Vermonter of the Month: Luke Stafford

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.

Luke Stafford owns Mondo Mediaworks, Inc., a digital marketing agency specializing in content development for the web. He earned a BA in Journalism at Saint Michael’s College. After landing in Brattleboro with his wife, an artist, he worked in the marketing department at Mount Snow until 2009. He then founded Mondo, and in the eight years since it has grown into a 17-person shop. The company’s Values Statement is to build its surrounding community through economic development. It is proudly a certified B Corporation (“B-Corp”), which are for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Luke also sits on the board of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS).

How did you learn about becoming a B-corp, and why was it a fit for Mondo?

I’d been hearing about B-Corps for years, mainly from exposure to certified Vermont brands like King Arthur and Ben and Jerry’s. Because they are such large, product-based companies, I never thought seriously about our small marketing agency being eligible. One day I was explaining Mondo’s mission and values to our accountant, who operates an impact-driven business herself, and she recommended I speak to a local person who is knowledgeable on the certification process. Around the same time, a few of Mondo’s employees were learning about B-Corps. All of a sudden, it seemed doable.

Joining the B Corp movement is a fit for Mondo because, like a lot of companies, we’re run by people. And most people — or, I could argue, all people —  want to contribute  to something bigger than monetary profit in their jobs.

What prompted you to make economic growth in Brattleboro and Vermont as a whole part of Mondo’s mission?

Since I started Mondo in 2010, there was a broad values statement to “give back to the community.” We donated to local organizations and supported local events, but it didn’t go much further than that. Then, in 2015, I got my first glimpse at the data coming out of the Vermont Futures Project, which clearly projected that the Vermont economy would be in big trouble if we didn’t solve some serious problems around workforce and population. I resolved that I couldn’t sit idly by and let the projections become reality.

What impact have you had, with Mondo and independently, on your community?

Last year we paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries to Mondolians who live, shop and play in the Brattleboro area. Most of those jobs didn’t exist a few years earlier. Of course, we can’t attribute a thriving Main St. or a restaurant opening solely to new Mondo jobs, but it feels great to see new Mondolians investing in the community, whether it’s buying a house or just going to the movies in Brattleboro’s historic theatre. As for myself, I have the privilege of sitting on the boards of my local elementary school and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, where I advocate for programs and policies that make Vermont the best place to live for young families.

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

You’re going to start thinking that I’m an overly obsessed fanboy, but really, it’s Vermont. Not just the lifestyle, but the landscape, the people, the… everything. I knew I was going to be a Vermonter immediately after my first snowboarding trip to Stratton when I was 14, and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Specifically, my inspiration comes from my weekend hobbies: snowboarding, logging and processing firewood from our property, maple syrup making. Lately, my best ideas are surfacing during  pop-up camper trips with my family to Vermont State Parks. The four of us are working to join the “251 Club,” whereby we visit all 251 towns in the state. We’re only about 10% of the way through, but it’s been a great way to explore the state and make memories with our 2 daughters. Check with me in 10 years to see if we’ve hit all 251.

What have you learned from this community work?

Democracy is alive and well in Vermont. I was blown away when I attended my first Town Meeting Day. It’s a very beautiful thing that everyone in this state truly has a voice. But it’s also the frustrating thing, right? Because for everyone who wants to see change, there is someone who likes things the way they are, thank you very much. When I moved to Brattleboro 13 years ago, I got involved with a committee to build a skatepark in town, thinking we’d be able to accomplish the goal within a few years. But some townspeople did not want a skatepark in the downtown area. Their voices were heard loud and clear, which I very much respect. But it means that getting things done can take a long time. In the end, though, I trust the process.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

I understand that big time commitments to boards or volunteerism is not always possible. But I would argue that little gestures, added up, have a much bigger impact. Picking up a piece of litter on the street makes for a cleaner downtown. And that clean, inviting sidewalk may be the small detail that reminds residents, “Hey, this really is a great town. I love it here.” That person will speak highly of the town to others, and the message continues to spread. Our everyday actions, and how we choose to speak about our communities, have huge consequences.

What advice do you have for businesses considering a B-corp certification?

First, it’s not easy to be certified. At least it wasn’t for us as a young company. But it spurred us to make a lot of “grown up company” decisions about our policies and standards. It took us about 9 months and we hired a consultant/project manager to get everything we needed in place. Today, we have an employee who maintains our B-Corp status as part of her job, which involves everything from monitoring our electricity usage to organizing our volunteer days. But it’s 100% worth it. Some of our best job applicants come through the B-Corp job board, and it’s a helpful distinction during the recruiting process. We regularly attend B-Corp-sponsored events, where we’ve met other B-Corps and shared ideas about sustainable ways to grow our companies. But the biggest piece of advice I could give is that your values at the company come first; if it aligns with B-Corp requirements, awesome. But stay true to your values, always.

