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Kelly Stettner wins GMP- Meeri Zetterman Environmental Award!

April 18, 2014 in Community Development, Inspiration, Stories by Jen

Kelly Stettner of Springfield, VT has won the GMP- Meeri Zetterstrom Environmental Award! This award is given every year in the name of Meeri Zetterstrom, an advocate and champion of the osprey, to celebrate and support the efforts of Vermont environmental heros.

Kelly founded the grassroots Black River Action Team, B.R.A.T., in 2000 and has been a champion of all things river-related ever since. Kelly will be accepting the award in an upcoming ceremony at the Vermont legislature, along with a check to support her efforts.

Below the photo is a copy of one of the monimations for this award. We think it’s easy to understand just why Kelly was chosen. After reading, please join us in congratulating our very own hometown hero.

Kelly Stettner, pictured here with the new signage for the "Adopt-A-Swimming-Hole" project

Kelly Stettner, pictured here with the new signage for the “Adopt-A-Swimming-Hole” project

Please explain the effort or activity performed by the nominee on behalf of Vermont’s environment. You may use additional space, but please limit your answers to 200 words or fewer per question.

1. What benefits have been derived for the environment through the nominee’s efforts?

Kelly established and runs the Black River Action Team (BRAT). Highlights include:

RiverSweeps: Began in 2000 with 4 volunteers, covering 100′ of river. This fall will be the 15th RiverSweep, with dozens of volunteers covering miles of river across several towns.
Over 350 shopping carts, along with innumerable tires and other debris, removed from riverbeds
Monthly water sampling at 11 sites and ‘Adopt a Swimming Hole’ program
Environmental education: thousands of people engaged every year
Recruited and managed over 300 volunteers
Hundreds of organizations engaged to address river issues and expand educational opportunities
Discovered underground storage tank spewing fuel; worked with State to remove it and contaminated soil;
Worked with Town and Black River Produce to monitor effects of large diesel spill
Stream monitoring in proposed development areas
Central force in post-Irene efforts in Ludlow area
Started a ‘native nursery’ on donated land, growing own plants for bank stabilization
Nearly 6000 cartridges saved from landfills- used as primary funding source
Fishing line recycling program
Cleans up at parades to prevent trash entering river
Started program to capture and recycle 2000 pounds of bottle caps/ year.

2. What challenges has the nominee overcome to accomplish this?

It’s hard to know all the challenges Kelly has faced as she tends to be a very positively-focused person. She sees opportunities where others may have given up. She started the project because she saw a need- and with a gentle nudge from her husband- realized that she was someone who could help make things happen.

One of the main challenges is, in fact, that Kelly identifies areas where there is a need, because others are not addressing it. As she has become a local expert through her experience, known to be a trusted and reliable source of information and key advocate, Kelly also fields calls and reports from others about potential problems concerning the rivers and watersheds. All of this often means starting from the ground-up, with no ready supply of volunteers, funding, or initial interest. The BRAT remains a grassroots organization. With no board or formal committees, she is the driving force behind every project.

As she has established and grown these programs, Kelly has maintained a full-time job, raised 2 home-schooled children, been a central force in establishing and promoting a local wrestling team, and earned her Bachelor’s Degree, with a focus on Environmental Science, in 2010.

3. Please explain how the nominee demonstrated or exhibited commitment, perseverance, creativity and determination on behalf of the environment.

From the beginning, Kelly has identified issues that needed to be addressed and pursued them with a level of creativity and persistence that is admirable. She often sees opportunities where others have seen overwhelming challenges.

Her persistence and determination are demonstrated by the sheer volume of organizations she has managed to collaborate with. Just a few include: Ottauquechee National Resources Conservation District, Agency of Natural Resources, State of Vermont Dept of Environmental Conservation, various town in the watershed, Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Ascutney Mountain Audubon Society, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts Environmental Education Society, CT River Join Commissions, Wildlife Festival, UVM Extension, VT Youth Conservation Corps.

