Chamber Made Column-Feb. 9, 2013

We Will Not ‘Holla For A Dolla’

If you are a chamber of commerce official, you are not getting much sleep these days. Until the most recent storm, we were worried we would face yet another winter without precious snow, what fills our slopes, motors our snowmobiles and keeps our store owners, innkeepers and restaurant folks happy. Can we all just hope and pray now that we don’t experience our third winter thaw?!

Yet another concern that has chamber directors reaching for the Melatonin bottle is the health-care situation that is evolving on the state and national level. As the president of Chamber Benefits Inc., (CBI) the organization tasked to provide the best insurance premiums possible for the statewide chamber health insurance plan, I can state with some level of authority that I am as lost as the next person in trying to figure out what is coming down the road for heath care. Keep in mind our plan is not a small one. We have about 17,000 lives on this plan, amounting to about $60-million in premiums, and I am scratching my head as much as anyone else on what healthcare will mean in the years ahead.

In the 17 years I have worked at the Northeast Kingdom Chamber, almost all of those serving on CBI, we as an organization have tried to provide the best health insurance program possible for the three-dozen chambers throughout Vermont. For the most part, I think we have been very successful, with our plan being the most cost-effective plan in the state. That being said, saying your insurance plan is inexpensive in Vermont is a bit like saying that you are the least materialistic of the Kardashians, that it really doesn’t mean much.

Lest you think I am exaggerating my point on the confusion factor, I would like you to read the following quote taken from this week’s Lake Champlain Chamber “Legislative Update” and see how many times you have to read it to discern its meaning. “Several funding sources have been proposed to pay for Vermont’s health-care reform plans: doubling the claims assessment (a fee paid by insurers and self-insured employers on all health-insurance claims) and allowing the Catamount Health assessment to continue despite the plans to repeal the Catamount Health insurance program. We feel it is disingenuous to charge employers a fee for not providing insurance when the state is encouraging employers a fee for not providing insurance in 2014 so that their employees can access federal tax credits to help pay for coverage….”

That statement makes about as much sense as Honey Boo Boo on Go Go Juice. I don’t have a clue what it means, and, frankly, reading it over as many times as I have is making my head hurt.

All kidding aside, there is a bigger issue here that we don’t want to be lost, that any health insurance plan being offered needs to be cost-effective to users, health care institutions and employers and must be financially sustainable to us as taxpayers.

I would be lying if I did not admit that I am apprehensive about what the loss of the chamber health insurance plan will mean to my organization and others throughout the state, as about 25 percent of our membership is on the plan. I know chambers that have close to half of their membership on the plan, and their apprehension must be nearer to downright terror. While we chambers have strived for years to provide value-added benefits beyond the insurance plan, will our members misperceive us as one-hit wonders, believing that the insurance is our sole benefit and leave our ranks?

I can tell you for a fact that there will be no less work for chambers if that is to happen, if we lose that important revenue source. We will just have to struggle all the more to provide our very critical services in our communities and regions with the very limited funding sources allowed to chambers. Many do not realize we get NO state or municipal funding and any grant monies we can receive is extremely limited. For generations, we have provided services in our communities and region at no cost to taxpayers, doing everything we do for our members and our residents by ourselves. There will be chambers throughout Vermont that may close their doors in the next couple years, so uncertain is this situation. My own chamber will survive this storm, as we have been preparing for it for years, but it won’t be easy.

As we go forward, I ask all of you to look at your chambers of commerce throughout the region and see us for the many benefits that we provide beyond our health and dental insurance plans, as we are nowhere near that “one-hit wonder” perception that I noted. In challenging times like this, we need our chambers of commerce more than ever.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber. She, unlike Honey Boo Boo, will not holla for a dolla.)

