BRATTLEBORO—It was a Saturday night, a time for dancing or dining or dating or dreaming, and yet 35 area nonprofits joined together at American Legion Post 5 in what was called a “Stone Soup Social.”
It showed us that in Windham County, at least, our hearts are still in the right place.
The social on Jan. 28 was put together by the Legion, Brooks Memorial Library, and the United Way of Windham County.
Post 5 Vice Commander John Hagen said his goals were to get the town’s nonprofits to talk to one another and to get people to come out on a winter’s night and get active in the community.
“Even if nobody from the public shows up tonight, this [will have] been a big success,” he said. “Everyone here is talking and sharing ideas and resources.”
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People did show up, and they were treated to homemade soup, raffles for door prizes, and lots of conversation and fun.
Personally, I was overwhelmed by the variety of the groups and the passion they showed for their causes.
Library Director Starr LaTronica and Reference Librarian Jeanne Walsh were there to represent Brooks Memorial Library and, as president of the Friends of the Library, I tagged along with some brochures and copies of our excellent newsletter.
A brilliant mixer idea demanded that everyone go around the display tables to get signatures to fill a Bingo card with 25 boxes. That meant we had to talk to all the people at the different tables and learn about their organizations.
The cards were put in a fishbowl and there was a drawing later on; the prize was free advertising space in The Commons.
“Who knew?” was my theme for the event.
So who knew that a group of Brattleboro area folk were meeting regularly to practice public speaking? The local Toastmasters club, called BrattleMasters, have a lot of fun doing it, they assured me.
Who knew that a group of people here meets regularly to discuss great literature? Now I know about the Great Books Club, which meets at the library.
Who knew that ham radio operators were still in existence, much less practicing their passion in Windham County? If you want a license and some equipment, the West River Radio Club can set you up.
Who knew that our area had so many groups working to help returned armed service members from Iraq and Afghanistan readjust to civilian life?
The Warrior Connection helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The Homegrown by Heroes program tells consumers that the produce they buy was grown by veterans. The Marine Corps League supports Toys for Kids, the annual holiday distribution of gifts for families in need.
The award-winning Brattleboro American Legion Band, now 50 members strong, was there. So were the Brattleboro Floral Arts & Garden Club, the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital volunteers, the Windham County Humane Society, the Brattleboro Outing Club, and the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Green Mountain Camp, the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and the Windham World Affairs Council — they were there, too. So were Health Care and Rehabilitation Services (HCRS), the Women’s Freedom Center, The Gathering Place, and Meeting Waters YMCA.
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Since nearly all of these organizations are nonprofits that must raise funds from the same pool of Windham County residents, their leaders could have regarded one another warily as competition.
But everyone was cheerful, friendly, and open, and it was eye-opening to see how many there were and what good work they were doing on so many, many levels.
The opportunities to volunteer are endlessly interesting. You could have a radio show on WVEW, or help a child through the court system through the Windham County Guardian Ad Litem program, or do trail maintenance with the Green Mountain Club, or be a mentor at the Brattleboro Boys & Girls Club.
Or all of the above.
It was such a convivial group of people, and I was proud to be among them.