Montpelier, VT – Each year the Vermont Council on Rural Development recognizes leaders who have had a transformative impact on their community with the Vermont Community Leadership Award. This year the award will go to Des Hertz of Burke and Mike Strait of Brighton.

Des Hertz
Des Hertz is a resident of Burke Hollow where she lives with her family, dogs, cats and chickens. Des and her husband Chris have two daughters, Erin age 22 and Kate, age 19. Des has been teaching for over 20 years and is currently an instructional coach in the Kingdom East School District. She is also an avid mountain biker, skier, gardener and outdoor enthusiast. Des serves as the chair of the One Burke Board where she has been leading the organization since its inception in a VCRD Community Visit process.

“Des represents the best of what Vermont has to offer. She cares deeply about her hometown and is willing to step forward to make it a better place,” noted VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello. “When VCRD did outreach in Burke to bring the community together we asked everyone—Who is the non-partisan statesperson that can help bring everyone together?  Who is super organized, energetic, and can represent the whole community and provide leadership to bring them together and follow through to lead in the wake of the community engagement? Everyone pointed to Des. Thanks in part to her leadership, Burke residents are pulling together in the same direction. They’ve dedicated themselves to advancing infrastructure of the whole of the town—bringing together the two communities of East and West Burke.”

Mike Strait
Mike Strait is originally from Ohio but made Vermont his home in 2004 and moved to Island Pond in 2010. Mike owns and operates The Hearth & Home Country Store in downtown Island Pond with his husband Tim O’Bar. He’s chairman of the Brighton Selectboard and the Island Pond Renewal Committee; Treasurer of the Brighton Community Forum; an active member of the Island Pond Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Member of the Planning & Zoning Board; Governing Board, Executive Committee and Finance Committee member of Northeast Kingdom Community Broadband; Executive Committee Member Northeast Kingdom Marketing Partnership; member of the NEK Working Communities Challenge Team and previously served as one of the Brighton Town auditors and secretary of the Island Pond Historical Society.

“Mike is a dedicated community leader – the kind of leader that always says yes,” noted Costello. “Whether it’s joining a local committee, helping to organize a regional leadership summit, or speaking at one of VCRD’s statewide events – Mike is someone that you can count on—and someone that his community can always count on to step up where leadership is needed. We all know it’s a quiet corner of the kingdom that has faced serious economic challenges over the years. Today Island Pond feels like it is on a roll with a strengthened downtown, new recreation opportunities and a new feeling of momentum and public spirit—partly because of Mike.”

The awards will be presented tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:00 AM as part of the online launch of VCRD’s new Vermont Community Leadership Network.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is a non-profit organization charged by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral convener at both the local and policy level supporting the progress of Vermont communities.

Past Recipients of the Vermont Community Leadership Award:

  • 2005… Al Stevens, Wells River
  • 2006… Edgar May, Springfield
  • 2007… Monica Greene, Alburgh
  • 2008… Robert McBride, Richard Ewald, Bellows Falls
  • 2009… The Center for an Agricultural Economy, Hardwick
  • 2010… Marcia and Al Perry, Richford
  • 2012… Tara Kelley/Mark Foley/Paul Gallo/Mike Smith, Rutland Creative Economy
  • 2013… Orly Munzing, Strolling of the Heifers, Brattleboro
  • 2015… St. Albans Community Leadership: Liz Gamache, Dominic Cloud, Emerson and Elizabeth Lynn, Warren Hamm
  • 2018… Shannon Barsotti, Pownal
  • 2019…. Emily Maclure, Craftsbury