Avoid Scams & Identity Theft this Tax Season

April showers bring May flowers…and tax season.

Tax season is stressful enough without being worried about getting scammed. Yet threatening scammers pretending to be from the IRS make up almost half of the 5,000+ scam call reports that the Consumer Assistance Program received last year!

Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Tax Comissioner Kaj Samsom recently held a joint event to warn consumers and raise awareness about tax and identity theft scams. They informed the public that the IRS will never call you directly if you owe money.

Many Vermonters are also concerned about tax identity theft.

The first way to prevent this type of theft is to protect your Social Security number. Never give out sensitive personal information to an unknown entity. Make sure your passwords are secure and not easily guessed. If your Social Security number has been stolen, file your tax returns early so that no one else with stolen information has time to file a return on your behalf.

You can also register to monitor your information, so you know if there’s an issue such as a fraudulent tax return.  You can visit: https://www.irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account.

If a fraudulent tax return is indeed filed—your return is rejected because it is a duplicate file, or you are instructed to do so—complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. The IRS requests that you fill out this form online then mail it according to instructions.

You may also contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit of the IRS at 1-800-908-4490. The Attorney General’s office urges Vermonters to:

  • Beware of unsolicited calls or emails
  • Don’t give out personal information
  • Be alert to scare tactics: Scammers demand immediate action or threaten arrest or court action. Don’t talk to them: hang up!
  • Don’t open attachments: hit delete!

Vermonter of the Month: Bonnie Evans

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.

Bonnie Evans, a native of St. Albans, has been quietly but tirelessly supporting her community in ways big and small. We are thrilled to honor her as Vermonter of the Month, and her friends and neighbors were eager to express their support. CAP spoke with several folks in Franklin County that described Bonnie as thoughtful and reliable, who warms the area – literally and figuratively – with her beautiful quilts!

Bonnie was born and raised in St. Albans. She has lived in Swanton since she and her husband Mike, her high school sweetheart, built a house there 40 years ago. They have two terrific daughters and seven wonderful grandchildren.

Bonnie graduated from college in New York with an Associates degree in dental hygiene. Before she retired six years ago, she worked at the same dental practice for nearly 43 years, taking care of three generations of Vermonters.

Bonnie primarily supports her community through quilting! She volunteers at Northwestern Medical Center (NMC), donates quilts to myriad local organizations, and is part of the Franklin County Quilters Guild. Read more about Bonnie below.

Which community effort makes you the proudest?

My biggest contribution personally and the one I am most proud of is the work I do making about 100 quilts per year for the Northwestern Medical Center (NMC). I make quilts for Palliative Care patients and their families, Breast Cancer Comfort Quilts for patients undergoing surgery, as well as quilts to be given out to little ones coming through the Emergency Department.  You would only need to read a few of the thank you notes I get that would melt your heart…at least it sure does mine.

How did you get started with this effort?

It was ten years ago that I was approached by one of the nurses whose family member had won one of the quilts I had donated to a local charity raffle; and she asked if I had any interest in making quilts for the hospital. It blossomed from about 12 quilts the first year to 101 last year.  The Palliative Care/Comfort Care program at NMC is phenomenal and I only play a small part with the quilts that the patients and their families receive. I am only a small part of the great things in this community and our hospital.

What other members of the community do you support with your quilts?

Several years ago I got a group of friends together, and we made Veterans Quilts for the local Veterans, and even sent some to the White River Junction VA Hospital.  My husband is a Vietnam Veteran.  I most recently made a quilt that my husband and I presented in a ceremony honoring William Busier from Essex, a WWII POW who just turned 100 years old.  It has been my goal to get as many quilts to those veterans as I can.

I have over the years made quilts for the Fletcher Allen Children’s Clinic (now UVM), the Ronald McDonald House, Make-A-Wish Foundation, our local veterinarian’s “Needy Pet Fund,” Chester’s Promise Horse Rescue, local schools for playground equipment, and just last week made a quilt for the St. Albans Rotary Expo fundraiser.

We heard a rumor that you do additional volunteer work!

Right now I volunteer at the Northwestern Medical Center one day a week, helping patients navigate our new wonderful surroundings.  I am also the Hospitality Chair for the Hospital Auxiliary and coordinate our meetings throughout the year.

I have also been actively involved with the Franklin County Quilters Guild (a local non-profit) for 20 years. I think I was president 4 times and have held every office!! Our guild supports many local charities throughout the year and I am involved in pretty much all facets of that. As a group we provide quilts to Home Health, Laurie’s House, local disaster victims (to mention a few) and support our local food shelves. Quilters are a very generous group of people.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

I think if you don’t get involved in something in your community, you never know what you can achieve. I get such satisfaction from volunteering and making and donating these quilts, I can’t imagine not doing it. I often wonder how I had time to work!

Vermonter of the Month: Sharon Russell

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.

