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A party with a cause

Brattleboro opens its heart in ‘Unity for Community’ this weekend

BRATTLEBORO—In the two weeks since the Brooks House fire, there has been a tremendous outpouring of community support for the residents and businesses displaced by the April 17 disaster.

But Brattleboro is just getting warmed up.

This Friday and Saturday, the “Unity for Community” event will give area residents a chance to venture downtown to shop, eat, and support their neighbors.

The celebration will also raise money for the United Way of Windham County’s Brooks House fund, which is designated to help the tenants and businesses that used to call the Brooks House their home move forward with their lives.

In an example of community cooperation, radio stations WTSA, WKVT and WYRY, have teamed up with the Brattleboro Reformer , The Commons, iBrattleboro, Building a Better Brattleboro, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross and the United Way to host Friday evening’s activities.

“A Brooks House Party” will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Main Street, during Gallery Walk, with free musical performances by Sugarhouse and Friends, the Stockwell Brothers, R.T.M. and Cool Beans.

The Rev. Richard “Father Rich” O’Donnell, chaplain of the Brattleboro Fire and Police Department and pastor of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Shops and restaurants will be open for business, and throughout the concert, the people who have played a role in helping with the downtown recovery will be saluted.

From 5 to 7 p.m., WTSA and WKVT will broadcast live from different stores on Main Street. People stationed around Main Street will collect donations for the United Way to benefit the displaced residents of the Brooks House.

Saturday musical extravaganza

A complementary event of music and dance will take place the next day, from noon to midnight, at the River Garden.

The heart of Saturday’s “Heart and Soul: A Musical Benefit for the Brooks House Community” will be 12 hours of music featuring more than 20 local performing artists and bands.

The Bill Shontz show will kick things off with music for kids of all ages. Lisa McCormick will be on hand to share her beautiful voice, and Eugene Uman of the Vermont Jazz Center will tickle the ivories.

With bluegrass, new grass, funk, folk, bossa nova, jazz and Afrobeat on the musical menu, there will truly be something for every ear.

Local chefs will cook up a backyard barbecue, and local folks with healing hands will offer chair massage. Local artists and businesses have put together a wealth of goods available for bid at the silent auction, and local entertainers are crafting some fun activities for the kids.

Like Friday night’s show, admission to Saturday’s benefit is free, but donations are encouraged.

Kate O’Connor, one of the event organizers, considers herself “just a Brattleboro resident,” but WTSA asked her to spearhead the group effort for Friday’s concert.

O’Connor said once WTSA began reaching out to many organizations in the community, every single one agree to take part in the event.

Daniel Kasnitz, a musician who moved to Brattleboro in the mid-1990s, also thinks of the weekend event as a community collaboration.

Kasnitz may have initially conceived of the idea of day of music and dance at the River Garden, but he feels compelled to point out that so many people in the community were already thinking his way.

After he posted his idea on Facebook, he said dozens of people in town came on board in a mere four hours.

“I was only the one who struck the match,” he said.

Besides Kasnitz, Cyndi Cain Fitzgerald and Greg Worden have been instrumental in pulling the Saturday event together.

Kasnitz said he is amazed by the “cheerful, fast, and moving reponse” from the community, which he thinks is indicative of “the very special place this is.”

Although it would have happened no matter what, Krantz believes that the speed and quality of the event was made possible only because of Facebook. In fact, he thinks of “Unity for Community” as a distinctly Facebook phenomenon.

So many people donated so many goods and services that “100 percent of the money we gather will go directly to the people in need,” Kasnitz said.

Worden said early this week that donations are still encouraged for the silent auction.

Donations can be dropped off at Worden’s business, Vermont Artisan Designs, on Main Street, where he and his staff will give a receipt for the contribution.

“It’s looking like a good auction,” Worden said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #99 (Wednesday, May 4, 2011).

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