Between the Lines: No Man is an Island; It Takes a Village to Raise a Hero

Pamela Murphy, an Agawam firefighter, was vacationing on the Cape when she jumped into the water to save a six-year-old boy from being smashed against some rocks by the ocean waves.

James Chartier, a former Army staff sergeant, completed a 90-mile walk from Western Mass to Boston to raise awareness for homeless military veterans and those struggling with PTSD. Along the way he wore full military gear, hoisted a backpack, slept in a tent and carried an “Honor and Remember” flag for Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in combat.

Daniel Clifford, lives in the Mount Tom House, a community home for people with disabilities. Clifford has cerebral palsy, a condition that has limited the use of one of his arms. This did not stop Clifford, however, from performing the Heimlich maneuver on a staff member who was choking on a tangerine. Taking his bad arm in his good hand, Clifford wrapped his arms around the choking man and quickly forced the wedge from the man’s throat.

These are just three of the people honored at the Red Cross’ Hometown Heroes breakfast earlier this month at the Sheraton in Springfield. The annual event seeks to honor people in the Pioneer Valley who went above and beyond to help strangers or otherwise improve their communities.

As I listened to the details of these and other people’s heroics, a theme emerges … then throws its arm around you with the closing montage of Red Cross volunteers as the country song “The Power of One.”

The “power of one” isn’t a real thing. It takes a village to raise a hero … or a jerk. What I’m saying is, the people, places, and opportunities around a person shapes who he becomes. Outside of Willy Loman’s sketchy brother in Death of a Salesman, no one has ever walked into the dark jungle by himself and emerged with handfuls of diamonds.

For many, this can be a difficult lesson to learn or admit. It was for me. I think the point that no woman is an island finally sunk in when I attempted to go to the January Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I had paid for my Homeaway rental, packed my bags, and gassed up my car. No one in my immediate circle of friends and family was interested in going, so I figured I would go by myself. About eight hours into the drive, I was stuck in traffic on the highway on the New Jersey-Delaware line and my Google Maps app kept giving me updates about how the traffic was getting further and further backed up. Exhausted, I pulled off the highway and got a hotel for the night. When I woke up at 9 a.m. the next morning, I drove home.

Despite really, really wanting to go to the march, I didn’t make it. I didn’t have the stamina, not to mention the wherewithal to get around in D.C. — I haven’t been to the city since I was 11. If I had coordinated with women from the area, or bought a bus ticket, or found one person to share the driving, I would have been at that historic rally. I needed community to be successful.

I think the heroes celebrated at the breakfast, probably had some help from the people around them. I imagine if the honorees had given speeches, the audience of about 500 business and community leaders would have heard about the people who inspired them to greatness, the sacrifices others made so that they could hone their skills, and the people who supported them.

Other people honored at the breakfast were:

Bill Scott, the dean of students at Putnam Vocational-Technical Academy in Springfield, has a long history of getting his students to believe in themselves, but on this day he was being celebrated for the school’s many donations to the annual Mayflower Challenge just before Thanksgiving. The event collects food for local food banks and homeless shelters; for the past several years Scott has been organizing students at the academy to donate and stock pantry shelves. The school has donated hundreds, if not thousands of, pounds of food.

Gary Ponce, a member of the Colrain Ambulance Service, has worked to increase the number of volunteer community responders in the hilltowns of Franklin County, from just a few when he started in 2008 to 28 today.

Michael Sibilia, a Westfield firefighter, was coaching an Agawam Pee Wee football game when another coach suffered a heart attack. Sibilia ran over to him, performed CPR and saved the coach’s life.

Let’s celebrate the amazing deeds of the heroes in the Pioneer Valley and the people who stand behind them who make great things possible. Because when people aren’t grateful to those working behind the scenes, the important bedrock work gets taken for granted — it can even be thought of as unimportant or unnecessary. We must never forget to thank the people doing the work that doesn’t get noticed because there would be no heroes, no success, without them.

Contact Kristin Palpini at

Kristin Palpini

Author: Kristin Palpini

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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