By Sarah Asch, as seen in the Rutland Herald:

Gov. Phil Scott and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will address the second Vermont Community Leadership Summit at Vermont Technical College in Randolph on Monday. The event promotes local leaders from across the state and is being organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

Paul Costello, the executive director of VCRD, said they are expecting more than 500 attendees from more than 140 towns.

“It’s really to celebrate people from throughout Vermont who are lifting up their communities and helping to do practical projects to make their towns better,” he said. “We’re bringing together people who do all those things and helping connect them to resources and skills training.”

Costello said organizations in attendance will showcase the best of what Vermont has to offer, from leaders in the outdoor industry in Randolph to members of a cooperative day care center in Craftsbury.

Costello explained that VCRD wants everyone to be able to attend, especially young people. To encourage a wider range of participants, VCRD is offering scholarships for young attendees, as well as for anyone who does not feel they can afford to pay the $50 registration fee.

Costello said, “You don’t have to be an official leader to be there. In a democracy, anybody can be a leader. Anybody is welcome to attend.”

Since the first summit last year, Costello said staff members at VCRD have been working to improve how they serve local communities. He plans to announce some of their new programs and initiatives Monday.

“We’re really using this event to transform our organization,” he said. “We’re going to announce several things, one of which is, we’re going to develop a community resource guide.”

The guide will lay out steps community members can follow to undertake improvement projects, as well offer contacts for leaders in other towns that have worked on similar efforts.

The summit will include more than 60 speakers who will lead skills workshops and visioning sessions. These workshops will cover topics including how to run a good meeting, how to increase public engagement and how to encourage diverse leadership.

Mike Coppinger, executive director of the Killington Pico Area Association, was asked to sit on a panel called “Advancing Marketing and Tourism.” Coppinger plans to share his office’s success with a podcast they recently launched called “Life at 4241: Living in the Killington Valley.”

“It’s a podcast we do once a month, and it talks about the lifestyle, events and trends in the Killington region,” he said. “Podcasts are a really inexpensive way to help deliver your message. It’s something we’ve had a lot of fun with.”

Coppinger said the goal of the podcast is to increase tourism to Killington and to attract new residents. In addition to serving as a panelist, Coppinger plans to take advantage of the summit and attend other talks.

“I’m hoping to pick up ideas from other directors and other people in Vermont for content we can use on our podcast and other ideas we can use at the Killington Pico Area Association,” he said.“I think it’s great that they’re putting on an event like this. Any time you can bring like-minded people together, it’s a great opportunity for an exchange of ideas.”

For his part, Costello hopes that leaders leave the summit ready to try new initiatives and ideas.

“So many people in small towns don’t really know what their neighbors are doing. I hope people leave inspired. I hope people leave with confidence that great things are happening in other towns,” he said. “It will be a great opportunity for leaders to connect with each other and with organizations and agencies that can help them be successful in the future.”

He said he believes that swapping ideas between different communities helps foster a healthy society.

“For us, democracy is founded on individuals stepping up in leadership,” he said. “Nobody needs permission to step up and build a project to better their community, and the more people who do that, the stronger our democracy and the more hope we have for the future.”