Connecting Youth gives annual

By Rachel Gill
Observer correspondent

Blushing cheeks and teary eyes were common trends during a volunteer recognition awards ceremony on Nov. 15 at Champlain Valley Union High School. Recipients were honored for everything from years dedicated to mentoring youth to being known as “everyone’s mom.” No matter how big the good deed, every award drew a consistent “aw shucks” reaction.

The reactions were entirely appropriate, as the recognitions were called the “Aw Shucks” awards, given by the Connecting Youth program, also known as CY. According to Dayna Scott, CY coordinator, for the past 13 years the community-based Vermont organization has honored local volunteers with “Aw Shucks” awards for their dedication to volunteerism.

The residents help CY create a safe, healthy environment for young people through substance abuse prevention and community programs.

For this year’s ceremony, CVU students Jessica Spadaccini, a CY board member, and Jonathan Bateman, CY youth co-chairman, presented the awards to 10 recipients from Williston, Charlotte, Shelburne, Hinesburg, St. George and CVU.

Among the blushing honorees were Shona Mossey-Lothrop and Cathy Kohlasch of Williston. Lothrop was recognized for, among other things, seven years of volunteering as a CY Youth Mentor at Williston Central School.

“The difference that Shona has made in mentoring relationships and the program is beyond measure,” said Nancy Carlson, CY Mentoring Director. “Shona supports the program with consistency, wisdom and boundless energy through putting her amazing personal touch on everything she does.”

Attending the awards ceremony were two experts on Lothrop’s mentoring skills.

“I like to talk to Shona because she listens and understands me,” said Brittany Hoyt, a seventh-grader at Williston Central School. “She has made me more self-confident and always cheers me on and cheers me up.”

For Kayla Brasard, a CVU senior, it took just seconds of talking about Lothrop for her voice to quiver and the tears to flow.

“Shona has been my mentor for the past seven years and now I am going to be heading off to college and I hope she will always be a part of my life,” Brasard said.

Kohlasch, who is known in Williston as “everyone’s mom,” also took home an “Aw Shucks” award. Kohlasch’s volunteer work includes coaching Mini Metro girls and boys’ basketball for the last six years and serving on the Williston Recreation Commission for nine years.

“It’s definitely humbling to be receiving this award,” Kohlasch said. “I just do what I do because it energizes me and working with kids is what makes me tick.”

Lindsay Hawley, a CVU student, said she has been lucky to be on the receiving end of Kohlasch’s volunteerism.

“She is a loving mother, coach and friend,” Hawley said. “She has always been there for me and I am one of many who have learned a great deal because of her.”

Every year CY honors one business with an “Aw Shucks” award. This year that recognition went to Perry Rianhard and Chris McCown of The PhotoGarden in Williston.

“It is impossible to fully capture the PhotoGarden’s support of CY,” said Carlson.

According to Carlson, for the past five years, PhotoGarden has designed and printed posters honoring the CY mentors.

“These posters have been a powerful recruitment tool,” Carlson said. “The posters also remind our kids of the wonderful, caring adults in our community.”

Jan Bedard, CY Community Prevention liaison, said the awards are the one chance to honor volunteers that typically shy away from recognition.

“These volunteers have gone above and beyond with their efforts and that’s what made them candidates for an ‘Aw Shucks’ award,” Bedard said.

Award recipients are nominated by community members. Bedard said CY contacts schools, CY board members and the community to seek out recipients.