The VT Community Leadership Award is presented each year to celebrate Vermonters who exemplify “dedication, integrity and honorable service to community and to rural Vermont,” and who have had a “transformational” effect on their communities. We present the award to highlight the work of community heroes who epitomize the best spirit of local community service, who are volunteers — not paid employees or elected officials — and whose work has made their community a better place.

2023 Community Leadership Award

The 2023 Vermont Community Leadership Award was presented to the four members who are the driving force behind the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion: Al Wakefield, Bob Harnish, Norm Cohen, and Barbara Noyes Pulling – all community members and residents of Rutland County. All have deep roots around the state and bring humor, dedication, purpose, and integrity to those they interact with.

In 2020, Harnish and Wakefield decided to start asking every town in Vermont to adopt and implement a “Declaration of Inclusion.” The Declaration raises awareness about systemic racism, the importance of diversity in contributing to the state’s economy, and the need to be proactive in signaling that Vermont is a welcoming place. As of July 25, 116 towns across the state have adopted the Declaration. Over 70% of Vermont residents live in those towns.

It is an honor to recognize these tremendous community leaders who are using their skills and talents to build a stronger future for all of us here in Vermont.

2022 Lifetime Leadership Awards

Sarah Carpenter Sarah Carpenter, a native of Burlington, was elected Burlington City Councilor in 2020 and serves on the Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization Committee, the Charter Change Committee and as Chair of the Human Resources Committee. She also is Chair of the Vermont Rental Housing Advisory Board. Sarah served as Executive Director of Vermont Housing Finance Agency 1998-2018 and as Executive Director of Cathedral Square Corp from 1983-1998.

Brenda Torpy was a founder, and the Director of Champlain Housing Trust from 1991-2021. CHT is internationally recognized for iBrenda Torpyts leadership in community-led, permanently affordable housing, receiving the UN World Habitat Award in 2008. Brenda started as a community organizer in rural Vermont, worked as Bernie’s first Housing Director in Burlington, and at the VHFA on Policy and Program Development. She formed and led Northgate Non-profit to acquire, preserve and improve 336 at-risk affordable rentals on behalf of the tenants who govern it now. Brenda was a Ford Foundation leader for a Changing World, and has served on the Advisory Committees of the region’s Home Loan and Federal Reserve Banks and the Boards of the National CLT Network and successor Grounded Solutions Network. Brenda now leads TA\CHT providing direct training and technical assistance on these models across the US and internationally.

2022 Community Leadership Award

Pam Parsons

Pamela Parsons was hired as the Executive Director of Northern Tier Center for Health (NOTCH) in 1999. Pam graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor’s degree in Home Economics. Her diverse interests and talents result in a broad employment history, including work at Franklin County Home Health, in education, and as co-owner of a construction company. Through Pam’s leadership, NOTCH has thrived – providing good jobs in a region of the state that has a large population with family income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Pam is actively involved in her community and has served on several Boards of Directors including those of OneCare VT, Bi-State Primary Care Association, Vermont Rural Ventures, Richford Economic Advancement Corporation, Richford Renaissance Corporation, and Pharmacy Network, LLC. Pam has committed herself to improving the health and welfare of area residents. Her involvement with multiple community partners epitomizes Pam’s collaborative and innovative approach for taking care of people.

2020 Community Leadership Award

Des HertzDes Hertz is a resident of Burke Hollow where she lives with her family, dogs, cats and chickens. 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. When VCRD kicked off the Community Visit work in Burke, Des immediately stood out as a strong leader with a passion for and dedication to the success of her hometown. Des has an incredible ability to bring people in to community process and get them engaged and excited for the work, while also staying grounded, organized and practical as she guides community leaders towards next steps. 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. It was a pleasure to work with Des and has been inspiring to follow her continued leadership and the progress she has helped catalyze in 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. 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.

