News and AnnouncementsPaul Costello VCRD

By Keith Whitcomb Jr., as seen in the Rutland Herald:

MONTPELIER — After 21 years, the head of a group that’s helped organize hundreds of communities across the state is stepping down.

Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) is moving on come September.

VCRD is widely known across the state for the community forums it facilitates. Mendon underwent the process recently with scores of residents meeting to identify their priorities as a community, then breaking into smaller working groups to make projects happen.

“When you do this work day in and day out, the thing you’re most proud of is not of yourself, it’s of what people do, the neighborliness of Vermonters and the way that they step up, participate in democracy and they work,” he said Wednesday. “You think about some of the smaller rural towns that struggle and the people in them that are determined to make the best of their opportunities for the future. It’s inspiring.”

According to VCRD, his last day will be Sept. 30. In the meantime, the VCRD board of directors will have a steering committee work with a company called Eos Transition Partners to search nationally for a new executive director.

“Paul Costello is a Vermont treasure. Our state has benefited beyond measure from his wise counsel to everyone from governors to select board members to community leaders,” stated Julie Moore, chair of the VCRD board, in a prepared statement. “We look forward to celebrating all of his accomplishments. The VCRD board is committed to finding a new executive director who will continue the council’s long tradition of focusing on our communities to build an even brighter future for our state. A national search has begun to do just that.”

Costello said he let the VCRD board know about his decision nine months ago.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” he said. “I just can’t work at the same speed that I used to, and I’ve always loved the energy of this job, but I think it’s time to open up for another generation of leadership.”

He said he’s not sure what he’ll do next, and he’s in no hurry. He plans to stay in Vermont. He feels the VCRD will be able to find a suitable replacement.

“I hope it’s a person who is empathetic, who looks for the best in everybody and can bring people together,” he said. “I think we have a good culture as a listening organization that respects the leadership of the people we connect with and works to see how we can leverage our common effort together for a greater impact. I’m sure they’ll find someone who can help do that.”

Listening is the core of what the VCRD does, he said. It doesn’t tell towns and communities what to do, because it doesn’t believe it knows what they should do.

“People locally know better than we do, so our job is to help bring them together and provide a structure that helps them make good decisions and gear up, and when we see that happen you feel really proud of a place,” said Costello. “You kind of fall in love with every town you work with and then you leave and you’re just amazed by what good things people do.” Every town has many groups and organizations with different missions, Costello said, from arts councils to select boards to veterans organizations. These days, it’s harder for people to meet and work together, but it’s crucial that leaders and workers not get trapped in “bubbles” where they don’t know what others outside their sphere are doing.

“You’re never done with economic and community development,” he said. “Sometimes you leave a town knowing all their challenges, and it’s heavy. I think in the policy arena, the Legislature and the governor do everything in their power to lift the state up, and there’s long-term fundamental challenges that don’t go away very quickly that we can’t give up on.”