Stand in Your Circle of Strength and Lead

Ed. Note: On May 30, Vital Communities honored 12 community leaders who’ve added immeasurably to the vitality of the Upper Valley at its annual Heroes & Leaders Celebration. The following are the event’s keynote remarks from Jenny Levy, the immediate past board chair of Vital Communities and Vice President of People, Community and Environment at Hypertherm.

Congratulations to Vital Communities for 25 years of cultivating positive change in our 69 towns of the Upper Valley. It has been my honor to be part of caring for and growing that impact during my 5 years on the board, just a short part of the long history of this incredible organization.

Congratulations to the honorees this evening. I am humbled to be a part of your celebration tonight. You are joining another seven “classes” of heroes and leaders. Prior honoree categories include Olympians, Veterans, Women Leaders, Visionaries of the Upper Valley, Mentors, Young Leaders, and Long-Standing Stewards – some of whom are here with us tonight. Thank you all for being a critical part of what makes the Upper Valley such a special place.

When you listen tonight, read about past leaders, or, like me, work alongside two of them, Barbara Couch, a Woman Leader, and Dick Couch, a Visionary of the Upper Valley, it is easy, and frankly appropriate, to be in awe. We are quick to put them all on a pedestal.

This very event makes us pause and look up to these heroes and leaders and the heights they have achieved. We sit here and look at THEM up THERE. I start to wonder HOW did they do it? WHERE does a hero or a leader come from? Maybe it was the Wheaties they ate for breakfast, or, as Warren Buffet might put it, they got a winning ticket in the ovarian lottery. So, knowing I was going to have the opportunity to speak tonight, I did some homework. I reached out to heroes and leaders from this year and prior years and asked them this simple question: “What was a moment that set you on the path to becoming a hero or a leader?” The answers they each gave were varied and inspiring, and, lucky for all of us, instructive.

Vital Communities grew out of what we can think of as the Rabbi Hillel category of leaders. He was a first-century Jewish scholar who wrote, now translated, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” Reading a 1993 Valley News Sunday editorial is what sparked a prior honoree, Betty Porter, to start a conversation with the League of Women Voters, and then one meeting, and then another, and then a whole organization was founded that we all now benefit from greatly. Don’t forget it was one person reading one article that set this future in motion.

An honoree tonight, Stan Williams, was standing in his driveway years ago, watching his son bike down to the Norwich library to do his homework on their computers, which had internet speed the Williams family couldn’t get at home. His son had just asked him, “Dad, can’t you do something about this?” Stan’s neighbor, with whom he was chatting at the time, piled on, “Stan, don’t you know something about telecom? Maybe you could get us internet?” Lucky for all of us, Stan listened on that day. Now 3,000 rural customers are connected to ECFiber.

One of the Upper Valley Visionaries, Van Chesnut from Advance Transit, tells a similar story of being called to lead. Advance Transit had just completed a small pilot project for DHMC that found ridership significantly increased if their employees could get on the bus for free when they simply showed their badge. Seeing this positive result, Van wondered if he could figure out how to do that for all Upper Valley citizens. Lucky for all of us, our community now benefits from the largest, free, non-urban public transit system in Vermont and New Hampshire. Betty, Stan, and Van all answered Rabbi Hillel’s questions with “Yes, me” and “Yes, now.”

Next, there’s the ABBA category of leadership. The “Take a chance on me” set of stories. Julia Griffin, the town manager for Hanover and a Woman Leader honoree, describes when she was fresh out of grad school and was the assistant to the assistant of the City Manager in Santa Monica, California, John Jalili. Despite being low on the totem pole Julia describes John’s mentorship as critical to her future path. He took time to teach her some key principles: to wade in quietly, to not force things, to think of community as theater, and to be patient. Likely, many of us consider, “Where would Hanover be without Julia?” The real questions are, where would Hanover be if John hadn’t taken the time to teach these lessons to Julia? And where would Hanover be if Julia hadn’t stopped and listened and taken these lessons to heart?