Sharon Garafano Russell is the Executive Director of the Rutland City Rescue Mission, better known at the Open Door Mission. The Open Door Mission houses 51 people and this year they provided 36,000 meals in the Soup Kitchen which serves residents of the Mission and people on the street. They have a staff of 11 that work around the clock providing meals, clean bedding and a clean and safe home for both residents and those just staying a few nights. The Mission serves three meals a day and runs on the proceeds of their thrift store, an annual golf tournament and individual donations. Under Sharon’s leadership, this structure has become a model for veteran shelters across the country.

Sharon has dedicated her life to helping the disenfranchised, supporting all people independent of their appearance, past or place in life. She has received countless awards over the years, most recently “The Unsung Hero Award” from her alma mater Mount St. Joseph Academy (MSJ Class of ’65).

After growing up in Rutland, Sharon completed her bachelors in early education from the University of Maryland. She then taught special education and served as the head of the Adult Education Program at the Brandon Training School for eleven years. This was followed by the state exam for social work, which led her to the Open Door Mission.

Sharon lives in Rutland with her two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

What inspires your work with the Open Door Mission?

What inspires me most is I went to MSJ and was always taught by nuns who said we should pay our good luck forward, and so too again when I attended The College of St Joseph. Second, and probably the most important, is that Jody Fish, a classmate at MSJ, went to Vietnam and never returned. That is why I contract with the VA to work with veterans.

What impact has the Open Door Mission had on your community?

The impact on our community is that the disenfranchised and the homeless veteran has a warm bed and 3 hot meals daily in our soup kitchen, where we serve 120 meals daily. We also serve folks from the street. There is nothing better then to see a small child go home with a full tummy and a smile–it makes my day–or when a veteran who has been on the streets in larger cities tells us how special our food is.

What have you learned from your work at the Open Door Mission?

Every day I learn something new. A few of those lessons are: but for how my life has been I could be on the streets; I have learned that labels are for cans, not for people; and we don’t always know what is causing people to have addictions or mental illness. I have learned if each one of us tries, we can make a difference in the world.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

My advice for others is to make a impact on the community, stop and look around. You will see the need. Don’t judge people, for you will find that most are good people who have chosen that road that is too often traveled. I suggest instead, as Robert Frost wrote, to take the one “less traveled” in order to make a difference.

Vermonter of the Month: Darcie McCann

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.Darcie McCann has served as the Director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber for 23 years. She is a native of the Northeast Kingdom, and supports her community in myriad ways.

Darcie is an avid sports fan, known for her chocolate chip cookies, writes a biweekly column for the Caledonian-Record and has been involved in many local community groups and organizations. This includes: mentoring local students, serving on the boards of the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and Burklyn Arts Council, participating in the Regional Tourism Council and her local church, and supporting Vermont chambers across the state as President of Chamber Benefits, Inc.

Darcie tirelessly promotes the NEK as a place to visit, or live and start a business. She travels to Eastern states and Canada, and plans the Colors of the Kingdom and Business Celebration events through her role at the Chamber. She also spearheaded the creation of an Online Business Resource Guide — an exceptional effort to bring vibrancy back to the Kingdom.

Darcie returned to the Kingdom after a career in journalism, after serving as the executive editor of the Wellesley Townsman in Massachusetts and a reporter and section editor at a San Diego paper. She worked in college public relations at Merrimack College and Lyndon State College before taking the Northeast Kingdom Chamber post. Married for 29 years, the recently widowed mother of two adult children is looking forward to her daughter getting married in May 2018.

How did you get involved with the Chamber?

I got persuaded to try for the Northeast Kingdom Chamber position by the previous director, a good friend, who was leaving the post for another job.  I figured I would stay at the chamber job, tops, for 10 years … and here I am, celebrating my 23rd year at the chamber. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t still love it and it wasn’t a challenge. I never know what the next day will bring.

How have you supported the community through your work with the Chamber?

Working at a chamber in the Northeast Kingdom means that you not only have to look at the economic climate of the region but also its socioeconomic variables. I have tried to not only get involved with regionwide and statewide organizations that strengthen the economic landscape but look at the reasons why we have historically had the weakest economy in the state and work to solve those problems as well.

How does supporting the NEK business community support the community at large?

The Northeast Kingdom business community is, in fact, your neighbors. What we strive to do at the chamber is to remove some of the roadblocks that businesses face to help our fellow residents succeed. We not only help bring in additional business through aggressive marketing but also save them money through our many discount benefit programs. I am a native of the Kingdom. I think that is one of the reasons I am still here at the chamber after 20 years; when you love a place so much, you want to see it not only flourish but thrive.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

My advice for anyone thinking of helping out in their community or region is that it is not a burden but a privilege. I have gotten far more from being involved in the Kingdom than I have given, I can tell you that. I have gained a legion of friends, satisfaction from helping the Kingdom and a really broad and diverse support system. If you love what you are doing, it is never a chore.