WATERTOWN — On a chilly December afternoon, much to her surprise, Allison F. Gorham was announced as the recipient of the 68th annual Israel A. Shapiro Citizenship Award.
Thursday night, surrounded by friends, family and community members, Mrs. Gorham was presented with the award at a ceremony hosted by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce in the Ramada by Wyndham, 21000 NYS Route 3. The night began with a cocktail hour from 6 to 7 p.m., with the formal dinner and presentation following.
Established by Arnold I. Shapiro in honor of his father, a long-time business leader in the community, the award has been presented over the years to individuals displaying exceptional leadership on behalf of the city.
“It is said that it’s easy to sit up and take notice; what is difficult is standing up and taking action,” said Judy Gentner, one of Mrs. Gorham’s nominators. “As you can see, Allison is a stand up, take charge and achieve meaningful results kind of person and her leadership qualities show through in all that she does.”
Mrs. Gorham, with the help of her husband, Brett, has planned, and in some cases funded and actually constructed, many improvements and projects throughout Watertown, such as the gardens at Hospice, the Massey Street Park and fountain, and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Community Garden. She is involved in a number of organizations including the Watertown Urban Mission, Impossible Dream Thrift Store, Hospice of Jefferson County and Operation Yellow Ribbon, to name a few.
Born in Rochester, Minn., Mrs. Gorham moved to Watertown in 1965; and though she lived in other cities following her high school graduation from Immaculate Heart Central, she told the audience that nowhere felt like home, with everything only falling into place after she moved back to Watertown in 1996.
“I reconnected with my sister and mother, old friends and family, and met the love of my life — and on a blind date no less,” she said. “Giving back to the community is something my mother taught me — I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was my role model for civic duty.”
For the last three years, Mrs. Gorham has been the champion and worker behind the scenes to ensure the Urban Mission’s Cinderella and Prince Charming Closet event is a success, and more than 400 students have participated in the event thanks to her efforts.
Over the years, the Shapiro Award has been presented to individuals for their outstanding citizenship or contribution to civic or social welfare. Nominees for the award were reviewed based on five key areas: outstanding citizenship, achievement, leadership, dedication and motivation.
“For Allison, volunteering is a social responsibility; not for personal gain and never for recognition,” Mrs. Gentner said.
Mrs. Gentner and Pam Beyor-Murtha, who has been a close friend of Mrs. Gorham since they were in high school together, nominated Mrs. Gorham for this year’s award. Collectively, the two have known Mrs. Gorham as a friend, neighbor and colleague for over 46 years.
It was only fitting that those who introduced Mrs. Gorham and helped present the award to her Thursday night be her nominators.
“The room tonight is filled with family, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens who have all been touched by the care and service that Allison brings to our community,” Mrs. Beyor-Murtha said. “Citizenship in our country is an inalienable right and an incredible privilege.”
Wearing a black, sleeveless dress with red floral accents, Mrs. Gorham was emotional, but graciously accepted her award and spoke passionately to the audience about community service and its importance.
“Through my research into this award, I got a real sense of the other people who have been honored, and I will tell you it’s hard to believe that I’m included in this bunch,” she said. “These folks are the people who molded Watertown into what it is today. I’m none of those, I’m just an ordinary citizen who loves her community and appreciates what it has given to her.”
After the dinners had been served to the guests, Tom Carman of Samaritan Medical Center, the 2013 Shapiro Award recipient, spoke about the history of the award and pointed out fellow past recipients in the audience.
For those who could not make it to Thursday’s event but wished to extend their congratulations to Mrs. Gorham for her accomplishments, Mary Corriveau, the 2015 Shapiro Award winner, read letters of recognition from the likes of Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, state Sen. Patricia Ritchie, and others. In Mayor Smith’s letter, he officially declared Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 as “Allison F. Gorham Day.”
“While Allison’s volunteerism is varied, there is a theme of beautification and service to those among us who are most vulnerable,” Mrs. Beyor-Murtha said. “She is dedicated to the citizens of our community and her only motivation is to improve the quality of life in our city.”
The event also featured opening and closing remarks from ABC 50’s Alex Hazard and an invocation and benediction from Reverend Molly Payne-Hardin.
Humble through her whole speech, which she kept brief after some advice from a past recipient, Mrs. Gorham took care to point out that she is a normal citizen like everyone else and it shows that if someone wants to volunteer and help make Watertown a better place, she’s proof that it can be done.
“I’m humbled by the support of this community and its government,” Mrs. Gorham said. “I just feel that with so much ugliness in the world today I just want to add a little beauty to my corner of it.”