Vermonter of the Month: Monique Priestley

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 Monique Priestly at The Space On Main in Bradford, VT

Driven by her “love for community in every sense of the word,” our March Vermonter of the Month, Monique Priestley, founded The Space On Main in 2017 as a nonprofit community-based coworking, maker, conference, event, and gallery space in the heart of rural Bradford, Vermont.

Monique grew up on a back road in Piermont, New Hampshire, just over the river from Bradford. From a young age, her parents fostered a love of the arts, learning, hard work, and volunteerism. Monique says that as far back as she can remember, her mom always volunteered in the community and brought her and her sister along to help. In her view, the community was always there to help them in return. Because of this, Monique believes there is strength, energy, and hope in community.

As a teen, Monique moved across the Connecticut River to Bradford. She went on to graduate from Northern Vermont University – Lyndon and then the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program. After completing graduate school in Seattle, Monique returned to Bradford and bought a house. Since then she has served on numerous boards, committees, and commissions, and was recently recognized as the Cohase Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.

Today, Monique continues to demonstrate her dedication to community by founding The Space as a way of fostering entrepreneurship, collaboration, creativity, and innovation in the Vermont/New Hampshire Cohase Region. We recently had the pleasure of touring The Space and learning more about the work Monique is doing and what drives her passion for community:

How did you come to understand the need in your community for a space like this? What made you start this program in a rural place like Bradford, Vermont?

I am involved in quite a few local community groups and nonprofits. Before working on The Space On Main (also referred to as The Space), there weren’t many meetings that happened without someone asking, “How do we engage the young professionals here?” I was always the youngest person in any room (often by a few decades) so this question was often directed at me. At the same time, several of Bradford’s most beloved businesses had closed or moved and there was palpable desperation in the air. I started wondering whether I should move back to Seattle (I went to grad school at University of Washington and work remotely for a company there).

At one particularly hard meeting, a mentor and friend of mine asked me to share an idea I had only told a handful of people. I wanted to create a space where people could gather to work, create, teach, and learn side-by-side. I knew there were people who wanted to engage with the community but did not really need or know how to. I wanted to bring them together.

That meeting turned into an instant buzz of ideas. I went home, sent out an online survey to gauge community interest, and got 85 responses that weekend. That was a lot for rural Vermont. I started meeting with those people one-on-one in their homes, in coffee shops, in their studios, at their offices – figuring out exact needs, desires, prices, challenges, vibe, etc.

What is something that has been a welcome discovery? What is something that has been a challenge?

I am inspired every single day by the people who reach out to find out more about The Space, but more importantly, they reach out to find out how they can become an active member of their communities. They just need someone to listen to their story, to their ideas, and to help talk through the questions that are holding them back. It energizes me, it helps awaken something in them, and it makes me appreciate humanity.

In terms of challenges, the whole process has been one big series of challenges. I did not know the first thing about most of the tasks I needed to complete. Luckily, I have always been a lover of problem-solving, unquenchably curious, resourceful, and stubborn.

What has been the community response?

Honestly, mixed. There are people who understood what The Space was from the beginning and have been amazing – and who really made the entire thing possible by providing guidance, funding, and support. There are people who come in, sit down, and talk through what The Space can mean for them. There are the people who do not understand The Space – or really even the spark that happens when people from diverse backgrounds interact with each other. Then there are the people who just have not heard of it yet. The first few keep me going. The latter few present opportunities to practice marketing and storytelling skills.

You’ve said that about 2,300 people have been to The Space on Main since it opened. Are you drawing just from Bradford or surrounding areas? How do you get the word out?

We are definitely drawing from Bradford and the surrounding areas. We have regular members and attendees from up to 45 minutes away on both sides of the Connecticut River. We have had quite a few people stop in that are visiting family or friends. We have requests from people who want to be members while their kids attend local summer camps. We have had a few people become members for a few days at a time while they scope out housing in the Upper Valley. And our Event Space and Conference Room are being booked all the time by local nonprofits and businesses that need a place to hold meetings, classes, and retreats.

We have mostly focused on social media, Vital Communities listservs, and Google. Features on television networks, in Seven Days, and in local papers have really helped. Word of mouth is the biggest driver. We plan to put more of a focus on print advertising.

What are some lessons you’ve learned about starting a small business? Do you have any advice for other Vermonters starting this?

Have patience, appreciation for timing, and listen to everyone and everything. There have been so many moments when I just could not get through to resources that I was advised to pursue. That was frustrating at first, but then I realized that opportunities to connect were presented to me later, in drastically better circumstances. At this point, it happens so much that it is entertaining to see how someone, or something will end up circling back around.

