April 18, 2019

Food Shelf to reap bounty from local gardeners’ efforts

Extension Master Gardener June Jones said colunteers tending the Plant A Row community garden plot hope to donate more than 300 pounds of produce to the food shelf by the end of the growing season. (Observer file photo)

Extension Master Gardener June Jones said colunteers tending the Plant A Row community garden plot hope to donate more than 300 pounds of produce to the food shelf by the end of the growing season. (Observer file photo)


By Marianne Apfelbaum

Observer staff

Despite a recent spate of bad weather and a rascally rabbit that ate their bean seedlings, volunteers for Williston’s Plant A Row program are optimistic that they will have a good supply of fresh produce for the Williston Community Food Shelf again this year.

Sue Stanne and her fellow Extension Master Gardener June Jones lead the project with a group of about 10 volunteers and oversee a large plot at the Williston Community Gardens off Mountain View Road.

“We need to try to get caught up on everything, since the weather has been so wet lately,” Stanne wrote in an email to the Observer.

In addition to the community garden project, local families are encouraged to plant an extra row of vegetables in their gardens to donate to the food shelf.

Stanne noted that her group has planted tomatoes, peppers, beans (which have to be replanted due to the rabbit’s pilfering), squash, carrots, radishes, lettuce and eggplant, with seeds donated by American Meadows in Williston. In her email, she encouraged community members to join the group on its “Tuesday (5:00) workday.”

“We love having the fresh veggies right out of the garden because we only get them in the summer from Plant-a-Row and what our neighbors bring in and also because of their nutritious value which we are unable to offer our clients at other times of the year,” wrote Food Shelf President Cathy Michaels in an email to the Observer.

Michaels noted that summer is an especially tough time for struggling families.

“As always at this time of year, there is an increase in need because children are not in school, while at the same time incoming donations decrease. I encourage everyone to visit our newly designed website…There is now a DONATE button to make donating to the food shelf very easy,” she wrote.

Plant a Row, a national public service program launched in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association, was adopted by the Williston community in 2006. The program is a collaboration between Williston members of the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener program, the Williston Department of Parks and Recreation and the Williston Observer. Produce from Williston’s Plant A Row program was initially donated to food pantries in St. George and Hinesburg before Williston founded its own food shelf in 2008.

“At the 4 and 1/2 year mark, I am still amazed at the dedication of the core group of volunteers we have working tirelessly to keep this food shelf running seamlessly. We started as a vision, and now we have built this amazing food shelf that will be here for a long time to come. It’s all about Neighbors helping Neighbors!” Michaels wrote.

The Williston Community Food Shelf—located at 300 Cornerstone Drive, Suite 115—is open Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information, visit www.willistonfoodshelf.com.

Places I’ve played: Bertha was a swayer not a swinger

By Bill Skiff


Bertha was a female who enjoyed a softer approach to things. She preferred to sway her way through life rather than swing. I have known a few swingers in my lifetime, but Bertha was a swayer. She was big, buxom and full of spirit. Bertha was a cow.

The first thing dad did when he entered the barn in the morning was turn on the lights. This automatically turned on the radio. The old Motorola table model sat on a board Dad had nailed to a couple of two-by-fours half way down the barn. The radio was permanently tuned to WDEV. The announcer, the Old Squire, had things rolling by the time Dad arrived. Ken Squire always played music in between his yarnings. Bertha loved his selections.

When Bertha heard this early morning music, she would start her swaying. She would shift from one hind hoof to the other in perfect time to the rhythm of the song. You could always tell Bertha from the other cows as you walked down behind the herd: her broad beam could be seen swaying back and forth in perfect cadence to the song. She did not do well with fast tunes like Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” but give her a good slow Vermont tune like Moo Light in Vermont and she was in perfect sync with the music.