Kelly has become a reliable source of information and networking among those interested in water quality issues. When people call about a problem or concern, she willingly takes it upon herself to find out what is happening and, if needed, takes necessary action.

Kelly doesn’t just stop at addressing problems, either. She nurtures the health of the watershed through extended outreach programs, workshops, and environment education. Kelly sees the connections between many issues and the health of our waters, and works tirelessly, maximizing every opportunity.

4. Please provide any additional information you believe should be considered by the judges.

Kelly is incredibly humble. She will look you in the eye and insist that she is not an environmentalist, nor really all that special. She would laugh if you called her a ‘hero’ and will tell you that she simply saw a need and set about addressing it.

Although she may, indeed, not be a traditional ‘environmentalist’, her commitment to addressing environmental issues is extraordinary. Despite her humility, Kelly has garnered the respect, support, and admiration of many environmentalists and advocates. She now serves on the Watersheds United Vermont (WUV), a grassroots organization building a dynamic network of watershed groups around the state, and was invited to participate in a state-level summit with town planners.

Kelly is a hands-on leader. From removing invasives to planting trees, digging in the mud, and trekking through water and muck, she does whatever it takes. She is a shining example of what is possible. I think Kelly is like Meeri in many ways- remaining just as humble as she is passionate, diving into an issue, figuring out what needs doing, and getting it done. And inspiring many others along the way.

5. If applicable, please provide photos, articles, or other materials that support this nomination. (Do not send originals; these items will not be returned.)

Because Kelly has done so much with so little, it has been hard to limit the answers to 200 words each. I would welcome the opportunity to share more about her, and there is a lot of information available on the BRAT website (as Kelly has been the coordinator and champion of all of these projects, everything on there is directly attributable to her work): and on their facebook page:

Below are a few articles about Kelly and the Black River Action Team and just a couple of photos of some of their success.

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Local Winner!- This man is no Fool! He knows how to make his money count!

April 1, 2014 in Ideas & Projects, Inspiration, Stories by Jen

Local winnersA local man won a NY state lottery several months ago. After splitting the winnings with 4 other winners, paying off taxes and all his debt, he was left with “a sizable sum”.

He has been keeping a low profile, but announced that he will be investing over $16 million of his winnings in “sustainable, renewable energy projects in the Springfield Vermont region”!

He has asked not to be identified yet. “We’re still working out all the details” he said. “I’d like to set up a fund to offer matching funds for small-scale renewable projects, and invest the rest in projects that will stimulate job growth and will help set the region up to truly be the ‘Sustainable Valley’.  Once we know how it will all work, we will release more information. For now, we just want to get people thinking about what is possible, so when the time comes, they’ll be ready to apply for funding.”

Asked why he is doing it, he laughed and said “well, I’ve always wanted to do something big. This seemed like it might be my only chance. Besides, my financial adviser says there is potential for big returns on these investments. If I can make the money work for me, the community, and, heck, even the planet, that all sounds way too good to pass up.”


UPDATE: Sorry folks, while this man is no FOOL, this story IS. (We hope you’ll forgive us!) We wanted to do something a little more creative than usual this April 1st. We hope it made you smile, and maybe even got you thinking about some of the possibilities. Who knows… maybe one day soon, a story very similar to this will happen for real! If enough of us start to imagine what is possible- we could all be REAL WINNERS!

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Bus Start in Downtown Springfield ~ Student Art Making a Difference

January 29, 2014 in Art, Community Development, Ideas & Projects, Inspiration, Stories by Jen

Have you noticed the downtown bus stop has gotten a lot more attractive lately? We are so fortunate to have a group, Bus Start , committed to building community through student artwork in the Springfield Vermont downtown bus stop.

