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

Vermonter of the Month: Kiran Waqar

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.

Kiran Waqar

Advocate. Volunteer. Mentor. Organizer. Poet. These are just a few ways one can describe Kiran Waqar, our August Vermonter of the Month.

Kiran’s commitment to community service began while in the tenth grade, when she organized a blanket drive benefiting Syrian refugees. While Kiran’s accomplishments since then are too numerous to list, her dedication to service and social justice—as a creator of the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change—is inspiring generations of Vermonters; leaving many of us asking, “What can I do to make a change in my community?

Our office had the pleasure of meeting Kiran when she served as an intern with the Vermont Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit in 2017. During which time, she came up with the concept of Vermonter of the Month “as a way to engage with all sorts of Vermonters.”  In relaying her vision, she shared that “By choosing numerous types of Vermonters with varied achievements you can reach out to a diverse group. I thought that was important.”  While celebrating the one-year anniversary of Vermonter of the Month, we are so delighted to be recognizing its esteemed creator as our August honoree!

Kiran recently graduated from South Burlington High School and will be studying International Studies at American University this fall. We sat down with her earlier this month to talk about her plans for the future and thank her for all that she has done, and continues to do, for Vermonters.

What motivated you to become and advocate, and continues to inspire you today?

I’m motivated to advocate because I have the ability to do so. As the daughter of two immigrants from Pakistan, I grew up with a global perspective. I also grew up knowing the privileges I have as an American citizen. Knowing this, it seemed obvious to me to use the privileges that came with my identity to try to make a larger impact. I also am aware of my identity as a Muslim woman, particularly as one who chooses to wear the hijab. Taking up space is important for me as my identity is constantly being mischaracterized. Something that keeps me going is thinking about if I didn’t share my story, who would?

You’ll be leaving Vermont soon for college, what are you going to miss the most?

Probably the community I’ve found here. I’m going to miss my slam (poetry) family, my friends, my family, my mosque, and everyone who supported Muslim Girls Making Change in so many ways. I’m going to miss long car rides with my fellow poets, the amazing conversations with people post performance, and the joy of seeing new poets take stage. I’m especially going to miss Maglianero Cafe where our poetry journey started and Young Writers Project that fostered and supported it along the way.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters, young and old, hoping to make an impact on their communities?

I would say that every single person can make an impact and that it doesn’t have to be big to be effective. The smallest acts can have large effects and you never really know how you’re going to impact someone. Just being there and speaking your truth can touch someone in ways you don’t know, so I would say be authentic. Don’t try to censor yourself or cater yourself to the audience. It’s most important that you be whatever is most honest for you because you never know who needs to see that.

Kiran Waqar and TJ Donovan

Kiran WaqarKiran Waqar, Ted Hobson, Charity Clark and Chester

Vermonter of the Month: Dan Fraser

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.

Dan Fraser at Dan and Whits

Through helping raise over $1 million for local nonprofits and providing second chances at employment, our July Vermonter of the Month, Dan Fraser of Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, is proving that small businesses can have BIG impacts on their Vermont communities.

Dan D. Fraser is the Vice President and Treasurer of Dan & Whit’s, a family-owned general store which is fondly considered the unofficial community center of Norwich. Dan began working at Dan & Whit’s (named after his grandfather, Dan S. Fraser) afterschool for two hours a week while in the 4th grade. As an adult, Dan continued his dual responsibilities of school and store for many years while working as a special education teacher and continuing to work at the general store. For 14 years, Dan worked in the Hartford (Vermont) and Dresden (New Hampshire) school districts before leaving to focus solely on his work at Dan & Whit’s.

After meeting with Dan and hearing about the positive work he is doing in his community, it’s clear that the same passions and beliefs that informed his work as an educator have carried over to his business. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Dan and Whit’s or meeting Dan, just look to the banner hanging outside of the store—”Hate Does Not Grow In the Rocky Soil of Norwich, Vermont”—for proof of this.

What sets Dan and Whit’s apart from other general stores? What is the mission?