Dad’s dairy herd was like many Vermont herds in the 1940s: a group of Holsteins like Bertha for milk quantity, some Jerseys for butterfat content, and a couple of Ayshires for pure meanness. They all did their work well, especially the Ayshires keeping uninvited guests out of the pasture. The only problem: the Ayshires could not distinguish good visitors from bad.

One afternoon, Dad was crossing the cow pasture when one of the Ayshires began chasing him. When Dad realized he was not going to make it across the field before the cow caught him, he sought alternatives —he spotted the only tree in the pasture and raced for it. Upon arriving at the base, Dad ran around the tree hoping his adversary would give up. No such luck. Dad exercised his one last option—he climbed the tree. Sitting in the top of the tree, Dad suddenly realized he had just scrambled up a thorn-apple tree. He was bruised, battered and scratched.

When the cow finally got bored and ambled off to graze, Dad eased down the tree and headed home.

He came into the house giving that cow a whole new list of names, none of which I can print here.

I knew that old Ayshire was tough, but when I tried to chew a piece of her butt roast a couple of weeks later I knew it for sure. Dad loved swayers… but he had little tolerance for chasers.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com. 


Letters to the Editor

Oak Hill wrong spot for public works facility

I read the Observer’s Guest Column (“Residents share concerns with public works location,” June 20, 2013) concerning the town plans to build a public works facility off Oak Hill Road. My initial thought was that the Selectboard must have gone entirely mad. How can the board of our nice village make such a decision with no public notice? And why would they be so secretive as to conceal the location until it was under contract? What kind of public service is this?

When I saw the proposed location was actually in the wildlife corridor of this undeveloped part of our town, I became convinced the entire board must have slipped their collective moorings. Half of Williston is in stages of development and there remains available property in the developed sphere. Why would we want to slam a building into a wildlife corridor and open up a whole new area to truck traffic, noise and environmental degradation?

Could it be members of the board wish to open all the town to development? Is there no wish to preserve local aesthetics, local environment, local wildlife, even local peace and pleasure? Near this proposed building site I have encountered fishers, bobcats, deer, owls and even a moose. Their habitat will be immensely degraded or destroyed.

Please, Selectboard, make a good choice for our town. Help contain sprawl, don’t promulgate it.

Let us please keep Vermont green and growing, preserve a hint of natural beauty and let us live with our environment, not abuse it.

Page Hudson


Public input needed for public works location

My wife and I fully support the views expressed in the June 20 Guest Column (“Residents share concerns with public works location”).

While we endorse everything said by the authors of the article, there is one more point that needs mentioning.

When the vote for the bond was taken in March, there was no indication of the precise location but there were two basic assumptions that drove its approval by the voters. One was that the location would be near the current Chittenden Solid Waste site on Redmond or on the nearby IBM parcel. The second assumption was that whatever location was finally chosen, it would not be in total conflict with the Comprehensive Plan and 2012 Public Works Facility Committee recommendation. The Selectboard asserts that they did not wish to disclose the location until the contract was finalized. This is not an acceptable procedure—it puts the cart before the horse. You can agree on a site and all attending conditions including price and give a good-faith promise to the would-be seller that the contract would be signed once the bond had been approved. Then you go to the voters and ask for their approval, indicating precisely what they are voting for. If it is rejected because the location is unacceptable, so be it and you start all over again. Neither time pressure nor voting deadlines are material in this—you complete one before you go to the other—period. And one thing you do not do is to be less than upfront with your voters.

Lutz Muller


Where is Vermont?

On July 4, 1863 General Ulysses Grant’s men won control of the Great Mississippi, cutting the Confederacy in half, in the Battle of Vicksburg fought against General John Pemberton’s army. On a recent riverboat cruise from New Orleans, La. to Memphis, Tenn. we stopped in Vicksburg, Miss. My husband signed up for a tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield.

During the tour, the guide asked if there was anyone in the group from Vermont. My husband raised his hand. The tour guide went on to say that Vermont was the only state in the United States that was not represented with some kind of monument here on the battlefield.

