charms and challenges in the pioneer valley

The substance coming out of the sky at this point was somewhere between sleet, hail and snow. My windshield wipers and headlights weren’t really enough to keep my vision clear, so I took the mountainous curves in the road slowly.  The kind voice on the other end of the phone line had told me, “If you reach the Vermont line, you’ve gone too far.  We’re a mile back.”  I passed out of Greenfield, into Bernardstown, out of Bernardstown, and on down the road.  I hadn’t hit Vermont but I was starting to wonder.  The radio announcer kept reminding me to, “drive carefully out there,” until the radio faded into static.  Finally I came upon number 682, pulled onto the shoulder, narrow with huge snow drifts, and popped the grant proposal into the mailbox.  This is only one of many moments when my expectations for planning a Summer of Solutions have been turned on their head by working in the Pioneer Valley.

En route to dropping off a grant north of Greenfield.

The Pioneer Valley spans from Springfield, Mass. in the south, north through the college towns of Amherst and Northampton, up to Greenfield and Turners Falls.  The Connecticut River snakes through this fertile and mountainous region of Western Massachusetts, which was the site of some of the earliest mills in the United States.   Greenfield and Turners Falls will be the focus of our program.  It’s the smallest location of Summer of Solutions, population-wise; Greenfield and Turners Falls combined are home to around 40,000 people.

All these factors make organizing our program an interesting and surprising experience each step of the way.

The first day Erika and I visited the Brick House Community Resource Center in Turners Falls, which was to become one of our main partners, their program coordinator walked us around town.  “I’ll have to introduce you to everybody,” she said.

However the challenges of the community are just as present as the charms.  Transportation limits many youth and adults from finding employment opportunities.  For most, having a car is a prerequisite for holding a job or pursuing higher education.  Entering Turners Falls is notoriously difficult and depends upon crossing the one bridge into town.

The employment base has been depleted over time, though new industries are emerging.   Co-op Power, a cutting-edge energy efficiency business, is based here and works around New England.  A new solar farm is being erected near-by.  The music and art scene locally is blossoming.

At a potluck for the local Time Bank (a method of skill sharing without money) at the Brick House I learned an inspiring activity that speaks to my optimism and excitement for the summer.  The dozen of us stood in a circle. One person, holding a ball of yarn, said something they needed, physically, or emotionally.  Anyone who could offer it shouted that out and they got the ball of yarn.

For example, Martin needed someone to walk his dogs while he was at work.  Turned out Ashley was in his neighborhood and could lend a hand.  Then Ashley said something he needed and so forth.  Before long we were all tied up in a web of reciprocity, having learned things about each other that would have never come up otherwise.

The lesson is that for all the needs in our communities, someone is out there with the solution, and willing to help.   If you work to build relationships, try new things and keep an open mind, whats you’ve been looking for starts to materialize.  In the Pioneer Valley we’re looking forward to sharing and receiving every step of the way.

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