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NEK Chamber February Legislative Breakfast on Feb. 25

VERMONT TOURISM COMMISSIONER GUEST SPEAKER

AT FEBRUARY CHAMBER LEGISLATIVE BREAKFAST

Megan Smith, Vermont’s Commissioner of Tourism & Marketing, will serve as the guest speaker at the Northeast Kingdom Chamber legislative breakfast to be held Monday, Feb. 25, at the St. Johnsbury House, 1207 Main St, St. Johnsbury. Smith, who has served as tourism commissioner since 2011, will address the tourism funding formula before the state legislature and her agency’s accomplishments in attracting visitors to the state.

Smith, prior to being selected commissioner, started her career at Hyatt Hotels and also worked at Au Bon Pain. In 1995, she and her husband purchased The Vermont Inn in Mendon, which they operated until 2006. She has been the president of the Killington Chamber, a small business advisor for the Vermont Small Business Development Center and an instructor at the Resort Management Program at Green Mountain College Killington Campus and Community College of Vermont. She also developed the Vermont Marble Trail, served in the state legislature and established the Vermont Tourism Caucus before working for Governor Shumlin’s administration.

The monthly programs provide area business people and residents an overview of the legislative session and concerns affecting the region, with legislators each giving a brief update of their committees. The public is invited to attend and encouraged to ask questions. The Northeast Kingdom Chamber organizes the monthly forums and will provide a brief legislative report.

The breakfasts are held the last Monday of each month, from 8 to 9 a.m. Please mark your calendars for the 2013 dates of March 25, April 29 and May 20 (tentative).

The legislative breakfast series is sponsored by the Northeast Kingdom Chamber, with sponsorship assistance from Community National Bank, Fairbanks Scales, Lyndon State College, Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Passumpsic Savings Bank, Union Bank and Weidmann. There is a small fee toattend the breakfast.

For more details, contact the NEK Chamber at 2000 Memorial Drive-Ste. 11, St. Johnsbury, VT  05819; call 802-748-3678; or e-mail at director@nekchamber.com.

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January 2013 Chamber Legislative Breakfast

VERMONT CHAMBER PRESIDENT GUEST SPEAKER AT JANUARY CHAMBER LEGISLATIVE BREAKFAST

Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber, will serve as the guest speaker at the Northeast Kingdom Chamber legislative breakfast to be held Monday, Jan. 28, at the St. Johnsbury House, 1207 Main St, St. Johnsbury. Bishop, who has served at the helm of the 1,500-member chamber since July 2009, will address the business issues before the legislature this session, including health care, taxation, state tourism funding and workmen’s compensation.

Bishop, prior to joining the chamber, served as commissioner for the Economic Development Department of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and in the office of former Governor Jim Douglas. She worked with the Vermont Chamber and as a private economic development consultant before working for Governor Douglas’ administration.

The monthly programs provide area business people and residents an overview of the legislative session and concerns affecting the region. The public is invited to attend and encouraged to ask questions. The Northeast Kingdom Chamber organizes the monthly forums and will provide a brief legislative report.

The breakfasts are held the last Monday of each month, from 8 to 9 a.m. Please mark your calendars for the 2013 dates of Feb. 25, March 25, April 29 and May 20 (tentative).

The legislative breakfast series is sponsored by the Northeast Kingdom Chamber, with sponsorship assistance from Community National Bank, Fairbanks Scales, Lyndon State College, Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Passumpsic Savings Bank  and Union Bank. There is a small fee to attend the breakfast.

For more details, contact the NEK Chamber at 2000 Memorial Drive-Ste. 11, St. Johnsbury, VT  05819; call 802-748-3678; or e-mail at director@nekchamber.com.

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Chamber Made Column-Jan. 12, 2013

I was at work in early December when I received a call, asking me whether I had heard the news about the layoffs at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum & Art Gallery. Faced with a growing operational debt, the athenaeum trustees decided to lay off all employees of the venerable institution, reorganize how it provides services and have these same employees vie for fewer jobs in the future.