I wonder if anyone has an answer to this question? Could this be a project for a Boy Scout group, a student or grad challenge project? I know of someone who said they would be happy to deliver a monument from Vermont to Mississippi if there was one made to right this wrong. This is the Civil War’s 150th anniversary year.

Ginger Isham


Exchange student thanks community

My name is Gaspard Deleplanque and I’m a French exchange student sponsored by PAX. I arrived in Shelburne last August at the Potter’s family. I have been staying with three different families and I learned a lot from it.

I attended Champlain Valley Union High School. Over this year, I learned so much about myself and found out about what my life will be about. I also met formidable people who changed my life in a way or in other.

First and foremost, thank you to my host parents Sarah and Paul Potter, who opened their home for me, did so much for me and helped me to improve my English skills.

I want to thank everyone at CVU high school who made my year awesome. I’d also like to thank my coordinator, Kelley Cartularo, who was there when I had difficulties and cheered me up.

Families who would like to host a student should call Kelley at 373-0011.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone I met in the Champlain Valley. They showed interest and curiosity towards me and I really appreciated it. It really helped me to integrate myself into the community. I hope other PAX exchange students will have the opportunity I have had at Champlain Valley. You are so generous and awesome and I will remember you.

Gaspard Deleplanque

Allen Brook Library open

The Allen Brook School library will be open this summer on Wednesday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. Families in Williston and St. George are encouraged to come to the library to choose and check out books with their children. There will be a story time each week with guest readers. The dates will be every Wednesday from June 26 through August 21.

I hope to see many families, including those with very young children who are not yet attending Allen Brook through next year’s third grade students.

I will be there to help children and parents find interesting and just right books and to make suggestions for further reading. The children who chose five books for the summer are also encouraged to come in and get new ones. This is a great way to find books to keep children reading over the break and to promote lifelong reading.  All children should be accompanied by an adult.

Denise Wentz
Allen Brook School Librarian


Celebrating and sustaining Vermont’s small businesses

By Lawrence Miller and
Jim Merriam


Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. In Vermont, this holds especially true. Vermont has more than 75,000 small employers, comprising a staggering 96 percent of the companies in the state. With more than 157,000 workers, the small business sector accounts for nearly 60 percent of our state’s total workforce.

In short, when small businesses succeed and thrive, it benefits all Vermonters.

Succeeding in small business requires persistence, flexibility, and energy. It also means managing to margins that are often razor thin by constantly seeking new ways to drive costs down without sacrificing service to customers or the ability to grow in the future. These are the big challenges that small businesses take on every single day.

This year, the third week of June marked National Small Business Week. Celebrations for this event presented a great opportunity to highlight how some Vermont small businesses are meeting these challenges. A top item on that list is managing energy costs through investments in energy efficiency. Energy efficiency saves money for businesses, and can offer additional benefits by improving the comfort and experience of employees and customers alike.

New LED and other high-efficiency lighting technologies, for example, offer the opportunity to customize lighting in ways that were not possible just a few years ago, while slashing electricity costs. LEDs can offer energy savings of more than 50 percent compared to CFLs, and 75 percent compared to incandescent lighting. They have very long lifespans, which reduces maintenance hassles for businesses. Increasingly, Vermont retailers are adopting LEDs to display their products in the best light: grocery stores installing LEDs in refrigerator cases to minimize heat and reduce food spoilage; office spaces using controls that automatically dim overhead lights when the sun is shining in the windows. In all these cases, better use of energy is good for the bottom line.

Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, whose founder Pete Johnson was named this year’s Vermont “Small Business Person of the Year” by the Small Business Administration, is a company that exemplifies the drive to reduce energy waste. When confronted with the need to rebuild their facility from the ground up due to a devastating fire, they did their homework and worked with Efficiency Vermont. This meant designing a new space that minimized energy waste on all fronts: insulation that holds heat in the winter and keeps the building cooler in summer; and high efficiency refrigeration and lighting systems that will make the business much less vulnerable to energy price increases in the future. Reducing the amount of money being spent on wasted energy lets Pete’s Greens focus more of its resources on meeting the needs of its customers and growing its business.

