May 24, 2018

New England meet challenges CVU runners (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

While the Champlain Valley Union High boys and girls cross country teams finished well back of the leaders this past weekend in the New England Cross Country Championships at Manchester, N.H., each claimed second place among the Vermont Division 1 competitors.

The girls, who lost to Essex in the recent state meet at Thetford, finished 14th overall. Among the Green Mountain State teams, they placed second to St. Johnsbury Academy (11th) but well ahead of the Hornets (26th).

Summer Spillane (79th) was the top CVU individual finisher among 279 female runners.

The Redhawks’ Tony Sulva came in 39th among the 266 boys to claim the second best Vermont finish. The boys team took 17th place, placing behind 10th place Essex, the top Vermont team.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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CVU sends Gault to football

Nov. 13, 2008

Matt Gault, the four-year, 300-pound lineman for the Champlain Valley Union High football team, has been chosen to play in Saturday’s North-South Vermont Senior Bowl at Middlebury College.


    Courtesy photo by Terri Zittritsch
Champlain Valley Union High football player Matt Gault (64) sets a block during a game against Winooski earlier this fall. Gault will play in the North-South Vermont Senior Bowl at Middlebury College on Saturday.

“He is a strong kid and a good kid,” CVU head coach Jim Provost said of Gault, who was one of four captains on the 2008 team.

Gault is one of 44 senior players to represent the North team in the contest. Six of the players hail from CVU’s Division 3.

The game kicks off at noon.

— Mal Boright, Observer correspondent


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CVU football not just for boys (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Mal Boright

Observer correspondent

Her older sister, Tova, was a valuable member of the Champlain Valley Union High girls soccer team before graduating this past spring.


    Observer photo by Ben Sarle
Tallon Tomasi (4) stands with her junior varsity football teammates during a game against Rice Memorial High last month. Tomasi was the first female to compete in football games at Champlain Valley Union High.


    Observer photo by Ben Sarle
Champlain Valley Union High junior varsity football player Tallon Tomasi (4) sets up for a play against Rice Memorial High on Oct. 20.

Brother Tino was a star on the boys varsity soccer team as a sophomore this fall.

But freshman Tallon Tomasi gets her athletic kicks in a different way during the autumn season: She plays football.

As a member of the CVU junior varsity gridiron squad, Tallon Tomasi played running back and, late in the season, defensive cornerback for the Redhawks.

In a 22-6 victory over Mount Abraham Union, Tomasi got loose for a 50-yard touchdown run late in the game to clinch the victory.

“She has an uncanny ability to find the seams and then accelerate into the open field,” jayvee coach Rahn Fleming said of the freshman scat back.

Fleming added that the smallish but speedy Tomasi was used as “a situational back,” and played for two or three offensive series in each contest.

He said she is the first girl to actually compete in football games at CVU.

The idea that football is a hard-nosed sport does not trouble Tomasi. Late in the season she got some time in on defense and added, with a bright smile, “I tackled a couple of people.”

Tomasi said the notion of playing football came to her from watching the sport on television.

“It looked like fun,” she said.

So last fall Tomasi signed up and played with the South Burlington Dolphins in the junior high age league where Fleming, then coaching the CVU area Buccaneers, saw her in action.

This season’s tryouts at CVU, she said, had her, “really scared at first.” But after the usual grind with conditioning, she said she settled into the routine.

“The physical part was pretty much what I expected, but the plays were hard to remember,” Tomasi added.

She also pointed out that there was a lot of support from the boys on the team, even those she would scamper away from for big gains during scrimmage contests.

Tomasi said her family is okay with her choice of fall sport, even though her mother “thinks I’m kind of crazy.”

She is eyeing a possible try at wrestling this winter and then a go at club rugby in the spring.

And in autumn of ’09, football is once again in the plan.

“I asked Tallon if she is going to play this coming year,” said head coach Jim Provost. “She said yes. That is what I wanted to hear.”


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Committee extends deadline for configuration recommendations (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Major configuration changes to the Williston schools may have to wait another year.

