Column

Nonprofit wish list 2022

By Liz DiMarco Weinmann

The lyrics of the holiday ballad “Grown-Up Christmas List,” 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: “No more lives torn apart…That wars would never start…” and a “lifelong wish…for a world in need.”

Dozens of Vermont nonprofits do work that echoes the heart-rending lyrics of “Grown-Up Christmas List.” While many Vermonters are familiar with these nonprofits, few know much about the devoted leaders entrusted to serve those who, as the song says, “…still need help somehow.”

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 other’s fundraisers.

The most respected among them have impressive qualifications — in education, social work, mental health, childcare, public policy, healthcare, business, and law — as well as proven strengths in leadership, operations, and financial management.

Looking forward to 2023, following is my own “Grown-up Christmas List,” for leaders of charitable and educational institutions whom I’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 Leriche’s successful crusade to protect Vermonters’ 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 Feldman’s plans for RCPCC’s new facility helps the organization achieve its profound mission: to foster “whole family workforce enhancement and development,” and “strengthen Vermont by strengthening our families.”

Heather Starzynski, executive director at NeighborWorks of Western Vermont: That all who meet with Starzynski engage her in discussing her expert perspectives on Vermont’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, Vermont’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, women’s studies, and criminal justice departments, in conjunction with the University’s health center.

Al Wakefield, Bob Harnish, and Norman Cohen, drivers of the Declaration of Inclusion (“DOI”) 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 Vermont’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 Women’s Fund: That Smith’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 — regardless of age, size, ability, or weather — to participate in activities outdoors to improve their overall health. Since Turner became CAO’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 AHEC’s mission to improve the distribution, diversity, supply and quality of Vermont’s health workforce.

Randal Smathers, director of Rutland Free Library: That Smathers continues to explore options to serve RFL’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 Vermont’s charitable and educational organizations, here’s hoping the refrain from “Grown-Up Christmas List,” inspires gratitude for all that they have achieved in 2022, and patience and fortitude for all they wish for 2023. Here’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.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions, LizDiMarcoWeinmann.com.

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