November 24, 2014

POPCORN: “Interstellar” Relatively Far Out



Relatively Far Out

3 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer


I contemplated the critiquing task that lay ahead with trepidation. Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” taking us once more into the breach of apocalyptic rumination and adventure, boasted a daunting length of 169 minutes. That’s 2.81 human hours. I feared I’d be an old man when I exited…the world will have changed; no one would know me, nor I them. But then this is what I signed up for when I took the hypocritical oath at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College. Maybe I’d bring hot dogs, Sterno, a sleeping bag and a change of clothes.


What I should have brought was my old pal Albert Einstein, though that would be a bit difficult, or maybe not, considering the space time continuum hypotheses postulated in Mr. Nolan’s grand, ambitious, captivating and frighteningly smart film. Hey, I don’t even know what quantum mechanics is. But I’ll tell you this: If Matthew McConaughey’s Captain Cooper and his cohorts who travel into space to find us Earthlings a suitable place to live don’t discover some secret about it, the human race can kiss its molecular structure goodbye.


Yep, shades of the last Dust Bowl, the terra firma depicted in this by now familiar near future can no longer sustain life. So, it’s a real good time for the sort of once-in-a-millennium hero to step up and save us poor suckers. Courtesy of NASA in exile, Cooper, a farmer who was the space agency’s golden boy until a mission went kablooey, is drafted for the really big redemption.


Adding a touchy-feely component to the estimably challenging science fiction notions, this assignment doesn’t sit well with the widower’s 10-year-old daughter, Murphy, nicely exacted by Mackenzie Foy. To heck with saving the world. Theirs is an especially spiritual relationship, and she wants Dad to stay home. This plays out quite intriguingly and lends dramatic balance to the intellectual thriller.


Director Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”), who co-wrote “Interstellar” with his brother, Jonathan, has never taken the path of least resistance to success in Hollywood, but instead plies those routes aimed at exercising if not entirely confounding our gray matter. What’s more, he has the uncanny ability of finagling us into thinking we sort of understand the mind-boggling complexities in which he delves.


I mean, c’mon: In this delirious traipse, he has us there right along with Cooper and his colleague/physicist Dr. Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, mulling the advantages and risks of slipping through this or that wormhole in order to scoot through the black hole that might lead to the new New World. But, just in case you couldn’t care less about any of that E=MC2 stuff, fasten your seatbelts anyway. Mr. McConaughey the action figure sure can pilot a spaceship. Oh, but beware. There’s treachery afoot.


Only problem is, it’s often hard to understand what Coop is saying. The esoteric theorization and space flight jargon would be perplexing enough, but McConaughey ups the difficulty exponentially thanks to a Texas twang delivered with his signature mumble. I don’t know if the affliction is catching or not, but Miss Hathaway often complements the verbal haze with a too soft-spoken charm. So O.K., I say to myself, you inevitably get the gist when you watch silent films, and you can do that here. Still, how did this irritation get past the studio?


But no sense dwelling on it. There’s a civilization to be saved, the grand plan clandestinely engineered by Dr. Brand’s father, also Dr. Brand, portrayed by Michael Caine with his usual aplomb. It’s a longshot. But as Flash Gordon once said in an episode when the Earth’s fate hung on his heroism, it’s worth a try. So off we go into the wild black yonder, untethered, uncertain, and as much dependent on mathematics and far-flung faith as on gut determination.


In a cozy scene aboard the hurtling spacecraft, Cooper puts it in perspective whilst discussing the journey with Amelia and crew members Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley). We dig the pageantry and grok the all-encompassing raison d’être when he proclaims, “We’re explorers.” Taking this all in is TARS, a refrigerator-sized computer/robot voiced by Bill Irwin. He supplies the tale with a philosophical idea of how far we’ve progressed since his progenitor, HAL, flaunted the whims and wiles of artificial intelligence in “2001: A Space Odyssey”(1968).


Now, insofar as my aforementioned fears regarding the length of this movie, kindly note it’s indeed all relative. Absorbed in Cooper’s anxiety that hours spent in different gravities will spell lost decades back on Earth (if he should ever return), we are ironically transfixed in time and, even when nature calls, reluctant to leave the controls. Hence, although you’ll be 2.8166 hours older when exiting “Interstellar,” it’s little price to pay for the out of this world experience.