It should be noted that I have a deep and abiding love for libraries and what they do. My grandmother served as a school librarian for many years, spending her retirement within the walls of the athenaeum assisting its efforts. My dear mother-in-law retired as a librarian after decades of service in the Hennepin County Library system out in Minneapolis, one of the most progressive in the nation, and my own daughter presently works as an Americorps grant writer at the Cobleigh Library in Lyndonville.

This particular issue with the athenaeum has pained me more than you know, but I believe this concern must take a true and complete directional turn for our community to heal and the institution to flourish and prosper in the years to come, as I fear the anger and frustration regarding this decision could very well haunt the athenaeum well into the future.

I know more than the average Joe about the challenges of surviving at a non-profit amidst the worst recession in 70 years. We are not the corporate world that can turn off power if the services we provide do not balance with available funding sources. Our doors are expected to be open each and every day despite economic rocky seas and, if the truth is to be told, our services are needed all the more in a downturn like the one we have experienced in the past five years, all the while surviving on much less funding.

It is not my place to question the wisdom of the trustees in taking such a directional shift, but I do think we are perhaps missing a major point when we are meeting to form a hug around the athenaeum when the very issue that caused this situation, a growing operational debt, has yet to be addressed and solved.

There is a desire among some to punish those who make perceived or even real misguided decisions, but where does that leave the athenaeum, which is already reeling from a difficult last couple years? Like many of you, I have friends within those heavy Victorian doors, and this most recent decision affects their lives as well as the athenaeum. While it may make us feel like we are doing something by challenging the decision, we desperately need to seek a solution that allows those employees to stay and lessen the financial pressure for the athenaeum, now and in the future.

I know, first-hand, what a change in services means in this new world, following our chamber being “invited to leave” the Pomerleau Building and our subsequent removal as the operator of the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center. For the first time in decades, our main responsibility as a chamber, greeting visitors, was evolving, prompting our organization to host a community forum that encouraged chamber businesses and residents of the Northeast Kingdom to voice what they needed their chamber to be in the years ahead.

Moderated by Ken and Gretchen Hammer, this forum attracted 20 percent of our membership, and we heard feedback from participants that will serve us well into this century. Its recommendations were so valued that even 1 ½ years later I keep those notes in my trustee binder, to ensure we follow these guidelines and follow the direction of our members. The athenaeum trustees may want to consider such a move, as we all must play a part in having one of the most critical institutions in our area survive.

I understand in the throes of a downturn that there are so many worthy causes to support. There is only so much money out there. It is a dilemma that has faced us for generations, that if you give to a cultural institution does that mean you cannot afford to donate to the food shelf? Inherent within this discussion is how we look at the arts and how it enriches our lives. That may very well mean that we as residents dig deeper and vote for more generous municipal appropriations and give whatever we can, even if it is change, not dollars, as it is imperative to preserve these beloved institutions.

I know that my words are controversial to some and that I will be questioned on each and every point in the aisles of the White Market, but is there anything more important that we can do than to figure out a solution to help these financially strapped organizations? Hugs are nice, but they don’t pay the bills.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber.)

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Chamber Made Column-June 2, 2012

Summers of Beautiful and Lasting Memories

It was almost two weeks ago today that I found myself in the South Street Seaport District of New York City. It was a brilliant sunny day, sturdy tugboats soundly moored in their slips, the sound of seagulls ever present in the background. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the merchant ships of yesteryear easing into the harbor, its noisy sailors rambling over to the nearby Paris Restaurant for a foamy brew.

The problem with that scenario is that you have to open your eyes at some point. Off in the distance, I could see the elegant Statue of Liberty obscured by a thick haze. You could barely move a step without being jostled by the crowds, all clamoring to take in the view. And when I approached the Helen McAllister tugboat to take a picture, I happened to take a look down at the water, and it was a murky and muddy brown. I could not help but compare the waters of the harbor to the lakes and streams back home, where you can tell the side of a dropped coin from your kayak. Heck, on an especially clear day, you might even be able to determine the year the copper penny was minted.

