Updated: Jan 21, 2021

LSEVT 2020 Class at Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier (December 2019) (left to right): Karen Bolster - Brattleboro Retreat, Elisha Underwood - Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Dasha Good - HCRS, Stacy Garciadealba - Vermont 211, a program of The Vermont United Ways of Vermont, Tony Ingram - Brattleboro Housing Partnerships, Karen Fortier - Brattleboro Savings & Loan, Carrie Kellow - Mascoma Bank, Vanessa Santana - Turning Point of Windham County, Nicole Picard - Claremont Savings Bank, MJ Trask - Vermont Adult Learning, Amy Duffy - Edward Jones Financial Advisor, Kelen Beardsley - Trout River Brewing Company. Not Pictured: Madison Moreau - Dragonfly Designs.

On Thursday, June 25th, the 2020 graduating class of Leadership Southeast Vermont (LSEVT) attended their *virtual* Commencement Ceremony. Twelve participants will receive completion certificates, the culmination of ten months of education, collaboration, and community impact work. Normally the class meets in-person for a celebratory dinner event, but circumstances of the pandemic resulted in the program being converted to an online format this spring, so that everyone could continue to participate while still observing necessary safety guidelines. COVID-19 threw a wrench in the gears, but that didn't stop these energetic and dedicated individuals from staying the course and following the program through to completion! Instead of group projects this year, each participant was asked to complete an individual project, reflecting upon their concept of "leadership," discussing ways that the coronavirus has impacted their lives, and expressing through essay questions and art projects, things they have learned from the program and in their life experiences. Members of the Steering Committee, colleagues, family, and friends listened as participants presented their projects virtually during the graduation, sharing their perspectives and creations. Art projects included a painting, photo collages, videos, and a poem. Acting CEO of Springfield Medical Care Systems, Josh Dufresne, was the keynote speaker. Leadership Southeast Vermont started in 1998 and has been serving Windsor and Windham counties for over twenty years, with the first class graduating in June of 1999. This year’s class was the twentieth class to graduate since the program’s inception. LSEVT is currently a program of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce; the Chamber operates as the administrative and fiscal agent and coordinates the curriculum, presenters, and session sites with the support of a volunteer Steering Committee. The ten-month course begins in September each year, kicking off with a Welcome Dinner and an Orientation Day session, giving participants a chance to get to know each other. The class meets for one full day a month, in various locations, with each session focusing on a regional theme; topics include Regional Culture & History, Education, Human Services, Economic Development, Health Care, Politics & Government, Media & Communication, and The Corrections System. The program brings together people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and views, who have a strong interest in creating positive change in their communities. No prior experience is necessary. What is required is a genuine concern about the future of Southern Vermont and a willingness to commit to a personal involvement in the shaping of that future.

Each year (under normal, non-COVID circumstances), the class is sectioned into teams and tasked with the challenge of doing group projects that will have meaningful and lasting impact in the region. Past projects have included work with area Warming Shelters, the rehabilitation of the Springfield Community Center bowling alley, food drives, a variety of awareness campaigns, an inspirational mural project with the children at Kurn Hattin Homes, and teen and youth outreach projects. This year’s class individual projects focused on COVID-19 experiences, strategies, and resources, and examples of effective leadership in all its many forms.

"I believe that a leader engages in actions to better their community without expecting recognition and acclaim for their efforts. A leader does things to help their community by volunteering or participating in events for the betterment of others. I believe that leaders engage in these activities and events not because they must, but because they believe it is the right thing to do. They lead others by example. Their actions and efforts should inspire and boost others up. [...] The most impactful thing I learned during this program were all the opportunities to volunteer and give back to my community. There were many more opportunities than I had previously been aware of. I plan to start utilizing those oppo