Shaping Legacies with Awards and Grants

Taking the time to recognize those in our communities who step up and make a difference publicly acknowledges their efforts, celebrates their accomplishments, and encourages others. People can be inspired to join in the efforts of those being recognized, through volunteering, donating. When business owners are recognized, it provides deeper connections for customers and clients.

In small towns, it’s especially easy to assume that “everyone knows everything”, because sometimes it sure feels true. But in reality, it’s rarely true. Even when everyone thinks they know, there is always more to the story. Formally recognizing the level of work being done, the accomplishments, the “more” of the story, can be fun and beneficial for the entire community.

Below is a successful nomination for an award that came with a small prize for the winner. In crafting the nomination, it was revealed (even to the nominee), how much more work had been done than anyone realized. This was an important milestone in their journey.


Kelly Stettner wins GMP- Meeri Zetterman Environmental Award!

(Reprinted with permission. Originally published here April 18, 2014)

Kelly Stettner of Springfield, VT has won the GMP- Meeri Zetterstrom Environmental Award! This award is given every year in the name of Meeri Zetterstrom, an advocate and champion of the osprey, to celebrate and support the efforts of Vermont environmental heros.

Kelly founded the grassroots Black River Action Team, B.R.A.T., in 2000 and has been a champion of all things river-related ever since. Kelly will be accepting the award in an upcoming ceremony at the Vermont legislature, along with a check to support her efforts.

Below the photo is a copy of one of the monimations for this award. We think it’s easy to understand just why Kelly was chosen. After reading, please join us in congratulating our very own hometown hero.

Kelly Stettner, pictured here with the new signage for the "Adopt-A-Swimming-Hole" project

Please explain the effort or activity performed by the nominee on behalf of Vermont’s environment. You may use additional space, but please limit your answers to 200 words or fewer per question.

1. What benefits have been derived for the environment through the nominee’s efforts?

Kelly established and runs the Black River Action Team (BRAT). Highlights include:

RiverSweeps: Began in 2000 with 4 volunteers, covering 100′ of river. This fall will be the 15th RiverSweep, with dozens of volunteers covering miles of river across several towns.
Over 350 shopping carts, along with innumerable tires and other debris, removed from riverbeds
Monthly water sampling at 11 sites and ‘Adopt a Swimming Hole’ program
Environmental education: thousands of people engaged every year
Recruited and managed over 300 volunteers
Hundreds of organizations engaged to address river issues and expand educational opportunities
Discovered underground storage tank spewing fuel; worked with State to remove it and contaminated soil;
Worked with Town and Black River Produce to monitor effects of large diesel spill
Stream monitoring in proposed development areas
Central force in post-Irene efforts in Ludlow area
Started a ‘native nursery’ on donated land, growing own plants for bank stabilization
Nearly 6000 cartridges saved from landfills- used as primary funding source
Fishing line recycling program
Cleans up at parades to prevent trash entering river
Started program to capture and recycle 2000 pounds of bottle caps/ year.

2. What challenges has the nominee overcome to accomplish this?

It’s hard to know all the challenges Kelly has faced as she tends to be a very positively-focused person. She sees opportunities where others may have given up. She started the project because she saw a need- and with a gentle nudge from her husband- realized that she was someone who could help make things happen.

One of the main challenges is, in fact, that Kelly identifies areas where there is a need, because others are not addressing it. As she has become a local expert through her experience, known to be a trusted and reliable source of information and key advocate, Kelly also fields calls and reports from others about potential problems concerning the rivers and watersheds. All of this often means starting from the ground-up, with no ready supply of volunteers, funding, or initial interest. The BRAT remains a grassroots organization. With no board or formal committees, she is the driving force behind every project.

As she has established and grown these programs, Kelly has maintained a full-time job, raised 2 home-schooled children, been a central force in establishing and promoting a local wrestling team, and earned her Bachelor’s Degree, with a focus on Environmental Science, in 2010.

3. Please explain how the nominee demonstrated or exhibited commitment, perseverance, creativity and determination on behalf of the environment.

From the beginning, Kelly has identified issues that needed to be addressed and pursued them with a level of creativity and persistence that is admirable. She often sees opportunities where others have seen overwhelming challenges.

Her persistence and determination are demonstrated by the sheer volume of organizations she has managed to collaborate with. Just a few include: Ottauquechee National Resources Conservation District, Agency of Natural Resources, State of Vermont Dept of Environmental Conservation, various town in the watershed, Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Ascutney Mountain Audubon Society, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts Environmental Education Society, CT River Join Commissions, Wildlife Festival, UVM Extension, VT Youth Conservation Corps.