“Interstellar,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine. Running time: 169 minutes









PHOTOS: First snow in Williston



Snowfall_005 14Nov14

Snowfall_004 14Nov14

Snowfall_003 14Nov14

Snowfall_002 14Nov14

Recipe Corner: New recipes for Thanksgiving


By Ginger Isham

This is a special year for our family. We have much to be thankful for, as everyone has good health. I would love to hug all the doctors who perform miracles on the human body so we can have our loved ones with us. To new life and new recipes I have yet to make for my family.

Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake Pie
1 baked gingersnap pie crust for 9 inch pie (or other kind)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
8 ounces soft cream cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup canned pumpkin
Pulse sugar and ginger in food processor until chopped fine, add cream cheese and pulse until smooth. Add eggs, milk, flour, nutmeg and salt and pulse just until combined. Save 2/3 cup.
Whisk together remaining cheese mixture and pumpkin. Pour this mixture into pie crust. Stir the reserved cream cheese mix and drizzle decoratively over top of that in pie dish. Swirl with back of spoon. Place on baking sheet and put in 350-degree oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes.
May cool two hours, chill at least four hours. Cover loosely with foil. Can be chilled up to 3 days.

Praline Sweet Potatoes
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk
dash of salt and pepper
I/4 cup brown sugar (try 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons corn syrup (I might try maple syrup)
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Mix sweet potatoes, milk, egg yolk, salt and pepper and put in a 2-cup greased shallow baking dish. Combine brown sugar, butter and syrup in a small glass bowl and microwave about one minute until sugar is dissolved. Spoon over sweet potatoes and sprinkle with pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Makes 2 servings. Can double or triple recipe.
Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.

Savvy Senior: Help quitting smoking


By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can Medicare help me quit smoking? I just turned 65 and would like to quit but need some help.
—Coughing Connie

Dear Connie,
Yes, Medicare actually covers up to eight face-to-face counseling sessions a year to help beneficiaries quit smoking. And, if you have a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, certain smoking-cessation medications are covered, too. Here are some other tips that can help you kick the habit.
Of the 46 million Americans who smoke, about 5.5 million are Medicare beneficiaries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 percent of smokers, age 65 and older, indicate they would like to completely quit, but because of nicotine, which is considered to be more addictive than heroin, it’s very difficult to do.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness, responsible for an estimated one-fifth of deaths in the United States each year.
But research shows that quitting, even after age 65, greatly reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and many other diseases. It also helps you breathe more easily, smell and taste food better, not to mention saving you quite a bit of money. A $5 pack-a-day smoker, for example, saves about $150 after one month without cigarettes and more than $1,800 after one year.
The first step is to set a “quit date,” but give yourself a few weeks to get ready. During that time you may want to start by reducing the number or the strength of cigarettes you smoke to begin weaning yourself. Also check out over-the-counter nicotine replacement products—patches, gum and lozenges—to help curb your cravings. And just prior to your quit day, get rid of all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and place of work and try to clean up and even spray air freshener. The smell of smoke can be a powerful trigger.
Studies have shown that you have a much better chance of quitting if you have help. So tell your friends, family and coworkers of your plan to quit. Others knowing can be a helpful reminder and motivator.
Then get some counseling. Don’t go it alone. Start by contacting your doctor about smoking cessation counseling covered by Medicare and find out about the prescription antismoking drugs that can help reduce your nicotine craving.
You can also get free one-on-one telephone counseling and referrals to local smoking cessation programs through your state quit line at 800-QUIT-NOW, or call the National Cancer Institute free smoking quit line at 877-44U-QUIT.
It’s also important to identify and write down the times and situations you’re most likely to smoke and make a list of things you can do to replace it or distract yourself. Some helpful suggestions are to call a friend or one of the free quit lines, keep your mouth occupied with some sugar-free gum, sunflower seeds, carrots, fruit or hard candy, go for a walk, read a magazine, listen to music or take a hot bath. The intense urge to smoke lasts about three to five minutes, so do what you can to wait it out. It’s also wise to avoid drinking alcohol and steer clear of other smokers while you’re trying to quit. Both can trigger powerful urges to smoke.
For more tips on how to quit, including managing your cravings, withdrawal symptoms and what to do if you relapse, visit and If you’re a smartphone user, there are also a number of apps that can help like LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach, Cessation Nation and Quit It Lite.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

HUB Happenings


The Coburn Agency celebrates new leadership

Michael Coburn

Michael Coburn

Michael Coburn
Allstate Insurance Company announced that Michael Coburn has assumed ownership of The Coburn Agency of Williston. Coburn, son of original agency owner, John Coburn, has been working in the agency for more than eight years.
“The agency is owned and operated by a familyand customers tell us that we make them feel like family, too,” Coburn said.
Nicole Malon Joins KW Vermont Realty
Nicole Malon, who has more than 30 years of sales and marketing experience, recently joined KW Vermont Realty.
An active member of the Williston community, Malon currently serves as a physician outreach volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and she volunteers for the Williston Food Shelf.