I think my advice would be to be open to any and all ideas and connections. I say yes, to a lot of things that seem pretty random – a person I should talk to, an idea someone wants to brainstorm, an event someone wants to go to, an article I need to read, but I never walk away from anything without having learned something from it. Those lessons increase my awareness for later discoveries and connections.

You are located right on Main Street in downtown Bradford. Are you working on bringing any other new businesses like yours to the downtown? Any long-term goals for The Space?

The cool thing about The Space and being personally engaged is that people reach out all the time with business or community ideas they need help with. As I connect with various people and organizations, it broadens the resources I can help point others towards.

Along with growing membership and rentals to sustain the nonprofit, our goal right now is to develop and fund programming that can provide support and opportunities to remote workers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and community members. We are also working on funding for equipment that will expand the types of programming that can be offered. We have ideas for using the third floor of the building and have been asked about potential satellites, both of which are longer term goals.

For right now, we are pretty excited for the number of people we have been able to serve in the first five months and cannot wait to see how The Space adapts and evolves over the coming year.

TJ Donovan with Monique Priestly at The Space On Main

National Consumer Protection Week: Resource Roundup

To wrap-up National Consumer Protection Week, we are shining a spotlight on our community partner Vermont 2-1-1, a health and human service helpline offering information and referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Vermont 2-1-1 is a program of the United Ways of Vermont that connects Vermonters to the local agencies, organizations, services and resources they need. Vermont 2-1-1 can help people find resources for basic needs, mental health and substance abuse services, criminal justice and legal services, health care, income support, and more.

Anyone can access Vermont 2-1-1’s confidential and free services by dialing 2-1-1 from anywhere in the state, texting your zip code to 898211 (Monday – Friday from 8AM-8PM), or using their online community resource directory.

Thank you, 2-1-1, for all that you do for Vermonters! Here’s more information on other community referrals for common consumer problems:

Have an insurance complaint?

Have a legal problem?

  • Call Legal Services Vermont at 800-889-2047. An intake specialist will get basic information about you and your legal problem. If they can help you with your legal issue, you will be referred to a paralegal or lawyer at Legal Services Vermont or Vermont Legal Aid. Their services are free. You can also visit their legal help website for information.

Have a banking-related complaint?

  • Contact the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s Banking Division. The Banking Division regulates a variety of entities including banks, lenders, and mortgage brokers. To get help with filing a complaint, call 888-568-4547 or file a complaint online.

Have a complaint with a public utility like a phone or internet provider?


Still not sure who can help? Call CAP at 800-649-2424! Our team of consumer advisors are dedicated to helping Vermonters get the support they need. If CAP can’t help you, we’ll figure out who can.

National Consumer Protection Week: Vermont’s Businesses Are Protected Under Vermont’s Consumer Laws

It’s National Consumer Protection Week! Check in all week for consumer information you should know.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with George Fraser at Dan and Whit’s in Norwich, VT

Businesses can be consumers too! Vermont is unique in that our Consumer Protection Act defines “consumer” to include businesses that are the consumer in a transaction, such as when purchasing goods or services that are not for resale (9 V.S.A. § 2451a(a)). If your business needs help, contact our Small Business Advocate by emailing AGO.SmallBusiness@vermont.gov or calling 800-649-2424.

Here are some recent examples of how the Small Business Advocate has helped Vermont business consumers:

  • Small business paid a listing service for over 5 years of online advertising when it realized that advertiser had published the wrong phone number for the small business. The listing service offered to refund the small business $450 to resolve the issue, but this was significantly less than what the small business had paid for the service. Our Small Business Advocate reached out to the listing service on the small business’ behalf and was able to secure a refund of more than $4,000 to recapture the costs paid for the service.
  • Small business attempted to cancel their lease for credit card processing equipment (the lease was entered before new protections took effect on July 1, 2018), but the leasing company claimed that the small business owner was unable to cancel the lease agreement and needed to pay the remainder of the lease term. Our Small Business Advocate reviewed the lease contract and found that it did not conform to Vermont’s Home Solicitation Sales Act (9 V.S.A. § 2454). The leasing company agreed to cancel the contract, saving the business owner more than $600 over the course of the lease.
  • Small business signed up for a lead generator service but was dissatisfied with the quality of the referrals they received. Small business requested a refund but did not receive a response from the lead generator. Frustrated by the lack of response, they contacted our Small Business Advocate who brought the complaint to the lead generator’s attention and facilitated a refund to the small business of nearly $300.

Does your business need help? Review our office’s webpage for small businesses and contact our Small Business Advocate today. 

National Consumer Protection Week: Used Car Buying Guidance

It’s National Consumer Protection Week! Check in all week for consumer information you should know.