Kelly has become a reliable source of information and networking among those interested in water quality issues. When people call about a problem or concern, she willingly takes it upon herself to find out what is happening and, if needed, takes necessary action.

Kelly doesn’t just stop at addressing problems, either. She nurtures the health of the watershed through extended outreach programs, workshops, and environment education. Kelly sees the connections between many issues and the health of our waters, and works tirelessly, maximizing every opportunity.

4. Please provide any additional information you believe should be considered by the judges.

Kelly is incredibly humble. She will look you in the eye and insist that she is not an environmentalist, nor really all that special. She would laugh if you called her a ‘hero’ and will tell you that she simply saw a need and set about addressing it.

Although she may, indeed, not be a traditional ‘environmentalist’, her commitment to addressing environmental issues is extraordinary. Despite her humility, Kelly has garnered the respect, support, and admiration of many environmentalists and advocates. She now serves on the Watersheds United Vermont (WUV), a grassroots organization building a dynamic network of watershed groups around the state, and was invited to participate in a state-level summit with town planners.

Kelly is a hands-on leader. From removing invasives to planting trees, digging in the mud, and trekking through water and muck, she does whatever it takes. She is a shining example of what is possible. I think Kelly is like Meeri in many ways- remaining just as humble as she is passionate, diving into an issue, figuring out what needs doing, and getting it done. And inspiring many others along the way.

5. If applicable, please provide photos, articles, or other materials that support this nomination. (Do not send originals; these items will not be returned.)

Because Kelly has done so much with so little, it has been hard to limit the answers to 200 words each. I would welcome the opportunity to share more about her, and there is a lot of information available on the BRAT website (as Kelly has been the coordinator and champion of all of these projects, everything on there is directly attributable to her work): and on their facebook page:

Below are a few articles about Kelly and the Black River Action Team and just a couple of photos of some of their success.

The Perkins: One Small Town Legacy

People often wonder what exactly is meant by ‘creating your small town legacy’.

Below is an example of how one family is building their legacy as they work towards their goals. The story (originally published here), celebrates their uniqueness, sharing some of their hopes and dreams.


The Perkins’: Building a Family Business and a Dream

Danny and Debbie Perkins spent most of their careers in upstate New York, but always dreamed of living in Vermont. Debbie spent years running delis and mastering flavor combinations and cooking techniques. Danny worked at the same furniture company for 22 years before the fallout from the real estate bust changed that.  Together, Danny and Debbie decided to take that change as an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Perkins Deli

Building a Dream

Danny grew up visiting his family’s cabin in Southeastern Vermont. He loved the area and passed that love to his wife and son, Chris. Taking everything they had, they moved to the area and began to create their vision of bringing great deli flavors, home-style food, with a cozy, comfortable  space to a small community.

Today you can find Danny, Debbie, and Chris celebrating their one year anniversary at The Perkins Country Deli (20 Valley Street) in downtown Springfield. Alongside their deli meats and cheeses, they offer homemade specials from lasagna and meatball subs to pizza and classics such as tuna salad or egg salad. They post regular updates on their Facebook page and the reviews there are fabulous.

Community Feedback

According to Danny, it is the customer comments and reviews that are the most satisfying this first year. The community has been very supportive, but not everyone knows about them yet. Tucked away just out of sight of Main Street, they can be hard to spot and haven’t had much to invest in advertising. Fortunately, word of mouth is spreading and customers using the bank parking lot are sent directly past the storefront.

They  hope to soon be able to expand their hours (currently open 8 – 4 M-F and 8 – 2 Saturday). Sandwiches and meals are prepared in a clean, sunny, and open area. Being able to see everything that happens behind the counter was an important element for Debbie. It makes sense. If you’re going to spend time preparing things from scratch, you want people to see and experience as much of that as possible.

Perkins Deli Counter

Fresh, quality ingredients were amongst the other  ‘must haves’ on Debbie’s list. That is why all the produce comes from Black River Produce, which Danny says is sourced from local farms and, although a little pricier than some options, the quality can’t be beat. They also support other local businesses. Heaven Scent Bakery supplies all their fresh pizza dough which Debbie works to perfection for every pie they make, topping it with fresh homemade tomato sauce- no frozen or canned short-cuts here.

