Vermonter of the Month: Gary De Carolis

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Gary De Carolis

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.

When reflecting on his 35+ year career in service to others, Gary De Carolis, Executive Director of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, said, “I’ve had a blessed career.” But the way we see it, Vermont has been blessed to have Gary serving as an advocate and leader in the fields of mental health and substance abuse. That’s why Gary De Carolis is our October Vermonter of the Month.

Over his career, Gary has served as a mental health counselor, children’s mental health professional, the Deputy Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, the Chief of Children’s Mental Health at the Center for Mental Health Services within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), and a consultant focusing on how best to serve children in custody in the context of their family and community.

Today, Gary serves as the Executive Director of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County where he has transformed the Center from a staff of three with a budget of $175,000 to its current staff of 15 with an annual budget over $700,000. Under his leadership, the Turning Point Center has expanded its footprint and broadened its scope of services to better serve Vermonters seeking recovery. On average, the Turning Point Center serves about 3,000 visiting guests each month.

Gary gave us a tour of the Turning Point Center’s new location on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington and talked with us about his work as an advocate and counselor:

  • What inspires you, or drives your passion for your work with the Turning Point Center?

I’m inspired by the people who walk through our door every day. Talented, bright, courageous people. I’m in awe of them. To know that you live with a disease that you must be perfect with—one errant drink, one puff on a joint, or one pain killer for a broken limb—can set you into a spiral that could last for years. Courage doesn’t begin to speak to the incredible strength that I’ve witnessed for some 7 years now.

  • What is the most rewarding aspect of your work with the Turning Point Center?

What I find most rewarding is to see someone walk through our doors with a sense of little hope for a better life and over the weeks and months watch as they grow in strength to the point where the light of hope glows in them. It happens almost every day here. Providing a safe space, filling it with people in recovery to support our guests, and enriching it all with wonderful services are the ingredients for miracles to happen.

  • What is the most challenging aspect of your work with the Turning Point Center?

What is hard is when someone is so overwhelmed with their life that it is hard, if not impossible, for them to focus on their recovery. Lack of housing probably is the biggest determinate in keeping someone in the cycle of active drug use. Also, trauma histories can be so difficult to work though. We constantly recommend therapy as a part of someone’s early recovery so that trauma doesn’t end up being the boulder in their recovery path.

The other challenge, that is a part of all non-profits, is raising enough funds to make all of this work! Our staff works very hard and deserves a decent income with benefits. We have come a long way from when I began 7 years ago but we still need to go further. 

  • The Turning Point Center of Chittenden County has grown under your leadership. What are some of the changes?

We’ve placed recovery coaches in the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and created a New Moms in Recovery Program for women seeking sobriety and maintaining custody of their children. We also have a wonderful Employment Consulting Program to make sure that all our guests who want to work get a job. All these efforts have had tremendous success. We have a wonderful team of recovery support specialists that greet each guest when they enter the Center to ask them how they are doing in their recovery, what we can do to support them and make referrals to other agencies for services. Finally, we have an elite team of 15 recovery coaches that are available for anyone who wants a more intimate relationship with someone in recovery as they go through their unique recovery journey. 

  • What do you want Vermonters to know about recovery? Do you feel there is stigma that needs to be confronted?

I want all Vermonters to know that recovery is not only possible, but that it happens every day. Please take the time to get to know someone in recovery. Listen to their story. Ask questions. I know you will come to see, as I have, that people in recovery are amazing, insightful, and determined people who we are fortunate to have as family, friends and neighbors. They are gentle, but tough souls and we are better for them being in our lives.

  • What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

This is always a tough question for me. We are grateful for the many people who donate to our Center. It is so helpful in allowing us to offer all the services we do. Also, recently we finished a capital campaign to buy our first building and renovate our space to work as a recovery center. I am so humbled by the community response to our asking for financial assistance. When people walk through our door, they all say this space is so respectful and dignifying. That is what we were aiming for!

