VUHS senior walk raises money, builds community

VERGENNES/MONKTON/STARKSBORO — The annual Vergennes Union High School senior class charity walk-a-thon became more of a hike-a-thon as members of the school’s highest grade traveled by foot from the Willowell Foundation property in Monkton over Hogback Mountain to Starksboro’s Common Ground Center on Oct. 9. The annual fundraiser brought in more than $4,000 to help Camp Kaleidoscope, which serves for families with children on the autism spectrum.
Camp Kaleidoscope is a summer camp retreat for families with children ages 12-18 experiencing the autism spectrum. The goal of the place, which has been hosted at the Common Ground Center since 2007, is to provide a relaxing summer camp experience where families affected by autism can enjoy a memorable vacation and create positive memories together. Organizers of the camp say that children with autism and their families need a unique type of situation to feel physically and emotionally safe to rejuvenate and play together, which Kaleidoscope tries to provide.
VUHS seniors gathered the morning of Oct. 9 at the Willowell property, which hosts the VUHS alternative education program known as the Walden Project. After hiking the at-times-steep Hogback trail to the center, the VUHS seniors, advisors and some parents were hosted by the Common Ground staff, including Co-director Jim Mendell and Program Director Connor Timmons.
Seniors at VUHS have come together every year for the past seven years to raise money for a particular cause, organization or individual in an event that also builds class cohesion. Community Service Adviser Lee Shorey encourages each class to keep the cause close to home and to think about what effects them the most.
This year the class of 2015 chose to walk for a fellow senior, Sebastian “Sebby” Crowell, who is on the autism spectrum and whom Shorey said is beloved by the class.
“(He) has shown leadership in many ways and has shared his disability with the class so that their awareness and support is universal,” Shorey said. “When Sebby Crowell introduced his parents to Jim and Connor at Common Ground Center there was a meeting of the minds right then.”
Shorey described this meeting and moment of connection as one of the special “behind the scenes” moments of the senior walk. Some of the other scenes she described were:
•  The students took an ember from the starting circle fire and the senior runners carried it in a mushroom in a metal cone to light the Common Ground fire in the end circle.
•  The crazy late night that students spent in a classroom manufacturing tie-dyed T-shirts designed by Sebby, as well as the time making the pizzas in a school kitchen with so many seniors singing at the top of their lungs and finding Sebby so that he could make his own pizza
•  Recognizing the importance of their task when seniors saw all the community donations showing support.
•  Having the new principal, Stephanie Taylor, and parents walk along with the seniors.
•  Gathering at the roaring pizza oven and having the time to celebrate with a lunch sweetened by a Ben & Jerry’s donation of Peace Pops.
•  Walking through the center’s labyrinth and ending in the center holding on to each other for a photo.
Shorey praised the Monkton town selectman, post office staff and fire department members for working in partnership with the VUHS crew. Indeed, organizers said the walk touched many other students beyond the seniors. A 7th grade Exploratory class, for instance, wanted to help make pizza dough for the senior walk — they ended up making 20 pies. And the walk-a-thon was so successful and brought forth so many good words from the seniors that members of the junior class at Vergennes decided they will have their prom at the Common Ground Center in the spring.
But one of the greatest takeaways was the way the class members bonded knowing that they can make a difference.

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