About a year ago, Polly Mikula, editor and publisher of Mountain Times, graciously agreed to meet with me about work I was doing for several nonprofits. She was warm and enthusiastic, especially as she shared poignant stories about leading a thriving media enterprise during the struggles of Covid. I took a leap and pitched her on a series about charitable and educational organizations.
My first piece appeared a year ago and since then, I have been privileged to learn about dozens of dedicated Vermont leaders, their personal as well as professional triumphs, and why they serve despite the challenges. How they run their organizations on relatively low salaries, with small staffs, and juggle everything else in their lives, is nothing short of heroic.
As Vermont is entering its busiest seasons, the organizations that provide the most basic human necessities — food, shelter, and safety — will be facing their busiest time as well. Here is a snapshot of just a few of those organizations and their leaders who are contributing their decades of experience and expertise for the greater good of the Killington-Rutland region. If you’re a visitor who might want to relocate to this idyllic place that at times truly resembles the set of a Hallmark movie, you’ll appreciate this piece just as much.
Community Cupboard of Rutland
In Rutland County, one in four people suffers from food insecurity, and it’s the mission of the Community Cupboard to alleviate their hardships as much as possible, in the most dignified manner. The cupboard serves nearly 500 families per month, averaging about 1,000 individuals; in a typical month it distributes about 17,000 items.
The cupboard depends on the public’s generosity — 100% of its operating budget comes from individual donations. During Covid, even families headed by two healthy working adults necessitated the services of the Cupboard.
Last summer, the organization welcomed a new executive director, Audrey Bridge, whose two decades in nonprofit leadership includes 15 years in food-shelf management. Her responsibilities entail several herculean feats — including sourcing food and other pantry goods, overseeing efficient operations primarily with volunteers, and boosting support for the cause.
Most important, the job requires an abundance of grace, empathy, and resilience — in helping everyone who shows up at the Cupboard’s door. When Bridge was introduced a few months ago, there was obvious enthusiasm that the Cupboard had landed an experienced and compassionate leader who would do all that and more.
Housing Trust of Rutland County
The mission of Housing Trust of Rutland County (“the Trust”) is to provide affordable housing via apartments, senior housing, and mobile homes, many of which are repurposed from schools, churches, and other public facilities. It is the quintessential grassroots organization, providing much of its service through partnerships with local businesses, as well as paying taxes and other municipal charges.
Executive director Mary Cohen is one of Vermont’s most trusted and respected leaders in economic development. In the 18 months since she took the reins, Cohen has boosted the nonprofit’s capacity, improved its systems, and instituted a more inclusive shared leadership style with her team.
Connecticut-born; Vermont-educated (University of Vermont, MBA and B.A.) Cohen fully exemplifies the mantra of “get ____done.” Her refreshing yet friendly candor makes her one of the most approachable leaders in the state — respected by her peers as well.
Since its launch about ten years ago, Project VISION has been lauded as a shining example of positive transformation when nonprofits, businesses and private residents unite behind a mission that, above all, protects the most vulnerable. Today, Project VISION — which stands for Viable Initiatives and Solutions Involving Our Neighbors, engages diverse individuals interested in achieving strategic initiatives that benefit the community at large.
As a program of the Rutland City Police Department, Project VISION is not a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Its executive director is RCPD Commander Gregory Sheldon, and its chair is Mark Stockton, CEO of Stockton Security, a reassuring presence in Rutland’s downtown.
Sheldon holds an M.S. in executive leadership from Champlain College and is as warm and humble as he is frank about his goal to become the most effective leader possible. I first met him on one of VISION’s neighborhood walks, where he was leading “VISIONaries” striking up conversations about the program with others enjoying nature. Whenever I send him recommendations about new leadership resources, he is exceedingly gracious in his thanks. He told me recently he has been sharing these resources with others in the police department, which didn’t surprise me at all.
Mark Stockton is an effervescent bear of a man whose every sentence about Project VISION is like an enthusiastic embrace from a beloved member of one’s family. His passion about protecting the safety, security and serenity of the Rutland region is as serious as Sheldon’s, and his leadership style the perfect complement.
Most of these leaders are also parents — a heroic feat I revere. I can’t imagine how they do it all. They, the organizations they serve, and the people who depend on them, need and deserve the community’s avid support.
Which brings me back to Polly Mikula. For Mountain Times readers who are not aware of all that Polly accomplishes, she is also a superb writer, graphic designer, wife, mom, daughter — and champion of businessowners and nonprofits alike.
Earlier this month, Polly came to an evening event saluting the Vermont Women’s Fund’s achievements in ensuring women’s financial security and safety. That the event coincided with Polly’s birthday didn’t deter her. She arrived on time, listened intently to the presentation, and visited with guests, before she had to bid farewell and hearty thanks to her hosts. Because, Polly was headed to a birthday celebration — with her dad. I’d say that’s all for the greater good, indeed!
Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions, lizdimarcoweinmann.com.