2019 – Lifetime Leadership Award presented to Gus Seelig

Gus SeeligThe 2019 Community Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award was presented on August 12, 2019 to the Executive Director of the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, Gus Seelig. Under his leadership, VHCB has invested $370 million in state funding to develop or rehabilitate 13,000 affordable homes, to conserve 740 farms comprising 167,000 acres, and 267,600 acres of natural areas and recreational and forest lands, and to restore 71 historic community buildings. Gus previously served as the Executive Director of the Central Vermont Community Action Council, a low‐income advocacy and community development organization. Gus has also served on the Affordable Housing Program Advisory Board for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. He is a past chair and current board member of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, and Vice‐Chair of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. He is Town Moderator in Calais, Vermont. “In his careful way, Gus embodies for so many of us many of the best ideals as Vermonters—conservation of the land married to strong town centers, and housing with dignity for all members of the VT community,” said VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello.  “Gus is a collaborative engineer and peerless champion of the people, buildings and land of Vermont.”Emily Maclure

2019 Community Leadership Award

The 2019 Community Leadership Award was presented to the owner and operator of the Craftsbury General Store, Emily Maclure. Emily (shown on left) has owned the store since 2012 with Kit Basom (right). She grew up in Orleans Vermont, but spent a decade living in Los Angeles as an event organizer. The sense of community is what brought her back to the NEK and also what drives her career. Emily is vice chair of the Craftsbury Planning Commission, Co‐Chair of the Center for An Agricultural Economy Board and one of the proud hosts of the Annual Craftsbury Block Party. When VCRD produced the Craftsbury Community Visit process in 2015, Emily served as Community Visit Chair. Everywhere she goes, Emily builds community through food and fun, along with her positive energy and can do spirit. Emily’s leadership skills were on full display during our Community Visit in Craftsbury as she rallied people together to get big things done. She and her partner Evan Karp recently had a daughter, their first child Esmé, and are enjoying all the fun new adventures of parenthood.

Hank & Molly LambertLifetime Leadership Award presented to Hank and Molly Lambert

On October 1, 2018, VCRD presented the Community Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award to Molly and Hank Lambert of Swanton, both who have deep experience working on behalf of Vermont communities and also in their own community of Swanton. Molly began her work in Vermont communities in 1986 when she served on the South Burlington City Council and at the same time was Executive Director of the Downtown Burlington Development Association. She went on to serve as Executive Director and Manager of the Church Street Marketplace, an award-winning business improvement district in the heart of downtown Burlington; Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development in the cabinet of Governor Howard Dean, the first woman to hold the position (the state’s Downtown Program was implemented during her tenure); and after 7 years as President of the Vermont Captive Insurance Association, Molly was appointed State Director of USDA Rural Development for Vermont and New Hampshire by President Barack Obama. Since retiring in 2013, Molly served as Interim Director for Building Bright Futures, a statewide organization dedicated to early childhood development. She also took on the interim role for the United Way of Northwest Vermont in 2017. Hank has over 35 years of experience serving Vermont municipal governments in the fields of management, transportation, and alternative dispute resolution. His experience includes service as town manager of Manchester VT, Commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs, and Director of the Vermont Local Roads Program. Since retiring in 2007, he has served in interim management positions for St. Albans Town, Hinesburg, Huntington, and the City of Winooski and has conducted a number of dispute resolution sessions for VT municipalities. Molly and Hank are active participants in the Swanton Enhancement Project, a citizen-led community and economic development initiative, that hosted a VCRD Community Visit in 2015 that they co-chaired. Molly and Hank are a great team, working together for Swanton and also in so many roles supporting Vermonters. The positive impacts of their work probably touches every single community in Vermont.