For others, I recommend that you use your talent to help broaden people’s understanding of addiction and recovery. Some Vermonters are amazing writers, some our phenomenal artists. When I’ve seen those skills unleashed in this field it has transformed people who experience their gifts. I’m thinking of Bess O’Brien’s documentary Hungry Heart or Kate O’Neil’s articles in Seven Days and the obituary she wrote of her sister Maddie who was addicted to opioids. The group Twiddle who write songs about addiction. There are so many ways to help. Serving on our board or various committees of the recovery center is yet another way of helping. I always like Dante’s quote “In times of crisis may the hottest place in hell be reserved for those that declare their neutrality.” Get involved, and make a difference. It does matter.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Gary De Carolis in the Maddie Linsenmeir Room at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County
Murial outside of the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County’s new location on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington, Vermont
Community meeting at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County

Vermonters of the Month: Lawyers Fighting Hunger

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.


Fighting Hunger One Lawyer at a Time

For our September Vermonter of the Month, we are honoring all of those who donated to this year’s 3rd Annual Lawyers Fighting Hunger Food Drive. This collaboration with the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Bar Association raised over $8,000 and more than 4,400 shelf-stable, non-perishable food items in just two weeks. Overall, in the three-year history of the Lawyers Fighting Hunger Food Drive, the Vermont legal community has raised more than $35,000 and collected over 11,000 food items. Thank you to all the Vermont lawyers and law office staff who made this year’s drive a success.

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 200 Vermont Foodbank-partner food shelves and meal sites around Vermont.

Thank you to all the Vermont lawyers and law office staff who made this year’s drive a success.

Bauer Gravel Farnham, LLP

Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP

Biggam Fox Skinner, LLP

Bradley D. Myerson Law Offices

Cohen Consumer Law

Dinse, PC

Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC

Justice for Victims Legal Clinic

Maley and Maley, PLLC

McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan PC

Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Paul Frank + Collins P.C.

Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC

Sheehey Furlong & Behm P.C.

Stitzel Page & Fletcher P.C.

Vermont Bar Association

Vermont Department of Financial Regulation

Vermont Law School

Vermont Legal Aid, Inc. – Rutland Office

Vermont Public Utility Commission

Vermont Trial Lawyers Association


Chief Rob McDougall, Environmental Division, and Nicole Whalen of the Vermont Foodbank present Lawyers Fighting Hunger “friendly competition” award to Attorney Ben Traverse of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, winner of the large firm division.
Members of the Attorney General’s Office with food drive donations.
Rob McDougall, Chief of the Environmental Division, presents Lawyers Fighting Hunger "friendly competition" award to representatives of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, winner of the large firm division.
Chief Rob McDougall, Environmental Division, and Assistant Attorney General Alison Stone present Lawyers Fighting Hunger “friendly competition” award to Attorney Elizabeth Schilling of the Vermont Public Utility Commission, winner of the medium firm division.

Vermonter of the Month: Bess O’Brien

Vermonter of the Month 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.

Bess O'Brien with TJ Donovan
Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Our August Vermonter of the Month is director, producer, and arts activist Bess O’Brien—Vermont’s truth-teller.

Bess began working in film when her husband Jay Craven hired her to produce his first short movie High Water. From there, she went on to co-produce Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom before starting to make documentary films.

Through filmmaking, Bess has shined a light on issues affecting Vermonters. Her recent filmsComing Home, All of Me, and The Hungry Heart—depict important issues like reintegration into communities after incarceration, body image and eating disorders, and the opioid and prescription drug crisis in Vermont.

In December, our office hosted a screening of Bess’ film Coming Home for staff. The film follows five Vermonters returning to their communities after being incarcerated. It highlights the amazing work that the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) program is doing in Vermont—helping people reintegrate into their communities and showing the power of compassion and empathy.

In 1991, Bess and Jay established Kingdom County Productions (KCP). The nonprofit’s focus expanded in 2009 to include performing arts; bringing shared arts-based community events to the Northeast Kingdom. Today KCP is dedicated to “transforming community through film, performance, and experiential learning.”

We met up with Bess at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival to ger her perspective on the importance of storytelling in Vermont.

You’ve been described as “Vermont’s truth-teller.” What inspires you, or drives your passion for this work?