Rob Taylor described his father, Steve Taylor, an honored Long-Standing Steward, going to work at the Valley News in his 20s and being made the managing editor at that young age. Steve’s own capabilities helped him earn that position, but it was also someone else who took a chance on Steve to run and grow our region’s source of news and insights, in fact the very one which decades later inspired the creation of Vital Communities.

Julia and Steve and many others like them had people who saw something, some spark, some ray of potential, and those people took a chance on them. In turn, Julia and Steve took full advantage of that chance – they didn’t back away, they trusted themselves and the person on the other side of the table.

There’s another category of hero and leader, the “You can run but you can’t hide” type. This became apparent when I was talking with Elyse Crossman about her honor as a Young Leader as the executive director of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce. She grew up feeling like she was just known as “Ray’s daughter” and she resented it. You see, her father, Ray Gagnon, was on the Claremont City Council, was the Mayor and a Representative to the New Hampshire Assembly. Elyse’s turning point was when she stopped trying to run away from the legacy she was so lucky to be a part of and started to embrace the lessons of leadership and making a positive difference her father had been demonstrating her whole life.

One of the honored Women Leaders, Sara Kobylenski, former executive director of the Haven and ongoing change maker, told me she was recently given a stuffed giraffe by her friend Jill Lord (a Long-Standing Steward honoree by the way). The card with it said, “Because you always stick your neck out for others.” It was at that moment that Sara realized this is exactly how she has lived her life, snapping her back to a memory of being a 4-year old on the playground and sticking up for another child there. Elyse and Sara have embraced their greatest sources of strength and use that to fuel their ongoing impact.

Finally, are the seed-sowing moments of heroes and leaders. Edie Thys Morgan was in the first class of Olympian honorees as an Alpine skier in the crazy speed events. She was on the World Cup circuit for 6 years and participated in two Olympics. When asked what her moment was, she described that the biggest impact came from small precious doses of encouragement she received from her mother every night she tucked young Edie into bed. These small moments knit together to form enormous inner security and confidence that later fueled Edie.

When I asked one of tonight’s honorees, and my friend, Pru Pease, she knew exactly the moment when she saw herself as somebody. It was when she walked through the doors of the Family Place, another honoree as a Long-Standing Steward, looking for guidance. Pru was pregnant with her second child and her first was perched on her hip with two broken legs. Christie Binzen, the ED at the time, came walking down the stairs, looked directly into Pru’s eyes with warmth and knowing and simply said, “Welcome.” It was in that one look, that one word, that Pru knew she was being seen for who she was and could be and that she was strong, deserving, and powerful—shall we say, truly heroic? Earlier, you heard for yourself what that small seed grew for Pru and the countless people Pru has likewise empowered.

Will we all be patient and diligent to sow seeds, like tonight’s honorees Pooh and Anne Sprague from Edgewater Farm, and the half dozen other farmers honored in prior years? These heroes know how to plant a seed at the right depth, in the right light, and with the right nutrients so that we may all in turn be nourished. What seeds in our community are we each planting and tending to?

Will we all raise our hands like Betty, Stan, and Van and answer the questions, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” In what area of your life could you be answering these questions in the affirmative? When will you take up the call to stand in your circle of strength and lead?

When will you take up the call to stand in your circle of strength and lead?

Will we all take a chance on someone? Are we in a position to see something in someone else and have the guts to act on it? Or, has someone tried to take a chance on you? Like Julia and Steve, did you put your faith in them and yourself and did you take it? What additional greatness could occur if we each did so?

Will we all be brave enough like Elyse and Sara to realize our calling? Will we ask ourselves the same question: What are we running from, that if we stopped, turned around, and faced it, we would find our greatest source of strength?

