May 24, 2018

Affordable housing project gets green light from Selectboard

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

A proposal that would bring nine affordable housing units to Williston was met favorably by the Williston Selectboard at its March 19 meeting – although several homeowners with properties abutting the proposed subdivision expressed concerns about the project.

The housing proposal – a joint venture between landowners Dana and Brenda Hood and Colchester-based developer Jeff Atwood – would involve the construction of perpetually affordable housing on land off North Williston Road, adjacent to the Williston Golf Club and several Lefebvre Lane properties.

The project has been through many modifications and delays since Atwood first presented plans to the Williston Development Review Board in May 2007. A pre-application was approved by the DRB in October 2008, although the project has since encountered several roadblocks, including wetland mitigation issues.

“Our project has straddled the mortgage financial crisis,” said Dana Hood at Monday’s meeting.

The Hood/Atwood proposal would involve nine housing units, one of which (the current Hood residence) is existing. The other eight units would include seven that are perpetually affordable. Four of those units would be affordable to those who earn 100 percent of the county’s median income, while the other three would be available to those who earn 80 percent of the county’s median income.

Selectboard member Debbie Ingram expressed her support for the project.

“I want to really applaud you, Mr. Hood and Mr. Atwood, for working so hard to try to make this project happen and keep it affordable,” Ingram said. “I completely support building more affordable housing here in Williston and I’m really glad to see that you’ve stayed with it and found a creative way to try to do it.”

Ingram’s fellow Selectboard member Jay Michaud agreed with her sentiments.

“I thank you for what you’re doing,” said Michaud. “I think in Williston we need a bigger inventory of affordable housing, and I thank you for persevering with all these curveballs.”

Several residents with properties abutting the project area were more skeptical of the proposal, including Briant Hamrell, who expressed concerns that the planned residences could devolve into rental units.

“If the whole neighborhood turned into rental units, then obviously it wouldn’t be as appealing and the physical structures would suffer, because I think most people who rent don’t always take care of the places as well as somebody who owns,” Hamrell said.

Brian Donohue, a North Williston Road neighbor of the Hoods, asked what happens if the housing units don’t sell.

Dana Hood responded by referencing a housing project on Kirby Road in South Burlington.

“All I can tell you is the Kirby (Cottages) project in South Burlington sold extremely quickly. They built the whole thing in like six months and they were all gone,” Hood said. “So, is this going to be similar? I think so – it’s right in the village.”

Although no formal action was required by the Selectboard, a general consensus was provided to Hood that the Selectboard will not object to the project proceeding to the final review stage with the Development Review Board.

Growth Report: Williston’s population is growing – and growing older

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

In October 2007, the Taft Corners area of Williston became Vermont’s first officially designated growth center under the guidelines of legislation adopted by the state in 2006.

A recent growth report prepared by the Williston Planning and Zoning Department suggests that the designation was justified.

“This report is a preparation for discussions that we’re going to have in the not too distant future about reworking growth management,” said Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau at Tuesday night’s Williston Planning Commission meeting.

Among the many numbers crunched by town staff – with an assist from intern Matt Crawford, a senior at Saint Michael’s College – were Williston’s population figures for the past six decades.

In 1960, Williston had a population of 1,484. In 2010, its population was 8,698. The town saw its largest population increase in the 1990s, when it grew from 4,887 residents in 1990 to 7,650 in the year 2000 – a 56.5 percent jump.

The numbers also showed that the median age of Willistonians is steadily increasing – from 23.3 in 1970 to 44.1 in 2010 – and that Williston’s median age exceeds U.S., Vermont and Chittenden County averages.

Belliveau thinks the statistics reflect the fact that fewer families with school-age children are moving to Williston, and that more parents are staying put after their children leave the nest.

“I think that there are a lot of people who bought houses here in the ’80s, ’90s and maybe going up into the beginning of the century, who are aging in place, and their children may have gone beyond school years but these people have still stayed in those houses,” said Belliveau.

The growth report additionally revealed that only 11 percent of Williston’s workforce lives in town – a statistic Planning Commission member Meghan Cope found concerning.

“I think it’s really important to recognize that … (the data) actually shows a lot about the composition of the town in terms of work,” said Cope. “If you think about it, (Williston) is a typical bedroom community, but it’s just that those people that are sleeping in Williston are not working here, because they are probably more (business) professionals and fewer leisure and hospitality workers. We have this idea of a compact growth center, but it hinges on importing low wage workers, because they can’t afford to live here, and I think the town should be aware of that and think about what that means.”

Planning Commission member Michael Alvanos expanded upon Cope’s observations about the lack of affordable housing in Williston by suggesting that it also speaks to the town’s high median age. He referenced the ongoing Finney Crossing project, which will contain no affordable housing units, and which is currently undergoing the construction of a 43-unit apartment complex that will likely fetch two-bedroom rental prices of $1,700 per month.

“Usually, when you do a quick formula with how much you can charge per apartment, if you just do a simple calculation for a $1,700 apartment, each person would probably have to be making $40,000-$45,000 a year, so that pretty much cuts out anyone under (the age of ) 35,” Alvanos said.

Belliveau closed the discussion the way he began, by placing the growth management report in the context of revising the town’s residential growth management policy, which is set to expire July 1, 2015.

“Under the current bylaw, the construction of what we think of as perpetually affordable housing is incentivized,” Belliveau said. “I think an important question that the town will have to ask – as we look at whatever the next version of growth management is – is how effective have those incentives been.”

Questions to ask for a ‘best-fit’ camp

By Bette Bussel

What/who is driving the camp search? Unparalleled fun and learning? New experiences, skills and friends? Need for child care? Family tradition? Encouragement from friends?

