McKibben father-daughter duo earns major recognition
RIPTON — November is barely half over, but it’s already been a very good month for Ripton residents Sophie McKibben and her dad, Bill.
Sophie last week found herself in Maine receiving an “Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy” award — a $10,000 scholarship through the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Northern New England — in recognition for her work organizing free skiing vacations for military families.
Meanwhile, Bill — recently named the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College — received word he had been picked as a co-recipient of the annual $100,000 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship for his work as an author and organizer for environmental causes.
Both father and daughter acknowledged the awards with appreciation and humility.
“It was very humbling,” Sophie said of the award, which recognized her work in establishing and coordinating “Snowjourn.” It’s an annual program through which volunteers, local businesses and Ripton-area households provide free lodging, child care and ski opportunities at the Rikert Ski Touring Center and Middlebury College Snowbowl to families of those serving abroad in the U.S. armed forces.
Sophie, a former Middlebury Union High School student current studying abroad in Norway, had no idea she had been nominated for the award. Known as the Demont scholarship, the honor is conferred each year to a young person who has made exceptional contributions in the area of philanthropy.
“It was a big surprise,” Sophie, 17, said during a brief trip stateside to pick up her award.
“When I heard about it, I thought I shouldn’t be the only one getting this,” she added. “In reality, I was just the facilitator.”
But those familiar with Snowjourn know that McKibben was not taking enough credit for the program she launched when she was 14.
The program has been drawing around 22 military family members from throughout the country each year to enjoy down-home hospitality from Ripton host families while they hit the slopes. Food, ski lessons, child care and potluck dinners are all included.
In 2010, Sophie organized a bike tour and wrote grants to raise more than $3,000 to buy a sit ski so that disabled veterans could also participate in Snowjourn. Acquiring the sit ski led to the beginning of a local, adaptive snow program and a sit ski race at the annual Middlebury College winter carnival.
“I was really happy that Snowjourn was recognized,” said Sophie, who is helping organize the 2011 edition of the event in spite of her presence many miles away in Norway.
Dottie Nelson, MUHS community service coordinator, was pleased to see McKibben recognized for her work. It was Nelson who nominated McKibben for the award.
“Sophie McKibben is one of those rare high school students who has the maturity and insight to recognize an unmet need, the creativity and organizational skills to create an original project to address it and the patience, persistence and energy to see the project through to the end,” Nelson said. “I realized this shortly after she came to my office at MUHS … to ask what I thought of her idea. By the time she stopped by, her project was already well under way and she needed little from me other than enthusiastic encouragement. Nominating her for this award was a pleasure. She is an outstanding young woman.”
Meanwhile, Sophie’s dad, Bill McKibben, will receive his award on Dec. 6 at the Nation Institute Annual Gala in New York City.
The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute are the mutual sponsors of the award, which is given to an individual who has “challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, and socially responsible work of significance.” Recipients are culled from a broad range of occupations and pursuits, including academia, journalism, public health, literature, art, the environmental sciences, labor and the humanities. The prize is intended to encourage the recipients to continue their work, and to inspire others to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies they face in their careers.
McKibben is an environmentalist and author of more than a dozen books (including “The End of Nature”) who frequently writes about global warming and alternative energy and advocates for more localized economies. In 2009, McKibben led the creation of 350.org, which led to 5,200 simultaneous global warming-related demonstrations in 181 countries.
“I’m a beginner as an organizer; it’s a great honor to be included on this list of people who have changed America for the better,” McKibben said of the award in a press release. “I am deeply grateful to The Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute for this recognition of my work. I am even more appreciative that this award is representative of a shared conviction that now is a singular moment in our history for all people of good conscience to come together in defense of the planet. Our work has never been more urgent.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].