The benefits of reducing energy waste aren’t limited to individual businesses. When Vermont’s small businesses invest in energy efficiency, they don’t just help their own bottom lines, they support the bottom line of other local small businesses, too. Energy efficiency improvements in Vermont are carried out by dozens of small businesses and sole proprietorships around the state. By investing in energy efficiency instead of spending money on energy waste, Vermont small businesses help to support the local economy and keep more of our dollars in our local communities and available for local investment. It’s a win-win scenario for our state: every dollar invested in energy efficiency generates five dollars in benefits for the economy.

Vermont businesses, including our small businesses, need every edge they can get to compete in a global economy that gets more competitive every day. Thousands of these small businesses in Vermont are doing the math and taking advantage of the savings that investing in energy efficiency can provide. Waste of any kind is bad for the bottom line, so now is the time to applaud all the Vermont businesses that are taking control of their energy usage and planning for the long term.

Lawrence Miller is the secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and Jim Merriam is the director of Efficiency Vermont.


Around Town

Williston trails work day july 6

The Williston Planning Department and Conservation Commission will host a volunteer trail work day on Saturday, July 6. Volunteers meet at 9 a.m. at the Town Hall, and should bring a hammer, close-toed shoes and any pruning equipment they may have. For more information or to sign up, contact Jessica Andreoletti or Tommy Nieuwenhuis at 878-6704 or tnieuwenhuis@willistontown.com.

Williston Fire Department plans neighborhood visits

The Williston Fire Department is set to conduct its annual neighborhood visits throughout the summer, visiting a different neighborhood every Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m. At each neighborhood visit, residents will have the chance to go through the fire department’s vehicles and meet the members of the Williston Fire Department. To schedule a visit for your neighborhood, contact the fire department at 878-5622.

Town bills due

The Town of Williston water and sewer bills have been mailed and are due to the town clerk by June 30.

CVU reunion planned

The CVU class of 1973’s 40th reunion is set for July 6 from noon – 5 p.m. at the Button Bay State Park pavilion. Bring a picnic lunch. For more information, contact Jim Swift at jswift@langrock.com.

Police to conduct community survey

The Williston Police Department will conduct an online community survey, beginning July 15 and running through Aug. 15. Residents can weigh in on the department’s performance, service and areas of concern. To participate, visit www.town.williston.vt.us/police or www.surveymonkey.com/s/5Y7FKTC. Surveys will also be available at the police department lobby, Monday – Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Storm causes extensive damage

A section of Old Stage Road will be closed indefinitely until storm damage can be assessed and repaired. (Observer photo by Marianne Apfelbaum).

A section of Old Stage Road will be closed indefinitely until storm damage can be assessed and repaired. (Observer photo by Marianne Apfelbaum).

Repairs will affect budget


 Marianne Apfelbaum

Observer staff

Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar and his staff were scrambling Wednesday morning to deal with the aftermath of Tuesday’s heavy rainstorm, which caused extensive damage throughout town. “There is so much water and nowhere for it to go. We are doing what we can do right now,” he said.

Among the more serious issues was the pump station on Old Stage Road, which was just rebuilt last year. “It was flooded and is out of service,” Hoar said, noting that a bypass pump is being used until the regular pump can be repaired.

A sinkhole formed on Old Stage Road, which required that a section of the road between Brookside and Maple drives be closed. “It will be closed for the indefinite future. It’s a real problem for us. A huge culvert must have a hole…we are investigating the cause, but it could be closed for weeks,” Hoar said.

Butternut Road also sustained substantial damage, with flooding taking out the road on both sides. The road is “closed for all practical purposes,” Hoar said, until a contractor can assess and repair the damage.  A 150-foot washout on South Road will require repairs, but the road was able to be kept open, Hoar noted.

