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.

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.

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.