Shannon Barsotti, Pownal

Shannon BarsottiOn Monday, October 1, 2018 VCRD presented its 2018 Vermont Community Leadership Award to Shannon Barsotti, local chair of the Empower Pownal process, co-founder of Discover Pownal, and former member of the Pownal Planning Commission. Shannon was the local lead in applying for and organizing Empower Pownal, the inaugural community to participate in VCRD’s Climate Economy Model Communities Program. Shannon showed tremendous poise and commitment throughout the intense community conversations prompted by the “Empower Pownal’ process. At every opportunity she listened to her neighbors and worked to rally behind common initiatives. Empower Pownal has evolved into Discover Pownal, which promotes the growth and development of Pownal’s local businesses and farms, social organizations, land stewardship, and outdoor recreation through outreach, education, and community events. Discover Pownal and the task forces working locally with Shannon’s support are bringing unity and progress to this great Vermont town. Shannon is also co-owner of Longview Farm in Pownal where she and her family raise lamb for sale in the tri-state region.

2017 – Lifetime Leadership Award presented to Paul Bruhn

Paul BruhnOn Thursday, June 8th the Vermont Council on Rural Development presented its annual Vermont Lifetime Leadership Award to Paul Bruhn, the Executive Director of Preservation Trust of Vermont for his transformational leadership in historic preservation and community development. The award was presented at the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference at Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction by VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello and VCRD Board Chair and Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Ted Brady. According to Costello, “No one in the history of Vermont has had the reach and impact of Paul Bruhn for historic preservation, building restoration, Vermont downtown development, and community encouragement and empowerment.” As Senator Patrick Leahy’s first campaign manager, and for four years his chief of staff in DC, Bruhn was instrumental in finding the resources to drive the development of Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace. In 1980 Paul helped to found the Preservation Trust which has led over 1,500 community and historic preservation projects throughout Vermont from the Grand Isle Lake House and the Putney General Store to the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor, Richmond’s Round Church, and The Single Chair at Mad River Glen. For many of us, Paul is the touchstone to Vermont’s living heritage and the catalyst for the vital future of Vermont’s special places.

2016 – Lifetime Leadership Award presented to Rick Davis

On Monday, February 22nd the Vermont Council on Rural Development presented its Lifetime Leadership Award to Rick Davis, founder and leader of the Permanent Fund. Rick’s work  has impacted all of Vermont by changing the way Vermonters understand the learning needs of young children and leading efforts to structurally advance early childhood educational opportunities.

2015 – Lifetime Leadership Award presented to John Ewing

John EwingOn Wednesday , February 18th the Vermont Council on Rural Development presented its first-ever Lifetime Leadership Award to John Ewing of Burlington Vermont. As former president of the Bank of Vermont, founder of the Vermont Forum on Sprawl, and past Chair of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, John has stood as much as any Vermonter for maintaining the balance between a strong economy and conserving the best of the culture and landscape of Vermont.


2015 – Community Leaders of St. Albans

VCRD presented its 2015 Community Leadership Award to St. Albans residents City Manager Dominic Cloud, Mayor Liz Gamache, Warren Hamm from the St. AlbansSt Albans Community Leadership Historical Society, and Emerson and Suzanne Lynn publishers of the St. Albans Messenger.   Past recipients have included the Rutland Creative Economy Leadership Team, the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, Al and Marcia Perry of Richford Vermont, and Robert McBride and Richard Ewald of Bellows Falls.  Awardees are recognized for work that has had a “transformational effect on their communities.” City Manager Dominic Cloud and Mayor Liz Gamache were especially recognized for the tremendous accomplishments made in refurbishing historic downtown buildings, developing a critically important new parking facility, advancing the construction of a downtown hotel, encouraging over $85 million dollars in manufacturing investment at the St. Albans Coop and Mylan Techologies, and supporting the development of a new 18,000 square foot building on Main Street for Ace Hardware.  Admiral Warren Hamm was praised for his wonderful leadership in the revitalization of the top notch St. Albans Museum and the St. Albans Raid Anniversary Festival produced last year.  Finally, Suzanne and Emerson Lynn were recognized for their energy in organizing the Franklin County Wine and Cheese Festival, the Annual Running of the Bells and other events, but most especially for the powerful contribution of the St. Albans Messenger to local pride, momentum and community.  In the words of VCRD co-presenters Catherine Dimitruk of the NWRPC and Tim Smith of Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation, this team has made St. Albans, “a better place to shop, a better place to dine, a better place to do business and most importantly, a better place to raise a family.”