What are your leading camp search criteria? Which are “non-negotiable” and which are “preferences”?

What type of camp are you looking for?

Which of your family’s values should be reflected in the camp philosophy? How religious? How competitive? How diverse? How much camper choice? Camps are intentional communities. What they do and why is reflected in the staff members they hire, the schedules they follow, the activities they offer and their materials.

What activities/programs interest you and your child? What level of intensity are you looking for? Are you looking for opportunities to try new activities, to play, to advance current skills, to practice, to compete or to specialize?

What kind of facilities will your camper consider? Discuss electricity, bathrooms and dining.

What session length, from eight weeks to a few days, is comfortable for you, for your child and for your family’s summer schedule? The most common session lengths are: full season (7-8 weeks), half season (3-4 weeks), two weeks, and one week. Remaining flexible about session length can increase your camp options.

What camp clientele do you want to consider? There are camps for boys only, girls only, coed, brother/sister, religious groups, under-served populations and children with special needs.

What is your budget for camp tuition? Camp remains an affordable option for nearly everyone. Some camps offer financial assistance. Financial aid procedures vary from camp to camp, so be sure to ask and to read brochures and websites carefully.


Betty Bussel is the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, New England.

Summer camp: the greatest gift to give a child

By Bette Bussel

Summer camps are great for making new friends and a fun place to learn new skills.(Stock photo)

One of the common misconceptions about summer camp is that it’s a place – that you send your child to summer camp. Summer camp is a community, built by professional educators together with the children they supervise. Within that community, children learn to make decisions and take healthy risks in a safe environment. Summer camp is not about where a child is; it’s what happens when they’re there.

Kids learn best through experience, and summer camp is one of the best (and only) remaining hands-on learning opportunities available to them — developing social skills, playing both formal and informal games, living in a natural setting and learning more about themselves physically and emotionally. At camp, there’s no teaching to a test. Every minute doesn’t have to be scheduled. There’s time for teachable moments and exploration.

That time, however fleeting, has a lasting impact on campers. Many people find that the most critical people in their lives were those they befriended at summer camp.

Summer camp has never been more necessary. Academic and afterschool commitments add so much pressure to a child’s life, and often take choices out of their hands. Time spent at summer camp allows kids to decompress and be themselves.

There’s a common misconception that children are sent awayy their rejoicing parents to summer camp, where someone else will do the work of supervising them. That’s simply not the case. Many parents choose to let their children experience summer camp because they know of the value it gives and the genuine joy it can inspire. Day and overnight camp experiences contribute mightily to the development of a child’s independence, responsibility and skills. It supplements a child’s education – and, for many kids who find school difficult, it can offer them a new venue where they might thrive and embrace learning. It allows them to try new things and enjoy favorite activities, all while creating lasting memories and lifetime friendships.


Betty Bussel is the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, New England.

Keeping kids safe online

Detective Corporal Thomas Nash meets with WCS parents

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Since 1998, ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Forces have reviewed more than 180,000 complaints of alleged child sexual victimization, resulting in the arrest of more than 16,500 individuals, according to (Stock photo)

Once upon a time, not too long ago, parents could rely on time-tested safety tips to keep their children out of harm’s way.

Look both ways before crossing the street.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Don’t take candy from the guy in a trench coat sitting on a park bench or behind the wheel of an unmarked panel van.

But as Detective Corporal Thomas Nash points out, with the advent of the Internet and social networking, predators can lurk anywhere.

“We are no longer dealing with the pervert sitting on the park bench,” said Nash. “Nowadays, where’s our bad guy? He can be anywhere. He can be next door; he can be in Nome, Alaska.”

Nash, an officer with the Burlington Police Department and a member of the Vermont branch of the national ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force, gave a presentation at Williston Central School on March 13, in which he cautioned parents about the omnipresence of online predators.

“It’s not a question of if (children) have been victimized,” Nash said. “It’s to what degree.”

Nash noted that while Internet chat rooms are a common source of child victimization, predators can obtain compromising information about kids from unprotected profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook.

“Somebody can start up a relationship with your child already knowing things about them. And where does that information come from? It comes from a profile,” he said.

Whether it is as egregious a misstep as posting a scantily clad picture of oneself online, or as seemingly innocuous an action as including one’s personal email address or AOL Instant Messenger name on a profile page, Nash stressed that once something is uploaded to the Internet, it’s there forever – even if the author later deletes it.

Nash also discussed the phenomenon of “sexting” – the act of sending sexually explicit text and/or photos electronically between cell phones – and the risk that such electronic material can eventually end up on the Internet.

“(Sexting) is practiced primarily by young adults, although it’s been known to occur among children as young as middle school,” he said. “The danger with sexting is that material can be very easily and widely copied and cannot be controlled.”

He added that a teen’s online footprint – in addition to putting him or her at risk at an early age – can also have negative ramifications when it comes time to apply for college or a first serious job, as college admissions officers and human resources directors commonly perform online due diligence.

One parent in attendance did a search engine query for her son’s name while listening to Nash’s presentation.

“I Googled my son while we sitting here, and I couldn’t believe what I found,” she said.


Online victimization can come in many forms. It needn’t be committed by the middle-aged creeper eyeing little girls with bad intent while snot runs down his nose and greasy fingers smear shabby clothes.

Instead, it can be perpetrated by Billy the class bully, or Ashley the prom queen.

“In the olden days, you could get away from (bullying). If the bully was in the playground, you just didn’t go to the playground,” said Nash. “This is 24/7. It’s out there, and it’s easier for bullies to remain anonymous (online). Because we all know that bullies at heart are just cowards.”

Nash’s wife, Pamela, a doctor of clinical psychology, attended the March 13 meeting and commented that teens often choose not to report bullying incidents because of the fear that the repercussions could be worse.