As you now know, the heroes and leaders before us and in years past all come from where you and I sit tonight. They are not far above or away from us. The very future of the vitality of our community, our nation, even our world, rests on all of us learning these important lessons and taking them to heart. Look at yourself. Look around this room. Look around your community. Who and what will we be celebrating next year and at the 50th anniversary? You see, we are all creators of heroes and leaders, indeed, we are all heroes and leaders.

Thank you.

Vital Communities Open House in Review

About 100 people attended Vital Communities’ Open House on Friday, December 1. It was an evening of meaningful connection as Vital Communities staff, board, committed supporters, and new friends enjoyed festive food, beverage, and conversation.

Headlining the event was recognition of our Volunteer of the Year, Stacey Chiocchio, who has been contributing to Vital Communities for over 6 years. A 2012 graduate of our Leadership Upper Valley program, Stacey became one of LUV’s most enthusiastic Recruitment Committee members. She then went on to chair this committee, and eventually to lead the LUV Board of Governors. Her promotion of LUV is directly responsible for a fair share of the program’s growth. Not only did Stacey drive the program’s popularity, but her guidance was invaluable as the program manager worked to manage the growing application piles and the program’s development.

Stacey has also been an active participant in the Transportation Management Association for six years, and even brought her enthusiasm and diligence to Flavors of the Valley this past spring. Reflecting on Stacey’s range, a colleague said, “that’s the thing about Stacey, she’s brilliant, but no task is too small.” That might just be the best quality a volunteer can have. Another added, “Stacey is consistently one of the most active volunteers in any group she contributes to. This woman practices what she preaches and does a lot of volunteering for Upper Valley nonprofits.” As the manager of Hypertherm’s community service program, Stacey is leading by strong example.

Stacey Chiocchio, Volunteer of the Year, with Tom Roberts, Executive Director.

Stacey Chiocchio, Volunteer of the Year, with Tom Roberts, Executive Director.

For the past few years, Vital Communities has run Super Quests: a set of 10 or so themed Quests. To complete the challenge, participants must register and collect a stamp from each highlighted Quest. This year’s was focused on “Miraculous Trees,” and it got participants out to some of the Upper Valley’s favorite forested sites. Every year, completed submissions are entered into a grand prize drawing. This year, we assembled a collection of forest field guides, day passes to VINS, a couple Valley Quest T-shirts and books, and an issue of Northern Woodlands, a Vermont magazine that supports forest stewardship. This year’s grand prize winning team were the “Hartland Hunters,” Chuck and Flo Lucot from Hartland, Vt., and their grandson Aiden, from Austin, Texas.

"Hartland Hunters" Chuck and Flo Lucot with a photo of their grandson Aiden

“Hartland Hunters” Chuck and Flo Lucot with a photo of their grandson Aiden.

Vital Communities began a new tradition of recognizing milestones of staff tenure at this year’s Open House. Becka Warren, Valley Food & Farm Communications Coordinator, was recognized for five years of service (six in January!). Becka has also served as program manager for Valley Food & Farm. We look forward to recognizing more milestones next year!

Becka Warren accepts a gift in honor of her five years of service.

Becka Warren accepts a gift in honor of her five years of service.

Door prizes were provided by Local First Alliance members. Richard Hoffman won a pair of tickets to one performance of Opera North’s 2018 Summerfest. Hetty Thomae won five free classes at Upper Valley Yoga. Emily Gardner, Mary MacVey, and Sallie Yurkosky each won gift cards to The Pink Alligator. Gift cards to new White River Junction restaurant Trail Break Taps + Tacos were won by Van Chesnut and Karen Glitman, who chose to gift her prize to our 2016 Volunteer of the Year, Molly Drummond. Congratulations to our lucky winners, and thank you to these local businesses!

Door Prize winner Emily Gardner poses with Vital Communities Staff

Door prize winner Emily Gardner poses with Vital Communities staff.

