*Special Thanks to Rod Arnold of the Springfield Reporter for this fabulous write-up
You’re all winners! That was the message relayed at the conclusion of last Wednesday’s annual meeting of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, aimed at the whole community of Springfield. For more than the past quarter century, the Chamber’s annual meeting has concluded with the naming of a Citizen of the Year. But 2020 was a year of challenges for many, including the Chamber, but also a year with many examples of citizens rising above those challenges. So, the first time ever, the Chamber decided to bestow the award on all the citizens of Springfield. Chamber Executive Director Caitlin Christiana, in making the announcement, said “...we are unbelievably lucky to have all of these incredible, vibrant, hardworking, caring people in our community, and Springfield is absolutely a better place because of all of them.” “The process of choosing a winner for this award is a huge challenge, because every year we receive so many nominations for incredible, amazing, unbelievably deserving candidates, and it’s always really tough to choose just one,” Christiana said. “So this year, in light of the pandemic, and all the ups and downs, and struggles and triumphs that we’ve experienced and endured together, we felt it was a unique and fantastic opportunity to recognize everyone for their contributions and achievements.” After making the announcement, Christiana unveiled a “Kudoboard Space” on the organization’s website, on which citizens can contribute their experiences in the time of COVID to an on-going time capsule. “Spirit of Springfield is a year-long collaborative community project celebrating the Citizens of Springfield, Vermont and sharing our stories of collaboration, support, and resilience - all the ways that we have come together and cared for each other during the challenges of the pandemic,” the webpage reads. “Think of it like a time capsule for capturing all the memories, big and small, of what it’s been like living in Springfield, VT during these strange times, and creating a record of all the things we’ve done - for our neighbors, our community, and ourselves - to survive (and sometimes even thrive!) during the unprecedented collective experience of COVID-19. “At the end of the project, our aim is to print everyone’s contributions in a book so that we can give copies to the library, the historical society, and have copies available for sale (with proceeds going to benefit a good local cause.) We encourage you to share your experiences on this page, through photos, videos, and written words - tell us your tales!” Details of the project can be found elsewhere in this issue. Much of the presentations at Wednesday’s meeting, conducted over Zoom, centered on how the pandemic has affected the Springfield business community in general, and the Chamber specifically. The Chamber has been operating in minimalist mode since early spring; both Christiana and part-time assistant Alice Page have been working (or paid for working) no more than 10 hours a week. The staff decided to cut their own hours because the Chamber’s fundraisers - including their major fundraiser, the Apple Festival - all had to be cancelled. Christiana announced Wednesday that the 2021 Apple Festival has also been cancelled. Although it is held in the fall, and vaccinations have started, it cannot be known now whether it will be safe then, Christiana said. Outgoing President Amanda Moore said she is proud of all the Chamber accomplished in 2020, despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic. She and Christiana both spoke about the Chamber’s efforts to reach out to member businesses and help them negotiate those obstacles. Incoming President Julie Hayes noted that, as a Springfield resident, she has seen Springfield face many challenges, like the decline of the machine tool industry. When she came back to Springfield after college, she quickly joined the Chamber because she wanted to help the community overcome its challenges. The last year has been hard on Springfield, its businesses and the Chamber, Hayes said. But she lauded Christiana for responding in a way that the Chamber enters 2021 on solid financial ground.
The awarding of the Organization of the Year was an opportunity to highlight one of the more visible positives of the past year. Honored as the Organization of the year was the Springfield Housing Authority, which led the nearly-complete rehabilitation of the Woolson Block. While the downtown project is the most recent and most visible, the SHA was also applauded for its efforts in affordable housing - building three senior citizen apartment complexes and rehabilitating a few other older developments. The SHA also led the effort to restore the movie theater and apartments following a fire on the square a few years ago. Accepting the award was Bill Morlock, who has served the SHA as Executive Director since 1988. Morlock, who will be retiring soon, thanked his staff for their efforts. He added that the projects SHA has accomplished - most notably the Woolson Block rehabilitation - are “community efforts” involving several organizations, such as the Town, Springfield On the Move, the Springfield Regional Development Corporation, and Housing Vermont. Christiana noted Morlock “has been exceptionally dedicated to rebuilding the downtown; arguably one of the most illustrative instances of this dedication is the transformation of the Woolson Block, which is about to formally complete its long-gestating redevelopment, taking a historic building that had become a visible sign of decay and turning it into a showcase. There is no doubt that this project has truly transformed the heart of the community.”