“As a psychologist, and as a kid who was – when I was in junior high school – bullied by some of the ‘cool’ girls, you don’t report it because … there’s the thought that the retaliation could be ten times as bad, so kids don’t speak up,” she said.

Zach Schaw, a fifth-grader at WCS who accompanied his parents to the meeting, agreed.

“I also know some kids at school, who sometimes they were getting bullied, and when they told, it was great for like two weeks, but then it got worse,” Schaw said.

Jennifer Mitchell, who has two children at WCS, said that children are often the most effective policers of peer bullying.

“A lot of the bullying prevention programs really suggest that kids stand up for their friends,” said Mitchell. “Really, the kids have more influence than adults.”


Detective Corporal Thomas Nash (above), an officer with the Burlington Police Department and a member of the Vermont ICAC Task Force, gave a presentation about Internet safety at Williston Central School on March 13. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Although Nash acknowledged that teens, not parents, are usually the computer experts in a family and are often skilled at erasing their online tracks, he recommended that parents learn how to check Internet histories, cache files and cookies.

“I don’t consider this snooping,” Nash said. “It’s parenting.”

Nash also advised that parents should know about every social networking site their child belongs to. He cited the Brooke Bennett kidnapping/homicide case, in which the Vermont ICAC team was called in to investigate Bennett’s Internet activity. Bennett’s mother knew of three social networking sites that her daughter belonged to. ICAC found four more.

While Nash mentioned that putting a home computer in a shared common area can be a good way to moderate teens’ Internet use, Mitchell commented that desktop computers are no longer kids’ preferred method for accessing the Web.

“Most kids nowadays are not accessing the Internet through computers,” said Mitchell. “Most of them are accessing it through cell phones, iPods, iPads … that’s the preferred method.”

Nash added gaming systems such as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to Mitchell’s list of Internet-enabled devices, saying that if a house has Internet service, gaming systems are no different from computers when it comes to online capabilities.


According to Nash, there are two types of parental Internet monitoring: overt, in which children know they are being monitored; and covert, in which parents surreptitiously watch their children’s Internet activity.

He noted that while there are technologies such as keylogger software that can record a teen’s every keystroke, such strategies can backfire if children discover they are being monitored.

“Covert monitoring has its pitfalls,” Nash said. “Any sort of trust you might have with your kid is out the window.”

Instead, Nash recommended that parents maintain a dialogue with their children, letting them know their concerns and making kids aware about the potential dangers of the Internet.

“It’s a matter of trust between you and your kids,” he said. “You guys know your kids.”


Talk to your child about the potential dangers of the Internet and social networking Web sites.

Know every social networking site your child belongs to.

Familiarize yourself with Web/chat room lingo.

Look for unusual trends in your child’s Internet behavior, such as an excessive amount of time spent on computers, cell phones or gaming systems – particularly at night.

Instruct your child to never share passwords under any circumstances.

Learn how to search a computer’s Internet history, cache files and cookies.



Trinity Baptist School suspends student for essay

Jonathan Oblak banned for remainder of school year

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Richmond resident Jonathan Oblak, 17, was suspended from Williston’s Trinity Baptist School for the remainder of the school year following an essay he wrote that criticized the school’s dress and conduct codes. (Photo courtesy Sylvia Oblak)

Brock and Sylvia Oblak were shocked when they received the news that their son, Jonathan, had been suspended from Trinity Baptist School in Williston for the remainder of the school year for writing an essay that criticized the school’s rules.

The decision to suspend the 17-year-old Richmond resident, based on a persuasive essay he submitted to his 11th grade English teacher on March 7, was unanimously rendered by the school’s eight-member board on the evening of March 11.

“We feel that in this instance the punishment was extraordinarily harsh,” said Sylvia Oblak. “We are asking (the school board) to rescind the decision and to expunge this from his academic record.”

Jonathan Oblak said he was initially hurt by the decision of the school board.

“At first I was kind of offended and kind of hurt, but then as thought about it more I realized that my school didn’t kick me out, it was the school board,” he said. “The students … many of them have told me that I’m their hero and that they’re proud of me and that they totally agree with the paper.”

Oblak’s essay, reproduced in full on an anonymously created Facebook page titled, “Do Right Trinity Baptist Church and School,” criticizes the private school’s dress and conduct codes, deeming them outmoded and arbitrary.

“Here at Trinity we have many rules in place that are totally subjective,” Oblak wrote. “In the rulebook it states that students are expected to refrain from ‘inappropriate speech.’ It doesn’t say what speech is inappropriate, it doesn’t give a verse reference in the Bible that we can refer to.”

He continued: “Another undefined and baseless rule in the rulebook is the issuing of demerits for ‘inappropriate literature.’ Once again we have a dilemma where one thing may be completely harmless for one to read or (sic) while for another, it may be sinful, for whatever reason.”

Oblak concluded his essay by suggesting that a wholesale revision of Trinity rules be undertaken.

“The rules at Trinity need to change from being so subjective and smothering. … Many students do not actually want to be in the school because of the sheer number of rules and the subjective rules that are rarely backed by the Bible,” he wrote.

Sylvia Oblak said that after repeated requests for a written explanation of the suspension from the school’s administration, she and her husband received a letter via email from Pastor Darrin Forehand, which she in turn uploaded to Facebook.

“The reasons that brought us to this conclusion were more than simply the persuasive essay that Johnny turned in (sic) English class,” the letter reads. “By Johnny’s own admission … he displayed a rebellious spirit for most of the school year and did not want to be a student at TBS.”

