By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — What makes a community strong?
Answer: its people. Specifically, the kind of residents and neighbors who give selflessly of themselves for the success and well being of the North Reading community.
On Monday morning, for the second consecutive year, North Reading’s Community Impact Team held their 2014 Good Neighbor Awards, honoring two local citizens who have gone “above and beyond” in their years of service to North Reading and who have strengthened the fabric of the community.
The Community Impact Team is a partnership between the North Reading Police and Fire Departments, North Reading Youth Services, the school department, Parks and Recreation and the Board of Selectmen. All of those agencies and many others were present on Monday as over 60 people filled the Edith O’Leary Senior Center to honor this year’s Good Neighbors, Geof Simons and Ginny Mills.
Simons was honored as a tireless and dedicated advocate for the town’s public school system.
“If North Reading had an elected position of public cheerleader, Geof Simons would win in a landslide,” said Marci Bailey, who presented the award to Simons.
“Every school project in the past two decades has been touched by Geof’s can–do spirit and his conviction that North Reading students deserve adequate, up to date buildings. He has worked tirelessly for each project.” When the middle school–high school project vote passed, Simons appointed himself unofficial project photographer and has taken hundreds of images, leaving the town an important visual record of North Reading’s largest–ever construction project in all of its developing stages.
Simons also volunteers his time and expertise as a financial professional to teach North Reading High School business students critical information about how to handle finances, said Bailey. “Geof has a deep and keen interest in advocating for top notch and meaningful education for North Reading students. It’s safe to say there is not a North Reading student in the last 20 years who has not benefited from Geof’s caring and advocacy.” And Simons was a strong advocate for inclusion for special needs students before it was fashionable, she added.
Simons is also the unelected “Mayor” of the Chestnut Village neighborhood, said Bailey. “Geof is always ready to help his neighbors and to plan outings that build community,” Bailey said.
“Geof has made North Reading a stronger community and that is the very definition of a Good Neighbor,” Bailey concluded.
Mills’s award was presented by Gloria Mastro, who said they met years ago at the Historical Society’s Apple Festival. “She was dressed as an apple,” Mastro recalled.
Mills is a “true Townie,” Mastro said, and is currently president of the Historical Society. As such, she wears many hats in the Historic District, sharing her time with the Minitmen and Militia, helping them to bring the carriage house to completion. For many years Mills was very active with the town’s League of Women Voters, which regrettably has now disbanded.
Mastro said Mills works every day and took care of both her parents, who have since passed.
“Ginny impacts anyone she works or volunteers with. Her energy and skills are amazing and always with a smile. She enjoys astronomy and photography and is currently working to become a better equestrian and camping has long been a weekend adventure with family and friends,” Mastro concluded.
State Senator Bruce Tarr congratulated Simons and Mills and brought proclamations and awards from the Mass. Senate and House of Representatives (on behalf of State Rep. Brad Jones Jr.) and the U.S. Congress, (on behalf of Congressman Seth Moulton).
Tarr said Simons and Mills personify those who are caring and enthusiastic about the community. The CIT itself is a vital resource for the town, he added.
“One of the things the CIT does is bring out the very best in members of the community,” Sen. Tarr said. “Another thing it does is emphasize collaboration rather then competition. Sometimes when you look at the different groups in a community you can get the feeling they compete with each other for our attention and our resources. But the CIT leverages all of that energy into one powerful force moving forward for the entire town.”
Tarr said he and Rep. Jones have been pleased to partner with North Reading’s CIT to show their colleagues from around the state what can happen when everybody sits at the table to help each other.
“Today you saw things that touch every segment of the population,” said Tarr. “You saw the entire range of ages and interests and all of those things all being done in one year.”
One of the things North Reading does best, Tarr said, is present opportunities to people who then take advantage of them to reach their best. “The biggest intangible is to show what it means to be part of a community.”
Geof Simons and Ginny Mills and the Community Impact Team. That’s what makes Good Neighbors.