Reprinted from

Retired Senior Volunteers Recognized 36K Hours of Service

By Brittany Polito
iBerkshires Staff
12:20PM / Monday, April 22, 2024

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Hundreds gathered at the Proprietor’s Lodge on Friday to celebrate senior volunteerism.

In 2023, 288 Retired Senior Volunteer Program members worked a total of 36,674 hours at about 60 stations across the county. Director Lisa Torrey said she was so proud of each volunteer and the difference they make in the local community.

“Their commitment to the betterment of Berkshire County, their generosity and compassion to our citizens, and their unwavering belief in our community continues to inspire, amaze, and remind me that there are good people in this world,” she said.

“It also reminds me, as it should all of you, of the important needs that are being met in our community because of them. Volunteers are agents of change. And volunteer service plays an integral role in so many areas of life in our community. We rely on them and they answer the call.”

Amy Schirmer was recognized as the Volunteer of the Year for creating a weekly therapeutic art class at the George B. Crane Center to help those in recovery from substance use. Over the past 15 months, she had positively impacted the lives of 173 individuals, some saying that the class was “one of the single most important” activities in their recovery.

“She truly exemplifies everything it means to volunteer,” Torrey said.

Standing next to a display of her student’s artwork, Schirmer said she couldn’t have done it without the “terrific artists” who participate.

“They bring so much to class and they are so willing to talk,” she said. “They have open minds, they help each other, and it’s just wonderful to be a part of that.”

She thanked the Crane Center for its encouragement and support and for providing all of the art supplies needed.

“I just want to keep doing this as long as I can.”

There were tears of happiness all around as Schirmer was recognized.

“What an amazing person you are and you are such a gift to this community,” state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said. “You have done things that aren’t easy and obviously have done them with grace and love and that really is a true gift to all of them.”

Schirmer has been with RSVP since June of 2021, accruing a total of 475 lifetime volunteer hours. A former social worker and art teacher for special needs students, she is careful in gearing the art class toward each attendee’s individual needs.

The star volunteer is also an animal lover, working with some of the most challenging dogs during her hours at the Berkshire Humane Society.

“She also does litter cleanup for the city of Pittsfield through RSVP. This past, summer she volunteered her time and RSVP teaching to our classes to other volunteers,” Torrey added.

“Amy is truly a beautiful person to humans, animals, and her environment. She gives her herself wholeheartedly.”

Pittsfield Beautiful was recognized as the station of the year for literally making Pittsfield beautiful. For more than three decades, the nonprofit has volunteered to make the downtown look its absolute best to create a welcoming presence with plantings of flowers and ornamental shrubs.

Thirty-two active RSVP volunteers gave a combined total of 1,276 hours of service to the organization in 2023.

“Pittsfield Beautiful maintains nearly 19 perennial garden public gardens and 100 planters filled with eye-catching arrangements in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods,” Torrey said.

“Pittsfield Beautiful is entirely made up of volunteers and they work very closely with the city of Pittsfield. We are very appreciative of the effort and dedication of this group of volunteers. They are committed to making our environment beautiful.”

Farley-Bouvier asked attendees to think about all of the work that goes into the plantings.

“It’s a lot that you all do. It makes a real difference to our city, it makes a real difference to our community, and when I bring guests into town, everybody comments about how beautiful our downtown is,” she said.

“Truly everybody does because not every downtown looks like our downtown and really it’s because of you.”

Board member Claudine Chavanne said the organization was founded in 1989 by Arlia “Tommie” who saw a need in the city and took action.

“She had vision, she had courage, and she was stubborn and she did not let anything get her down so if we planted something and a flower was pulled out, she put it right back in,” Chavanne said.

“And that’s the spirit that I think our organization and our volunteers have since 1989.”

She thanked the city for its support such as watering the planters and trucking in mulch and dirt, saying. “They have big machines and we don’t so we really appreciate their support.”

Chavanne added that Pittsfield Beautiful always appreciates support whether it is monetary or in volunteer hours. The organization spends up to $13,000 per year to purchase the plants and materials needed for a successful garden.

“If you’re not a gardener, it’s OK. We will help you,” she said. “And they say a weed is in the eye of the beholder so if you like it, it’s a flower. If you don’t, pull it unless we tell you ‘no.'”

The awardees received citations from the House of Representatives and the city of Pittsfield.

Torrey closed by thanking the nonprofits that support the community “in so many ways,” explaining that RSVP could not do its important work without the collective effort and collaboration of people who want to make a difference.

“When we work together, we accomplish so much more as a community. Volunteers are at the very center in the core of the work that is being done every day,” she said.

“With April being National Volunteer Month and this coming week being National Volunteer Week, it is very fitting that we celebrate and recognize the significant contributions that are being made daily in Berkshire County by these caring individuals.”