Leaders across Vermont play an instrumental role every day in shaping the future of our State and our communities.
Here at the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), we are constantly inspired by the dedicated local leaders across the state and their tremendous levels of commitment, strength, and ability to make such huge impacts in their communities.
But what exactly defines a “local leader?” And how can we best recognize, foster, and encourage leadership in our own communities?
We decided to talk with four leaders located throughout Vermont about who they are as leaders, what they think makes someone a leader, and the wisdom they would like to share with fellow Vermonters.
Lindley Brainard, Bethel
Lindley didn’t waste any time getting involved in her community when she arrived in Bethel with her wife ten years ago.
A furniture maker by trade, Lindley can be found in the woodshop, hiking Vermont’s Green Mountains, or spending about every other free moment volunteering. The Bethel Revitalization Initiative was the starting block for Lindley when she settled in Bethel. From there, she quickly became invested in the Bethel community.
If you have ever driven through Bethel, you probably noticed the Trout Mural at the intersection of Routes 12 & 107 – a primary project to promote public art for the Bethel Revitalization Initiative in 2017.
“I was so incredibly proud to be part of this project and for every community member that came together to bring this project to life – which was no small task! I personally added up 175 hours of my own volunteer time in addition to all of our other wonderful volunteers helping install the mural that summer,” shared Lindley.
Following the Trout Mural, Lindley found herself at the beginning of a new adventure, wanting to dive into volunteer work at a municipal level. Five years later, Lindley is entering her third term on the Bethel Selectboard.
With a strong background in community engagement, it isn’t a surprise that Lindley and her wife instantly became such active members and leaders within their community.
“With a little bit of initiative, drive, and a willingness to step up, anyone can be a leader. But the most important thing to keep in mind is to find the right venue that fits your passions and interests and grow from there.”
Having gotten to know many leaders in her community over the years, Lindley also recognizes that many of her fellow leaders still aren’t identifying themselves as one, especially young adults.
“We must remember to provide encouragement to our young adults when they are presenting as a strong influence to those around them and highlight that they are already a leader. By telling today’s youth that they are a leader, we are shaping them into lifetime leaders. If they are never noticed as a leader in their youth, they’ll never consider themselves a leader in their adult life.”
Colbie Miller, Milton
What started as a project in Up for Learning in 7th grade, quickly led Colbie into a key leadership role when she was asked to join the Milton Innovation Center as one of the earliest team members in her freshman year. As a Co-Facilitator, Colbie is also tasked with raising awareness for the Innovation Center while maintaining the website and sharing progress updates.
Colbie agrees that many ideas come to life in rural communities through local leadership, sharing that she’s never been to a meeting in Milton where someone didn’t want to be there.
“It takes self-confidence to be a leader,” says Colbie. “ You must also have faith and hope in whatever you’re working on and it will be amazing!”
Colbie’s confidence comes from practice, sharing that she has done lots of public speaking at local School Board meetings through the Milton Innovation Center and now isn’t even nervous anymore.
“There will always be a need for leaders, and some people are hesitant to let their voice be heard. By introducing more leadership skills to students earlier, we would be helping students learn, grow, and lead in Vermont. If you’re hesitant, go check it out! The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it and then you try something else.”
With a drive to continue education within the world of computer science after high school, there is no doubt that Colbie will remain a leader both in the Milton community and beyond.
When asked why Vermont, Colbie chimes, “no billboards!”
Matthew LeFluer, Alburgh
Matthew fills every day with serving as a local leader in Alburgh as an active member of seven volunteer committees in and around the community in which he lives.
Originally from Iowa, Matthew and his family moved 25 years ago in search of a more welcoming place and found themselves in love with Vermont. Since the day they moved, Matthew has been very involved with his town and region, sharing that, “We all have a responsibility to serve our community and those that serve as local leaders are bringing people together by providing unity and accessibility to all while bringing attention to areas of need.”
The seven volunteer committees Matthew serves on bring a sense of awareness and belonging to Vermont’s ever-changing platforms for advocacy and accessibility, including the Northwest Planning Commission, Building Bright Futures, UVM Collaborative, All Brains Belong, VT Alburgh Town Planning Commission, and Rights & Democracy of Vermont.
Matthew shares that advocating for your town is necessary for statewide growth, especially by filling the needs where gaps exist within accessibility and identifying a way to solve them.
“Being a leader takes a sense of understanding of your community and those around you,” says Matthew. “A leader must bring people together, providing unity and accessibility to all.”
The Vermont Community Leadership Network (VCLN) – a program through VCRD – has also been a platform for Matthew to join fellow statewide leaders.
“We all benefit from resources and systems like these,” says Matthew. “We need to support one another as leaders in rural Vermont communities.”
Matthew shares it is also important to recognize our statewide leaders in all capacities to ensure local leaders are being seen for who they are and what they bring to the table – giving them a place to shine. Leadership and volunteerism remain an all-around win for both individuals and communities as they move in a positive direction, as long as accessibility is provided.
When asked what he would say to someone hesitant to get involved, Matthew shares, “Take the challenge and goals head-on and you and your town will benefit.“
Charlie Griffin, Milton
An avid writer, dancer, and pianist, Charlie wants to travel the world, starting in Milton.
Charlie is an 8th grader who is heavily invested in the Milton Innovation Center and became involved last spring after she was approached by a teacher who encouraged her to join the efforts. A year later, she’s a Co-Facilitator and presents at local school board meetings to advocate for growth at the Innovation Center.
“What I love most about the Milton Innovation Center is that everyone is treated equally,” says Charlie. “The Innovation Center provides a level partnership between youth and adults to build projects and grow.”
Community spirit and involvement spread far beyond the Innovation Center in Milton. Listing off countless volunteer-led initiatives such as the Milton Artist Guild, Charlie shares a deep sense of commitment and passion for her community that is filled with local leadership.
“A leader is always willing to help others, provides and participates in strong opportunities, and has a strong voice in their community. In Milton, we are so lucky to be filled with local leaders,” says Charlie.
As a middle schooler, it is the prime opportunity to try something new. Charlie shares some advice with her fellow classmates who are a little hesitant to get involved in their community.
“If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, get involved! Volunteering and being a part of something bigger is a great way to explore who you are, try new hobbies, and learn something about yourself.”
VCRD has worked with over hundreds of communities in Vermont, as well as thousands of individual leaders statewide, and the passion for each of their communities is what brings VCRD such optimism for the future.
These leaders showcased here are just 4 of the many wide range of projects and initiatives that are led completely by local leaders across the state who have taken ideas and, through countless hours of hard work and dedication, have made them a reality. The list of local, volunteer-led projects in Vermont is endless, and continues to thrive thanks to our local leaders, just like Lindley, Colbie, Matthew, and Charlie.