Pursuing Passions

Debbie isn’t the only one with cooking talents. Their son Chris makes a sweet/ spicy hotdog sauce that gets rave reviews. And the talent doesn’t end there. Debbie creates one of a kind gifts such as dolls and scarves.  Although Chris is helping out at the deli, he also has a degree in graphic arts which is a fortunate thing for the Deli and anyone passing by.  The stunning sign and artwork that adorns the deli was all done by Chris.

Chris says that he was inspired by the architecture of the downtown buildings and wanted to showcase the beauty that surrounds their new location. As you can see, he captured that and something more in his art- perhaps even a little piece of the Springfield soul.

Sign and artwork by Christopher Perkins

The Future

The pride in Danny’s voice is obvious when he talks about his son’s and wife’s talents. I suspect he may have some of his own, but he was far more interested in talking about them.

They hope in the next few years to be making even more people happy with their food- to be able to purchase their building and expand the inside seating. It’s not a ‘take over the world’ kind of dream. It’s the kind of dream and commitment our country was built on and that we may need a little more of: enough to live a full, happy life doing what you love with people you care about in a place that feels good.

Daniel and Christopher Perkins outside deli

Public Arts and Creative Placemaking as Economic Drivers

I was invited to be on the panel for a Public Arts Forum, specifically to talk about how it relates to Economic Development and my work with the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance.

Here is a an audio of my presentation, giving a brief overview of some of our work, and some details about one project in particular. For more information on that project, MILES (the Mobile Interactive Literary Exhibition Space), take a look here.
Be in touch if this sparks ideas for you, or if you’d like to ask any questions:

Below is a transcript of the presentation (the actual one was shortened slightly due to time constraints).


Public Art Forum- Downtown Brattleboro

Jen Austin, Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Coordinator/ Small Town Legacies

We’ve been talking specifically about “Public Art”, but I’m going to step back a  little and talk about ‘Creative Placemaking” as it focuses more on the big picture, of why ‘public art’ is important and how it fits within an area. 

This framework tends to open us up to the ideas about what we want to highlight, and how we want to use those spaces.

I am the Coordinator, and only paid staff, for the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance (DBA). Although we rarely call it “Public Art”, DBA does invest heavily in Creative Placemaking. It falls under our mandates for Economic Development, Beautification/Design, and even Promotions.

That’s because places that are safe, comfortable, and inviting, strengthen communities by attracting locals and visitors who spend more time, and money, there.  

We are often approached by people who “have ideas”. For those actively pursuing their ideas, we offer connections, resources, and insights; sometimes small Facade Improvement or Economic Development grants and promotional and technical support.

We’ve helped launch arts-related projects: such as Brattleboro Literary Festival, Gallery Walk, So VT Dance Fest, and Tiny House Fest;

We’ve created events- like the upcoming BrattleBOO which incorporates aspects of public art- like the jack o lantern contest.

We’ve sponsored murals.

Still other projects are completed by those who would probably never consider themselves artists, like development of Pliny Park. Or even the downtown flower and holiday lights programs.

I think that is the beauty of understanding this is all about Creating Place: you don’t have to be an artist to think like one, and you don’t have to be an economic developer to act like one.

I think  one of our latest projects: MILES, is a good example of that.


I’d been working with a group of people on a large collaboration for a 3- year proposal for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. The project brought together a wide range of people, from Marlboro College to the Literary Festival, 118 Elliot, DBA, Write Action, Historical Society, Brooks Memorial Library, local schools, and many more. It was a long-shot proposal, highly competitive, with most funding going to large cities, and it had a quick turnaround.

Once that proposal was submitted, we all continued to meet to talk about what we could do, even if we didn’t get the grant:

Because the connections being made and excitement around possibilities was too rich to simply wait around or walk away.

About this time, the National Main Street announced a Placemaking grant focusing on the “lighter, quicker, cheaper” method, while having an impact on local economies, activate public spaces, and engage communities. It was being sponsored by Edward Jones nationally, further highlighting the economic returns of investing in placemaking.
It was also another highly competitive matching grant program, with funding going mostly to big cities, and a very tight turnaround.

I saw the potential for how it could help achieve, and expand, the goals of the larger project. So I contacted Lissa at 118 Elliot and started the conversation like i do way too many, “I have this kind of crazy idea…” and we were off and running.

Together with others from the group, we brainstormed, developed what seemed like a fairly feasible plan: inspired in part by the International Park(ing) Day, which encourages cities to use parking spaces for temporary tiny parks, transforming it into a place where community can gather and engage much differently than a parked car allows; we would create a mobile space connecting locals and visitors to the literary legacies of Brattleboro.

