Vermonter of the Month: Jason Fitzgerald

Jason FitzgeraldThis is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Father. Exercise Physiologist. Athlete. “Diaper Guy.” These are just a few ways one can describe Jason Fitzgerald, our November Vermonter of the Month.

In 2007, Jason was out for an early morning run when he started thinking about different ways to help Vermonters, and it hit him: diapers! According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 1 in 3 American families experience “Diaper Need” and lacks access to a sufficient supply of diapers. As a father, Jason understands the financial burden that purchasing diapers can put on a family, especially given the lack of public funding available specifically for purchasing diapers. With the help of his employer, Dee Physical Therapy (Dee PT), Jason created the Great Diaper Drive, which collects diapers for families assisted by the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS). Through sheer force of will, the drive, under Jason’s leadership, has collected more than 325,000 diapers over the past 11 years for Vermont families in need.

A native of Massachusetts, Jason came to Vermont as an undergraduate student at Champlain College. He left after college, but always knew that he would be back. So, when a job opportunity opened for him in Vermont, he jumped at the chance to return to the state he loved. Jason began working at Dee PT in 2007 where he currently serves as a Clinical Coordinator and Exercise Physiologist. At Dee PT, Jason is able to combine his professional pursuits with his passion for helping others to make a positive impact on the community. Here’s more about the amazing work that Jason is doing:

What inspires your work, both at Dee Physical Therapy and in the community?

My work at Dee Physical Therapy is inspired by my coworkers. They put so much into the job and care so much about the wellness of other people. I’m one of those people who enjoys coming to work every morning. I’m so fortunate to be able to come to work and know that I’m helping people get stronger and reach their goals.

My work in the community is inspired by my kids. I am lucky that I was put in a situation with Dee Physical Therapy that I was able to work at a place that allowed me to start a fundraiser. I want my kids to see that when you are put in these situations you should find ways to reach outside of the four walls you work in and try to help people every day.

Why diapers? How did you come up with the idea of the drive?

I start each day with an early morning run. I use this time to think and come up with different ideas. Some of these ideas seem amazing at the time, but when reflecting on them the next day, they often seem ridiculous. In 2007, I had two children both in diapers—Riley (now aged 14) and Kaia (12). I was out for my daily run when I thought about diapers—how expensive they are and how, as a parent, you are constantly worried about running out of them. I wondered if there were any organizations or fundraisers that collected diapers and I couldn’t think of any. When I went to work that day, I mentioned it to my coworkers who thought it seemed like a good idea. I then reached out to the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) to see if they would be interested in a fundraiser that collected diapers. COTS said that there was a need for families living in their shelters and seeking services from their organization, but that no one was collecting diapers at the time.

What has been the impact of the Dee PT Great Diaper Drive and what does it mean to you?

When the drive started in 2007, 6,000 diapers were donated and sustained a couple of COTS’ families. Now, as the drive has grown, we are able to collect enough diapers to last for an entire year for all of the families COTS serves. The impact of the drive is more than just diapers; it allows families to save money that would otherwise be spent on diapers for independent housing. We did the math and a box of 100 diapers can cost about $35. Depending on how many kids you have, what ages they are, and what’s going on with their bodies, a family can go through 10-12 diapers a day. Since the drive began 11 years ago, we’ve collected over 325,000 diapers. As a parent, there is nothing worse than knowing that you don’t have a diaper for your child. The diaper drive has taken away some of this burden that parents are dealing with on a day-to-day basis and is allowing them to save for housing.

This drive means a lot to me. I’m fortunate to be the one that gets to talk about the drive and spread awareness, but it really is the community around me that supports this effort. Through the drive, I’ve been able to make connections with amazing people. There are people that come back each year to donate diapers that they’ve been saving up all year. It’s a true community effort.

What’s your goal for this year’s diaper drive and where can people donate?

The goal is to collect 40,000 by December 21st. We’re on our way towards meeting this goal but want to collect as many diapers as we possibly can.  Donations can be dropped off between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Fridays at the following locations:

  • Dee Physical Therapy at 23 San Remo Drive, South Burlington
  • Dee Physical Therapy at The Field House, 166 Athletic Drive, Shelburne
  • Dee Physical Therapy at 52 Farmall Drive, Hinesburg

What advice do you have for other businesses (or individuals) looking to impact their community?

Look around you. See what resources you have and take advantage of them. I’m not a fundraising guy and it’s a lot of hard work, but I’m so glad I did it. Every year I think about how to make the drive more efficient and effective.

Ask for help. Vermonters want to help each other, including people they don’t know. This is a huge asset and a great part of living here.

Dee PT Diaper Drive PosterJason Fitzgerald

 

Tips for the Charitable Giving Season

Don't let scammers take the cheer out of your giving seasonAs a little girl, I fondly remember watching my dad open scores of charitable solicitations some containing gifts of greeting cards or address labels, others with a simple request to help their cause.  This giving season, I am now the one who opens the mail with thoughtful poise and consideration, “Which causes should I support this year?”  In this time of giving, many of you may be asking the same question.