2013 – Orly Munzing, Brattleboro

Orly MunzingIn 2001, Orly Munzing founded Strolling of the Heifers, a non-profit organization, with the mission of connecting people with healthy local food and adding to their understanding of the value of local food systems and sustainable, resilient communities. Its signature event is the annual Strolling of the Heifers Parade and festival, which draws over 50,000 people to Brattleboro, Vermont in June each year. Its year-round cycle of events also includes the Slow Living Summit, an annual conference about healthy, resilient, sharing communities; the Vermont Farm/Food Business Plan Competition with $90,000 in funding for innovative, entrepreneurial business plans; the annual Locavore Index ranking the 50 states in terms of their commitment to local food; a new Farm/Food Education Center under development in downtown Brattleboro, and other projects and events. On the Web: Orly is committed, she has energy, she has compassion, she has unlimited leadership skills, she has a sense of community, she’s an educator, and she gets things done! Here’s an article in the Brattleboro Reformer about it.

2012 – Volunteers of the Rutland Creative Economy

Since the inception of the Rutland Creative Economy movement six years ago, more than 400 Rutlanders have contributed their ideas and energy to advance projects designed to make Rutland a more dynamic, exciting, and fun place to live and work. This hard-working team has initiated and supported so many wonderful efforts advancing the cultural vitality, commerce and the economic development in Rutland City. Even the short list of their contributions is impressive: Building Friday Night Live! – the biggest party in Rutland County; Supporting the expansion of the Farmers’ Market; Redesigning downtown places – especially contributing ideas for Evelyn Street; Revitalizing and redeveloping the Center Street Alley; Planning and developing the bike and walking path through the heart of the city; Developing a dog park; Developing “Sustainable Rutland,” raising money for environmental projects, distributing reusable canvas bags, holding Trash 2 Art, setting up downtown recycling, leading localvore efforts, advancing energy efficiency and sustainability in Rutland; Producing successful Art Hops; Opening the Wonderfeet Children’s Museum – a museum without walls, so far; Branding Rutland as “Connected Naturally!” At VCRD, we work with towns and small cities throughout Vermont. Today, when we want to encourage community residents to step up, work together, and line up to advance priorities, we point to Rutland and the projects that have flourished in recent years. Rutland’s Creative Economy volunteers are leading some of best work for Rutland’s future – and for Vermont’s. We presented the award at Rutland’s Friday Night Live on August 3rd. Read more in a commentary.

2010 – Albert and Marcia Perry

The following is excerpted from the dedication speech given by Catherine Dimitruk at VCRD’s Summit on the Future of Vermont’s Working Landscape. Read the full speech by clicking HERE.

Richford is a small community located along the northern border. It is a former mill town, often cited for its struggles with employment, education and poverty. But Richford has another side, one of committed citizens working together to bring ideas and vision to reality. Albert and Marcia Perry are at the forefront of this side of Richford. Marcia and Albert were founding members of Richford Renaissance Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing organization; Albert currently serves as the President, Marcia as Secretary. Together Albert and Marcia can be credited with the success of several important projects for Richford, the most visible being the renovation of the Main Street Mill. This former Sweat-Comings furniture plant had been vacant since 1996. With the help of many partners, it is now the home to affordable apartments, the Richford Health Center and Mac’s Market. Albert and Marcia were both tireless in their work to ensure this project became a reality. The Main Street Mill is a beautiful multi-story, 47,000 square foot example of their ability to identify a local need and work to turn a vision into reality. Despite all of their time working on difficult and often frustrating projects, Albert and Marcia remain idealistic and convey a hope for possibilities of the future, and that hope is contagious. Their intentions are honorable. Their work is tireless. Their successes are many.They dream. They listen. They work hard. They are undeniably successful in their individual efforts and either one of them alone is deserving of our award. Any community would be pleased to have one of them working on their behalf. Richford, Franklin County and Vermont are grateful to have them both, and we are all better for it.