NEFCU donates to Children’s Miracle Network, others
CMN Donation 2014
NEFCU Senior Marketing Executive Cindy Morgan (center) presents a check to Jackie Woodwell (left) and Emily Wright of the Children’s Miracle Network.
On Nov. 6, New England Federal Credit Union presented a check for $4,383 to support Vermont Children’s Hospital, a member of the national Children’s Miracle Network group of hospitals. The funds were raised during “Shop For Miracles” day, Oct. 16, during which NEFCU donated 25 cents each time a member used his or her credit union-issued credit or debit card.
NEFCU also recently gave out other donations. Four times each year, New England Federal Credit Union selects four recipients at random to receive $625 each. This year, NEFCU selected the Vermont Police Canine Association, Milton Community Youth Coalition, Running of the Bells and “The Mountain Top,” which will be presented at FlynnSpace in Burlington in the spring.

NEFCU gets high marks recently ranked New England Federal Credit Union number 43 out of 6,600 in its 2014 edition of the Top 200 Healthiest Credit Unions in America.
Locals among Vermont Business Magazine ‘Rising Stars’
Vermont Business Magazine presented awards to its the Rising Stars, Class of 2014 at a special reception and dinner on Nov. 6.
Among the 40 individuals honored for commitment to business growth, professional excellence and involvement in their communities were Heidi Auclair of Morway’s Moving & Storage in Williston and Elizabeth Stillwell of DEW Construction Corp. in Williston.

Briscoe, Cruse join Davis & Hodgdon

Wendy Briscoe

Wendy Briscoe

William Cruse

William Cruse

Wendy Briscoe recently joined Williston-based Davis & Hodgdon Associates CPAs as a receptionist. Briscoe joined the firm with 25 years of administrative and customer service experience, primarily within the medical and insurance industries, in positions from human resources to office management.
William Cruse has also joined Davis & Hodgdon Associates CPAs as an associate accountant. Cruse graduated from Champlain College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, where he acted as the director of finance for the Champlain student government association.
Ninety Nine celebrates grand re-opening
Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub in Williston celebrated its grand reopening on Oct. 23 after revamping the restaurant’s décor and amenities. Prior to closing for renovations, the restaurant held a silent auction for the plaques and memorabilia that decorated the Ninety Nine’s walls. Ninety Nine’s celebration included a ribbon cutting ceremony and a donation to the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation, Inc.

Vermont Unemployment Rate Rises to 4.4 percent in September
The Vermont Department of Labor announced recently that the seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate for September 2014 was 4.4 percent. This represents an increase of three-tenths of a percent from the revised August rate (4.1 percent). The equivalent national average was 5.9 percent, which decreased by two-tenths of a percent from the previous month’s estimate.

Kinney Pike Insurance Welcomes Three New Employees
Kinney Pike Insurance, Inc. has added three employees.
Gabrielle Sikora joined the Williston office as a personal lines customer service agent after graduating from Castleton State with a B.A. in Business Administration. Doug Allard joined the White River Junction team as a commercial lines sales executive. Connor Quigley joined the commercial lines team in Rutland.

Vermont Gas names Donald J. Rendall president and CEO
The Vermont Gas Board of Directors announced recently that Donald Gilbert will be retiring at the end of the year and Donald J. Rendall will become the new president and CEO of Vermont Gas, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Gilbert, a Hinesburg resident, has led Vermont Gas for more than 13 years.
Rendall is currently senior vice president of financial and strategic affairs at Green Mountain Power, where he has served as an executive since 2002. Before joining GMP, Rendall practiced law for 15 years as a partner in Burlington firm Sheehey Furlong & Behm.

Tibet Trading opens in Burlington
Tibet Trading of Vermont, LLC opened at the Burlington Town Center on Nov. 1. The local company, Tibetan-American owned, offers gifts from the Himalayan region. Many of its products are handmade by Tibetan refugees living in India and Nepal.