To help you decide, I’ve outlined the steps that I take before giving:

1.  When I get a solicitation for a new cause that piques my interest, I research the cause before donating.  Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.  Charity Navigator pulls its information from charities’ IRS tax documents and the BBB has an accreditation program for charities.

2.  I check and double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers.  I do this even with charities that I regularly contribute to.  I always ask fundraising callers to mail me the solicitation so that I can check the contact information.  If the mailing address and phone number does not pass this verification test, I contact the charity directly.

3.  I look for paid fundraiser information.  A paid fundraiser is a third-party solicitation company that, aside from the fundraising campaign, is not affiliated with the charity.  This means that a portion of the funds raised are split between the charity and the soliciting business.  Vermonters can ask if a third-party fundraiser is involved.  When they are, however, they should disclose this information upfront.  The Attorney General’s Office keeps a record of paid fundraisers registered in our state.  All Vermonters can look to see how funds are allocated between the paid fundraiser under the charities section on our website.  This information can also be requested by contacting the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

4.  I am mindful about the presence of disaster scams.  With the unknown that comes with natural disasters, giving following such events can seem imminent as evidenced by the aftermath of the California wildfires.  Unfortunately, less scrupulous efforts may attempt to take advantage of those who want to help.  Following the above tips will help to identify the scams.  For more on this topic, check out our blog.

These steps help me verify that my money is going to the cause that I intend, and not to a scammer.  It’s easy for a motivated scammer to create a realistic looking website to try to legitimize a fake charity.  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call.  We’ll help walk you through the steps that we would take before donating.

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin is in her tenth year of service with the Consumer Assistance Program.

Vermonter of the Month: Kathy Fox

Kathy Fox and T.J. Donovan

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Driven by her belief that “people can change, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Kathy Fox, our October Vermonter of the Month, created Vermont’s first college-in-prison program to provide people who are incarcerated with a second chance at education.

As a University of Vermont (UVM) professor of sociology, conducting research in recidivism, Kathy saw the effectiveness of higher education as a pathway for reintegration for people who were formerly incarcerated. In the spring of 2018, she along with a group of dedicated educators launched UVM’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program (LAPP). LAPP, in partnership with the Department of Corrections, provides introductory college courses to people who are incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and Northwest Regional Correctional Facility. According to LAPP, “The recidivism rate in the state, while better than the national average of 60%, has hovered at about 45% for the last decade. Incarcerated citizens who are released with a high school education have a recidivism rate of 24%. The rate drops to 10% with two years of college, and to about 5% with four years of college.” By providing college courses to people while incarcerated, LAPP, under Kathy’s direction, hopes to reduce the rate of recidivism while also “while improving the odds of returning citizens becoming successful, crime-free, tax-paying members of society.”

A native of Oklahoma, Kathy found her way to Vermont when she accepted a position with UVM in 1994 immediately after completing graduate school. Since then, she has been impacting the lives of her students and people who are incarcerated through her volunteerism, research, and teaching. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kathy to learn more about the work that she is doing and what drives her passion for social justice.

 How did you become interested in offender reentry/reintegration?

 I would attend criminology conferences and we would all be marveling at the incredible increase in the prison population and speculating about the issues that would be forthcoming when people got released. I had been studying Corrections for a long time and heard about the new reentry programs that Vermont was trying, and they sounded interesting to me. I learned about the unique system Vermont has with its community-based justice centers and was fascinated by the idea of considering reentry and reintegration as a community-level problem to address.

Also, from my research inside prisons, I could see how incarceration creates a lot of deficits for people, such as being able to get a job with a felony record, etc. I felt and still feel that our system isn’t designed for success upon release.

 What inspires your work, both at UVM and in the community?

 I have been aware for a long time about the role that privilege plays in the trajectory of one’s life. I came from a privileged background and know that, but for grace, there go I. I am interested in doing research and activities, like the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, that contribute to the public good, so that drives my decisions about what to devote energy and time to. It stems from a firm belief that people can change, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and a second chance.

 What have you learned from your work with incarcerated individuals?

 So much! I have learned that people are remarkably resilient. The accomplishments of incarcerated individuals are more impressive to me than those by people with privilege, because many of them have significant challenges. I have met some very intelligent people who would have gone on a different path had their circumstances been different. I have also learned the value of letting people inside know that there are people who see them, and hear them, and care about their futures.

In addition, I have brought my on-campus students from UVM into the prisons for various activities, and I see tremendous benefit to that, for many reasons, but mostly to bring some humanity to their sense of the system.

 You have so many accomplishments, which, if any, are you most proud of?

 Well thanks! Personally, I am most proud that my spouse and I have raised two kids who are committed to social justice. But professionally, I think I am most proud of the Liberal Arts in Prison Program that I started (with lots of help from others!) because my hope is that it will be sustainable once I retire. We have only two semesters under our belt, but already a few incarcerated students, who were released, are pursuing higher education. Students have reported that they never thought they would be “college material” but now see themselves as students. That is deeply gratifying.