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee, originally scheduled to make its recommendations for configuration changes to the School Board in January, is now set to work into the spring before reaching a decision. The extended timeframe will push back any implementation of changes from the 2009-2010 school year to the following year.

The School Board approved the time extension last month, and the Frameworks Committee talked at its Oct. 16 meeting about its schedule moving ahead. The committee will meet through the spring to discuss issues of school configuration and house equity.

Special teacher and community forums are also planned. The first community-wide forum is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 24. from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria. The second community forum is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Explaining the reason for the schedule change, Frameworks facilitator Mary Jane Shelley said the amount of work was too much to sort through before the January deadline, which had been established because the School Board wanted to hear configuration recommendations before putting together next school year’s budget.

The Frameworks Committee is now scheduled to come up with a final configuration recommendation in March, which will then take a full school year to be implemented. The 2009-2010 school budget will reflect plans to work on a future configuration, while the 2010-2011 school budget will likely see the full impact of any new configurations, Shelley said.

Discussions on house equity will likely occur around the end of March and beginning of April, Shelley said.

Shelley said she’s “extremely pleased” the board agreed to give the committee more time to work, which will create a less rushed atmosphere.

“It’s a realistic time frame,” Shelley said. “It will give the committee more voice.”

The Frameworks Committee, which grew out of last spring’s public debate about the best configuration options, is charged with making recommendations on how to improve configuration, house equity and communication between the school and the community.

Recommendations for improved communication were to be presented to the School Board at its Wednesday evening meeting, after the Observer went to press. According to the minutes from the committee’s October meeting, the board would hear suggestions to create more consistent communication with the community, better respond to parent concerns, increase communication, improve the functioning of Families as Partners and enhance the district’s Web site.

Shelley said it was important for the committee to hear from a number of sources in determining configuration recommendations. To do so, the committee will be hearing more from teachers and the community. Two voluntary teacher forums and two community forums are in the works to give as many people as possible a say on what they’d like to see in a new configuration.

The community forums would be more workshop-based, with attendees joining small groups to work on specific ideas dealing with configuration. The small groups will be facilitated by a member of the Frameworks Committee, who will have to remain impartial during discussions. Shelley said this process would allow for better and more pointed debate on key issues.

The first teacher forum is scheduled for Nov. 18, with the second forum happening in December. The first community forum is scheduled for Nov. 24 at the Williston Central School. The second will occur in January. If necessary, there may be a community-wide survey in January or February, Shelley said.

In the meantime, the committee brainstormed what was working and what wasn’t working with the current configuration at its Nov. 6 meeting. Several topics were discussed, including opportunities for students to mingle with others in their grades, teachers teaching to their subject strengths, opportunities for older and younger students to interact, and a configuration that supports safe and respectful behavior throughout the school.

The committee will decide which issues are seen as “critical” and “important” at its Nov. 20 meeting at Williston Central School, starting at 6 p.m. The time and exact location for the Nov. 24 community forum is forthcoming.


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Williston students turn to Stern Center for extra help (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston School District and the Stern Center for Language and Learning began teaming up this month to close the achievement gap that exists between certain groups of students and their peers.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
The Stern Center for Language and Learning, located on Allen Brook Lane, has seen an influx of clients as certain Williston students received money for extra tutoring.

In the subjects of math and reading, Stern Center tutors are now bolstering the work of teachers to make sure all students receive a high level of education, said Sally Conant, program director for the center.

“Williston is really working so hard to meet the needs of their students,” Conant said. “It’s nice to be able to supplement a program they’re already getting 90 minutes a day.”

The school district has been required by the Vermont Department of Education to provide supplemental services to economically disadvantaged students who failed the New England Common Assessment Program exams, commonly referred to as NECAP tests. Economically disadvantaged students are those who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Twenty-five students were registered by their parents for the services by the Nov. 1 deadline, said District Principal Walter Nardelli. Families had a choice of where to enroll their children, based on a list approved by the Department of Education. School districts did not have a say in which provider a family could choose.

