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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Molnar: Small State Advantage

Castleton University
Castleton University campus was the location for the Vermont Community Leadership Summit on October 1.

I signed up for the Vermont Community Leadership Summit out of curiosity, and because I only had to roll down the hill to Castleton University to attend.
What I learned is that that many towns like mine have overcome steep odds to re-create vibrant communities for all their residents - and that the state’s smallness works to our advantage.

More than five hundred people attended the summit. Some had driven for hours and dozens were turned away due to lack of space – proving that Vermont enjoys a groundswell of enthusiasm for enhancing our communities.

There were so many outstanding examples.

Five Bethel residents told how the town pulled together during Irene. And how, with their new neighborliness, they created the month-long Bethel University, an achievement of major proportions for a tiny town.

Several towns had turned hopelessness to regeneration through the power of art. And Rutland’s panelists showed how the city is harnessing the creativity of its young professionals.

Poring through the thirty-three-page program I was struck by the fact that no one’s title was included. This could never happen anywhere else I’ve lived, and it clearly speaks to Vermonter’s devotion to civic rather than personal enhancement. And at the end of the long day, I began to believe that the good will and sense of engagement will help stitch back the torn fabric of more of our communities.

One reason we can’t be divided like the rest of the country is that we’re simply too small. Because we see each other daily … at the post office, the gas station, the farmers market, the library, we must engage with each other; and because in a small community, we depend on each other.

One workshop was led by Michael Snyder, the state’s director of parks and recreation. I had written him to ask that signs be posted to reduce bad behavior at a nearby lake. He responded within days, and had signs posted soon after – something that never would have happened in New York, where I used to live.

But then again, in New York, neither of us would ever have had to worry about actually meeting each other in person.

Not ever.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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