Mountain View Road will have to close between Old Stage and North Williston roads for repairs in the next couple of days due to a large culvert that “separated.” Repairs shouldn’t take more than a day, depending on the extent of the damage, Hoar said.

A Chapman Lane culvert was washed out and Bradley Lane “washed out,” Hoar said.  “Water was coming right down the middle of it, but we were able to open it to one-way traffic.”

The storm “created lots of infrastructure havoc,” Fire Chief Ken Morton said, describing the amount of rain in such a short time as “probably the worst I’ve seen in 32 years in the fire department.”

In addition to pumping out basements, the department responded to a home on Raven Lane that was struck by lightning, and coordinated with the police and public works departments to assess damage around town and help coordinate traffic due to detours because of flooded roads.

Hoar said his overall plan at this point, after taking care of any safety-related issues, is to “go after the busiest roads first and to get the pump station up and running.”

The storm repair bill will put a dent in Williston’s coffers, and possibly the federal government’s as well. “The State called and said to keep track of the damage,” Hoar said, speculating that it may be looking to the governor to send a declaration to FEMA, which usually pays 75-80 percent of authorized damage costs. “We (the town) still need to come up with other money… yes, it will affect the budget, I just don’t know to what extent yet.”

Hoar encouraged residents to check the town website at www.town.williston.vt.us for updates on road closures, but emphasized that repairs will take time. “Patience is the key word,” he said.

More hazardous weather forecasted

The national weather service in Burlington issued a “hazardous weather statement” on its website Wednesday, noting that the main threat would be wind gusts to 50 mph, small hail, heavy downpours and “dangerous cloud to ground lightning,” as well as the potential for more flooding.

The warning also noted that heavy rainfall and thunderstorms were likely for late Thursday through Saturday, with increased potential for flash flooding as the ground becomes more saturated.

Atwood-Hood’s future uncertain

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

The future of a long-planned and sometimes contentious affordable housing project is uncertain, after the Williston Development Review Board rejected changes the developer has said are critical to the project’s survival.

Dana Hood asked the DRB earlier this month to reduce the number of perpetually affordable units from seven to three. The project, a partnership between developer Jeff Atwood and landowners Dana and Brenda Hood, received final site plan approval in April to build eight units on North Williston Road, seven of which would be perpetually affordable. But Hood said multiple factors combined to make seven affordable units financially unfeasible.

“It’s unfortunate that the project has come to this, as four families will not be living in four perpetually affordable homes, but the financial constraints put upon this project have been out of the control of Mr. Atwood for quite some time and every effort must be made to salvage at least three affordable units,” he told the board on June 11, as recorded by CCTV.

During the June 11 and 25 meetings, Hood contended that the changes should be allowed, since no physical attributes of the project would change and points awarded through the growth management system would have remained the same. Developers compete for building allocation through a point system known as growth management.

Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau told the board on June 11 that a bylaw that could come into play——stated “all representations made by the applicant on the growth management questionnaire are binding.”

After the June 11 meeting, the DRB asked town attorney Paul Gillies to weigh in.

“The permit that was issued is a form of contract,” a June 19 letter states from Gillies. “Expectations and promises become binding conditions, and the decision of the DRB relies on what is proposed.”

Gillies cited a Vermont court case, known as the Stowe Club Highlands decision, which stated that for a board to review its decision, an applicant must show changes in critical regulatory or factual circumstances, foreseeability or changes in technology.

He also noted that perpetual affordability is “all Williston’s to regulate.”

Hood contended that there have been changes in factual circumstances and foreseeability. Growth management was allocated over four years rather than one, delaying construction, and federal funding dried up, he said.

On June 25, after an executive session, the DRB voted 4-0 to reject the changes.

In an email to the Observer Wednesday morning, Hood said Atwood now has three options: appeal the decision in environmental court; go back to square one with a new project; or drop the project altogether.