As I drove over a bridge on the last leg of my drive to work today, I just had this sense of gratitude of how many clear and clean waterways we have in our backyard. We may be a landlocked state, the ocean hours away, but we can barely take a walk in the woods or by a busy thoroughfare without a creek or river greeting us. I got to thinking of how many of my childhood memories involved water, and it gave me another reason why I think this region is so special.

My siblings and I learned to fish on Miles Pond, my dad patiently threading worms through hooks on shore, gently lobbing our lines into the brink. I can vividly remember being mesmerized by the little red-and-white bobbers, tempting and torturing us by dropping below the water’s surface for a nanosecond. You would have thought that the scant five-inch sunfish we caught were prize ocean marlins by our reactions. It was also at this pond that we watched astronauts walking on the moon, on a black-and-white television smaller than my computer monitor at work.

I have tried to encourage this same love of water to my own children, who more times than I could count were in the lake before the dew even dried on the grass. I have great memories of my son and I greeting the arrival of spring each year by running at breakneck speed and hurling ourselves off the dock and into a frigid Maidstone Lake, clothes and all. There were also many a summer night that we donned bathing suits and drove to Pageant Park in Barton to dip our toes into the sparkling Crystal Lake before night fell.

As much as I love water, I must confess to not getting out nearly enough to enjoy the waterways of our region, and it is something I would like to change. I feel a sense of calm looking out on Great Averill Lake in Essex County, often seeing a moose in my travels. I revel at seeing little ones cautiously easing themselves into the water at the beach of Joe’s Pond. I cannot tell you how many times I have parked myself on a bench near the Gateway Center in Newport, just to watch the sailboats glide across Lake Memphremagog. Water is as much of our culture than any distant seaport district or any western shore. Our water just happens to be fresher.

The official start of summer has not even arrived and already I am making promises that I hope to keep, to take more trips to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the waterways of our region. I need to go no further than my own chamber’s website, www.nekchamber.com, and the Northeast Kingdom Travel & Tourism’s site, www.travelthekingdom.com, to find new adventures this summer. I want at life’s end to recount more memories of summer days of wonderment than who won the latest edition of American Idol. It is something I used to do as a younger woman and something I vow to change now as gray hairs grace my temple.

I have been told many times in the past week that life is too short to regret actions not taken, adventures not attempted and friendships and relationships not reconnected. I cannot put into words how much I would treasure just one last trip to the lake with my dear parents, the two of them approaching the start of each summer day with the sense of it being an endless vacation.

Turn off the television, pack a bag, throw on some sunscreen and head out the door. There is no time to waste. Summer is precious in these parts, with just a few short, hot months to sustain us for the rest of the year. It will not be long until a chill fills the air, the leaves start to fall and we will have regretted the loss of yet another lost summer. Not me, not this summer, not again.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber.)

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Chamber Made Column-April 21, 2012

The New Planetarium Puts On a Great Light Show

There was a time when I was a little girl that it seemed a summer day would never end. Soon after we awoke, my brothers, sisters and I would hastily throw on clothes, gobble down a quick breakfast and scamper down the porch stairs to the outside, even before the dew would dry. We would be called for meals, and reluctantly head back to the house, but other than that, the five of us were always outside, as were all the other children of St. Johnsbury Center, until we received that last sad call to go to bed.

Our house in the Center, back then, had a backlot that we thought to be the size of Fenway Park, and we spent many a day playing kickball, baseball and the occasional Kick the Can until our little legs would get tired. When twilight arrived, we would lay down in the cool grass, the blades tickling the backs of our necks, awaiting the stars of the summer sky to put on a light show.

It is rare these days to find an experience that transforms you right back to your childhood, but heading to the planetarium at the Fairbanks Museum has always done that for me, especially now. Recently, the museum completely renovated its planetarium and adjacent gallery, and the effect is stunning.