I am interested in telling stories that go to the root of the problem, whether it be drug addiction, incarceration, foster care, etc. I want to hear voices from people who are often not seen and are invisible. I want their voices heard. By telling their stories change can begin to happen.

Why is documentary filmmaking and the arts, in general, important in a rural state like Vermont?

Because Vermont is small, telling stories and sharing the lives of people who are often silenced can make a difference. We are a small state so a documentary film that tours to 15 towns can truly start a conversation!

Why did you and your husband Jay create Kingdom County Productions?

To tell stories that are rooted in Vermont.

How do you strive to transform “community through film, performance, and experiential learning?”

By bringing the arts to rural areas and to folks who often don’t experience the arts it raises awareness and forms a strong community.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

Tell the truth, talk to people who are outside your comfort zone, have empathy and raise people’s voices!

Bess O’Brien with Attorney General T.J. Donovan

Vermonters of the Month: Elizabeth and Alex Grimes

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.

TJ Donovan with Alex and Elizabeth Grimes and their children
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Elizabeth and Alex Grimes and their children

Alex and Elizabeth Grimes, our July Vermonters of the Month, describe the past six years as a “whirlwind of emotion.” May 5, 2013 is the day that forever changed their lives when their nearly 5-month-old son Tatum passed away from SIDS. While grieving his loss, Elizabeth found herself the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ website and rediscovered her purpose in life. The Grimes family decided to honor Tatum by becoming foster parents and creating their nonprofit Tatum’s Totes in his memory.  Now, the Grimes’ have seven beautiful children and support others in foster care by proving totes with essential and comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, diapers, toothbrushes, and books.

Elizabeth says, “Losing Tatum is a pain we feel every day, but every day we try to honor him.” Tatum’s Totes is dedicated to helping children in foster care one tote at a time.

We visited Alex, Elizabeth and their children at their home in Rutland to hear more about their journey as foster parents and learn more about the impact of Tatum’s Totes.

Tell us a little about yourselves, your son Tatum, and your journey to becoming foster parents.

Both Alex and I are from Rutland Town, Vermont. Our oldest child, Emma, was four years old when we found out we were expecting our second. On December 7, 2012, we were surprised to welcome a little boy into our family, Tatum James Grimes. He was 8 lbs. 2 oz., 19.5 inches long, and was perfect. Tatum looked grumpy all of the time, but when he smiled it was the sweetest little smile. He rarely cried. He liked to just sit and watch what everyone was doing. We were so proud of him and how well he was adjusting. Sleep was even easy with him. He slept perfectly in his own crib.

Our family was doing well, Emma was enjoying being a new big sister and Alex was promoted at work and landed a new day job which allowed for more time with our family. Everything changed on May 4, 2013. We had family over to help build a new deck and we were outside working while Tatum was napping. A few minutes after checking on Tatum, the crew started up the saw. Knowing this would wake Tatum, I went back in the house to get him. I saw Tatum’s hand through the railing and I knew something was wrong. Tatum wasn’t breathing. We believe everyone did everything they could that day to save Tatum, and while his heart started again, it wasn’t enough. Tatum was taken off of life support on May 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM.

Days passed. Weeks passed. I cried. I screamed. I felt like my heart was physically broken. During all of this, I stumbled on the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) website and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to become a foster parent. I needed to help children, and love them, and protect them. I called the Rutland District DCF Office and set up a meeting. I am so thankful for a supportive husband who agreed to do this with me. In his own grief he always knew how to be there for me through mine. 

Eight weeks after losing Tatum, I met with DCF and felt I may have a path in life again. It was a path as a grieving mother, but at least I had some sort of direction. Two weeks later, our journey as foster parents began when I picked up two children from the DCF Office and brought them home with me.

Why did you start Tatum’s Totes?

The idea of Tatum’s Totes came from my first experience as a foster parent. When I went to the DCF Office to meet the two children Alex and I would be caring for, we were greeted by a police officer and a case worker with two small children who had no shoes and tear-streaked faces. Between the two children, ages three and one, they had a toy fire truck and a plastic bag with some diapers thrown in. That’s all they came with.

