Vital Communities celebrated the graduation of the Leadership Upper Valley Class of 2020 on Wednesday, June 10. This event marked the program’s 14th graduating class, as 31 local leaders completed the 10-month program with a deeper understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and wealth of resources in the Upper Valley. A ceremony celebrating the commencement of this year’s class will be held later this year.

In keeping with current Vermont COVID-19 health guidelines, the event was held digitally, followed at 2 pm by an in-person, outdoor gathering at the Vermont Institute for Natural Science in Quechee, VT.

“While every class of Leadership Upper Valley is unique and wonderful, this class did an amazing job of being present to the issues that came up during the year,” said Rob Schultz, Manager of Leadership Upper Valley at Vital Communities. “We never missed a session, even once we shifted to online conferencing. I was delighted by the enthusiasm of the class even over six-hour Zoom sessions! These are exactly the times when we need strong leadership in the Upper Valley — leadership that understands the issues across many sectors and topic areas. From poverty and racism, through art and environment to how we can create more livable communities, this class has deepened their understanding of our region. Our final session will focus on how to take action in the coming years.”

Class members remarked on the breadth of what they learned. “Leadership Upper Valley has shown me the scope of our challenges and insight into ways we can become leaders to effect real change,” said Robert Kay, Director of IT Operations & Service Delivery for Lebanon-based firm Hypertherm. “Only when our eyes are open can we see the problem. I will be forever grateful for what I have learned as it has made me a more compassionate, complete person.”

Said Angy Zhang, Program Director of Lebanon social services agency LISTEN Community Services, “Leadership Upper Valley has been a really splendid opportunity to learn more about not just the pressing issues facing our community, but to get the perspectives of the many leaders in the community who are working to face them.”

The program opens new vistas even for longtime Upper Valley residents. “LUV has allowed me to take a deep dive into some aspects of the Upper Valley that I have not been exposed to during my 40-plus years of calling this place home,” said Lauren Schumacher, Energy Efficiency Loan Specialist for Mascoma Bank.

This year’s Leadership Upper Valley graduates are:

Charlene Ashey, River Valley Community College
Audra Bonds, Hanover Co-op Food Stores & Auto Service Centers
Mary Bourque, Sullivan County
Allison Childs, Claremont Savings Bank
Darcy Curran, Kendal at Hanover
Jennifer Eastman, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust
Asma Elhuni, United Valley Interfaith Project
Sandy Gmur, Cobb Hill CoHousing
Michelle Hale, Dartmouth College
Hillary Halleck, Red River
Anita Hamalainen, Self-employed
Kyle Hayman, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Susan Howard, Pyrus Horticultural, Inc.
Jan Hutslar, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley
Sarah Jackson, Institute for Sustainable Communities
Robert Kay, Hypertherm
Ian Kipperman , Gallagher, Flynn and Company, LLP
Nancy LaRowe, Vital Communities
Liza McSwain, Mascoma Bank
Kristi Saunders, Lake Sunapee Region VNA
Jennifer Schiffman
Lauren Schumacher, Mascoma Bank
Kelly Sczomak, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park
Alison Sherman, Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC
June Sweetsir, Geokon
Susan Swenson, FUJIFILM Dimatix
Ethan Ticehurst, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Jesse Vazzano, Veterans Health Administration
John Wallace, Dartmouth College
Sally Wilson, SCORE/SBA
Angy Zhang, LISTEN Community Services

Leadership Upper Valley runs annually from September through June. Each month, students spend a full day together learning from subject-area experts about a different aspect of the region, like Health & Human Services, Arts & the Creative Economy, Transportation & Livable Communities and more. Residents and employees in Vital Communities’ 69-town Upper Valley service area are invited to apply each spring. Learn more at