The Deirdre Award: Cook honored for school volunteer efforts

Melissa Cook remembers going to a PTO meeting back at the Center School when another parent started talking about the amazing PTO her elementary school had growing up.

“They said, ‘If you want to see something done you have to go and do it,” Cook recalled.

The mother of three has played a significant role at the Center School, Beaver Brook, and Woodsdale PTOs over the past few years, including establishing the Beaver Brook’s “Someone Special Dance” with fellow mom Catherine Marino.

“I’ve always felt a little inspired by some of the previous things I’ve seen,” said Cook, who is also a past co-chair of the Woodsdale PTO. “I just want the kids to have enrichment.”

Cook is also the driving force behind Abington C.O.P.E.S., which is dedicated to substance abuse prevention and recovery.

For all her efforts, Cook was named as the second recipient of The Deirdre Volunteer Service Award, an annual award that recognizes parents who selflessly donate their time on behalf of the town’s students and schools.

Melissa Cook greets runners at this year’s Abington C.O.P.E.S. 5K

Deirdre was a mother of three Abington schoolchildren known for her incredible dedication to the town’s schools. She regularly volunteered at special events, and attended every school-related meeting she could. Cook said Deidre sometimes would be a few minutes late to meetings after commuting home from Boston, but wouldn’t miss a beat.

“We’d go to make a motion, and she would literally come walking into the meeting room saying, ‘I’ll make a motion,'” Cook recalled.

Although Deirdre wasn’t an elected member of the school committee, friends recall her as a chief behind-the- scenes, rallying other parents behind causes, such as full-day kindergarten, and coordinating school events.

Deirdre and her three children were lost tragically four years ago today.

The award came about as the townwide PTO thought about ways to honor Deirdre, as well as create the parent equivalent of the Chester J. Millett Jr. Award, which recognizes the Abington school district’s outstanding teachers and support personnel.

“I’m so happy that Melissa won the Deirdre Award,” said Keri Westhaver, co-chair of the Abington Townwide PTO. “Melissa dedicates so much of her time and effort to help the schools and the community. Her efforts with both the PTO and Abington C.O.P.E.S. have been awe-inspiring.”

Marino agrees.

“She’s been involved with the PTO for as long as I can remember and continues to do so much for not only the students but the Abington community as well through Abington COPES,” she said. “I know Deirdre would be so proud of all that she has and continues to accomplish.”

Cook, like last year’s winner, Pam Neely, was embarrased by the recognition.

“I felt so awkward about it,” she said. “It just feels so humbling. Deirdre was just so big in town.”

Cook said Deirdre was chair of the Center School PTO when her oldest son started kindergarten. Like many others, Cook was drawn in by Deirdre’s enthusiasm and started volunteering for school events like the Holiday Fair.

“I never wanted to do PTO without her,” said Cook. “She was such an intricate part of it.”

After losing her sister to an overdose in April 2021, Cook helped relaunch the town’s substance abuse awareness group as Abington C.O.P.E.S. Over the past year, the town has organized a “No First Time” educational event for parents and middle school students, helped organize a mock car crash for the senior class, established an annual 5K road race, and sponsored youth sports team and other events.

“I know that her work with C.O.P.E.S. will bring a lot of education and assistance to our community,” said Westhaver. “Beyond her volunteer work, she is just such a great person. I’m so proud of her and so excited to see what else she will be working on in the future.”

Nominations for the Deirdre Award comes from the Abington school community. This year’s nominees also included Rachel Collins, April Eriksen, Missy Merrick, Katie O’Neill, Carolyn Russo, Heather Sage-Hartery, Keri Westhaver, Katie Williamson, and Melanie Whitney.

A chair outside Keeping Pace in West Bridgewater in memory of Deirdre and her family.
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