The town also expects a judge to this summer consider an appeal filed by neighbors regarding the DRB’s November 2012 decision to approve changes to the Atwood-Hood project’s previously approved discretionary permit.

The DRB decided at the time that the changes, which affected less than 1,000 square feet when tallied together, were not “substantial” changes. That meant the changes could be made administratively, rather than restarting the review process.

Briant Hamrell and Igor Arsovsky filed an appeal to the decision at the end of 2012, according to court documents filed by Williston’s attorney Paul Gillies and L. Randolph Amis, attorney for Atwood and Dana and Brenda Hood.

A May 9 affidavit by Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau states “These changes are not substantial, as defined in the Williston Unified Bylaws, Section 5.6.3. No changes are proposed for the use of the property; open spaces; the number of lots, units or bedrooms; or signage. The other changes are minor. In particular the reduction in the area of disturbance and impervious surfaces, in comparison to what is being proposed to be increased, results in a net decrease in impact.”

Fulbright scholar shares culture in Kota Tinggi

TOP: Students gather at SMK Laksamana, a secondary school in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia. (Observer courtesy photo)

TOP: Students gather at SMK Laksamana, a secondary school in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Heleigh Bostwick

Observer correspondent

“Teenagers are teenagers no matter the country or culture,” said Robyn Suarez of her experience teaching English at SMK Laksamana, a secondary school in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia, where she’s been living since January. There is one major difference that she’s had to get used to, however—the pedestal upon which teachers are placed.

“Every time I walk into a classroom, the students stand up and chant in unison, ‘Good morning, teacher,’” Suarez said. “I must tell them to sit, or they will continue to stand. When class is finished they stand again and chant, ‘Thank you, Miss Robyn.’”

The Williston resident is in Malaysia on a Fulbright Scholarship.

“The goal of the Fulbright program is to promote cultural exchanges between nations,” Suarez said. “You can either propose a research project in a particular country or apply to be an English Teaching Assistant, which is what I chose.”

Suarez, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012 with a major in English and a minor in linguistics, was one of 75 people in the United States to be selected to teach in Malaysia.

“Since the goal of the Fulbright program is to have a cultural exchange, I felt that living in a predominantly Muslim country would be the best way to learn about a completely different culture and to share a positive perspective of American culture,” she said.

Malaysia also has a unique sign language called “BIM” or “Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia,” which has various dialects in different parts/communities of the country, so it seemed like an interesting place to be, she said.

“My role is to design my own lessons that get students excited about learning and speaking English with confidence, which they have—slowly,” she said, recalling that during her first weeks at SMK Laksamana, her students barely had the confidence to say “hello.”

“It is a huge help having Robyn in the classroom,” said Marziana Aris, English head panel and mentor at the school. “We have a real life English communication with a native speaker of the language. The students can’t wait for her lessons and are more confident using English as a second language.”

On most days, Suarez is finished with her lessons by 1:30 p.m. With plenty of free time, she’s adopted a “Never say ‘no’ to invitations” motto.

“Teachers and students often ask me out to get tea or walk around the local night market,” she said.

The rest of her time is spent learning to play the harmonica, exercising, reading, writing and journaling, and walking into town to make conversation with shop-owners.

“Teachers and students think all Americans are fat, eat only pizza and burgers, cannot eat rice, and have blonde hair and blue eyes,” she laughed, saying she still hasn’t gotten used to people pointing at her and taking her picture. “My father’s family is Puerto Rican so that is not the case for me. I’ve had to explain that Americans all look different.”

Suarez has encountered cultural differences of her own. “The headmaster at school is a man and I cannot shake his hand,” she said, adding that despite the 90 degree heat, she must wear clothes that fully cover her arms, legs and chest.

