It was a packed house last night at Greenfield Community College, host to the annual Franklin County 4-H celebration and awards ceremony. I wanted to share the following remarks I offered in celebration of 4-H adult leaders and youth participants. Thank you for your world-changing work. We’re all the better for it.
What an honor to join you this evening in celebration of Franklin County 4-H’s (clearly tireless) commitment to the well-being of our wider community.
Thank you to all the 4-H leaders and youth for another year well-spent making our communities stronger, more caring, and more just.
Thank you for embodying the very best of what it means to contribute as a volunteer — dedicated to making a positive impact on your surroundings.
It is the greatest honor of my life to represent you in the Massachusetts State Senate.
Our district of 160,000 people — the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district — stretches from the Vermont and New Hampshire borders down to Northampton and South Hadley. Our 24 cities and towns extend east past the Quabbin Reservoir and all the way west, across to Colrain.
I ran for elected office because I believe in government. I believe it can and should make people’s lives better. That doesn’t mean it always does — just that it can and it should.
And government only works to its full potential, to this ideal, because people demand that it does.
This critical, people-powered, democratic engine depends on volunteerism and a dedication to civic engagement — which I know are the very heart beats of 4-H.
An additional reason I ran for elected office is because I had experienced personally the powerful effects that volunteering and deep civic engagement can have.
When my children were attending a school that was in need of a new playground, I joined the leadership team of the Parent Teacher Organization to help raise the funds — by pushing both government and asking local businesses to invest — to build that playground.
Because I knew that by volunteering my time I could have a real and lasting impact on the community that was much bigger than I was. We could build something lasting that would improve the lives of our children for years to come.
I thought back to that effort tonight, and the value you are bringing by volunteering your time to this 4H program. Out on Beacon Hill in Boston, we talk a lot, and think very hard, about how to create a workforce that will be equipped for the jobs that are in demand. Jobs in science and STEM, jobs in the arts or as a primary care provider. By contributing your time to this 4H program as a volunteer, and helping to expose our young people to these crucial life skills and “learn by doing” experiences, you are creating a lasting impact on our youth that benefits us all now and as they grow.
We also spend a lot of time on Beacon Hill thinking about how to develop strong communities. For example, it’s hard to have a strong community if you can’t hop on a bus so go downtown. It’s hard to go downtown if there’s no walkable downtown area. And it’s hard to make plans with your friends if you don’t have broadband internet or cell service to communicate.
We think a lot about how to get people to one another. How to build community supports. How to make sure that are programs to support our youth, our businesses, our people who are struggling and our parents who are saving for their children’s college. The state spends a lot of money on programs like these every years.
The clubs, camps, and outings that 4H offers are like a multiplier effect to this work. You are an incredible community working to support the wider community. And tonight we are here to celebrate that work, as it’s some of the most important work we can do.
And to all the 4H members participating in this program, I would just leave you with the thought that, after spending my career working in non-profits and advocacy, only once I got into elected office did I fully realize how powerful community organizing can be.
I’m just going to close by sharing the names of a few of the 62 bills that I filed this session that were thought up and suggested by constituents:
- S.28 – an act to allow spouses as caregivers, brought to me by a local elder advocate from Greenfield
- S.248 – an act to evaluate providing additional educational assistance to school districts with low or declining enrollment, thought up by the Superintendent of Gill-Montague RSD
- S.667 – an act to improve access to dental care in the Commonwealth, brought to me by Eliza Lake who runs the local community health centers
- S.1221 – an act to expand care for medically underserved areas of the Commonwealth, brought to me by the wonderful folks at Cooley Dickinson hospital
- S.1614 – an act to improve the earned income credit for working families, brought to me by Community Action’s Clare Higgins
- S.2054 – an act to examine the feasibility of rail service between North Adams, Greenfield and Boston, which came from many constituents and I’m proud to say has already passed into law!
- S.2154 – an act to provide for timely reimbursement of cities and towns for veterans’ benefits, which came from our local VSO Steve Connor
I could go on, but you get the idea. Through volunteerism and civic engagement and organizing, our people here in our district not only help me narrow in on general priorities, but were the driving forces behind specific bills I filed, am fighting for, and working hard to win.
That’s the power that you’re tapping into this evening.
It gives me such hope.
May this power continue to grow in the days and years to come.
We’ll all be the better for it.