Today, we’re informing consumers about buying a car. Buying a car is often one of the largest purchases made in a consumer’s life. Its vital consumers take the time to review and research their options prior to purchasing a car. These online guides can help:

It’s important to thoroughly check out any vehicle you intend to buy, including its warranty! On dealer sold used cars, the Buyer’s Guide informs about warranty coverage. There are many types of warranties and they vary in the amount of coverage they provide. A car may be sold without a warranty, so it’s important to check this out.

In an effort to encourage you to know before you go car shopping, you can call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Finally, if you have concerns about a car purchase, you may also contact the Consumer Assistance Program to discuss complaint options. CAP may provide complaint mediation, refer to agencies and organizations that may help, or provide an attorney referral, such as to the Vermont BAR Association’s Referral Service (800-639-7036) or to Vermont Legal Aid (800-889-2047).

Vermonters of the Month: Court Diversion Program Volunteers

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Anne Conway, Lamoille County Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year

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.

We are honoring, as our February Vermonters of the Month, the 271 volunteers who generously give their time to Vermont’s Court Diversion programs. This year, Vermont Court Diversion programs celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Court Diversionis a restorative alternative to the traditional criminal justice system for individuals charged with a crime. After police issue a citation for violating the law, the state’s attorney decides whether to refer the person out of the court system to the community-based Court Diversion program. Volunteers are a critical component of this program’s success. They meet as a restorative panel to hear the needs of victims, learn the underlying factors in the individual’s life that contributed to the crime, and create an opportunity for the individual to take responsibility for their actions, repair harm to victims, and rebuild connections to their community.

 We had the pleasure of speaking with two amazing volunteers, Anne Conway of Lamoille Restorative Center and Linda Brown of Windsor County Court Diversion,  about their experiences with Court Diversion and to learn about what drives their passion for volunteerism.

Anne Conway

Born in Hardwick, raised in Morrisville, transplanted to Boston—Anne Conway returned to Morrisville after 28 years away from her home state of Vermont. Anne has been actively volunteering in different capacities for nine years and was honored in February as Lamoille County Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year.

Court Diversion follows a restorative justice model: what does restorative justice mean to you?

I’ve seen people who’ve made unwise decisions and hurt others, as well as themselves, take responsibility for what they did and then repair that harm. To me, that is restorative justice.

How has court diversion/restorative justice impacted your community?

Ultimately, it helps to make our community safer. I have personally witnessed individuals who have valued this second chance provided by Diversion and moved forward in their life on a positive path.

Can you share a story of a memorable panel meeting or related-experience that has had a lasting impact on you?

I remember one participant who had allowed alcohol to become foremost in their life – this led to an arrest, an unpleasant divorce, divided custody of children, and the destruction of their career.  One part of the person’s agreement was to write a letter of ‘apology’ to their family. When the participant returned for the second visit, they read a very sincere and touching letter of apology, regret and resolve. In addition, the person had found a part-time job and was in recovery. As a panel member, I valued seeing the positive results of our program.

Reflecting on your experience as a volunteer, have you observed a change in the program over the course of your experience? 

I have seen more creative ways for an offender to correct the harm they did and improve their view of themselves and the community in which they live.

What impact, if any, has being a Court Diversion volunteer had on your life?

The most satisfying aspect of my panel participation is that I am reminded that we are all in ‘this’ together and that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

Linda Brown

Like Anne, Linda Brown was born and raised in Vermont but left the state as a young adult to pursue a career in New York City. Linda returned to her hometown of Springfield after 30+ years away to care for her mother. Since then, she has been volunteering with the Court Diversion program for more than 15 years.

Can you share a story of a memorable panel meeting or related-experience that has had a lasting impact on you?

Panel meetings are all very interesting, but the thing that had the most lasting impact on me was a dynamic class given to us volunteers called “Bridges Out of Poverty.” It helped me to understand many of the people who come to Diversion and increased my level of compassion for them. I truly believe we must have compassion to work well with people.

Court Diversion follows a restorative justice model: what does restorative justice mean to you?

Restorative justice means to me that a client admits his or her mistake and does something, such as repaying victims or writing an apology letter, to make things right as best they can. I believe all these actions can imprint in a person’s brain and reduce recidivism. And, it certainly helps reduce the backlog of cases in the State of Vermont’s court systems.

Reflecting on your experience as a volunteer, have you observed a change in the program over the course of your experience? 

The most notable change in Court Diversion for me was when participants started to stay in the room while we discussed the restorative agreement. When I first started to volunteer, after we had met with the person, they would step out while we developed a preliminary plan. At first, I did not like this new way. However, I now feel that the participant is more apt to complete the contract that he or she was involved in making.

What impact, if any, has being a Court Diversion volunteer had on your life?

My advice to others looking to make an impact in their community is to volunteer!

Are you interested in becoming a Court Diversion program volunteer? Contact your nearest program to learn more.