The first installation features 17 year old Hannah Lillie. Hannah is a local photographer and homeschooled student. She has been studying photography since the age of eight. Hannah specializes in photographing children and families, as well as historical documentation and preservation. Her work with families shows an intuitive sense of connection, and an ability to capture natural moments of play, emotion, and relationships. Additionally, Hannah’s deeply rooted local family history has instilled in her a love for, and commitment to preserving historical artifacts through the creation of visual art.
Hannah Lillie artwork
Be sure to check it out in person, show the Bus Start page some love, and give a shout-out to Hannah for her work by sharing this and other notes about her work!

— in Springfield, VT.

Hannah Lille bio
Hannah Lillie art2


Main Street in January

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Recognizing Teachers ~ Locally and Worldwide

October 5, 2013 in Community Development, Inspiration, Youth & Education by Jen

Today, October 5th, 2013, is ‘World Teachers Day‘ and ‘Thank a Teacher Day’.  Our society is rooted on the foundations of great teachers. Good teachers provide much more than book-learning. They provide support and care that nurtures a love of learning- that inspires a life-long quest for knowledge. Good teachers help build their students, their peers, and their communities.

Every day, teachers are working with our students- the leaders of tomorrow. Having good teachers is imperative, not just for the sake of individual students, but for society.

Springfield Teacher, Valerie Gasco, Finalist for Vermont Teacher of the Year VT Teacher of the Year logo

We are fortunate to have many dedicated teachers in Springfield and the surrounding area. Just yesterday it was announced that Riverside Middle School teacher Valerie Gasco is one of three finalists for Vermont Teacher of the Year. Ms. Gasco is a special education teacher for 6th – 8th grade students. Most who know her agree that her contributions are indeed quite special. She takes the time to understand individual students needs and works tirelessly to ensure they receive the best education possible. She is a passionate advocate for students and families.

Although the winner of the Vermont Teacher of the Year won’t be announced until October 15th, in our book Ms. Gasco, her students, peers, and Springfield are already the winners here.

Springfield High School Instructional Coach and Counselor receive high praise and recognition

Liz Mirra, Instructional Coach for math and science, was recognized by the Massachusetts Society of Medical Research for Outstanding Science Teacher representing all of Vermont.

Liz Mirra, Instructional Coach for math and science, recognized by the Massachusetts Society of Medical Research for Outstanding Science Teacher

Liz Mirra

Jade Dunn Costello, with her new award - Vermont School Counselors' Association, New Counselor of the Year for 2013

Jade Dunn Costello


Also bringing in a win for to kick off the 2013/ 2014 school year was Springfield High School counselor Jade Dunn Costello. She won the New Counselor of the Year Award from the Vermont School Counselor’s Association for 2013.

Springfield School’s David Cohn honored by Tony Danza at AFT

In July, David Cohn, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for the Springfield School District, was honored for “Making a Difference” by Tony Danza and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). At AFT’s Annual TEACH conference in D.C., over 3000 educators gathered for three days of training and inspiration. Mr. Cohn joined Tony Danza on stage. Tony recounted his first day of teaching and the important role Mr. Cohn played in supporting and coaching him as a teacher.  Mr. Cohn also served as an instructional coach for three years at Springfield High School before being appointed the School District Director of C.I.A.

Alison Sylvester, Springfield teacher, elected Vice President Vermont NEA

Another Springfield teacher recognized in2013 was Alison Sylvester of Union Street Elementary. She was elected to serve as Vice President of the Vermont NEA (National Education Association). This recognition of Ms. Sylvester’s leadership and commitment to her profession is a strong testament by her peers.

Greater Springfield Area Teachers

Although we’ve focused on just a few of the most recent recognitions of Springfield teachers, there are so many in the surrounding area who are also doing outstanding work. Kurn Hattin, which serves some Springfield children,  has provided some of the most caring, supportive teachers in an alternative setting.

Just a few weeks ago, music director, Lisa Bionconi, was notified she is a semifinalist in the 1st-ever music educator Grammy! With 29 years of teaching students at Kurn Hattin, her dedication shines through when she talks about her love for music and her students.