Forehand’s letter further states: “The dress code and other guidelines which we have in our handbook are not meant to be a benchmark for godliness or a standard by which to judge a person. They are simply in place to provide a safe and orderly environment and to create an atmosphere which we believe is conducive to discipling the hearts of our students towards Christlikeness.”

Forehand, who serves as both superintendent of Trinity Baptist School and senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, declined to be interviewed, other than to refer to the letter as his official response.

Sylvia Oblak acknowledged that her son had received six behavioral demerits over the course of the school year for offences other than tardiness, but she said she never received calls from his teachers and doesn’t think his punishment is justified by his behavior.

She said that he will complete the current school year through the Trinity Baptist School’s at-home distance learning program and that after he turns 18 this summer he will be free to choose where he wants to attend school for his senior year.

Jonathan Oblak said that while he is undecided where he will attend school next year, returning to Trinity is not an option.

“I do know that I don’t want to go back to Trinity,” he said. “It would just be awkward.”

While the school has seen a flood of criticism from many of the Facebook page’s 114 followers, Jennifer Anair – who has four children at Trinity – told the Observer that the positive aspects of the school shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We are a wonderful, loving school with lots of freedoms, but I do understand that there will be once in a while the disgruntled student that hates the dress code and that doesn’t like not being able to swear, and so I can understand why he would be upset about certain rules, but I’m sure we’re not the only private school that has ever had this issue,” Anair said.

Sylvia Oblak, who said her 8-year-old daughter will continue to attend the Trinity school, also had positive things to say about the church and school communities.

“It is not our intent to harm this school or this ministry,” she said. “These are people we love. I believe these are good men who made a bad decision.”

Following the school board’s decision, Sylvia and Brock Oblak sent a letter to Forehand on March 18, requesting that the board expunge the disciplinary action from their son’s academic record.

Forehand responded to Sylvia Oblak via email on March 21, stating: “The decision was not unjust and our decision remains the same. If you want to communicate further I will be glad to meet with you and Brock personally.”

Although Sylvia Oblak is not seeking to have her son reinstated at the school, she said she is worried about the precedent the board’s decision will set.

“I’m just afraid that this sends a clear message to the students that you don’t work through problems – you get rid of them,” she said.


Jon’s Essay entitled “Trinity Rules”

by Do Right Trinity Baptist Church and School (Williston, VT) on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:23 p.m. 

Rules have been a part of life since the beginning of time. God first told Adam and Eve that they were not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil. There were about eight books that held the Egyptian legal code. Emperor Justinian I of the Romans wrote the Corpus Juris Civilis. In colonial times, criminal codes, punishments, and courts varied from colony to colony. In modern times there are many laws that govern everything from speeding to what you can share on the internet (In Ancient Egypt… 1, Ancient Roman Laws 1, Colonial Williamsburg 1). These days there is no tree that God has forbidden us from. The Egyptians are no longer killing people just for stealing a simple object. The Romans fell and then their conquerors made laws to govern them. The colonies united, but the laws still differ state to state. Laws and rules change as time progresses because the mindset against those actions changes. Either they became socially acceptable or the next generations didn’t see those actions as wrong. There is no need for God to forbid any of us from eating from a specific tree anymore and the Romans didn’t even have electricity so telling them they can’t share files online is preposterous. Telling the Egyptians that they can’t listen to their ipods in school makes no sense just as many of the rules for Trinity Baptist students are old and unnecessary and don’t apply any longer. What may have been considered scandalous in the 1960s is now the social norm with this younger generation. The rules should change from being subjective, by changing based on how the teacher is feeling that day, being from the late 20th century, and being overbearing and stifling to the students. The rules should change to conform to what is acceptable in the 21st century, to being objective so the rules don’t change if the teacher likes one over another, and to letting the students here show a bit of their own personality and not being forced to look like the next kid. The rules at Trinity need to change from being subjective and very oppressing and stifling towards the students.

Here at Trinity we have many rules in place that are totally subjective. In the rulebook it states that students are expected to refrain from “inappropriate speech.” It doesn’t say what speech is inappropriate, it doesn’t give a verse reference in the Bible that we can refer to. The rule makers just expect us to understand. This means that if a student was brought up being taught that the word “darn” is ok, but a teacher thinks that that specific word is wrong, the student may get demerits because the teacher was taught or believes something different. Another rule from the rulebook is “Any other offence that might injure the reputation of the school.” If I drive two miles an hour over the speed limit, I am disobeying the state law.  Since God does not have any one sin be more important or damning than another, this means that my speeding could be looked at the same as stealing a piece of gum, or robbing a bank. Seeing that God does not differentiate between sins by calling one more offensive than another, how can we start to decide where the line is for the seriousness of any offence? Technically then, my robbing a bank and speeding by two miles per hour both would injure school’s reputation.

Another undefined and baseless rule in the rulebook is the issuing of demerits for “inappropriate literature.” Once again we have a dilemma where one thing may be completely harmless for one to read or while for another, it may be sinful, for whatever reason. Who is to say besides God what is acceptable and appropriate for an entire body of students, all who have had different experiences in their lives and probably would disagree on what is sinful for them to read. A similar example is demerits for “unacceptable music.” The only thing the rulebook has to say about music is “…music must agree with the principle of God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.” The Bible really only says in a roundabout way that music should honor Him. Somehow drums became associated with sinful music and therefore were outlawed. Drums have become a symbol of worldly music and sinners. However, we are commanded to “Praise him upon the loud cymbals; Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” (Psalm 150:5) About “the leading of the Holy Spirit,” the Holy Spirit leads different people in very different directions. If He didn’t, we all would be lead to be missionaries or pastors. Again, who are we to act as God and tell a body of students that only specific music is allowed, when they may have been led by the Holy Spirit to believe that some other kind of music is ok and not sinful?