All Williston students chose the supplemental services from the Stern Center, Nardelli said.

Williston, along with 22 other Vermont schools, did not meet the required improvements on the NECAP tests for Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, over the past three years in the areas of low income or special education students. Thus, the district had to provide the extra services.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to track student improvement each year to ensure they make AYP. Vermont measures progress through the NECAP tests, which are given to students in grades three through eight. The exams test students in math and reading, as well as writing in grades five and eight. This year’s NECAP tests took place in October.

Each qualifying student gets upwards of $1,900 to spend on the supplemental services. The money comes from the district’s federal Title 1 funds for low income students. Families can choose how often their children receive tutoring, from a couple times a week to a couple times a month. The Stern Center charges $80 an hour for tutoring. Once the funding runs out for the student, families can opt to pay out of their own pocket for continued services.

Ed Wilkens, development director for the Stern Center, said the supplemental services requirement has brought an “influx” of new students to the center.

“That has certainly increased any given number of students who need the help,” Wilkens said.

And while it may look like schools are being punished for not achieving AYP, the supplemental services are a great benefit to families.

“Families necessarily wouldn’t have had the resources needed to help their child before coming here,” Wilkens said.

Founded in 1983 by Dr. Blanche Podhajski, the nonprofit Stern Center helps students receive one-on-one and small group help in literacy and other academic subjects. Headquartered in Williston, the center also has a location in White River Junction and aids students from across the state.

Conant said there are many reasons that some Williston students lag behind their peers in terms of learning literacy and math. Some students may have missed out on certain “building blocks” of early learning, such as being read to at a young age or learning the basics of reading comprehension. Also, new students coming into Williston sometimes have a hard time adjusting to new teaching styles and seek the added help, she said.

Conant said students in kindergarten through third grade need 120 minutes a day in literacy and math instruction. If students begin falling behind in learning time, it makes it much harder to make up the achievement gap as it grows wider in later grades, she added.

“Most of the students need more time, and there’s never enough time,” Conant said.

In helping students with literacy, tutors at the Stern Center regularly read aloud and help them understand basic phonics. Making the connections between reading and comprehension is also an important aspect of the service. Conant finds math to be a “double challenge” because so much of it is based on comprehension, and therefore, literacy.

Conant is optimistic for Williston students who are enrolled with the supplemental services and said there is “no question” the district will be able to close the achievement gap. She said with the combination of Williston’s hands-on approach and the Stern Center’s supplemental service, families will start seeing positive results.

“Williston has been very proactive,” Conant said. “They care so much for their students.”


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Everyday Gourmet (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Kim Dannies

Teasers for holiday appetites

The holidays are right around the corner, so it’s time to perfect a few tasty teasers. Instead of throwing a full-fledged party this year (or doing nothing at all) consider hosting what my Quebecois friend, Jenn, calls “Cinq à Sept” (arrive at 5 p.m. and depart by 7). Stunning savories and a specialty drink are served, then guests move on to other engagements with appetites piqued. My hors d’oeuvres — retro with a twist — are hearty, healthy and taste heavenly. Go ahead, give it a whirl. Your friends will be pleased, the entertainment budget eased, and you can tease that you slaved all day.

Bubbling baby Reubens

You’ll need about 8 to 10 slices of Swiss cheese and 3 ounces of turkey pastrami. Lightly toast 8 slices of pumpernickel bread, crusts removed. Spread each slice of toast with whole grain Dijon mustard; cut each slice into quarters. Cut slices of Swiss cheese to match bread quarters and place one square on each quarter. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Add 2 matching layers of turkey pastrami and one more square of Swiss cheese to each section. Slice each Reuben section in half again. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until cheese is bubbling, about 4 minutes. Meanwhile, skewer 48 tiny gherkins (cornichons) with funky toothpicks. Pierce Reuben squares with the cornichons and plate. Makes 64.