You can read more about this Grammy award and Lisa here:

More Teacher Recognition

Most of the time, teacher recognition, when it happens, is much more low-key and localized. Every year, students dedicate the SHS Yearbook to a special teacher. In Spring 2013, Mrs. Susan Fog received that honor. Those who know her could easily understand that choice as her passion for teaching and her fondness for her students is clear in every interaction.

There are plenty of other good teachers who don’t get publicly recognized but whose contributions are just as strong as those who are recognized.  Take a moment to thank those teachers that have made a difference to you, your child, or your neighbor’s child.  Because sooner than you realize, those children will be the teachers, and the leaders, of tomorrow.

What Teachers Make

If you aren’t sure about taking a moment to thank a teacher, maybe you should think about what it is that teacher’s actually make:

This is a heartfelt “Thank You!” to teachers  everywhere who have seen past defiant attitudes, blank stares, half-baked efforts and stories you’ve heard and reached deep to  challenge the most challenging students to become more than they ever thought possible.

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Vermont Most Inventive State- and 2nd Most Entrepreneurial

July 9, 2013 in Community Development, Inspiration, Makers by Jen

Vermont Number One in Inventiveness

In what should be no surprise to the residents of Springfield, Vermont has been identified as the most inventive state in the U.S.  The Springfield area has had a strong history of inventions and innovators, often being referred to as ‘Precision Valley’ or the ‘Cradle of Inventions’.

Springfield inventions have included the Breech Loading Gun, the Steam Shovel, the Sheep Shearing Machine, and the Corn Planter. Other notable examples include:

  • Inventor Joel A.H. Ellis, who in the 1800′s made doll carriages and jointed dolls from maple wood. The dolls are now valued collectibles.
  • James Hartness and Russell Porter. The Hartness Astronomical Observatory features an equatorial tracking system that was patented in 1912.
  • David M. Smith, who invented the spring clothespin in 1853.  Proving the lasting impact of Springfield’s rich contributions to the world of innovation,  it was named a “Top 10 American Invention” in 2012.

This rich history may be one of the reasons the Inventors Network of Vermont is based in Springfield.

Today, there are 3.5 patents for every 1000 residents in Vermont. While research at UVM and IBM has certainly been a driving force for this volume, the “burgeoning food manufacturing and microbrewing industry”  is also contributing significantly.

Tops in Entrepreneurship

What might be slightly more surprising is that Vermont was also identified as the 2nd most Entrepreneurial. With 520 residents per 100,000 starting a business, Vermont is a rich breeding ground for entrepreneurs.  Venture capital networks and low-cost small business loans provide needed access to funding, and the wealth of work-life balance opportunities have been attracting technology, biotech and life science startups, according to Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce (money.cnn 6/20/13).

The Springfield area is no stranger to the entrepreneurial spirit. After all, it was the ability to take innovations and use them strategically to build strong industries in manufacturing and precision machining that landed Springfield a solid reputation and provided a strong economy for many years.

Moving Forward

These reports and the naming of Vermont as high-ranking for entrepreneurs and inventions is good news. It provides a glimpse into the possibilities that lie ahead.

Building on a proud history of innovation and industriousness few communities can claim, Springfield has a huge window of opportunity. With innovators like VTEL (gigabit internet), Black River Produce (with their new local meat processing facility), ImageTek, and even the Vermont Brewer’s Association, all calling Springfield home, we are well positioned to move full-throttle to the next generation of innovation and entrepreneurship. Keeping the principles of sustainability at the forefront of progress will play a key role in ensuring long-term success for individual businesses, the town, and the region.

Further Reading: See also Spring-Field of Dreams?

Vermont most inventive and among top entrepreneurial states

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SolarFest: 3 days of family-friendly entertainment, workshops, and inspiration!

July 7, 2013 in Community Development, Inspiration, Makers, Youth & Education by Jen

SolarFest- The Power of Positive Energy is a three-day festival of world-class entertainment and workshops in renewable energy, sustainability, and community engagement.

