The lyrics of the holiday ballad â€œGrown-Up Christmas List,â€ reference fervent hopes for peace and a better world, a poignant contrast to blaring jingles that play on endless repeat. The song, written three decades ago by renowned composer David Foster, speaks to universal humanitarian quests: â€œNo more lives torn apartâ€¦That wars would never startâ€¦â€ and a â€œlifelong wishâ€¦for a world in need.â€
Dozens of Vermont nonprofits do work that echoes the heart-rending lyrics of â€œGrown-Up Christmas List.â€ While many Vermonters are familiar with these nonprofits, few know much about the devoted leaders entrusted to serve those who, as the song says, â€œâ€¦still need help somehow.â€
Ranging in age from their late 30s to early 60s, these leaders are as diverse as the populations they serve. They have families they are devoted to, regardless of gender or marital status, whether they are parents or childless. They view their work as an authentic calling, an indisputable imperative, toward which they devote extremely long days, nights and weekends. But they also make time to have fun, and to support their fellow executive directors, including attending each otherâ€™s fundraisers.
The most respected among them have impressive qualifications â€” in education, social work, mental health, childcare, public policy, healthcare, business, and law â€” as well as proven strengths in leadership, operations, and financial management.
Looking forward to 2023, following is my own â€œGrown-up Christmas List,â€ for leaders of charitable and educational institutions whom Iâ€™ve come to know better over the past year. My list is not intended to be exclusive nor is it comprehensive. It simply references goals these particular leaders attained in 2022 and wishes for their continued success in the coming year.
Avaloy Lanning, executive director at New Story Center: That the exuberant Lanning continues her valiant endeavors, as the organization expands an essential residence to provide a safer environment for domestic abuse survivors.
Lucy Leriche, vice president of Vermont Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Northern New England: That Lericheâ€™s successful crusade to protect Vermontersâ€™ rights to personal reproductive autonomy has made her boundless determination even stronger, especially as more women flee from states where those rights are threatened.
Ashley Bride, executive director of United Way of Rutland County: That Bride continues to be fearless in securing support for United Way. Bride is beloved for her dedication, of course, but also because she shares credit and showers praise on all those who bolster her efforts.
Mary Feldman, executive director of Rutland County Parent Child Center: That Feldmanâ€™s plans for RCPCCâ€™s new facility helps the organization achieve its profound mission: to foster â€œwhole family workforce enhancement and development,â€ and â€œstrengthen Vermont by strengthening our families.â€
Heather Starzynski, executive director at NeighborWorks of Western Vermont: That all who meet with Starzynski engage her in discussing her expert perspectives on Vermontâ€™s housing situation. Starzynski joined NWWVT in 2021, after stints at NeighborWorks America, where she led regional development initiatives across the country. An economist by training, Starzynski has distinguished herself as an enthusiastic community collaborator.
Mary Cohen, executive director of the Housing Trust of Rutland County: That the community at large champions Cohen in her efforts to transform areas of the former College of St. Joseph into affordable multi-family housing. Combined with the Rutland Recreation Community Center plus the significant investment by Casella Waste Systems in other areas of the campus, the hope is for the property to resurge as a dynamic community asset.
That the fortitude of several authentic visionaries to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout Vermont, never wavers. They include:
Xusana Davis, Vermontâ€™s executive director of racial equity, who this year launched IDEAL, an action-oriented education initiative to advance equity.
Professor Linda Olson, PhD, of the Center for Social Justice and Trauma-Informed Care at Castleton University, a joint endeavor with members of the sociology, womenâ€™s studies, and criminal justice departments, in conjunction with the Universityâ€™s health center.
Al Wakefield, Bob Harnish, and Norman Cohen, drivers of the Declaration of Inclusion (â€œDOIâ€) initiative, an ongoing effort to raise consciousness about welcoming and treating fairly and equitably, all members of marginalized communities who visit, reside, or do business in Vermont. The DOI has now been adopted by 73 towns and cities, comprising 52% of Vermontâ€™s population.
Scott Graves, program director of Startup Rutland at The Hub CoWorks: That the newest addition to the CEDRR team enjoys an exuberant welcome as he launches The Hub CoWorks into a bustling workspace, innovation catalyst and thriving economic accelerator for the Killington-Rutland region.
Meg Smith, executive director of Vermont Womenâ€™s Fund: That Smithâ€™s statewide campaign, This Way Up, gains even more momentum, so that women entrepreneurs in Vermont can continue to mastermind a better future for the state while attaining financial security for themselves.
Arwen Turner, executive director of Come Alive Outside: That Turner continues to entice even more enthusiasts â€” regardless of age, size, ability, or weather â€” to participate in activities outdoors to improve their overall health. Since Turner became CAOâ€™s leader in 2016, the organization has drawn accolades from health experts nationwide.
Jennifer Scott, Ph.D., director at Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center: That more Vermont students learn at a younger age about opportunities in STEM professions, as Dr. Scott directs AHECâ€™s mission to improve the distribution, diversity, supply and quality of Vermontâ€™s health workforce.
Randal Smathers, director of Rutland Free Library: That Smathers continues to explore options to serve RFLâ€™s diverse devotees. All the better if those options include plenty of parking; modern lighting; a more comfortable layout; and, most important, a safe space for children to dream big about their own wish lists.
Finally, for all who help sustain Vermontâ€™s charitable and educational organizations, hereâ€™s hoping the refrain from â€œGrown-Up Christmas List,â€ inspires gratitude for all that they have achieved in 2022, and patience and fortitude for all they wish for 2023. Hereâ€™s the refrain:
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end.