As I climbed the very same stairs I did as a child, at the museum’s recent open house, I could already see differences. The walls had been painted the shades of the sky, with the upper tower windows now colored. When I arrived at the top, the Vinton Space Science Gallery now greeted me, with magnificent color photographs taken from the Hubble Space Telescope placed on the wall. The gallery, supported by a gift from St. Johnsbury residents Ruth and Drury Vinton, even highlights a 17.3-pound meteorite just acquired by the museum.

Entering the planetarium, about the only feature I recognized was the dome, constructed and lifted to the ceiling back in 1961 by Danville high school students and museum junior curators. I slipped into one of the newly upholstered chairs and realized, with credits to the Wizard of Oz, that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Anyone who has ever sat through a planetarium show of old will attest that those old benches were a chiropractor’s best friend.

The newly renovated planetarium is named for Lyman Spitzer Jr., the astrophysicist who helped create the Hubble Space telescope, and there is little doubt this planetarium is a state-of-the-art facility. No worry about burned-out bulbs in the star machine anymore. The planetarium now features a high-tech, digital projection system, all contained in a single computer tablet, skillfully controlled by planetarium director Mark Breen. The Canady Family Charitable Trust, the family that Spitzer was a member of, made a generous gift towards the renovations, and it was nice to see how touched his daughter was that the planetarium is named in his honor.

Although I got a sneak peek at what this digital system offers, I cannot do this new show justice in this short column by trying to compare it to the old planetarium show. Suffice to say, it is a bit like going from a typewriter to a computer; it is that different. You would be robbing yourself of a wonderful childhood experience if you do not attend this new show with your children or grandchildren. The kids in attendance were mesmerized the night I was there, and so was I.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber. She still cranes her neck to the heavens every night to check out the stars.)

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April Chamber Legislative Breakfast

LEGISLATORS TO UPDATE LEGISLATION AT CHAMBER LEGISLATIVE BREAKFAST ON APRIL 30 

Local legislators will update legislation and define their priorities and committee assignments at a legislative breakfast to be held Monday, April 30. The session will last from 8 to 9 a.m. at the St. Johnsbury House dining room, Main Street, St. Johnsbury.

The monthly programs provide area business people and residents a concise overview of the legislative session and issues affecting the region. Local legislators will be in attendance and present updates on their respective committees and relevant legislation.

The public is invited to attend and encouraged to ask questions at the breakfasts. The Northeast Kingdom Chamber organizes the legislative forums and will also provide a brief legislative report. The breakfasts are moderated by Gretchen Hammer.

The breakfasts are usually held the last Monday of each month, from 8 to 9 a.m. The date of the next legislative breakfast, tentatively scheduled for May 21, is dependent on when the legislature convenes for the year.

The legislative breakfast series is sponsored by the Northeast Kingdom Chamber, with sponsorship assistance from Community National Bank, Lyndon State College, MMIC, NVRH, Passumpsic Savings Bank and Union Bank. There is a small fee to attend the breakfast.

For more details, contact the NEK Chamber at 2000 Memorial Drive – Ste. 11, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819; call 802-748-3678; or e-mail at director@nekchamber.com.

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Citizen of Year Dinner on May 4

ROBERT SWARTZ SELECTED NEK CHAMBER CITIZEN OF YEAR

A man who has devoted three decades of service to Catamount Arts and health education causes has been selected the Northeast Kingdom Chamber 2012 Citizen of the Year, one of the region’s most distinguished awards.

St. Johnsbury resident Robert “Bob” Swartz received the honor for his extensive commitment to Catamount, as well as a host of other organizations, including the Danville School Board, Green Mountain United Way, North Congregational Church, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Northern Counties Health Care and the Osher Lifelong Learning Lecture Series. Swartz has also served on a number of Town of St. Johnsbury boards, including the St. Johnsbury Design Control District Board, the St. Johnsbury Design Committee and town plan committee.