Maker Faire exhibit

Maker Faire exhibit

Mini Maker Faire

New this year is the SolarFest Mini Maker Faire. Maker Faires are a family-friendly showcase of innovation, invention, creativity, and resourcefulness. It’s an exciting way to see what people are making and share in their learning. It’s a perfect fit for anyone who appreciates Yankee ingenuity, enjoys taking things apart, or putting things together!

Live Entertainment

With a Main Stage, a Family Stage, and Off-Stage entertainment, there is something for everyone. Performers include local and regional favorites and award-winning artists, such as:

There are even more workshops to fill out the festivities. And, if that’s still not enough, the Keynote Speaker is Ben Cohen, founding partner of Ben & Jerry’s. Cohen is now President of the Stamp Stampede campaign whose goal is to get money out of politics.

About SolarFest

The SolarFest was started nineteen years ago as a festival showcasing the power and possibility of Solar Energy. It continues today as a non-profit organization with a simple mission: SolarFest blends art, education, and outreach to inspire conservation, promote renewable energy, and support sustainable communities. Through our steadfast commitment to education, arts and community outreach, SolarFest, Inc. teaches and demonstrates the power and sensibilities of renewable energy and sustainable living at conferences, performances and venues throughout the year.

As the Northeast’s premier energy and music festival, SolarFest blends art, education, and community outreach to inspire the conservation of Earth’s limited resources, to promote renewable energy, and to support the creation of sustainable communities.

Living what they believe, the entire weekend festival, including sound and lights, runs on renewable energy: mostly solar with a little wind.

SolarFest combines superb family entertainment with presentations by some of the region’s most knowledgeable Renewable Energy experts. Workshops on green building and sustainable agriculture are balanced with a series designed especially for young people called The Solar Generation. There is also a special children’s activity area (Kids Korner).

Tickets remain affordable and include all the workshops and entertainment: Children under 14 are FREE; one day passes are $15, and full weekend passes are $39. On-site camping is available.

Plenty of space is provided throughout the weekend for serendipitous encounters, conversation, dancing, hiking, camping, relaxation, and an overall celebration of our planet’s beauty.

Learn more at their website- and perhaps we’ll see you there.

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Art aimed at improving mental health

July 7, 2013 in Art, Community Development, Inspiration, News Feeds by Jen


art and mental health

Art and Mental Health Connections- WCAX

Artists can turn mere dabs of paint into works capable of brightening a day. For mental health patients, the process does more than fill in a canvas, it can help fill out a life.  “When you start making art, the mental illness takes a break; something else takes over,” said Bryant Pugh, a residential counselor from the Howard Center.

By Kyle Midura …read more

From: WCAX Local

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Vt. summer camp offers fun on the farm and more

July 6, 2013 in Community Development, Inspiration, News Feeds, Youth & Education by Jen

Unbound Grace camp photo

Unbound Grace- a camp with a mission

This camp looks like a typical camp, but it is on a mission, a mission to keep kids on the right track in their young lives, to prepare them for the turbulent high school years.

Kerry Kurt runs the camp, Sentinel Farms-Unbound Grace. She is a registered nurse and has her master’s in divinity. She grew up in Vermont and in the 1990s even served in the Legislature.

They offer alternatives to “… sitting around just playing video games and eating potato chips and hanging around with other kids who are not necessarily well directed” Kurt says. “We try and get them focused; it’s their passion that brings them here and the work and move forward.”

See the video and read more…

By Judy Simpson . …read more

From: WCAX Local

We get up. We go on.

July 5, 2013 in Community Development, Inspiration by 802eureka

“We get up. We go on. And we help one person at a time.” — Dr. Hawa Abdi.

Witnessing her community collapse from a peaceful place of plenty, she did the only thing that made sense. She gave all she had and more.

Check out this inspiring video and hear her story.

“Death is not the end of our story. You have to get up and help someone who needs you.”

Somebody needs you. How will you be the change you want to see?