Yet another example of a subjective rule in the rulebook is “Students are expected to avoid types of clothing that particularly identify with the world.” This is completely subjective and ridiculous seeing that clothing originated with God, when He gave Adam and Eve the animal skins to wear in the Garden of Eden. It is also nonsensical because there are hundreds of thousands of articles of clothing being worn by the “world” that a student may be wearing. Baseball caps are perhaps the most easily recognizable article of clothing. On April 24, 1849, The New York Knickerbockers constructed the prototypes of the baseball cap (History of the Baseball Cap 1). The Knickerbockers was hardly the world’s leading Christian Enterprise. Billions of these caps have been manufactured and sold, mostly to the “world.” Yet every pastor at Trinity has owned and worn a baseball cap. What exactly is a type of clothing that was not created and is manufactured by someone “of the world?” What exactly makes it more wrong than a baseball cap?

The last example is “No outside clothing is to be worn during the day…” This means in school, during the school day. However, no definition of what clothing this includes. No list of forbidden materials is given, just that it is forbidden. In fact, if an “outside coat” (made of a soft, stainless polyester material) is turned inside out so that the fleece lining (complete with the tag now on the outside) is on the outside, the coat may be worn, even though it does not look half as good as the way the coat was meant to be worn. This makes no sense, and it is not even what the rulebook says, it is only what one teacher decided one day. Unfortunately, with many rules at trinity just like this one, what may not be allowed one day may be allowed the next.

The rules at Trinity need to change from being so subjective and smothering.  The students are being forced to resemble clones in an effort to make sure that the students are modest and have no resemblance to the “world.” Students are required to wear a “TBS embroidered shirt.” These shirts are exactly the same except for color (which there are only about five colors) making one student closely resemble the next. The male students are required to be “clean-shaven with side-burns no longer than the opening of the ear.”  This is to “prepare the students for the business world.” However, many businessmen that are very well off have facial hair. Many even have beards which is the epitome of facial hair. Neither the students nor their parents have any say in the matter of what rules are in place at TBS. Many students feel smothered and even oppressed by the number of rules and how they change day to day. Many students do not actually want to be in the school because of the sheer number of rules and the subjective rules that are rarely backed by the Bible.


Pastor Forehand’s letter to Jon’s parents

Brock and Sylvia,

On Sunday night, March 11, the School Board of Trinity Baptist Church unanimously voted to suspend Johnny Oblak for the remainder of the school year and to offer a distance learning option as much as we are able to help him finish his academic school year. The choice to offer distance learning was made due to our desire to be gracious to him, but we concluded it would not be in the best interests of the student body to allow Johnny to continue as a student.

The reasons that brought us to this conclusion were more than simply the persuasive essay that Johnny turned in English class. By Johnny’s own admission he did not want to attend TBS from the beginning of the school year. But the administration, genuinely wanting to minister to him and your family, allowed him to attend. I say that for a reason . . . the heart of the men on the school board was one of graciousness and genuine love for Johnny. They wanted to help your family. But by Johnny’s own admission, he displayed a rebellious spirit for most of the school year and did not want to be a student at TBS. He would openly challenge both teachers and guidelines. Dr. K and the school board have consistently extended patience even though his influence towards the other students was contradictory to what we desire to accomplish in their lives.

Brock and Sylvia, every institution has guidelines, and each institution chooses guidelines for various reasons. The dress code and other guidelines which we have in our handbook are not meant to be a benchmark for godliness or a standard by which to judge a person. They are simply in place to provide a safe and orderly environment and to create an atmosphere which we believe is conducive to discipling the hearts of our students towards Christlikeness. We do not claim that the guidelines at TBS are inspired or can never be changed. But we must insist that the present guidelines be obeyed and a submissive spirit be communicated. That is the heart beat of biblical submission to authorities which reflects a submission to our Lord Jesus. There are proper ways to engage authorities in civil dialogue for positive change, but Johnny has consistently not done this and has sought to undermine the authorities of our school and has influenced others in the same direction.

It was for all of those reasons the school board concluded it best to suspend Johnny for the remainder of the year. But even then, a gracious offer was extended to Johnny to have him finish as much of his work as possible via distance learning at home. The school board was not obligated to offer this but wanted to communicate our desire to see him finish this year as easily as possible.

Brock and Sylvia, you know we are not just a school board and parents but church members who worship together. Like I told you and Brock last Saturday morning while we talked in my office, we want to reach Johnny’s heart for the Lord Jesus and have a burden for Johnny to be more involved in our church life such as our teen Sunday School and youth group. This would be a great avenue for him to consistently fellowship with other Christian teens and “renew his mind with the Word”- Rom. 12:2.

Last Saturday morning I offered to meet with you again to help you through this difficult time, and I still desire to do that if you would like. Please allow your church family the privilege of coming alongside and helping you disciple Johnny for the Lord. We are not trying to judge you, Johnny or anyone else in your family but want to help you.

In Christian Love,
Pastor Forehand

This Weeks Popcorn: Dr. Seuss ‘The Lorax’

Has a Saving Grace


2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


Parents who think global warming is a bunch of poppycock can kill two birds with one stone—misrepresent the inconvenient truth and impart an early lesson in the abrogation of First Amendment rights—by forbidding their kids to see “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.”  Maybe take them shooting or to a tractor pull instead. Teach ‘em something they can use.

But rest assured, children know the score. They’re just protecting your feelings. During one scene from directors Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda’s Hollywoodization of Dr. Seuss’s poignant jeremiad about the ecology, the cute little animals are leaving a decimated forest that can no longer sustain them. The silence in the theater is deafening.

I’ve no doubt that if President Teddy Roosevelt, that icon of conservation, could ride the time machine to a theater showing “The Lorax,” he’d doff his Roughrider hat and shout “bully!” reaffirming the true spirit of conservatism. I’d treat to lunch, where I’m sure we’d agree the film is more important as a tutorial than it is as art. T.R. can leave the tip.

While the animation and voicing are just fine, and the mood of the tale ultimately comical and uplifting, save for the moral message this has to be the least Seuss-like of the movie adaptations. Still, I could see a Broadway rendition. Of course, with only one memorable song, they’d have to fix that. And the lecturing, well, it’s a tad too spoon-fed.

However, let’s skip for a second the controversy and the fear by some reactionary pundits that tykes and tots viewing this flick will immediately want to occupy their nursery schools, especially if they’re profitable. This is no more subversive than “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s fun. Strip thought from our entertainment and we’re numbskulls.

That said, welcome to Thneed-Ville, a Popsicle and Candyland-looking place with seemingly happy folk. But look a bit further and you note that, similar to H.G. Wells’s passive Eloi in “The Time Machine,” they’re living a life of subjugation. Like the phony trees and plants, their complacency is synthetic. What’s more, the city is walled.

But here’s the real rub, the ultimate confiscation we cite when agonizing over monopolistic insensibility: ‘The next thing you know, they’ll be charging us for air.” Fact is, Mr. O’Hare, looking like the Three Stooges’s Moe Howard and verbalized by Bob Riggle, wouldn’t have it any other way. He owns it. Cough up the cash or suffocate.

How this rotten kettle of fish came to be is told when, in true chivalric fashion, 12-year-old Ted, articulated by Zac Efron, embarks to win the love of Audrey, voiced by Taylor Swift. A budding environmentalist, Audrey pines for a real tree, declaring that if someone gave her one, she’d probably marry him. Hey, if such stuff could start the Trojan War….

A vision of machismo atop his cool, one-wheeled motorbike, what little boy wouldn’t want to be Ted? And now he has a mission…a quest no less, in the service of a lady fair, just like the knights of old. Problem is, he doesn’t know if a tree grows anywhere in this brave new world. Good thing Grammy Norma (Betty White) is around to advise.

Seek out the Once-ler, she counsels. He’ll know. So off Ted goes, where no kid has gone before, at least not in a very, very long time, perhaps not since the air was free. Like the scene in 1492, when an adventurer might fear falling off the edge, he approaches, through tunnel and over bridge, the end of the known world…the wall. He zooms through a door.

Gosh…it’s a wasteland, a nonexistent forest of ruin, and pretty spooky, too. Oh well, gotta find this Once-ler. But when he finally does, it’s apparent this won’t be getting any easier. Barely visible, ensconced high in a tower where he lives in hermit fashion, the Once-ler isn’t quick to help, at least not at first, his words rife with mystery and puzzle.

Fortunately, Grammy made sure Ted took along the Once-ler’s favorite treat. The story goes into flashback as the strange curmudgeon tells a tale of greed and how, through his invention of the Thneed, an all-purpose garment made from trees, it resulted in this sad state of affairs. But hark, the forces of evil are spying.

Sneaky as Nixon, invasive as the KGB, Mr. O’Hare is hip to the activist jive, fearful that this young do-gooder might spoil his pay-to-breathe domination. Then the action speeds up and the colorful, 3-D magic reaches near kaleidoscopic proportions. Land sakes alive, Ma, the revolution is on, and Junior is experiencing his first coup d’état.

So, let’s see: free speech, separation of business and state, conservation, and fighting tyranny. Hmm. Better not let your kid see “The Lorax.” He might grow up to be an American.


 “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” rated PG, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda and stars the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. Running time: 86 minutes




PHOTOS: Voyager School Dance

Observer photos by David Schmidt

Williston Central School’s Voyager House rolled out the red carpet as host of the March school dance, held last Friday in the ‘new gym.’ The dance, open to all WCS students, featured ‘The Red Carpet’ theme, and students had the chance to pose like the stars. Money raised from concession sales will go toward Voyager’s end of year trip to an ecological adventure 4-H camp in Derby, according to Voyager TA Kim Russ.

Recipe Corner

By Ginger Isham

More maple from my kitchen 

When traveling, I often look for maple syrup cookbooks. Instead of souvenirs, I buy cookbooks (if the price is right). The following recipes are from a book I bought in Nova Scotia titled, “Maple Syrup – Recipes From Canada’s Best Chefs.”


Baked Beans from Nova Scotia  (to serve with breakfast)

1 pound dry white beans, rinsed

6 cups water

6 slices bacon, cut into pieces (I would partially cook bacon and use only 4 slices)

1 small onion, chopped

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)

½ cup dark maple syrup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter


Put beans and water in kettle, bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let set for 1 hour, covered. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Drain and save liquid. Place half of bacon in bottom of bean crock and add the beans. Mix liquid, onion, mustard, salt and syrup and pour over beans. Sprinkle rest of bacon pieces on top. Cover and cook in 325 degree oven for 3 hours. Check now and then and add some water if it seems to be getting dry. Mix together brown sugar and butter and sprinkle on top of beans. Bake uncovered for another hour. Perhaps use crock pot for first cooking, and then put in oven for final phase of cooking .


Maple Pie

(If you do not have access to an abundance of maple syrup, this recipe may be for you)

1 and ½ cups brown sugar  (I leave out ¼ cup)

½ cup heavy cream

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 egg

2 teaspoons butter


Blend the brown sugar, cream, maple syrup, egg and butter until creamy and smooth. Pour into a pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. To decorate pie, you could place 3 or 4 walnut halves in center before baking, or sprinkle chopped walnuts or pecans over whipped cream served with the pie or place walnut or pecan halves alongside a slice of pie.

Williston Firm Honored by Efficiency Vermont

Building Energy, based in Williston, was awarded ‘Best of the Best’ Small Project Honorable Mention in Commercial Building Design and Construction Major Renovation for its work on the Champlain Center for Natural Medicine. (Courtesy photo)

Building Energy and builder Scott Gardner recently received “Best of the Best” awards from Efficiency Vermont during its annual Better Buildings by Design conference.

In presenting the “Best of the Best” awards, Efficiency Vermont highlights the hard work of builders and architects across the state that successfully integrate sustainability and energy efficiency into new construction and renovation projects. A total of 20 honor and merit awards were presented.

Building Energy, based in Williston, was awarded “Best of the Best” Small Project Honorable Mention in Commercial Building Design and Construction Major Renovation for its work on the Champlain Center for Natural Medicine in Shelburne. The goals of the project were to renovate and update the building, which contains both commercial and residential space, while significantly reducing its carbon footprint.

In addition, Gardner teamed up with architect Sam Gardner of Studio 19 Design Group to renovate a Burlington home dating back to 1859. The goal of the project was to preserve the building’s historical integrity, while incorporating as many energy efficiency improvements as possible.

Efficiency Vermont’s annual Better Buildings by Design conference and “Best of the Best” awards highlight the ever-growing role of efficiency and sustainability in Vermont’s building sector. The work of these winners helps reinforce the idea that Vermonters can live and work in comfortable, fully functional spaces, while saving money and energy.

Harvest Equipment under new ownership

New owner Lionel Theriault (far left) poses with his staff at Harvest Equipment’s Williston store. (Courtesy photo)

Lionel Theriault, the John Deere dealer in Presque Isle, Maine, recently purchased Harvest Equipment, the John Deere dealer headquartered in Newport, Vt. The company is comprised of four stores currently selling John Deere farm, lawn and garden, and light industrial equipment with locations in Williston, Newport, Swanton and Montpelier. The company will continue under the name Harvest Equipment. Ken Thomas is the store manager for Williston, and will continue in that role. “We are excited about what lies ahead,” Theriault noted in a company press release.

Giardino and Hume purchase New England Automotive

Williston resident Karla Giardino, 24, and Dustin Hume, 26, of Ferrisburgh are the new owners of New England Automotive, an auto repair shop located at 2071 Williston Road in South Burlington. Although Giardino and Hume have been in the auto repair industry since their teens, both are first-time business owners. Giardino noted that the shop services all makes and models of cars and trucks, and its focus is customer service. “We want our customers to know that they’re respected and important, and we aim to give them a high quality repair,” said Giardino.

FairPoint Honors Gail Sperry

FairPoint Communications recognized its outstanding sales leaders at the annual company-wide sales gathering recently.

Four Vermonters were singled out for their top performances in meeting customer needs and outstanding service, including Colin Comi of Colchester, Julie Mountain of Barton, Gail Sperry of Williston and Darlene Cross of Swanton.

“These outstanding sales professionals have shown customers the value of doing business with FairPoint and the confidence that comes with knowing their business is riding our state-of-the-art VantagePoint network,” said Kathleen McLean, executive vice president and chief revenue officer, in a company press release.

FairPoint’s VantagePointnetwork, a fiber core, IP-based network, provides businesses with scalability and reliability for voice, data and video communications. The VantagePoint suite of IP/MPLS-based Ethernet services allows businesses to connect all their locations, users and applications on a single seamless, high-performance network, the release noted.

CCTA receives high marks

The Chittenden County Transportation Authority recently announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration has released information that shows CCTA is one of the most effective small urban transit systems in the U.S., according to the Small Transit Intensive Cities Program.

The performance rankings of ridership and service provided by transit agencies with 50,000 –199,999 service area population were judged on various factors. Of the 314 transit agencies across the country within this category, only 6 percent came in with higher ranks than CCTA.

Welch hires new business liaison

Rep. Peter Welch has hired Waterbury native Megan Sullivan Rodriguez to serve as his liaison to Vermont’s business community. Sullivan will undertake a statewide tour of Vermont’s businesses in her first weeks on the job. She will work out of Welch’s Burlington office.

A University of Vermont graduate with a BA in Political Science, Rodriguez most recently served as a procurement counselor with the Vermont Procurement Technical Assistance Center where she advised Vermont businesses on securing federal contracts. Rodriguez has also worked as a business support specialist for the state of Vermont and has collaborated extensively with business and economic development leaders throughout the state.

“We’re very excited to have Megan on board to help Vermont’s businesses succeed,” Welch said. “Her experience and her understanding of the Vermont business climate will be an incredible asset to our office.”

Korzun new president of AIA Vermont

Diantha Korzun, AIA, LEED AP, of TruexCullins Architecture and Interior Design has been elected President of the American Institute of Architects, Vermont Chapter. Korzun, an architect with TruexCullins since 2007, is the project manager on current projects including the King Arthur Flour Expansion Project and the Anglo-American School of Sofia in Bulgaria. She is also currently the LEED Team Administrator for the International Community School at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. She has served on the AIAVT Board of Directors for five years.

AIA-VT, the Vermont Chapter of the American Institute of Architects since 1948, has nearly 300 members, including architects, associates and professional affiliates.

SBA Licenses First Nationwide Impact Investment Fund

The U.S. Small Business Administration has licensed the first nationally focused Impact Investment Fund, SJF Ventures III, LP. The fund will make equity investments in clean-tech and technology companies in communities nationwide as part of an impact investment initiative to invest up to $1.5 billion in high-growth small businesses.