Salmon studded deviled eggs

Prep a dozen hard-boiled eggs, preferably organic. (Tip: boil eggs with 1/3 cup salt and cool completely for easier peeling.) Gently combine 6 ounces of chopped smoked salmon (look for salmon “trim” in seafood freezer section); 1 tablespoon baby capers; 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill, 1/3 cup finely minced red onion; 1/3 cup (or less) mayonnaise; kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Split each cooked egg length-wise and remove yolks. Crumble six whole yolks into salmon mixture (reserve remaining yolks for doggies) and mix lightly in with a fork. Loosely dollop small portions into individual egg white halves. Garnish with a light sprinkle of paprika and a wisp of dill green, plate. Makes 24.

Peruvian purples with caviar

Cut 12 small Peruvian purple potatoes in half. Place potatoes in a wide sauté pan and cover with cold water and 1 tablespoon of salt; don’t crowd potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 7 to 9 minutes until potatoes are just barely tender. Gently transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and cool. Whisk together 1/2 cup of low-fat sour cream, mayo, or cream fraiche with some drained horseradish (to taste), and kosher salt and pepper. Chill. Arrange potatoes on a serving platter and spoon a tiny dollop of cream onto each potato. Top with a pinch of black caviar and then add a small “X” cross of fresh chive over each potato top. Makes 24.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to


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Letters to the Editor (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008


Hypocritical guest column

John Holland’s recent Guest Column ad hominem tirade (“Down with Republican conservatism”) is a harbinger of a very narrow-minded individual. Maybe he should take a deep look down inside what he and the Democratic Party truly represent (abortion, homosexual marriage, socialism, blanket amnesty for illegal aliens, wealth distribution, weak national defense, anti-God and family values — to name a few) as the true cause of his apoplexy?

Holland’s meltdown draws disturbingly ignorant and pejorative inferences that conservative Republicans alone, in the name of business, are solely responsible for worldwide hunger and crimes against children and the poor, cause of war, famine and the like. Such asinine and rhetorical conjecture is demonstrative of scaremongering intended to divide and conquer the nation and parties into further alienation, instead of reconciliation. What about conservative Democrats Mr. Holland? Are they not responsible?

I refuse to stoop to Mr. Holland’s level and visceral approach, so, I will remind him of his dearth of historical perspective and facts regarding Republicans and Democrats alike.

Emblematic significances attributed to both parties are noteworthy — and not so noteworthy — and too deep to fit in these pages. But just remember, Mr. Holland, your Democratic party also supported and voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats in majority also voted overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate to bail out Wall Street and big business to the tune of $700 billion (and counting) because Democratic Congressman Barney Frank lied about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being solvent when they weren’t — and then stuck it to us taxpayers, both Democrat and Republican alike. Did you forget about this Mr. Holland?

It is also you and the Democrats, Mr. Holland, that are equally responsible and culpable for such atrocities against humanity (and then some) — and against us American taxpayers.

Such hypocrisy.

Steve Letares



Holland and Marx

In reading the guest column piece penned by John M. Holland titled “Down with Republican conservatism,” (Nov. 6, 2008) I was struck by the sheer ignorance of the author. At a time when many in this country are seeking unity, Holland offers one of the most hateful and ridiculous opinions yet to grace the pages of the Observer. If this was Mr. Holland’s attempt at political humor, then apparently the joke went over my head. However, if this is truly the belief of the author, I have to wonder why he has not chosen to reside outside the United States of America.

Perhaps he can find a used time machine and become neighbors with Karl Marx.

Tony O’Rourke



Holland had it wrong

The Nov. 6 Guest Column (“Down with Republican conservatism”) is yellow-garbage journalism. The Williston Observer sure allowed John Holland to make himself look like a fool.

A brief Democratic and Republican history — which most Vermonters should know, or should at least be made aware of:

Collectively speaking, Republicans are responsible for the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery. Historically speaking, Democrats are responsible for oppression and tyranny against African-Americans — one who just so happens to be President-elect of the United States of America.

 Jan. 1, 1863: Republican President Abraham Lincoln outlawed slavery.

It was Republicans who worked to pass the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the 14th, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws, and the 15th, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans.

