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'Positive force' for Pownal wins statewide award

2018-10-03

By Patricia LeBoeuf, as seen in the Bennington Banner: https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/positive-force-for-pownal-wins-...

POWNAL — A member of the Pownal Planning Commission has received statewide recognition for her efforts in community development, in connection with the state's first initiative under the Climate Economy Model Communities Program.

Shannon Barsotti received the Community Leadership Award Monday from the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) at a community leadership summit in Castleton.

"I was surprised," she said. "And honored, because I do just have a lot of [respect] for the work that the Vermont Council on Rural Development is doing across the state."

Barsotti is co-founder of the grassroots community organization Discover Pownal, and was also local chairperson of the Empower Pownal process, the state's first initiative under VCRD's Climate Economy Model Communities Program.

"I'm super, super proud of her," said Jenny Dewar, co-founder of Discover Pownal. "She earned that."

Dewar said she wasn't surprised by the honor.

There's been resistance to initiatives Barsotti has worked on, like Empower Pownal — but she was a great leader through all that, Dewar said. "She had to overcome adversity, and the leadership she showed in the face of that was nothing short of remarkable," Dewar said.

Barsotti is kind of a "mastermind," with all the work she does in the town, Dewar said.

"She's a really, really just positive force," Dewar said. "She loves Pownal. She just wants everyone here to flourish, and she's all about community."

Until Barsotti, no one from Bennington County had ever received the Community Leadership Award, said Paul Costello, the executive director of VCRD. The award is annual, but was not given out in 2016 or 2017. It began in 2005.

"Shannon showed tremendous poise and commitment throughout the intense community conversations prompted by the "Empower Pownal' process," Costello said in a press release from the VCRD. "At every opportunity she listened to her neighbors and worked to rally behind common initiatives. Discover Pownal and the task forces working locally with Shannon's support are bringing unity and progress to this great Vermont town."

Barsotti has put in an incredible amount of time, energy and goodwill into Pownal, and VCRD thought she deserved recognition for that, Costello said.

Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Barsotti has lived in Pownal for 12 years. "It's really my home," she said of Pownal.

Barsotti said her greatest skill as a leader is encouraging other leaders — something she did in connection with Empower Pownal.

"It was a great honor to get that [award] as a community leader, and I think maybe what I'm best at is identifying other leaders," she said. "Because there are so many."

Out of the Empower Pownal process came four priorities for development in town: sustainable farming, outdoor recreation, environmental conservation and small business development, Barsotti said.

From that, task forces were formed surrounding those four issues, each coming up with ideas and goals in an ongoing process.

Barsotti said she encouraged the leaders of those task forces to take on that role.

"That's something that I think I've brought — a vision of how we can work together," Barsotti said. "And encouragement of others to take the lead."

Barsotti said she's looking forward to upcoming efforts through Discover Pownal, as the organization plans to put together guided hikes for visitors and residents, along with another networking event for local businesses to informally share ideas and meet each other, to follow last fall's networking event at the American Legion.

"I think we're really successful at organizing events, so I think we want to keep that going," she said.

As the owner of a small farm, Longview Farm in Pownal, Barsotti works to promote and market her own business — not just Pownal.

That helps her in efforts with Discover Pownal, she said.

"Pownal is incredibly beautiful," she said. "I think that it's easy to just pass it by when you're coming down Route 7." But those who get on the back roads see Pownal as more than just a town to pass by. "Once people have done that, they really fall in love with Pownal," she said.

Barsotti said she's most proud of the community spirit that's building in town. "I think we have a lot to be proud of in Pownal," she said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.