By Alison Goyer, New Media Coordinator, Team Western Massachusetts, on July 28th, 2013.
Being from North Carolina, I’m clueless about Massachusetts. Town names are almost meaningless to me, so when we arrive in a new place I have almost no expectations for the town. Our time in Holyoke was very different from the other towns we’ve spent time in. It’s no Northampton or Amherst–there was an undeniable difference from their bustling downtown centers.
Maybe Holyoke is not as appealing as other western Mass cities, but we grew to appreciate it during our stay–it’s rich history, in combination with a lot of people who are very dedicated to community work– made for a rich learning experience. Our community partners for the week, Neighbor to Neighbor, work hard to empower community members to have their voices heard, and taught us a lot about frontline communities.
A few days ago we met with the mayor. I wouldn’t want his job. It is the poorest city in the state, complete with a coal plant on its borders. However, I was extremely impressed with the work he has been doing. Age 23, Mayor Morse ran his political campaign during his senior year at Brown, becoming one of the youngest mayors ever.
A year and a half into his two-year term, Morse has taken several progressive stances including implementing a needle-exchange program, discouraging a casino and a Walmart from coming to Holyoke, and opening the city for a future that seems much brighter. He has an certain optimism that is inspiring, yet realistic. I think that with the help of Neighbor to Neighbor, and other similar organizations, Holyoke is headed in the right direction.