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Next stop, Graduation for Leadership Southeast VT Class of 2023!

Leadership Southeast Vermont Class of 2023 has completed its classes. Next stop, GRADUATION! The ‘22-’23 group began in September, attending sessions each month about Regional & Cultural History, Human Services, Politics and Government, Education, Social Services, Economic Development, Corrections, and Healthcare. The most recent sessions were Economic Development, Healthcare, and Corrections.

The Economic Development session was held in March at the Springfield State Office Buildings, it was a wonderful top-down view of economic development in our state. The session began at the state level with a presentation from Aly Eastman, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and Abbey Willard, Agriculture Development Division Director. There was also a presentation from Joan Goldstein, Agency of Commerce and Community Development Commissioner, about their role in promoting economic development in our towns.

Later, we heard from a couple of the local Regional Development Corporations; Bob Flint of Springfield Regional Development Corporation, and Adam Grinold of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. These organizations work on obtaining information as well as, state and federal money for projects for the towns and regions they cover. They spoke about their roles in benefitting businesses and how they move the economy forward.

Moving on to a smaller scale, we focused on towns, and how the people in a town can work together for economic prosperity; with a focus on Springfield. After lunch, we were led on a walking tour of downtown Springfield by Christian Craig, Executive Director of Edgar May Health and Recreation Center. We learned about the buildings and economy of our downtown, the building’s owners, the building’s uses, the issues and benefits, and how they will work together to make a prosperous community. The tour was then turned over to Jessica Martin, Executive Director for Springfield On The Move, Springfield’s designated downtown organization, and Laura Ryan from the Springfield Housing Authority. Both are important leaders in the progress that is happening with Springfield’s downtown area. We then stopped by the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce to hang out with the Simpsons and hear about the Chamber’s contributions to a healthy business community and economic development. For our final stop of the day, we visited a business success story, Vermont Dry & Cure Technologies. The participants were blown away by the amount of success this business has faced, and the speed of growth and development for such a relatively young company. They were also impressed with the commitment of the owners to stay and hire in Vermont. The idea of having such a successful, cutting-edge, manufacturing business in Springfield once again is exciting and wonderful!

The Healthcare Session took the students to Vermont EMS Academy in Townsend. We were able to tour their amazing, new, modern building, with technology that brings training to a whole new level; including an ambulance inside on hydraulics that can mimic driving and equipment malfunctions, a fake Emergency Department with a waiting room, multiple fully equipped classrooms with highly realistic training props, a mock apartment, a video studio (for remote teaching), and so much more! We heard from Drew Hazelton from Rescue Inc. about the struggles of training EMS in Vermont, and providing quality ambulance service in a state full of small towns, as well as a broader look at the challenges facing first responders in today's world. This was a unique opportunity for participants to hear firsthand about the continuing impact of the COVID pandemic. We heard from Chris Dougherty from Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Andrea Seaton from Grace Cottage Health Care, and Erik Rosenbauer from the Brattleboro Retreat. We learned about the challenges facing hospitals, including staffing, maintaining specialties, and having enough beds. They also spoke about the mental healthcare status in our area, which is facing many of the same issues as physical healthcare.

Next, Judy Morton of Thompson House Nursing Home spoke about how senior care works and some of the major drawbacks of our current system. Vermont has the oldest population in the nation, so hearing from someone who works with this population was an important part of the day. We also heard about some of the predictions for the future, and how we can prepare to be a nation that has a fifth of the population over 65. To add on to that, 1 in 9 US adults 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that can often require more specialized one-on-one care and facilities, something that we simply do not have the capacity or staff for in such a small state. While the challenges can seem overwhelming at times, it is always uplifting to hear the passion and care these incredible workers have for those in their charge.

After a lunch break, we returned to the classroom to hear from Chloe Updegraff, the Brattleboro Regional Director for the State Department of Public Health. We talked over some of the reports and numbers coming out of the region regarding healthcare, much of the focus being on preventative care, healthy living, and access to good healthy choices.

These reports also showed one of the significant struggles in local healthcare recently, the lack of Primary Care Providers accepting new patients. From the HealthVermont website “Primary care practitioners….screen for disease, counsel patients about their health-related behaviors, treat illness, refer for specialty care, and manage an individual's or a family's total health care.” They are often the one who first hears the complaints of the individual and help them get the care they need. In a place with no available primary care providers, people are waiting until things become worse before taking action and ending up in the ED or Urgent Care. The result is higher costs for all involved. There are some other statistics that we went over during this lesson, including the increased prevalence of depression, and certain risk factors for disease. The participants did an exercise where they worked on brainstorming different ways they could bring more healthcare workers to their regions.

After this, we heard from the Executive Director of Windham Dental Clinic, Carmen Derby. She talked about the importance of oral hygiene and care, in the context of a whole person’s health. She also talked about the importance of creating less intimidating dentist visits. Many people will avoid making an appointment for years, out of fear, shame, lack of resources, and other reasons. Similar to primary care, putting off regular checkups and cleanings, makes it all the more likely that the patient will end up spending more money and have more pain when waiting until it is an emergency.

Alternatives to western-hospital-setting medicine have been gaining popularity, lifestyle changes are starting to be recommended instead of a pill by providers. We heard from Sojourns Community Health Clinic about some of their treatments. While they are a fully equipped doctor's office, with all the things you would expect, they also offer a range of other services, such as naturopathic medicine, chiropractors, physical therapy, and acupuncture. Lastly, we got an overall look at the healthcare system in Vermont from Robin Lunge a member of the Green Mountain Care Board.

Our final session together was focused on the Corrections and Criminal Justice system in Vermont. We started the day at the Springfield Police Department, hearing from Chief Jeff Burnham about the challenges the area faces and what they are doing to adapt and improve. Chief Burnham is still relatively new to Springfield Police and has been working to help rebuild the department. He inherited a fairly small staff from the previous Chief, and as many may know in Springfield, for a period of time, we did not have local coverage in the evenings and had to rely on the State Police. Chief Burnham is well on his way to fully staffing the department and is working with multiple partner organizations to make sure people continue to have support even after the police leave the incident.

Our next stop was the Southern State Correctional Facility, where we heard from the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Nick Deml. He spoke of the logistics side of the SSCF, and how a small state like Vermont manages to keep its facilities running smoothly and affordably.

After this presentation we had a tour of SSCF, helping the participants get a better understanding of what it is like to be in the corrections system. This is a unique experience that many people in the area won’t experience. Touring the halls and hearing from the people working and living there, gives a perspective that hopefully these participants will carry with them after the end of the course. We saw a variety of different parts of the facility, from the kitchens to the medical center, and heard about how life is structured.

Our final talk was with Nick Merrill, Supervisor of Springfield Probation and Parole, where we heard about how they work to reintegrate people back into society while making sure they don’t return to old habits, or endanger members of the community. We heard about the different programs and processes they have to help prevent people from reoffending, and how the different aspects of the criminal justice system work together through these transitionary times in a person's life.

In many ways, the Leadership Southeast Vermont program allows participants to get an immersive look into all of these larger concepts. For many of us, we may never have a reason to see the inside of an ambulance or a corrections facility. This program allows participants a chance to better understand these complicated concepts in a more concrete and realistic way than through lectures and presentations alone. Learning about these aspects of Vermont is a hugely important tool in creating change and being a leader in a community.

The 2022-2023 LSEVT participants will be graduating June 8th. Recruitment has begun for the 2023-2024 LSEVT class. If you are interested in participating please feel free to reach out to Taylor Drinker, Membership & Events Director, Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce - for more information or visit

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