We submitted the grant, and moved on.

The larger group continued to meet, planning ways to continue the momentum even without the grants.

Then, to pretty much everyone’s surprise, we got the Placemaking grant.

I can’t even begin to share all the ups, downs, and crazy turns this has taken us on, and even though where we ended wasn’t exactly where I thought we’d go, the ride to get there has been very interesting, challenging, and even fun.

And, thanks to support from the local Edward Jones’ offices, Rotary Clubs, and individuals, MILES, the mobile, mini pop-up museum will be rolling into town for this year’s Literary Festival.

I don’t want to give too much of it away, because I want you to come experience it for yourself. But, our first exhibit features Lucy Terry Prince, the first known African American poet, and fierce advocate for equal rights under the law. She was a freed slave who lived and owned property in Guilford.

I can say, her story is inspiring, and has relevance even today.
Not only did we get that grant and make MILES a reality, but it is now the first part of the much larger, 3-year project “People, Places and History of Words in Brattleboro”, which was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant of $150,000. The project has many layers, culminating in an immersive, literary audio tour that will appeal to locals and visitors.

These projects are bringing groups together in new ways, taking big ideas and transforming them so they amplify local voices, strengthen community, and in the process, also attract visitors. This is exactly what creative placemaking is all about.

Through this process, some of the things I love about Brattleboro, have been reinforced. Like how, when you start talking about your ideas, you quickly realize that:

  1. Your idea may not be so crazy afterall
  2. There are so many talented ppl here  willing to get involved, you can make more happen than you realize, and
  3. Ppl here are willing to take a little risk and hop aboard a crazy train occasionally- as long as they know where it’s going
  4. If you miss one train, another one will surely be coming along shortly

These are true gifts of this community.

There is important work being done here, and people are coming together in new ways to create the places they want to experience.

I can’t wait to see what emerges next.


It was exactly the kind of place he would have picked:Over Easy. Diner. Thinking of Dad.
a diner-style country restaurant
where the food was filling and mattered far more
than the outdated decor which faded into the background behind the all-day breakfasts with options like homefries:
grilled or deep-fried.

Pancakes came in stacks and biscuits with gravy was more common than yogurt.

The coffee was fresh, hot and bottomless, (though he would have preferred a cup of milk, or Pepsi). served by waitresses with friendly smiles, fast feet, circus-performer balance, and sharp tongues.

They delivered jokes and warmth and a comforting familiarity to the regulars.

Chances were good you might run into an old friend or two.

The morning had already delivered the kinds of stories I would have shared with him the next time we talked.

{[Josh, 16,  is nervous and excited about starting his new job. This morning, we went for his pre-employment drug screening.

The tech had a chronic scowl (aka “resting b* face”), but when Josh went in to the bathroom, she cracked a huge smile and said “So, has he been holding his urine in all morning?” Apparently she found it amusing that Josh asked her “how much” she needed.

As she was finishing up, she handed Josh a paper and he waived it at me and said ‘here’ and I just looked at him. She laughed this time, and said ‘oh, you’re a big boy now, you’re getting a job, you can take care of your own stuff now”.

I know my dad would have loved how Josh’s face turned to instant flames as he stopped flapping that paper. ]}

Nothing extraordinary, but it would have been a good laugh when I told him later.

I dropped Josh off at school, and feeling a bit nostalgic, found myself inside, smiling at the waitress, enjoying the heft of the coffee cup, and indulging in my favorite sport: people watching.

And then the feels came. It was the old man sitting in the booth alone.

And realizing, I was the woman sitting in the other booth. Alone.

As he shuffled out the door, I wondered if he was missing someone too.

I didn’t want to cry in public, as one of “those moments” flared, grateful for a distraction, I whipped out my phone.

I made it through the meal. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. Feels and all.
I thought to myself “Managing not to cry was a bonus” and wiped my face one more time.

At that moment, I somehow managed to stab my eyeball with the corner of the napkin.

(I know, ‘stab’ seems a bit dramatic for a napkin, but trust me, when it’s one of those thick, super-duty ones, folded sternly, the corner of it hitting your naked eyeball is in fact ‘stab’ worthy).

I nearly yelped, and could not stop the flood of tears from that eye. Water.Works.One Eye. It was lovely.

As I was sitting on the couch, lights out, sunglasses blocking the sting of any glare (it really hurt for a while!), it snuck up on me just how funny he would have found every last bit of this.

I could almost hear him saying “girl, I don’t know about you” as he shook his head and laughed.

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