 Sept. 28, 1868: Democrats in Opelousas, La. killed nearly 300 blacks who tried to foil an assault on a Republican newspaper editor.

 Oct. 7, 1868: Republicans criticized Democrats’ national slogan: “This is a white man’s country: Let white men rule.”

 April 20, 1871: The Republican Congress adopted the Ku Klux Klan Act, banning the pro-Democrat domestic terrorist group.

The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to vote. In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women’s suffrage. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control.

Fast speed to 2008 – Republicans who crossed party lines are primarily responsible in electing the first black president in U.S. history.

I am not attempting to cajole anyone, but maybe Mr. Holland should know his facts and history about Democrats and his perceived spurious Republican boogeyman propaganda before he spouts junk-science that Democrats are holier-than-thou and the saving grace of the world — because history knows otherwise.

Nicolas Xartopoulos



Representative thank you

Thank you, Williston townspeople, for your trust by returning me to Montpelier as your state representative. This is a labor of love for me. Remember, good government is a participation sport. Tell me what is on your mind. I have a need to know.

State Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston


Forum for school configuration options

Please come to the first community forum at Williston Central School’s cafeteria on Nov. 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. In addition to updating you on the work the committee has accomplished so far, the Conceptual Frameworks Committee is very interested in hearing your thoughts about general configuration options. Go to the district’s Web site,, click “Conceptual Frameworks Committee,” “Notes and updates from the meetings” and “General Configuration Options” to see the options you will be discussing in small group conversations.

This is the first of two opportunities to let the committee know what’s important to you as family and community members about general configuration options. The second community forum will be held on Jan. 12 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will be focused on more specific configuration options that the committee is considering. At the community forums, committee members and board members have volunteered to be neutral facilitators of small group discussions. Notes will be taken about participants’ thoughts on the configuration options and the information will be brought back to committee members for further discussion. You will have the opportunity to sit at a discussion table with the facilitator of your choice.

In preparation for this forum, please click on “Research Links” to read some research articles about the drawbacks and benefits of various building configurations, multi-age classes, looping and grade span options. This will be important to ensure that all the participants at the forums have some common understanding of the issues.

In the Oct. 23 edition of the School Bell, there was an update explaining the changes to the timeframe of the committee. An updated version is included on the Web site as well. Click on “Notes and updates from the Meetings,” and then “Conceptual Frameworks Committee Update 11-10-08.”

The Conceptual Frameworks Committee


Thanks to election workers

With the presidential election barely behind us it is time to recognize the extraordinary work of our town clerks and their election assistants.

It is not easy to run an election: long lines of voters waiting to check in, voters who can’t remember where they are registered, politicians glad-handing voters outside the polling place, poll watchers who can’t hear names and, this year, piles and piles of absentee ballots to process. And yet, it is essential to our trust in the democratic process that our election workers perform their duties professionally and without bias.

I am proud that Vermont’s town clerks and their election assistants ensured that this year’s election ran smoothly. Congratulations and thanks to all who made this possible!

Deb Markowitz

Secretary of State


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Guest Column (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

Vermont’s keys for a strong economy

By Brennan Duffy

I wanted to thank all those who supported my recent run for state representative in Williston. I also wanted to take this opportunity to address a misconception that I have heard expressed many times, particularly in our local news media, regarding Vermont’s potential for economic growth and prosperity.

It seems to be an all too common perception that because Vermont is small in population, historically rural in nature and cold in the winter, we are somehow preordained to second class economic status. That we are in some way not deserving of true prosperity and that the majority of our citizens should be content to simply muddle along, underemployed and just getting by, while other parts of this country grow and prosper. Many seem to allow that living under the nation’s highest tax burden is somehow acceptable and that even well thought out growth and development, be it commercial or residential, in some way goes against the traditions of our pristine state.

I disagree and feel there is nothing holding this state back from achieving economic prosperity but the historically ingrained misperceptions described above. Vermont has one of the most educated populations in the country. We are in close geographic proximity to over 50 million people and the major markets of the eastern United States and Canada. We are continually ranked one of the top states for entrepreneurship. We have burgeoning industry sectors in high tech and high growth fields such as environmental technology, information technology and high tech manufacturing. We are also home to many world-class institutions of technical vocation and higher education, which will continue to turn out a qualified and dedicated workforce.