Swartz, born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has had a tie to Vermont dating back to his childhood, noting his parents owned a camp on Lake Champlain during the war. Due to his father being a Presbyterian minister, the Swartz family moved to Morgantown, W. Va. when he was a boy, where his dad served as a student pastor at West Virginia University. Realizing the importance of a good education, his parents saved early for his schooling, allowing Swartz to attend Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., one of five generations of his family to attend the institution.

After graduating from Westtown, Swartz attended West Virginia University where he studied psychology and human resources before transferring to Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., where he graduated with an English degree. Following college, Swartz jumped at the opportunity to go to Oxford, England, where he taught at a preparatory school for a year prior to returning to the states to teach English and French at Oakwood School in Poughkeepsie. It was at Oakwood, not Oxford, where he met his English-borne wife, Pat.

Once married, the couple moved to the Northeast Kingdom for Swartz’s new job as an English teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, a position he held for 27 years. While at the academy, Swartz helped to start the English as a Second Language Program, the International Club and was instrumental in establishing technical writing classes at the school.

Not content to immerse himself in his education duties alone, Swartz became very active on the Northern Counties Health Care Board and Catamount Arts. Swartz served as president of the Northern Counties board when the organization decided to merge with Caledonia Home Health Care in the 1980s.

“Bob is someone you can always count on for effective follow through when it comes to hard work or difficult and complicated challenges,” said NVRH’s Paul Bengston, a Citizen of the Year recipient in 2001, commenting on the many organizations Swartz has been involved in over the years. “He is someone who makes things happen and makes sure important ideas are shared and implemented.”

Swartz has never ventured far from an interest in the health-care field, serving as a corporator for NVRH for many years and working as the education resource coordinator for Northeastern Vermont Area Health Education Center since its start in 1997, whose main mission has been to attract and retain health-care professionals in rural areas.

“Bob Swartz’s community spirit embodies the true meaning of civic commitment and is an inspiration to all those fortunate enough to work with him,” said Margaret Trautz, an AHEC colleague. “Bob is a person of many gifts who has never hesitated to share them with his family and neighbors, his community and professional colleagues and with a multitude of community organizations.”

As strong as his devotion to health causes are, Swartz is perhaps best known for his many years of service on the Catamount Arts board, serving as a board member and president of the organization during its move to its new building on Eastern Avenue and the subsequent capital fund-raising campaign. Sixteen of his fellow Catamount Arts board members, in fact, endorsed his bid to become Citizen of the Year.

“His leadership is a labor of love for the community and an inspiration to us all,” said the board in its nomination packet. “No one can say ‘no’ to Bob. His enthusiasm for the project (the move) and Catamount’s mission and vision buoyed the board through countless campaign hurdles.”

In addition to his Catamount work, Swartz has also played a leadership role in the North Congregational Church, serving as a moderator, deacon, executive council member and the founding chair of the Archives Committee. He has been lauded for his “intelligence, thoroughness and collegial leadership,” said the Rev. Jay Sprout.

Whether it was his tenure on the Osher Steering Committee, time teaching at Springfield College or Community College of Vermont or his service on a multitude of town and civic boards, Swartz has been praised by all for his fairness, good humor, common sense, follow through and diligence to completing a task, no matter how difficult.

“I can think of no greater enthusiast for life in the Northeast Kingdom than Bob Swartz, and Bob is someone who acts on this enthusiasm and works hard to make our communities absolutely the best places to live,” said a friend.

