, was initially presented to multiple people in its first years.
"I don't remember the first time we met, Mary Frances, but after all of these years, I honestly don't remember not knowing you and being a friend with you," said Besaw. 
She said Curns was selected for creating warm and welcoming spaces, providing sustenance and love, promoting peaces and for bringing her faith "outside the walls of your church."
 "I've been privileged to be the recipient of your kind words, you're welcoming conversation, and to hear your heart to bring love and peace to the world around you," said Besaw. "Not by changing what can't be changed, but by kindness and creating open doors to welcome anyone who feels unwelcome in a harsh and often too unwelcoming world."
 Besaw also recalled the loss this past year of "some of our most influential and steadfast community members" who had taken part in the Day of Service: Shirley Davis, Beverly Goodell, Stephen Green and Dr. Thomas Hyde. 
 State Rep. John Barrett III noted how the Day of Service had grown since its beginnings three decades ago. 
 "What makes it so special is we're remembering the legacy, the work of a man who had such an impact not only in his time, but after the fact," he said. 
 Curns is part of that legacy, Barrett said, and has done outstanding work in the community. 
 "You've touched the lives of so many people, people who nobody knows about," he said. "The work that she has done for veterans, for the homeless, for those who need food or shelter. She has been there on the front line. That's what giving back is all about."
 Curns was caught off guard by the nomination and that, looking around 100 or so volunteers, she was glad she wasn't alone. 
 "We can be working together to create hope and a feeling of belonging and a feeling of helping people feel worthy," she said, telling a story her mother had told her of how her grandfather had made them leave a restaurant in 1917 because he saw "someone of color" in the kitchen, and how that had profoundly affected her mother. 
Her mother would become a nurse and, later, make sure people in the school district where her grandson now teaches did not go hungry. 
"That changed my mom's life. My mom told me that 'everyone is the same, Mary.' Everyone every one is the same," Curns said. "That has been held in my heart since I was a young girl." 
She recalled watching King on television as a child and feeling inspired to first become a teacher and then a priest. 
"Now's the time for us to go out and continue to be the light to the world. Sharing hope, love and peace," said Curns, ending the event with a prayer. 
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