 What are you most hopeful for in the future with regard to offender reentry/reintegration in Vermont?

 I have been doing research on the Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) program for a decade and am heartened by the fact that Vermont has run more CoSA groups than any state in the nation; this is all the more impressive given how small our prison population is. I think this program will continue to grow, with positive results. With the advantage of having the community justice structure, and the web of volunteers growing, I believe we can change the culture and narrative about the responsibility to help people reintegrate after prison. I would like to see us reduce the number of people going into prison, but I think that change is coming.

Kathy Fox and T.J. Donovan sitting at table

Protect Your Credit: Get a Free Freeze

Credit on ice

Under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, credit freezes are free of charge to anybody, regardless of whether or not they are victims of identity theft. This new law requires credit-reporting agencies to eliminate the cost of credit freezes, credit unfreezes (thaws) and yearlong fraud alerts to consumers.

Website Required:  The three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian must design a website, where consumers can go to request this credit protection. The sites must also provide the ability to opt-out of receiving solicitations in the mail for insurance or credit card approval.

Protection for Children: The act allows guardians to request on behalf of children younger than 16 years old to freeze their credit.

Military Credit Offers: Members of the military with access to active duty alerts can request to remove their name from prescreened credit card offers for two years.


Why Should You Consider a Credit Freeze?

Identity theft is a type of fraud, which can be extremely detrimental to your financial and personal well-being. Identity theft often occurs when a bad actor gets access to your social security number or financial account number. Many consumers believe they won’t become targets for identity theft, because:

  • They odds are slim and assume it won’t happen to them.
  • They don’t have much money in their bank accounts to steal.
  • They don’t have credit cards and assume this means they don’t have a credit history.
  • They don’t have a poor credit history and believe a scammer will not benefit from having their information.

These arguments do NOT prevent bad actors from opening accounts using your information. The main concern is not the money you have but whether new accounts can be open without your knowledge, or consent.


Protect Your Credit

Issuing a credit freeze essentially stops any credit-reporting agency from reporting your credit score or credit report to a lender. Credit reports help lenders decide whether or not to extend a line of credit or grant loans to consumers. Often, without the ability to see the credit report, lenders will deny the credit line or loan, therefore protecting the consumer from unwanted accounts in their name.

Concerned that you may seek a line of credit in the future?—The thaw can help with that. You can contact the company before you plan to take on a new line of credit and lift the freeze temporarily.

The credit freeze is the best line of defense against bad actors stealing your information and using it for their own financial gain. Now that this process is free, anyone can consider placing a credit freeze on their account!

For more information about credit freezes or credit fraud alerts, visit FTC.gov or call our consumer helpline at 1-800-649-2424.

Contributing Writer: Alexandra Esposito

Sources:  The Federal Trade Commission

Vermonter of the Month: Lawyers Fighting Hunger

T.J. Donovan collects food itemsThis is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

For our September Vermonter of the Month, we are honoring all of those who donated to this year’s 2nd Annual “Lawyers Fighting Hunger” food drive. This collaboration with the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Bar Association raised over $12,700 and more than 3,000 shelf-stable, non-perishable food items in just two-weeks. We are proud to reaffirm our commitment to serving our community of Vermonters.

A recent study by the Vermont Foodbank and Feeding America shows that one in four Vermonters (around 153,000 people) turn to food shelves and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families.  These numbers include an estimated 33,900 children and 26,010 seniors. All food and funds collected during this year’s food drive went directly to the Vermont Foodbank and over two hundred Vermont Foodbank-partner food shelves and meal sites around Vermont.

For our September Vermonter of the Month we thank the twenty-six law firms and law offices that participated and made this year’s drive a success:

Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP

Biggam, Fox, Skinner, L.L.P.

Bradley D. Myerson Law Offices

Decato Law Office

Downs, Rachlin and Martin P.L.L.C.

Gravel and Shea P.C.

Langrock, Sperry and Wool L.L.P.

Maley and Maley, P.L.L.C.

Massucco Law Office P.C.

McNeil, Leddy and Sheahan P.C.

Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Paul, Frank and Collins P.C.

Primmer, Piper, Eggleston and Cramer, P.C.

Robert Appel, Attorney at Law, P.L.C.

Ronan Law Group, PLLC

Sheehey, Furlong and Behm, P.C.

Stitzel, Page and Fletcher P.C.

U.S. District Court/U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Vermont Bar Association

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation

Vermont Legal Aid (Burlington)

Vermont Legal Aid (Rutland)

Vermont Public Utility Commission

Vermont Trial Lawyers Association

Welford & Sawyer

Winburn Law Offices

Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

TJ Donovan and Keely Marie

Lawyers Fighting Hunger Food Drive

Brad Traverse and TJ Donovan