Past Citizen of the Year recipients have included Doug Kitchel, H. Stanwood Brooks, Dr. Howard Farmer, George Young, Mildred H. Smith, Wesley Calderwood, Durward Ellis, Joseph Sherman, Rosalie Harris, Kay Ellis, R.J. (Pete) Brisson, William T. Costa Jr., Sterry R. Waterman, George M. Crosby, Ernie Begin, William Stowe, William P. Kennedy, G. Julian Butler, Howard K. Gieselman, Bernier L. Mayo, Donald Mullally, Alfreda (Freddie) King, Barbara McKay Smith, Dr. John H. Elliott, B.J. Murphy, Dr. John A. Stetson, Doug Drown, Dr. Frederick C. Silloway, the Rev. Mel Richardson, Brent W. Beck, Paul R. Bengtson, Joan Wollrath, Donald E. Bostic, Richard Lawrence, Dale Wells, Fred Laferriere, Reeve Lindbergh/Nat Tripp, Elwin Cross,  A. Richard Boera, Greg MacDonald and David Keenan.

Bob has been married to wife Pat for 46 years and is the father of three daughters, Rebecca Butcher, Rachel Smith and Anne Cornish. He is also the proud grandfather of six, Ben and Kate Butcher, Hayden and Nick Smith and Burke and Hannah Cornish.

The Northeast Kingdom Chamber Citizen of the Year Award is presented each year to a Northeast Kingdom resident who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and extensive community involvement beyond the candidate’s normal occupation. Local civic, social and town leaders comprise the committee that selects the recipient.

The Citizen of the Year dinner will be held on Friday, May 4, at 6 p.m., at the Academic & Student Activity Center, Lyndon State College, Lyndon Center. Friends and colleagues are encouraged to send congratulatory cards to the chamber so they can be included in a memory book for the award recipient.  

For more information on this event or to reserve a spot, contact the NEK Chamber at 2000 Memorial Drive-Ste. 11, St. Johnsbury, VT  05819; call 802-748-3678; or e-mail at nekinfo@nekchamber.com.

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Chamber Made Column-April 7, 2012

How a Region Recovers After Such a Terrible Tragedy

When I woke up the morning of March 26, little did I know that the Northeast Kingdom I knew would change forever. While driving to the chamber legislative breakfast, I heard on the radio that a woman had disappeared, but few details were known at that point. It was not until a shaken Kitty Toll, a legislator from Danville, announced to the crowd that Melissa Jenkins been abducted that it hit home, as it did to many that morning, that a family we knew and loved had been affected forever by a most sad and senseless tragedy.

In the days since Melissa Jenkins was slain, I have witnessed an outpouring of support from Vermonters, the nation and world that I have never seen the likes of before, even as a former newspaper reporter and editor. Media outlets throughout the world have all reported on how this wonderful woman, beloved mother, revered sister, daughter, relative, colleague and friend was taken from this earth so early, her little man left behind. Seasoned reporters, not known for emotion, broke up reporting this story, some wearing pink in her honor on the day of her memorial.

Even now, almost two weeks later, I cannot process a mind so sick that could commit a murder so heinous. As the crime details have been announced, I have personally struggled, as I know many of you have, on how we go on with the calm of our region so shattered. But as much as our entire region is grieving, the pain of her family must be unbearable, and we must protect them and maintain their privacy in the weeks and years to come.

My heart has swelled with pride to see how people have honored the memory of this incredible woman in the days since she was taken. Driving down Main Street last Friday, I was overcome with emotion, as many were, with the thousands of ribbons adorning the avenue. Everywhere we have turned in the past week, we have seen pink, whether it is on the backs of schoolchildren posing for a school picture, the ties of businessmen or the thousands of balloons, flying in the wind outside countless businesses throughout the Kingdom and state. 

The chamber feels a great sense of honor that we helped to establish the Melissa Jenkins Memorial Trust, which will directly benefit the son of Melissa Jenkins now and in the years to come. The chamber would like to extend its gratitude to attorney Edward Zuccaro and Richard Lyon, a CPA from A.M. Peisch, for serving as trustees of the trust, and the Passumpsic Savings Bank for hosting the account.This is the only trust fund that has been created for fund-raising and was established in cooperation with St. Johnsbury Academy, where Melissa worked, and Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, where her mother works. This is the sole trust fund that has been created for fund-raising and was established in cooperation with the Jenkins family; St. Johnsbury Academy, where Melissa worked, and Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, where her mother has worked for more than 40 years.