Greensea Wins 2014 Vermont Tech Jam Innovator Award
Greensea Systems, Inc. was awarded a ‘Jammy’ at the Vermont Tech Jam.
Greensea Systems, Inc., which specializes in control and navigation for unmanned underwater vehicles, was named Vermont Tech Jam’s 2014 Innovator Award winner. The company was acknowledged for its Bale fire and Endal products, which are based on its Open Software and Equipment Architecture (openSEA) used in hundreds of unmanned underwater vehicles. Greensea won amidst strong competition from technology giant IBM in Essex Junction and Stone Environmental, Inc. in Montpelier. Greensea’s win was announced Oct. 24, at the Tech Jam’s exhibitor mixer. Along with the title, Greensea took home a handcrafted “Jammy” robot statuette.

Schlom starts career advising business
Seasoned corporate recruiter Sue Schlom, with experience at Chicago based PepsiCo and Wrigley Gum, recently launched Campus to Career Solutions in Burlington. The venture offers career exploration, resume building, assistance with internships and more to college students, recent graduates and young professionals. Visit

Two new board members at Stern Center
The Stern Center for Language and Learning, a nonprofit learning center with locations in Williston and West Lebanon, N.H., elected two new members to its Board of Directors recently.
Pat Thornton of Williston heads Thornton Investment Management Registered Investment Advisory firm. He has served for the last four years as chairman of the finance committee at COTS. Bud Meyers of Colchester is the founding director of Lighthouse Evaluation.

Wind Ridge Books of VT now nonprofit
Formerly a department of Wind Ridge Publishing (Destination Vermont, Shelburne News, The Citizen and other publications), Wind Ridge Books of Vermont will now publish as a curatorial imprint of Voices of Vermonters Publishing Group, Inc., a newly-fledged, nonprofit organization with offices in Shelburne.
According to Executive Director Lin Stone, “as a curatorial literary publisher, Wind Ridge Books of Vermont is making common cause with independent bookstores, authors and readers of good books to create a new model for publishing.”
“Our goal is to contribute to a literary community that supports good reading and writing by being good literary citizens and linking arms with authors and writing teachers, colleges and literary publications, libraries, booksellers, literary festivals and discerning listeners and readers. We will take our lead from the curatorial manner of the visual arts and the performing arts to nurture the creation and availability of well-written and well-designed books.”

GMP president & CEO finalist for Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year Award
GMP announced on Nov. 13 that President & CEO Mary Powell was named one of three finalists nationally for the Power-Gen 2014 Women of the Year Award.
The Woman of the Year nominees were judged in three categories with the most weight being given to how she advanced the power generation industry. Judges also considered the impact that the nominees made on their communities and their ability to lead.
Green Mountain Power also recently announced that it donated $130,000 to WARMTH, a program that helps Vermonters with heating emergencies. The company urges others to get involved and support this program.

Vermont PBS’s Chuck Pizer receives national recognition

Chuck Pizer

Chuck Pizer

Vermont PBS, Vermont’s statewide public media organizationand its community engagement director, Chuck Pizer, were recently recognized for the station’s expanding educational and community engagement endeavors that serve schools and communities across the state.
The PBS member station was one of three recipients of a Collective Impact Achievement Award from the National Educational Television Association.
, an organization of 92 public television stations, committed to furthering the educational and public service mission of public media.
USA Today nominates Magic Hat Brewery as a top tour
The Magic Hat Brewery and Artifactory, located in South Burlington, has been nominated as one of the top twenty best brewery tours in America by USA Today.
From now until Dec. 1, readers can cast a vote for their favorite brewery tour once a day at
The top ten breweries will be named a USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice winner.

HowardCenter board selects Bob Bick as Executive Director
HowardCenter’s Board of Trustees recently announced the appointment of Bob Bick as executive director, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Bick has been the director of HowardCenter’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services since1994—when an organization that he led for 10 years merged with two others to form the current-day HowardCenter.
“Bob stood out in a national field that included other deeply qualified candidates with experience running organizations that are similar to, or even larger than, HowardCenter,” said HowardCenter Board President Mark Baglini.
Bick succeeds Todd Centybear, who has led HowardCenter for 13 years and has been at the organization since 1975. Centybear is retiring Jan. 15.