There is no reason Vermont cannot come out of the current economic downturn stronger and more dynamic than we went in. All it takes is a change in our attitude and outlook, specifically towards growth and development. We need to stem the tide of outgoing young people that has led to our current demographic crisis. We can do this by focusing on affordability issues such as property taxes and affordable housing so that these future workers can afford to live in the state. Without a stable workforce from which to draw, our existing companies cannot grow and future employers will be wary of investing in Vermont.

I would urge our elected representatives to work with Gov. Jim Douglas to quickly pass his proposed Economic Growth Plan and get Vermont’s economy moving on the right path once again. These are common sense initiatives focusing on rewarding innovation and entrepreneurship in Vermont, streamlining our tedious permitting process, leveraging our underused existing infrastructure into “Opportunity Zones” and creating more affordable housing in our existing urban centers.

Do away with the partisan voting that we have seen in the past and work to enhance the lives of working Vermonters by making Vermont a more business friendly environment.

In conclusion, I want to thank again all of those who supported my campaign and the Williston voters who cast a ballot for me in the Nov. 4 election. I strongly believe that Vermont is a special place to live and that with a slight attitude adjustment, hard work and cooperation it can be better for our future generations.

Brennan Duffy is a Williston resident and Republican. He ran unsuccessfully in the Nov. 4 election to represent the town in the Vermont House of Representatives, and works as director of recruitment for the Vermont Department of Economic Development.


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Little Details (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

Spiritual journey

“Count up your sins on your fingers. Don’t waste the priest’s time,” Sister Gervais chided us.

Decked out in a black habit with readily accessible tissues tucked in her sleeves, the older Franciscan nun faced our collection of rambunctious second graders. She was charged with molding us into angelic, camera-ready members of St. Joseph’s First Holy Communion Class of 1972.

My sisters and I were raised to never question a direction from a nun or a priest. Clergy were one step removed from God the Almighty.

As a 7-year-old, I struggled to identify enough sins. After “hitting my sisters” and “disobeying my parents,” I was at a loss. Feeling the priest would expect more — I did have 10 fingers, after all — I resorted to making up sins. “Thinking bad thoughts” and “telling a lie” rounded out my menu of misdeeds.

Sister Gervais assured us that after entering the darkness of the confessional and admitting our failings, Father Paul — with God’s help — would absolve us. She promised anonymity: Father wouldn’t recognize our disembodied voices speaking through an opaque screen. She insisted Father — through God’s intervention — magically forgot our sins once absolution was granted.

My misinterpretation of Sister Gervais’ directions actually led to my lying to the priest. I guess it counted as a white lie; I was trying to do as I was told. It certainly wasn’t a mortal sin, the kind that led to eternal damnation in the fires of Hell. If it was a venial sin, I reasoned, I might simply earn a few days in Purgatory for soul cleansing.

I recited my sins, accepted penance — in the form of an Act of Contrition, three Hail Marys and an Our Father. I dispatched to a pew, knelt down, folded my small hands in earnest prayer and experienced heartfelt transformation.

“Your hearts have to be clean,” Sister Gervais cautioned.

Only then were we ready to receive the transubstantiated body and blood of Christ we learned about in our Baltimore Catechism.

Growing up in an ethnic Catholic parish, one celebrating the rituals my parents experienced in Poland, provided a haven in a culture dominated by decidedly “American” influences. We attended Midnight Mass at Christmas and were taught the folk songs and dances of our ancestry in the parish hall. Church ladies spent countless hours in the basement kitchen rolling dough for “pierogies” (Polish dumplings) to raise money for college scholarships and the local food shelf.