Alex and I started Tatum’s Totes four years ago to provide children entering foster care in Vermont with essential and comfort items. The children we serve are given a backpack filled with new items, including blankets, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, pajamas, toys, books, school and art supplies, etc. We try to tailor the bags to different age groups. For babies, we provide diaper bags filled with baby items. For teens, we fill the bags with age-appropriate items and gift cards.

Has Tatum’s Totes evolved over the years?

Our hope is to be able to cover the whole state of Vermont one day, but we are successfully covering eight DCF Districts right now. We have a lot of support from the community, including some wonderful ladies covering different areas of the state, and Green Mountain United Way which covers three Districts in the northern part of Vermont. I myself cover Rutland and Middlebury. 

What has been the impact of Tatum’s Totes in the community, and what does that impact mean to you?

Tatum’s Totes is expanding each year. We run a huge Christmas program where people can buy for a child in foster care. We covered over 500 foster children this past year for Christmas. It grows every year. We have helped pay for summer camps, and have gotten cribs, strollers, and car seats for new foster parents. We have helped struggling parents with new school clothes and so much more. I am proud to be Tatum’s Mommy and proud to honor him. This has helped my and Alex’s broken hearts so much. Giving back to the community is truly our pleasure and I hope we can continue to grow bigger and bigger. Everyone’s support, donations, fundraising events, and positive thoughts are so appreciated. The community has made this possible.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

I have learned over the years that there are so many easy ways to make a difference in this world. Little things really amount to big things. Finding a passion and advocating for it, spreading the word and teaching people about it, including more people and asking for help can make any little idea a success. Whether it’s foster care, rescuing animals, supporting our veterans and so many other things, if everyone just did a little it would make this world a better place. 

Alex Grimes with two of his children
Alex Grimes with two of his children
Elizabeth Grimes holding her daughter
Elizabeth Grimes holding one of her children
TJ Donovan getting a tour of Tatum's Totes
Attorney General T.J. Donovan getting a tour of Tatum’s Totes
TJ speaking with Grimes kids
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Alex Grimes speaking with one of the Grimes’ children

Vermonter of the Month: Victoria Lloyd

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.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Victoria “Tori” Lloyd

Earlier this month, we celebrated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the one-year anniversary of the Attorney General Office’s Elder Protection Initiative (EPI). Over the last year, EPI has participated in statewide working groups, undertaken enforcement actions and criminal prosecutions, and advocated to strengthen laws and agency coordination to protect older Vermonters and vulnerable adults. Through this work, we met our June Vermonter of the Month, Victoria “Tori” Lloyd—a tireless advocate raising awareness and supporting prevention of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

After years in service to the State of Vermont as an investigator with Adult Protect Services, Tori formed a nonprofit group designed to bring together public and private stakeholders to prevent and mitigate financial exploitation. The group, Financial Abuse Specialist Team of Vermont or FAST, was formed in 2011 and seeks to end exploitation of elders and vulnerable Vermonters. Building on the success of the Vermont chapter, Tori formed FAST of America four years later in 2015, bringing her advocacy efforts and technical assistance nationwide.

Currently, FAST of Vermont is focused on educating professionals who provide direct services to older Vermonters about the topic of financial exploitation. It is also working to expand statewide coordination in addressing financial exploitation, including through the use of case reviews and the creation of a rapid response team to financial exploitation.

To that end, in June 2018, Tori organized a tristate conference on financial exploitation for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine FAST members and other professionals (including the EPI) working to remedy and prevent the financial exploitation of elders. Tori’s organization, FAST of VT, also recently hosted a convening between the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and public and private stakeholders from across Vermont regarding the financial exploitation of older adults.

The need for advocacy like Tori’s is clear—by 2030, 1 in 3 Vermonters will be age 60 or older. Nationally, of this 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year. This mistreatment can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial exploitation (often by family members or caregivers), and psychological and emotional abuse.

Thank you, Tori, for fighting to ensure that older and vulnerable Vermonters are able to age with justice, dignity, and respect.