Dougherty to lead Women helping Battered Women
Women Helping Battered Women, a community nonprofit that has helped victims of domestic abuse in Vermont’s Chittenden County for over 40 years, announced earlier this month that Kelly Dougherty is joining the organization as its new executive director.
Dougherty comes to WHBW from Vermont Health Connect. Previously, she headed the Burlington Clinic of Planned Parenthood of New England.

Win, Leckey join Downs Rachlin Martin
Two Vermont Law School graduates have joined law firm Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC. Attorney J. Zaw Win has joined the Business Law Practice Group and will focus on serving the captive insurance industry. Attorney Joshua D. Leckey has joined the Energy and Telecommunications Group. Both will be based in DRM’s Burlington office.

Nominations sought for Vt. small business awards


The Small Business Administration Vermont District Office is accepting nominations for its annual small business awards. Previous Vermont winners include Ben and Jerry’s, Switchback Brewing Company and Vermont Teddy Bear Company. The categories are as follows:
Small Business Person of the Year
Individual or partners who own a small business which has increased sales, profits and employees and been in business for three years.
Exporting Small Business of the Year
Small business which has increased sales, profits and/or employees due to exporting and been in business for three years.
Family-Owned Small Business of the Year
Small business must be family-owned for at least 15 years and ownership has transitioned to another generation.
Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year
Small business at least 51 percent owned by a veteran of U.S. armed forces, which has been in business for three years.
Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year
Small business at least 51 percent owned by a woman, which has been in business for three years.
Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Individual or partners who own a small business, are under 35 and have been in business for three years.
Microenterprise of the Year
Individual or partners who own a microenterprise with five or less employees, received SBA assistance and have been in business for three years.
The nomination deadline is Dec. 9.
To nominate a Vermont small business, email [email protected] the company’s name, owner’s name and award category. Businesses may self-nominate.

For more information, email [email protected] or call 828-4422.

WageWorks opens Williston office


Observer staff report
Dozens of employees have finished moving into their new office space in Maple Tree Place this week.
WageWorks, Inc., which administers consumer-directed benefits, relocated its Choice Strategies division from Waterbury Center to Williston. The company was set to host a ribbon cutting ceremony and luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the new office, located at 28 Walnut Street, Suite 250.
“Our organization has seen tremendous growth over the past five years and as a result, we have outgrown our Waterbury Center location,” WageWorks CEO Joe Jackson said. “The move to our new office at Maple Tree Place allows us to continue the expansion of our business, while providing best-in-class services to our clients and participants. We are also excited about the new location, as it will prominently position Choice Strategies to attract additional high caliber professionals to join our team.”
The company began moving in on Oct. 17, with approximately 120 employees, 85 of them on site.
The new office space is located above Maple Tree Place’s retail stores, and features 13,000 square feet of space. The company is also looking to hire approximately 20 more employees over the next few months, said Dewayne Nickerson, who does PR for WageWorks. The career section of its website,, currently lists openings for four client services representatives and six seasonal member services representatives.
Founded in 2001, Choice Strategies specializes in helping small to medium-sized businesses and their employees save money by administering pre-tax benefit plans, including Health Reimbursement Arrangements, Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts. Choice Strategies was acquired by WageWorks in 2012. The California-based company has 11 offices nationwide, including the new Williston location.

CVU Nordic team hosting fundraising auction


Observer staff report
The Champlain Valley Union High Nordic ski team’s annual fundraising auction will be open from Nov. 22 – Dec. 7. This year’s auction features products including gourmet food, flowers and garden supplies; experiences including dining, lodging, skiing, golf, and yoga; and salon, spa, handyman, automotive and veterinary services.
The CVU Nordic Ski Team has grown to be the largest public high school Nordic team in the state of Vermont. Last season included 90 new and returning skiers from Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston. With a growing team also comes growing financial needs, according to team organizers.
All proceeds from the auction go toward ski wax, equipment and uniforms for the team. Visit the auction site at
For more information, contact coach Sarah Strack at [email protected]