Suarez plans to travel before returning home when the program ends in November, but said she’ll always remember the looks people get on their faces when she says that she’s from America. “For many of the Malaysians I meet, I might be the only American they ever have contact with, so I must always be at my best to give the most positive view of America and Americans that I can,” she said.

Williston families bring taste of Vermont to city kids

Jovon Brathwaite (left) spends part of each summer with the Dunphy family, including (from left) Eli, Evangeline and Molly Dunphy, seen here in 2011. (Observer courtesy photo)

Jovon Brathwaite (left) spends part of each summer with the Dunphy family, including (from left) Eli, Evangeline and Molly Dunphy, seen here in 2011. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

When Brooklyn native Jovon Brathwaite stepped off the bus in Vermont for the first time, he caught Williston in full-throttle town pride mode.

“He arrived the night of the ice cream social, and you can imagine how overwhelming that was,” said Williston resident Sarah Dunphy, who first welcomed Brathwaite through the Fresh Air Fund six years ago. “The Williston Fourth of July just takes on a life of its own. He met half the town in the first 12 hours he was here.”

Brathwaite, 14, arrives July 1 for his sixth summer in Williston. The Dunphy family is one of seven to 10 Williston families who share a little piece of Vermont with New York City kids each summer through the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.

“It benefits everyone,” said Mary Sherman, volunteer leader for the Champlain Valley. “The children from New York certainly benefit experiencing life in the country. They get a chance to do different things—(seeing) sunsets and stars and enjoying riding a bike and playing baseball and softball…. For our children in our communities, I think it’s great—the sharing of diversity, the sharing of culture.”

Queens resident Jennifer Gomez, 13, is set to arrive in Williston in August to spend 10 days with Pamela and Peter Niarchos.

“What I mostly like is just getting away from the city and going up to the countryside and relaxing,” she said. “We do all kind of fun things.”

Gomez said she and the Niarchos family have gone camping, bike riding, hiking and swimming, as well as taken a trip to Maine.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the kids from the city to just go up there,” she said, referring to the country. “Most of us don’t have families who go up and take trips. It’s a good opportunity for us kids to go see new places.”

Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit host families in rural or suburban communities in 13 states and Canada through Fresh Air Fund.

The organization matches first-time host families with New York City children ranging from ages 6-12. The Fresh Air Fund handles the children’s travel and arranges liability and medical insurance. Hosts and individuals can then decide if they want to continue the arrangement the following summer.

“We love having her come up,” Pamela Niarchos said of Gomez. “It’s something we all look forward to each summer… she fits in very easily with our family.”

Dunphy, who had a fresh air child visit her family every summer while growing up in New York, said Brathwaite has become a fixture in town, and he always wants to visit the same people every summer.

“All the boys in town going into eighth grade, most of them know him, they all expect him to be here for part of July,” she said. “He’s just an easy kid to have around.”

Brathwaite and Eli Dunphy, who are the same age, keep in touch during the year as well.

“He’s really nice,” Eli Dunphy said. “Me and him love to play basketball and go on our boat and go swimming… just hanging out with him and going swimming in the lake is always fun.”

The pair is set to participate in a lacrosse camp this summer. Eli Dunphy said he’s looking forward to Brathwaite’s arrival, as are his friends.

“It’s a really good experience and it gives him something to do during the summer,” Eli Dunphy said.

Sarah Dunphy said showing Brathwaite the best Vermont has to offer—from boat trips on Lake Champlain to the tastiest creemees—makes the family appreciate its home state.

“When he’s here it forces us to slow down,” she said. “He allows us to redirect the focus toward things that we typically take for granted. So, even having burgers on the grill, that’s something that he doesn’t do very often living in the city.”

Dunphy and Niarchos encouraged their fellow residents to give the program a try.

“There are plenty of kids that are waiting for matches and waiting for a host family and the Fresh Air Fund really does make it pretty easy to get involved,” Dunphy said.

Sherman said the organization is still looking for host families for August.