“SJF Ventures III, LP is yet another important new ally in SBA’s commitment to foster small business growth and job creation in emerging sectors,” said Administrator Karen Mills. “They’re an experienced team that is well-positioned to drive more investment in high growth, positive impact companies.”

SJF’s areas of focus include: efficiency and infrastructure; reuse and recycling; sustainable agriculture and food safety; and technology enhanced services.

The impact investment initiative is part of Startup America, a White House initiative to bring together public and private organizations to accelerate the growth of America’s entrepreneurs. The initiative uses the infrastructure of the SBA’s SBIC program, an established and successful program that operates at no cost to taxpayers. For more information on the impact investment initiative, visit

Labare joins DEW Construction

Jay Labare is the newly appointed Manager of MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) Services for DEW Construction Corp. of Williston, Vt. and Hanover, N.H.  Labare will be based in the Vermont office and will be responsible for MEP estimates, Building Information Modeling (BIM) coordination and will assist operations with MEP coordination, commissioning, training and turnover of systems for all DEW projects.

Labare is a LEED™ Accredited Professional and a graduate of Johnson State College and Vermont Technical College with degrees in mathematics and architectural engineering.

Armistead Caregiver Services Announces New President

Armistead Caregiver Services, providers of in-home care for seniors, recently announced Tom Juers is the new President of the company. Juers brings to Armistead 30 years of service industry experience. The first 17 years of his career were spent with Eckerd Drugs and the last thirteen with Burger King Corporation, where he served as a Franchise Business Leader in New England and upstate New York. Most recently he held the title of Operations Excellence Leader for the Northeast United States and Canada.

“Over the last several years I have felt like I needed to contribute to the community I have served in a bigger way, pay forward if you will. I saw an opportunity to help take care of those who have taken care of us and provided us with much of what we have today as a society. I had been looking for the right way to do that and began my search of companies that served our senior community.  Armistead Caregiver Services fit the bill,” Juers said.

BBA announces 2012 award winners

Three Burlington Business Association awards will be presented at the 34th BBA Dinner and Annual Meeting on April 5 at the Hilton, Burlington.

Scott D. Carpenter, District President of KeyBank, will receive the Tim Halvorson Award, which is given to an individual in recognition of outstanding contribution to the economic vitality of Burlington.

The Architectural Excellence Award seeks to award significant contribution to the physical or architectural quality of Burlington. Established in 1986, the award is given in memory of Hertzel Pasackow, owner of The Mayfair on upper Church Street, and founding member of both BBA and the Church Street Marketplace Commission.

This year, Investors Corporation of Vermont (ICV) will be taking home the honors for its work on Waterfront Plaza. This four-story, “Class-A” office building, with two stories of parking, is situated on an existing urban parcel located on the corner of Battery and King Streets.

For exemplary business practices, contributions to the community, promotion of a positive image for Burlington, and business success, Lake Champlain Transportation (LCT) will take home the coveted Business of the Year Award. The company’s year-round, 24-hour ferry service between Vermont and New York serves 1 million passengers each year. LCT also own Breakwaters Cafe and the Northern Lights cruise ship.

The BBA Annual Dinner will be held at the Hilton Burlington on April 5. Tickets are available through the BBA website,, for $70 for members and $80 for non-members. The BBA is a private membership organization with more than 200 members. The Association and its members work to promote and enhance the economic vitality of Burlington.

Vt. unemployment rate fourth lowest in U.S.

The Vermont Department of Labor announced this week that the seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate for January 2012 was 5 percent, a decrease of two-tenths of a percent from the revised December 2011 rate. At 5 percent, Vermont’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ranks as the fourth lowest in the United States. The comparable national rate for January 2012 is 8.3 percent; also a decline of two-tenths of a percent from the previous month.

“Recent economic data has been positive and reflects signs of the economic recovery…The Vermont Department of Labor continues to address current and future labor force challenges through both job placement services and training programs that meet the needs of Vermont employers. We are working to ensure that Vermont addresses the needs of young people, returning veterans, long-term unemployed, dislocated workers, and individuals with employment barriers including new-Americans and mature workers,” said Department of Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan in a press release.

Vermont small business winners announced

Five small business owners, four small business champions and a lender have been selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration for outstanding success in their chosen fields, including Williston’s Karen Mount of Westaff Vermont.

Charles “Chach” Curtis Jr. CEO of Draker Laboratories, Inc., Burlington, has been named the SBA 2012 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year.  Nominated by Cairn Cross, Managing Director, Fresh Tracks Capital, Curtis was selected for outstanding leadership related to his company’s staying power, employee growth, increase in sales, innovative ingenuity and contributions to the community.

Curtis will be honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration on June 14 at a ceremony presented by Vermont Business Magazine in the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn.

The celebration will also honor the following winners of the 2012 Small Business Awards:

Financial Services Champion

Vermont Economic Development Authority

Jo Bradley, CEO on behalf of the VEDA Team Montpelier.

Small Business Exporter

Joel Melnick, President, Nathaniel Group, Inc.,Vergennes.

Home-Based Business Champion

Simeon Geigel, Small Business Development Specialist, CVOEO Micro Business Development Program, Burlington.

Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business

James Mount and Karen Mount, Owners, Westaff, Burlington

Women In Business Champion

Sarah S. Spencer, Founder/President, Got Clicks?, Richmond.

Vermont Micro-Enterprise

Andrew Boutin, General Manager, Pellergy, LLC, Montpelier.

Vermont Community/Rural Lender

Passumpsic Savings Bank

Bob Bishop, Executive Vice President on behalf of the Passumpsic Team, St. Johnsbury.

Vermont Special Award for Disaster Assistance

Linda Rossi, Associate State Director, Vermont Small Business Development Center, Randolph.