Our church family provided an apt substitute for my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins living in Poland. I knew to behave in the pews, on the playground and at the mall. If I didn’t, Mrs. Dzielnik, Mrs. Gajewski or Mrs. Wojtowicz just might call my mother to report me. I felt warmly embraced by a community who could pronounce my “ethnic” last name with ease while setting high expectations for what I was able to achieve.

My parents were heavily involved in volunteering at St. Joseph’s. Mom spent countless hours rolling pierogies, planning Christmas bazaars and serving on the PTA. She rose to leadership roles in the Ladies’ Guild and Holy Rosary societies. Dad, a member of the Holy Name Society, served as an usher at Sunday Mass and lent his bartending skills to the annual parish picnic.

My sisters and I volunteered at church, helping Sister Alfreda clean in preparation for weekend masses. Sister Alfreda, with chestnut hair peeking out from her black veil, was jovial and spirited. She let us take home expired Missalettes — for the hymns — and plied us with treats — cookies and potato chips — when our work was done.

“If girls could be altar boys,” Sister Alfreda mused, “the Bielawa girls would be first in line.”

It was the 1970s, after all.

Dusting smooth wooden pews or the statue of St. Joseph, I’d sometimes find a quarter or dime glinting on the green carpet. Feeling God’s eyes upon me, I’d carry the loose change to Sister Alfreda, who invariably suggested I drop the shiny silver pieces into a receptacle marked “For the Poor.”

Filling Holy Water fonts, posted near entrances, seemed an especially “holy” task. Entering the priest’s sacristy, I’d approach a silver receptacle crowned with a Christian cross and gently release the spigot, filling a glass cruet. I’d then walk around the sanctuary distributing the holy elixir which, to me, held mystical qualities. I even sampled it on my tongue once, but only once.

Over time, the neighborhood changed. Our beloved school closed at the end of my fifth grade year. Many of the kids who’d grown up in the parish, myself included, went to college and settled elsewhere. The church closed in 1997, part of a sweep of closures affecting largely “ethnic” Roman Catholic churches in the Boston area. The padlocking of the church was devastating.

I carry sweet memories from St. Joseph’s. I remain deeply indebted to my parents for raising me in a faith community. I am not one to say, “I survived Catholic school.” The nuns and priests I befriended were kind and sometimes quirky, but never abusive.

Even though my spiritual journey has brought me to a new home, it’s one that renews and affirms the value of being part of a community of believers who — like those women making pierogies in the church basement — strive in small ways to make our world kinder, gentler and more caring.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or


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Around Town (11/13/08)

Nov. 13, 2008

Safety forum to protect kids

A forum on Nov. 13 will cover issues related to child sex abuse.

The forum, titled “How to Keep Our Children Safe,” takes place on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at Williston Central School. A panel of experts will be on hand to present information and answer questions.

The forum grew out of a proposal for an ordinance restricting where sex offenders can live. The proposal will be among the forum’s topics.

Panel members include Robin Castle of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont; Sally Borden, executive director for the KidSafe Collaborative; Cathleen Wilson, executive director for the Women’s Rape Crisis Center; and Chris Ford, a counselor at Williston Central School.

Comcast Cable Channel 17 will videotape the session and broadcast it at a later date. The video will also be available on the Channel 17 Web site,

Master Gardener course

The registration period has opened to sign up for the Vermont Master Gardener course. The course runs on Tuesdays from Feb. 3 to April 28, from 6:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. Topics include insects, soils, vegetables, landscape design and plant diseases.

The course is offered at multiple locations including Williston, Middlebury, Montpelier, St. Albans and Waterbury.

The Master Gardener program runs out of University of Vermont Extension to promote successful and environmentally friendly gardening.

To sign up or for more information, contact the Master Gardener office at 656-9562, e-mail or go online to

Gap year fair

High school students interested in postponing the move to college can attend the Gap Year Fair being put on by the South Burlington High School guidance department on Thursday, Nov. 13.

The fair will take place in South Burlington High cafeterias from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

A gap year is a full year between high school and college. Students can learn a new language, build Web sites, study art, earn money for college or travel.

For more information, contact South Burlington High guidance counselor Nikki St. Mary at or 652-7065.


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