2009 – Vermont Center for an Agricultural Economy Board members

Monty Fischer, Annie Gaillard, Tom Gilbert, Pete Johnson, Andy Kehler, Andrew Meyer, Warren Rankin, Linda Ramsdell, Tom Stearns, and Neil Urie make up this special team who have together accomplished something that no one could do alone. They have built a vision for the Hardwick area as a dynamic center for the future of agriculture in Vermont. They are making this vision come true through hard work, partnership, collaboration and enthusiam. They have included a strong respect for the work of rural people, and the tradition of self-reliance and interdependence. Visit their website to learn more about them.

2008 – Robert McBride and Richard Ewald, Bellows Falls/Rockingham

With their leadership and inspiration, Bellows Falls has reinvigorated its village center, improved downtown amenities, and built recognition throughout Vermont and beyond as an dynamic center of innovation. Bellows Falls has become a very special Vermont model of the creative economy — it has used arts and cultural events as partial foundations of its revitalization efforts, and done it in a uniquely Vermont way — not trying to be something it’s not to appeal to tourists, but really celebrating what is it and bringing people together. The successful downtown and surrounding core of innovative businesses is testimony to the success of the whole community, but Robert and Richard deserve special credit as motivators, guides, and organizers. Robert McBride is the Founder and Executive Director of the Rockingham Area Museum Partnership (RAMP). Richard Ewald, planning and development director for the Connecticut River Watershed Council, was employed for nine years by the Town of Rockingham first as Historic Preservation Coordinator and then as Community Development Director. In addition to his work for the town, Richard served as the Executive Director of two non-profits – the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, and the Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation. Together, Robert and Richard have brought people together. They have also told their story to other towns throughout Vermont and helped them look at starting points for their own redevelopment. Here’s an article about it.

2007 – Monica Greene, Alburgh

As Alburgh was struggling to redefine it’s identity, and thanks to Monica’s leadership, folks came together to accomplish several community projects that have resulted in improved quality of life for the people in Alburgh. Monica’s dedication has been instrumental in the efforts of the Alburgh Revitalization Committee, the 8th Grade Parents Committee, and After School Teen Project. Monica possesses an amazing range of business and interpersonal skills that allow her to see the problem, need or big picture; to analyze it, come up with viable solutions and move forward by motivating others. Monica Greene is the President of Vermont Precision Tools, Inc., providing 130 jobs to people of Franklin County.

2006 – Edgar May, Springfield

Edgar MayMr. May was the visionary force behind the Southern Vermont Recreation Center in Springfield, mobilizing, fundraising, and leading volunteer efforts to transform the neglected and abandoned Foundry Building into a vibrant community asset. His leadership has inspired a group of more than 150 individuals to become active volunteers in a project that will provide a space for heath, recreation, and community gatherings in an affordable public facility that will serve as gateway to Springfield. Edgar May, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, has been deeply committed to serving the state of Vermont and his community of Springfield. After a full career in journalism and national leadership in the Peace Corp and Vista program, Mr. May became a leader in the Vermont State Senate, where he acted as chairman of the Appropriations Committee before he retired in 1991. Altogether, he served 16 years in the State House, including 8 years in the House of Representatives where he was chairman of the Committee on Health and Welfare. A respected statesman, he has served on numerous boards including the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and as a trustee of the University of Vermont.

2005 – Al Stevens, Wells River

Al, a retired dairy farmer, served in a number of different positions in the community; working both as a volunteer and a professional. Along with his gift for rallying people to get things done, his efforts include work on developing low-income and senior housing, work with troubled teens, and work toward creating low-cost day care and after-school programs.