I would like to extend appreciation on their behalf for the many businesses and individuals that have offered their time, skills and money to put on events and efforts to benefit Ty through the fund. The outpouring of support has been nothing short of amazing.

I urge anyone affected by this terrible tragedy to read the beautiful piece, entitled “The New Normal,” written by St. Johnsbury Academy Headmaster Tom Lovett, delivered at Chapel this past Monday. You may go to www.stjacademy.org, and click on the “Headmasters Weekly Message: Our Academy.” It is a wonderfully crafted piece that may not only help people cope but heal after this unbelievably sad tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and all affected by Melissa’s death, as we celebrate the wonderful life of this extraordinary young woman.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber.)

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Chamber Made Column-Feb. 25, 2012

Behind the Scenes of the Chamber’s Biggest Event

You would think after almost 17 years on the job that the Northeast Kingdom Chamber annual meeting would be routine by now. Not so. I still get butterflies each and every year, and I don’t think that is a bad thing. I have found the secret in running a well-organized event is to never let it become routine. I thought in today’s column I would give you a sense of what we do in the background to pull this large event off.

The most important item to put on the old to-do list is to not get sick, as I was last year, with a ferocious cold. I can say with some level of certainty it is not welcoming to have your chamber director sound like she is the love child of Darth Vader and Suzanne Pleshette at a meeting of such import. Potential sickness affecting the main characters of the meeting, the presidents and myself, is one of the major reasons we always script the event, from the pledge to the sendoff. More than once, when a president had a pesky case of the flu, one of us has had to step in for the other, but I am getting ahead of myself. There is much to do before we ever step to the podium.

The leaves have not yet fallen from the trees when the first tasks on the to-do list start in earnest, finding candidates for openings on the board of trustees. These individuals come from all sorts of businesses and corners of the Kingdom and must have a real sense of what we do as a chamber. Around the same time, our current board members discuss who might be a good speaker for the meeting. I commend the boards for their decision on Lt. Governor Phil Scott this year, as he was excellent, very folksy and had a great sense of humor. Once we book our guest speaker, we finalize the date, time and cost with Donna Wheeler, Lyndon State College’s wonderful director of Conference and Guest Relations. And then the real fun starts.

One of the best parts of this meeting is deciding which members receive honors, including our Kingdom Improvement Awards, Kingdom Recognition Awards and the other special accolades bestowed upon members. While the improvement award focuses on the aesthetic changes made at a business, the recognition honor marks an achievement at the member business that year.

If you have never been to one of our annual meetings, you would not know the pride I put into writing the pun-filled descriptions on the award certificates. Whether it is the  White Market renovation being a “Bona-fied success” or the WilloughVale Inn on Lake Willoughby “shorely” being one of the state’s most beautiful accommodations,  I don’t think I have done my job unless I hear a groan or two from the audience. You would be surprised how long it takes to write a bad pun.

We could not put on this meeting without the help of many, including our trustees, the college and Sharon Reihmer at Framing Format. We would also like to thank Pastor Rick Menard for delivering a most heartfelt invocation and the Stephen Huneck Gallery at Dog Mountain for its most fitting gift to our racecar-driving lieutenant governor, a dog and its owner on a tractor. It got a big chuckle out of Lt. Governor Scott.

We would also like to thank Kingdom Access and the Caledonian-Record for their excellent coverage of the meeting. Business Editor Leah Carey took some wonderful pictures of the event that are appearing in today’s paper, in fact. We thank one and all for all they did to make the event a success! Well, back to work I go; I have lots of thank you notes to write.

(Darcie McCann is the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber. She can’t wait until a dentist gets an award so she can write the headline “Dentist Gets Plaque.” )

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