Mary Jane “MJ” Cleveland of Westfield honored with Achievement Award

WESTFIELD – In 2014, Mary Jane Cleveland dealt with two major changes in her life: She was diagnosed with a serious illness that required surgery, and because of her increasing medical needs, she also lost her independence, moving into a community home.

“It was exhausting and overwhelming for everyone who cared about her. For Mary Jane, though, it was like any other year. She attended each medical appointment with a positive attitude and a laugh,” said Barbara Pilarcik, executive director of The Association for Community Living in Springfield, a nonprofit that provides an array of services to people living with disabilities, including Cleveland. “If she was truly tired, she hardly ever showed it; instead she went on day trips to a whale watch, to Salem, and to New York City. Her energy at times seemed never ending, no matter what her day had been like.”

Pilarcik’s comments were offered on June 16 during The Association’s Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, where Cleveland received an achievement award for being a role model for anyone who wants to beat the odds.

Pilarcik told Cleveland the organization was proud of her before an audience of roughly 300 individuals served, their families, staff, board members, volunteers and donors. “MJ’s physicians all stated that her positive attitude and energy had as much, if not more, to do with her subsequent successful recovery than their expertise,” Pilarcik said. “Congratulations MJ on being healthy and ‘one of the gang.’ We wouldn't have it any other way.”

In addition to presenting 11 achievement awards to individuals served in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, Pilarcik also honored staff with awards and discussed milestones the organization accomplished over the past year.

Pilarcik highlighted that the agency:

  • Held its first-ever Leadership Institute, providing high-quality management training to 20 emerging leaders at the agency.
  • Partnered with Baystate Health to present “Crash Reel” to over 200 community members.  “Crash Reel” is a documentary that tells the story of a New England family and their son, an Olympic ski boarder who is recovering from a horrific head injury.
  • Produced an original play, “Once Upon a Bog,” involving more than 30 teens and adults from the Whole Children and Milestones programs to a sold-out audience.
  • Opened a new, fully accessible Residential Services home on Meadow Street in Agawam.

“These are just some of the highlights we have experienced,” Pilarcik said. “They don’t begin to capture the many acts of kindness that occur daily at The Association for Community Living.”

For more information about the services and programs of The Association for Community Living, visit

Photo by Jeff Jason II via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.