Our motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”—produce, meat, grocery, gas, hunting/fishing, clothing, hardware, lawn/garden, beer/wine, etc.  We are the epicenter of town. Houses are sold locally in reference to us—“Just 2 miles from Dan & Whit’s.” We are the “community center” of Norwich. Our mission is to serve our customers. We set ourselves apart from other general stores in terms of size and product selection. We are open every day from 7am – 9pm, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we close at noon.

 What inspires your work, both at Dan and Whit’s and in the community?

What inspires me—well, giving back to our community, supporting the needs and organizations of our customers creates loyalty.  It’s a win-win.  We like to make things happen when people say that it is impossible. I love a challenge.  Helping others is so easy, and so rewarding. We support almost every sports team, religious organization, and non-profit in town and the Upper Valley. We do a monthly wine tasting, pairing with a different non-profit each month.  We began this in December 2010 and have raised over $50,000. We also have Milk and Egg Monday where customers can purchase milk/eggs that we deliver to the Upper Valley Haven homeless shelter.  Wednesdays are Pizza Wednesday and we donate $1 from each pizza sale to a non-profit.

In December 2013, I began “The 19 Days of Norwich, 1% for the Upper Valley Haven,” where we donated 1% of sales to local homeless shelter. Soon, all the businesses in town joined us. During the second year, many businesses in the Upper Valley joined us—over 100 businesses participated! In 2017, our fifth year, our cumulative total raised is over $1 MILLION!!!

 What have you learned from your work with Dismas of Vermont?

With my background in special education, we employ many individuals with special needs. In addition, we have paired with Dismas of Vermont for many years now to employ newly paroled persons. I have learned that with additional layers of support, this can be very successful. Everyone has something to offer and deserves a second chance.  We also employ homeless individuals who are guests at the Upper Valley Haven.

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

Think outside the box. Talk to nonprofits in your community and see how you can pair to solve issues and provide employment opportunities. Take the first step and get involved.

Dan and Whit's general storeTJ Donovan with Dan Fraser at Dan and Whit's

Dan and Whit's bottle redemption bell

TJ Donovan with George Fraser at Dan and Whit's

TJ Donovan, Dan Fraser and George Fraser standing outside of Dan and Whit's

 

Vermonter of the Month: Claire Hancock

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.

Claire Hancock is a licensed clinical social worker at Copley Hospital. Through 31 years of service, Claire has been a literal and tireless lifeline to people and families in a very challenged system, according to those who know her work.

We first met Claire during the Elder Protection Initiative listening tour—through which we sought to learn about the challenges facing older Vermonters. What we learned, in addition to these challenges, was the profound significance of Claire’s role as an advocate for the most vulnerable Vermonters. Claire, who has been quietly hailed in her local and professional community for decades of service helping patients and their families arrange for the care and services they need upon discharge from the hospital, prevents people from falling through the cracks.

Claire recently retired from full time-work at Copley Hospital, but continues to work a few hours each week as a clinical supervisor. She also recently began working part-time for Lamoille County Mental Health as the Elder Services Clinician, providing counseling and case management to older adults.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced in working with vulnerable patients?

The greatest challenges of working with vulnerable adults are the inadequate resources available to them. While there are many agencies and programs that provide some assistance, it is a fragmented confusing system with complex eligibility criteria, so it is overwhelming and confusing to any person, not just vulnerable adults. Services are improving and expanding slowly but there are still big gaps, like inadequate transportation in the rural areas, lack of affordable housing, inadequate financing for hearing aids and dental issues, and not enough affordable quality care for those with dementia. On a personal level, I have been visually impaired since age 18 and do not drive so I experience the lack of transportation first hand.

What inspires your work, or is rewarding about this work?

What is rewarding for me in this work, is having the privilege of getting to know the unique, interesting lives and personalities of elders; hearing their stories of life as they share their most personal, heartbreaking, and sometimes wonderful experiences. Their wisdom and sweet spirit are so moving and inspiring.

What have you learned from your work?

I have learned that this work requires a great deal of empathy and patience as well as being a “detective” to get down to the facts as well as the emotions of a situation.  Whatever difficulties, conflicts and negative situations people are in, there is always fear and grief underneath. Our job is to access this fear and grief and help to relieve at least some of it. I believe that most people are well intentioned and want to do their best, but bad things do happen to good people.