“It’s an opportunity to share a little bit of Vermont with New York City and also for your children to learn a little bit about city life,” she said. “It’s just a rewarding experience.”

For more information, contact Sherman at 868-2771 or msherman030@gmail.com.

Finding four-legged therapy

Bia Mele displays her medal after participating in the Champlain Adaptive Mounted Program horse show on June 22. (Observer courtesy photo)

Bia Mele displays her medal after participating in the Champlain Adaptive Mounted Program horse show on June 22. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Twelve-year-old Williston resident Bia Mele is a new rider, but an enthusiastic one.

“The horse’s energy kind of lifts up into you and it makes you relaxed and calm,” she said. “I like the feeling of it, physically and emotionally… it’s very, very therapeutic.”

Mele was one of several riders from Williston who took part in the Champlain Adaptive Mounted Program’s annual Memorial Horse Show Fundraiser, held June 22 at Good Hope Farm in South Hero.

Champlain Adaptive Mounted Program, known as CHAMP, provides horseback riding experiences for children and adults with special needs through lessons, camps and the annual horse show.

“It’s an allover good feeling when you ride,” said CHAMP Executive Director Jean Desranleau. “There’s something about the bond between the horse and a person.”

The program charges riders 25 percent of the cost of a lesson or camp, and makes up the rest through grants, donations and fundraisers like the horse show.

Mele went door-to-door, raising $150 to participate in the show. She also had the idea to approach Hannaford in Williston, which donated bags of carrots and apples and cases of bottled water.

“All the riders rode beautifully, better than ever, they just really stepped up,” Desranleau said. “I think they were very pleased to be showing families and friends what they’ve learned.”

Mele began taking lessons at the CHAMP stables earlier this summer, and is set to participate in the nonprofit’s summer camp in July.

“I ride Ladybug,” she said. “She’s just really sweet, but she’s also a treat hog.”

Mele praised the inclusive atmosphere at CHAMP.

“I think differently, and it’s really hard when lot of people are like, ‘Why do you think that way?’ and ‘How come you don’t understand this?’” she said. “A lot of people are rude and not understanding and I wish more people were understanding. CHAMP is really, really understanding and accepting, because there we’ve all had a challenge.”

Mele said it is hard for her to read what people are thinking through facial expressions and body language. People often don’t understand the effects of autism spectrum disorder, and she loves that CHAMP doesn’t judge her.

“They don’t give me that weird look most people do because they really know how it is to feel like that,” she said. “No matter how different you are or what your problem is, they’re going to care. ”

She also enjoys the diversity CHAMP offers—she rides with adults and children of all different backgrounds and abilities. Mele often rides with another Williston resident who participates.

“She’s really sweet and a really good rider,” she said. “The best thing about her is she’s just a really great kid. She might not understand how to do nuclear physics or add or subtract, but she loves what she does and she’s proud of what she does.”

Lori Mele, Bia’s mother, said CHAMP is one of the adventure camps her daughter is trying this summer, and it is proving helpful.

“When we leave a lesson and are in the car driving away from Good Hope Farm, Bia’s like ‘I can’t wait till next Saturday,’” Mele said. “All the people in CHAMP have been so supportive and really amazed by Bia’s ability and balance.”

Desranleau says she loves watching a sense of calm descend over each rider as they get on a horse and smiles immediately light up their faces.

She described one particularly joyous girl in a riding group with local nonprofit Partners in Adventure on Tuesday morning.

“We were out on a trail ride and all of a sudden she goes, ‘I’m so happy,’” Desranleau said.

Mele said she has wanted to try horseback riding since she was a little girl—and has no intention of giving it up now that she has gotten a taste.

“I don’t care if I have to go out and buy a horse against my parent will, I will keep riding,” she said.

She is set to attend a CHAMP summer camp in July, and is unreservedly looking forward to it.

“CHAMP is just so amazing,” she said. “If I could recommend any camp in the whole entire world I would recommend CHAMP because it really is the best.”