Additional Open House support was provided by Harpoon Brewery, King Arthur Flour, The Skinny Pancake, Three Tomatoes Trattoria, and the Upper Valley Food Co-op.

Bartending by The Skinny Pancake

Bartending by The Skinny Pancake.

Vital Communities’ Open House is always held in conjunction with White River Junction’s First Friday in December. It’s not too early to mark your calendar for next year: Friday, December 7, 2018 from 5 – 7 pm!

All photos courtesy of Molly Drummond.

Come to Our Open House Dec. 1!

Join us for our annual Vital Communities Open House!

Friday, December 1, 5–7 pm

Enjoy
~ Local snacks and beverages
~ Door prizes and Super Quest prize
~ 6th Annual Volunteer of the Year Award

And in case that’s not enough, it’s a great time to learn more about our work and get to know our staff and other Vital Communities supporters!

Brought to you in conjunction with the biggest White River Junction First Friday Celebration of the year, featuring food, live music, demonstrations, and more.

Find us at:
195 N. Main St.
White River Jct., VT 05001

Second Floor of the Upper Valley Food Co-op building.

Watershed Quest Challenge

This summer we launched our 2017 Watershed Quest Challenge, designed to encourage YOU to get outside and explore your favorite Upper Valley pond, stream, river, or swimming hole—and write a Valley Quest! Watershed Quest submissions will have the chance to be featured in the 2018 Super Quest, and the author of the winning Quest will receive a grand prize.

For many, the idea of writing a Valley Quest can be daunting, but fear not—anybody can write a Quest! We encourage you to get outside your comfort zone and learn about the history of the special places in your backyard.

For those of you interested in the Watershed Quest Challenge but unsure where to start, we have a ton of resources online, as well as a short video series! Check out the first video below:


Many thanks to our Watershed Quest Challenge sponsors:

Vermont Conservation department logoFarm-Way Logo

Come to Our Open House Dec. 2!

Join us for our annual Vital Communities Open House!

Friday, December 2, 5–7 pm

Enjoy
~ Locally crafted ales and ciders from Harpoon Brewery
~ Festive wines from Norwich Wines & Spirits
~ Appetizers from the Skinny Pancake
~ Local artisan cheeses from the Upper Valley Food Co-op
~ Door prizes and Super Quest prize
~ 5th Annual Volunteer of the Year Award

And in case that’s not enough, it’s a great time to learn more about our work and get to know our staff and other Vital Communities supporters!

Brought to you in conjunction with the biggest White River Junction First Friday Celebration of the year, featuring food, live music, demonstrations, and more.

Find us at:
195 N. Main St.
White River Jct., VT 05001

Second Floor of the Upper Valley Food Co-op building.

Volunteer Spotlight: Ted Frazer

Have you ever come to the end of a Valley Quest and found the treasure box hidden inside a wooden birdhouse?

Chances are that box was either built or repaired by Ted Frazer.

Ted is a woodworker who taught at Lebanon Junior High School in the shop program for 40 years. Based in Etna, New Hampshire, he currently teaches in the Dartmouth College Woodworking Workshop.

Ted and his wife Lois have been avid Valley Questers since 2001. In their free time, the couple serve as box monitors for numerous Valley Quests and are longtime volunteers with the program.

Several years ago, Vital Communities approached Ted about repairing some of the original wooden Quest boxes in Woodstock that were showing signs of age. In the years since, Ted has been our go-to volunteer for making and repairing the wooden Quest birdhouses found throughout the Upper Valley.

Ted builds these custom birdhouses in several designs. Some boxes feature a bottom panel that drops like a trap door, releasing the Quest box inside. Other birdhouses, including the more recent models, feature a special front panel that opens out to reveal a Quest box.

These birdhouses are beautiful, handcrafted treasures that enrich the Valley Quest program. Thank you, Ted, for helping make the Upper Valley a special place!

Do you have a special talent that you’d like to contribute to Valley Quest? Let us know!