Tamara Irving, 56, of Williston, passed away Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, after a long illness, at her home with her loving family by her side.
She was born March 27, 1958, in Montpelier, the daughter of Ernest and Janice (Carlson) Robbins, both deceased. She later moved to Shelburne, and then to Burlington, where she lived most her life, graduating from Burlington High School in 1976, and later raising four children who attended the Burlington school system. Tamara received an associate’s degree from Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, as a Medical Assistant in 1979, where she met her husband of 35 years, Peter Irving. They married in Shelburne in 1979. Tamara later earned an undergraduate and graduate degree in nursing from the University of Vermont, all while working full time and raising her four children. She worked at Fletcher Allen Health Care for 20 years, and later at Good Health PC as a Nurse Practitioner.
Tamara loved working in health care and serving her patients. Tamara was a devoted mother and wife. She was a pacifist and loved anything that lived, especially her family, animals and plants. She was an avid reader and cook. She would read a book a day when she had the chance. She cherished her family time on the ocean and would visit the Maine coast every summer.
She is survived by her husband, Peter; son, Justin; daughters, Emily and Margaret; sister, Tanya Robbins of Boston, Mass.; and brother, Scott Robbins of Burlington. She was predeceased by her son, Curtis, in 2008; and her loving mother-in-law, Eleanor, in 2014.
The family would like to express their heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the caring staff at the University of Vermont Medical Center (FAHC) for the wonderful care she received during her battle with cancer. Especially the wonderful and compassionate nurses, clinicians and care providers that took care of her. A special thank you to her primary care oncologist, Dr. Claire Verschraegen, and her team.
In keeping with Tamara’s wishes, there will not be a funeral service. A small graveside service for family and close friends will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations will be accepted at Howard Center Onion River Day Program.



Patricia (Patti) Roberts

Patricia Roberts-memorium
In loving memory of Patricia (Patti) Roberts, Feb. 24, 1934 – Nov. 18, 2013.
It has been one year since you became an angel and we are forever blessed by your gentle, loving spirit. You are in our hearts forever.
We thank you for all that your are!
Love, Willy and your family

William Roberts
In loving memory of William Roberts, Dec. 11, 1957 – Nov. 11, 1992.
Dad misses you very much.

Little Details: Small steps, Herculean strides


By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

“I feel like I’m part of the family,” Anna* said as she reflected on her foster family. This is a powerful statement for a young woman who spent years in institutional settings—residential schools and therapeutic facilities in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Anna’s Vermont roots run deep. Her ancestors helped settle a Green Mountain town which bears her family’s name. Her biological parents, hampered by substance abuse and mental health challenges, were ill-prepared to care for their daughter. They lacked the skills to encourage, nurture and guide Anna, a gentle person who loves animals and is a voracious reader.
Anna was placed in the state’s custody at age nine. Her elementary school teacher noticed a pattern of neglect and suspected abuse. The young girl’s unkempt clothing and behavioral challenges hinted that something was wrong—broken—at home.
By age 15, Anna worked her way through a series of unsuccessful foster family and institutional placements. She’d grown prone to combativeness, a defense mechanism she learned to survive. She ended up being sent to live at an out-of-state residential program for children experiencing severe behavioral and mental health challenges.
She was eventually returned to Vermont and placed with a foster family where she had to unlearn the lessons of institutional life. She no longer had to seek permission to use the bathroom or eat a snack.
Closer proximity to her birth family provided opportunities to re-establish ties, severed by time and distance. Even though living with her birth family was not an option, safe, supervised visits started to refill the hole burrowed in her heart.
Anna enrolled in a specialized school equipped to address her complex learning and psychological issues. She participated in individual and group counseling, making peace with her past while looking toward a brighter future. She settled in with her foster family—and stayed. Anna finally felt truly at home after years of disruptive placements. Within a couple of years, she transferred to a local public high school. She earned her high school diploma, the first member of her immediate family to do so.
“My favorite class was mass media,” Anna said. “We analyzed books and movies.” She also enjoyed personal law and psychology classes, too.
Anna continued her education, enrolling in the Career Readiness Certificate Program at the Community College of Vermont. She received instruction in resume writing and interview skills while strengthening her math and writing. Although her biological father passed away, she established a positive relationship with her biological mother.
The last time I saw Anna, she said, “I hope for a very good job, something that will pay the bills and put food on the table.”
Young people like Anna exemplify the powerful message that, even if life presents challenges, hard work and a commitment to succeed can shift the balance in one’s favor.
Working as I do at an agency supporting at-risk children and youth, I am reminded that we are not all dealt the same hand of cards in life. Will Anna earn a college degree some day? Will she pursue a profession for which she is passionate? It would be lovely if she did. Just living a life free of abuse and being able to support oneself while living independently is, already, realizing several giant leaps forward.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality
Katherine Bielawa Stamper, a Williston resident, was a 2013 finalist for the Coolidge Prize for Journalism. Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected]