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September 5th, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
VERGENNES — When Ann Rivers, Richard Catchapaw and Anthony Korda got the call from Vergennes Area Rescue Squad (VARS) Operations Officer Chuck Welch last Friday afternoon, the three volunteer rescue workers had less than an hour to make up their minds. Were they ready and willing, Welch wanted to know, to push off for the Gulf Coast — and could they do it in three hours’ time?
With Hurricane Gustav set to bear down on Louisiana and Mississippi, Welch told them, the call had gone out for out-of-state assistance, and American Medical Response (AMR), the private company responsible for contracting emergency response teams for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tapped the Vergennes crew for help.
The VARS ambulance crew was one of 11 Vermont rescue crews to head south in preparation for Gustav’s landfall. (A mechanical breakdown in Virginia meant that 10 Vermont ambulances arrived by Saturday evening.)
Though they were given just a few minutes to make the decision, all three responders — Korda, from the Town Line First Response team in Bridport, and VARS volunteers Rivers and Catchapaw — pushed off on the 3,000-mile trek to Mississippi last Friday, just over four hours after VARS received the initial call from AMR.
“They drove straight through,” Welch said, and arrived in Jackson, Miss. — a staging area for out-of-state ambulance crews — on Saturday night around 6 p.m.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have dedicated folks that are able to drop everything and go,” he said.
Gustav is not the first natural disaster that has sent VARS volunteers south to chip in while hurricanes chart their course for the states along the Gulf of Mexico.
By JOHN FLOWERS
VERGENNES —A half-dozen Vergennes-area church congregations are joining forces to pull together money, food, clothing and other resources to help needy residents weather high heating fuel prices this winter.
Working together as the Economic Crisis Community Response Team, or ECCRT, the parishioners have already brainstormed such ideas as filling gas cans with enough fuel to get needy households through the night until they can tap into assistance programs, assembling an emergency firewood pile, reaching out to people who may have surplus vegetables in their gardens, and organizing trips to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Johnstown, N.Y., to get free “seconds” for distribution to those in need.
“We all expect (an economic crunch) is coming, because of the cost of fuel,” said Connie Goodrich, chairwoman of the ECCRT. “Our biggest concern is for seniors on fixed incomes and the working parent who doesn’t qualify for fuel assistance or food stamps.”
ECCRT membership currently includes members of the Congregational Church of Vergennes, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Ferrisburgh Community Methodist Church, Addison Baptist Church and Vergennes Methodist Church. Organizers will reach out to fellow parishioners and non-church-goers alike in their effort to find resources for people they fear may have to choose between food, medicine and heating fuel this winter.
“We are anticipating a crisis of some kind,” said the Rev. Gary Lewis, pastor of the Congregational Church of Vergennes.
The Addison Independent reported on Sept. 1 that the number of families needing help from the Congregational Church’s food shelf has jumped 25 percent compared to the same time last year. The food shelf is currently helping around 125 households.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — After almost a dozen years of practicing medicine in Middlebury, Dr. Breena Holmes has decided to at least temporarily retire her stethoscope and return to the classroom.
No, Holmes isn’t going back to school as a student. She’s returning to be a teacher — in Middlebury Union High School’s Health Literacy program.
“This was generally about my need and desire to be with adolescents,” Holmes said of her transition from physician to teacher, which officially commenced last week.
Holmes has, for the past 12 years, specialized in the care of teens as a physician with the Middlebury Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She has enjoyed that experience, but has also wanted to interact with youths in a venue not confined to short, clinical visits. When she heard of a vacancy in the MUHS health program (brought on by the recent retirement of longtime teacher Peter Ryersbach), Holmes decided to apply for the post. She landed the position and took her place among the rest of the MUHS faculty last week when classes got under way for the 2008-2009 school year.
Holmes, 42, will officially leave Middlebury Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine on Nov. 1. Until then, she will work mornings at the practice and afternoons at MUHS teaching a health literacy course. Deb Karpak is the leader of the program.
“The way I see it, this is a course in teaching decision making,” Holmes said. “It’s what you need to know about your body and your mental health to make good decisions.”
Course material will touch upon alcohol, drugs, sexuality, personal health and media literacy, among other things.
“The fun challenge for me will be to make it more relevant for the older students,” Holmes said, noting a substantial number of juniors and seniors who will need to take this course this year.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — When Martha Chesley, a longtime volunteer at the Bristol food shelf, staffed the shelf’s August distribution night a few weeks ago, something struck her as different.
“I noticed people that I’ve never seen come here before,” she said. And, when she later took a look at the food shelf’s stocks, she and the other volunteers noticed that “things were pretty slim.”
Chesley’s gut feeling — that more families are turning out for food assistance, and that food shelves are struggling to keep up with rising demand — turned out to be more than just a hunch.
In a trend that reaches beyond Bristol, area food shelves are seeing increased traffic as more families — more new faces — turn out for food assistance.
“We’ve taken a jump,” the co-director of Bristol’s food shelf, Rebecca Price, confirmed. “Shelves are getting bare.”
Last month, Price said, the number of families coming to the shelf for help jumped from a relatively steady 30 or 35 per month to 46 — a significant increase for a small, donations-only operation.
In Vergennes, at the much-larger food shelf in the Congregational Church, numbers have also been shooting up. (Unlike the Bristol shelf, which opens up just once a month to distribute bags of food, the shelf in Vergennes is open three times a week, serving families from as far afield as Orwell, Monkton and Starksboro.)
Between 2006 and 2007, the number of families using the food shelf at the Vergennes Congregational Church jumped 25 percent, and they’ve seen another 25-percent hike this year, according to food shelf coordinator Mary Ann Castimore.
Now, Castimore said, the shelf is helping feed around 125 households.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The mother of the late Nicholas Garza has hired a forensics specialist to provide a second opinion on the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, which state and local authorities are currently calling accidental.
It was May 27 that local officials found the remains of Nicholas Garza, a 19-year-old freshman at Middlebury College, near the base of the Otter Creek Falls. Garza had been missing since the evening of Feb. 5, when he was last seen on campus.
Middlebury police continue to amass information in their investigation of Garza’s death, including toxicology reports and information from the office of the state’s chief medical examiner. But information, to date, continues to lead authorities to the conclusion that Garza had consumed alcohol on a cold Feb. 5 and then accidentally fell into the frigid Otter Creek.
“There is absolutely no indication of foul play,” said Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn. “I think we had a Middlebury College student who drank alcohol and probably wandered down the wrong path and fell into the river.”
Quinn said he has reviewed investigators’ reports in the case and believes “every possible lead was run down and every person rumored to have known something about (the case) was spoken to.”
Quinn said he would, if given the opportunity, review any material that may be uncovered by an investigator recently hired by the Garza family to furnish a second opinion about the circumstances surrounding Nicholas’s death.
That investigator, according to Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, is Dr. Michael Baden, who is a medical doctor and forensic pathologist. He is also an author and former chief medical examiner for the state of New York.
Natalie Garza, Nicholas’s mother, could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
LINCOLN — Lincoln author Louella Bryant’s latest book fell into her lap — literally.
Or rather, it was placed there — in the form of an old box brimming with photographs, letters and a well-worn journal, delivered to Bryant by her husband.
“It was the book,” Bryant said. “It was the whole book in this box.”
“While in Darkness There is Light,” which hits bookstore shelves this week, tells the fascinating story of a group of young, privileged American men who left the United States in the early 1970s. Disillusioned with American politics and blessed with the resources to travel the world, they set off for Australia and an agricultural commune in Far North Queensland.
One of these young men is Charlie Dean, the younger brother of Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Charlie would later disappear in the jungles of Laos and die at the hands of the communist Pathet Lao. (Charlie’s name cropped up in mainstream media during Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, when Howard Dean spoke of wearing Charlie’s belt every day.)
Another of these young men, as luck would have it, was Harry Reynolds, who would later become Bryant’s husband.
Bryant stumbled upon the concept for the book in 2004, shortly after Howard Dean claimed his brother’s remains, which had been unearthed in Laos and repatriated at a ceremony in Hawaii. The trip made the news, and inevitably cropped up in conversation one night while Bryant and Reynolds sat on the porch of their quiet home in Lincoln.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — A New Hampshire family is seeking permission from the town of Middlebury to establish a 16-acre gravel pit on land off Route 116 near its intersection with Quarry Road.
The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) is tentatively scheduled to hold its first hearing on the project on Sept. 22. Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the DRB will consider, among other things, the proposed gravel pit’s proximity to the nearby Lindale Mobile Home Park; its potential impact on the town’s underground water supply; and the increase in truck traffic, excavation dust and noise the project would generate.
Ronald and Susan Fenn of Danville, N.H., are proposing the project. They own the 70-acre parcel on which the new pit would be located. Ronald Fenn was born and raised in Middlebury.
Susan Fenn said her husband’s family has owned the 70 acres off Route 116 for more than a century. They have now decided to develop a portion of it.
“We know there is gravel in there,” Fenn said of recent engineering studies at the site.
The Fenns have submitted a project narrative indicating the gravel pit site contains approximately 660,000 cubic yards of material. Plans call for an average of 35,000 cubic yards to be removed annually during the next 30 years. The Fenns said there are no plans to do any blasting or crushing at the proposed pit. The couple plans to lease or sell the pit property to an entity that would operate the business.
Excavation of the 16-acre pit would occur in four phases. Topsoil from each new phase would be set aside to reclaim the site of the preceding phase, according to the project narrative.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will spend the next few weeks crafting a policy for the Middlebury Union High School Tigers’ Print newspaper that could range from continuing to allow the administration to pre-screen the content of the publication, to simply ensuring that students’ names are withheld from articles that could get them in trouble.
Board members on Tuesday decided to take that course after two hours of at-times impassioned debate, focusing on the balance of protecting students while allowing them the freedom to produce a newspaper with an unfiltered voice.
School leaders have been considering a policy since last spring, after a Tigers’ Print scribe printed the name of a student who confessed to having attended classes while under the influence of marijuana. That student was retroactively suspended from classes for three days. The UD-3 board’s policy committee met during the summer to gather a series of legal opinions and public testimony on potential ground rules for the student newspaper.
The policy committee on Tuesday unveiled two potential newspaper policies.
The first proposed policy calls for the journalism course teacher to be responsible for reviewing all material prior to publication. The superintendent or his designee, however, would have final approval over the material to be published. The policy also stipulates that the superintendent will not permit censorship “of any article because of administrative disagreement with the article’s viewpoint or opinions of the author, or merely because of any controversial nature of an article or its subject matter.” At the same time, the superintendent won’t allow into print any information that “could violate the rights of students, constitute discrimination of any portion of the student body, or advocate behavior that exposes all or a portion of the student body to harm.”