I have learned that as a “helper,” I only know a small slice of a person’s life experience.  We must not judge. We must not make assumptions. Nothing is black and white; it is all gray, and the work is never done.

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

I believe that each town needs to develop (if they haven’t already) an organized, reliable volunteer program to help fill some of gaps in services, like transportation, food shopping, laundry and other household tasks and companionship. I know that there are many community members who would love to volunteer to help others with various tasks and care of elderly who are sick or have dementia, as this enriches the life of both the volunteer and the elder person.

 

Vermonter of the Month: The Mercy Connections “Justice League”

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

This month we are honoring a team of people as our “Vermonters of the Month.” The Mercy Connections “Justice League” team works on the Justice and Mentoring program. The team is comprised of Joanne nelson, Director of Justice & Mentoring, Kelly Moran, Justice and Mentoring Coordinator for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, Mary Beth Barritt, Justice Liaison and Heather Gilbert, Program Facilitator.

Mercy Connections is an educational values-driven non-profit organization living the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy with an enduring concern for women. By compassionately nurturing self-sufficiency through education, mentoring, entrepreneurship and community, people are empowered to make significant life changes

Mercy Connections has 3 program areas that serve 300 participants: Education & Transition Programs (for adults who have faced adversity in meeting their personal, professional, and academic goals), Justice & Mentoring Programs (for people involved in the criminal justice system), and the Women’s Small Business Program (for aspiring female entrepreneurs).

Joanne, Kelly, Mary Beth and Heather have all dedicated themselves to lifting those around them who need help. The “Justice League” is doing essential work for Vermont women and we are honored to have them as our May Vermonters of the Month.

How has the team’s work impacted the community?

The Justice & Mentoring Program team alternates presence in the Treatment Court Docket to be able to receive referrals to the programs at Mercy Connections. In that action, we invite the women to a meeting with the director to become acquainted and to discover whether there is a desire to enroll in a class or program. Sometimes the referred woman is also interested in becoming a mentee in the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program. The real impact on the woman is potentially multi-faceted. It is sometimes confidence-building to just get to Mercy Connections and enter a place that is not familiar. It is also clear that women feel and learn about a community here that is non-judgmental, educative, safe and brave and in that discovery, a potential participant may grow, relax and learn. There is something connective when the participant understands that Mercy Connections can become a supportive place, connected to the clinical and legal teams in the court docket, but that Mercy Connections is different. It is not mandatory, it is chosen freely…that ability to make a choice freely, well, that is often something that leaves a referred person empowered.

Executive Director, Dolly Fleming, has said that Mercy Connections “…weaves the social fabric of community and one’s [life]” and I believe that means that the (potential) impact on community is that Mercy Connections kind of weaves some of the very difficult, mandated parts of a recovering person’s life in with some of the softer, kinder, happier threads that every human being possesses. We think that holistic approach reflects something very positive on each person and on the community as a whole.

What is the biggest challenge?

We receive referrals to Mercy Connections which are not realized. They are not chosen by prospective participants.

On a challenging day, it may be hard to look at each individual accomplishment and realize joy against a very dismal system, (criminal justice, economy, racial and gender discrimination…), one that just doesn’t work for human beings.

In general, the challenges lie within the participant population and while we strategize and work hard, sometimes the biggest challenge is accepting that we can’t do more than we do.

What is rewarding about this work?

Our programs offer education to people. Education opens up doors. Open doors and access to more people means a more diverse, just world/community.

Knowing that we are working to offer possibilities for a more successful reentry process through the Vermont Women’s Mentoring Program and hence, a lower recidivism rate.

Working with participants who are rejected in many ways by society and learning how wonderful they are. How resilient they are. And how much they have to offer. Seeing a mentee’s face when she realizes we treat her and her mentor in the same respectful manner. That we don’t judge her based on the worst mistakes she has made. Being able to support mentors, some of whom have made serious mistakes, in a way that allows them to grow and give back.

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

Become a volunteer for a worthy cause- one which speaks to the values you hold most dear. The action will allow you to realize greater purpose and meaning in your life.