• Stephen D'Agostino

February Will Be a Month of Community Building

Last Friday, the Vermont Standard held a luncheon for its town correspondents and contributors at the Woodstock Inn. The food was great, and it was nice to spend some time with folks from other towns who do what I do.

The invitation mentioned a surprise special guest. I hadn’t given that much thought until I saw Representative Peter Welch arrive. By then, I was sitting with fellow correspondents Judith Howland of Hartland, Margo Marrone of Plymouth, and Tom Kenyon of West Windsor. Margo asked me if I remembered Ruthanne Howgate. Of course I do! Margo and Ruthanne are friends, and they had spoken the night before. When Margo told Ruthanne she was going to the luncheon, Ruthanne asked Margo to say hi to me. Even if the luncheon had been terrible, that alone would have made it special.

Representative Welch spoke of the importance of the Vermont Standard and other small papers like it to rural communities. Often, these newspapers are the only source of information regarding things going on in places underserved by other media.

Inside the pages of the Standard are the columns of the correspondents with whom I shared lunch. These weekly labors of love are hyper-local. They talk about people who live in our town. Sometimes they mention life events, like marriages or births. Other times, they talk about things happening in the town.

As you know, my columns focus more on the latter than the former, although I am always thrilled to include life events. Both types of content, however, make real one of the things Representative Welch sees as a critical mission for a small town paper. “There is nothing more important,” he said, “than for people in a community to build a community.”

Representative Peter Welch with some of the Vermont Standard town correspondents and the paper's owner, Phil Camp. Photo by Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

I wholeheartedly agree, so I welcome you to do some community building next month in our little town. Here are three opportunities.

On February 8, the second concert in the Reading Winter Concert Series happens at Reading Town Hall. This concert features Turnip Truck out of Corinth, VT. They are a quintet that “plays a mix of bluegrass, swing, gypsy jazz and old folk and country music. Often times swapping lead vocal duties and instruments throughout the course of a show, the band is defined by tight harmonies and a penchant for improvisation.” I plan on speaking with Brian Carroll, upright bass player of the band, this week, and I will have more information about Turnip Truck in next week’s column.

This year, the beneficiaries of the Winter Concert Series are the Reading/West Windsor Food Shelf, the Reading Green Spaces Committee, the Reading Recreation Commission, and the Ottauquechee Health Foundation. Each one, in its way, helps build and preserve our community.

The concert starts at 7pm, with doors opening at 6:30pm. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children 15 and under.

If you've been to one of the concerts, you know food is provided, so it's a night of music and dinner. You can make it a cooking-free weekend if you take part in the other community event happening the very next day. On February 9, from 4pm to 7pm, the Reading PTO will be hosting the Mama Mia Bistro. It’s a delicious Italian meal, and it is cooked for you by volunteers.

If you want to help out (that is, build community), here are some opportunities. The PTO is looking for donations of loaves of uncut Italian bread, garlic bread, butter, olive oil, jars of tomato sauce, boxes of spaghetti and ziti, and salad fixings. Or, you can help out at the event. You could be a salad chef, preparing and serving this lovely, leafy course of the meal, a pasta chef, a sauce chef, a dishwasher, or a member of the cleanup crew.

Or you can attend Mama Mia Bistro. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children, and $20 for families. To donate, volunteer, or for more information, contact a member of the PTO. They are Barbara Lord (lord.barbara@sky.com), Wade Mullis (mullins1183@yahoo.com), and Janet Malcolm (janetmalcolm@gmail.com).

And now for the third community event in February. The Reading Historical Society is holding its annual meeting on Saturday, February 15. You don't have to be a member of the society to attend (but we'd love it if you become a member).

There will be more information about this in future columns, but here is a brief outline. The meeting happens at 4:30pm, followed by dinner at 5pm, and a talk at 6pm co-sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council called "Getting from Here to There: A History of Roads and Settlement in Vermont.”

The Vermont Humanities Council's description of the talk reads: "The difficulties of traveling in Vermont played a significant role in the state’s settlement, development, culture and politics. But Vermonters weren’t always eager to have good roads. Opposition began in 1753, when the Abenaki joined forces with the French to protest the building of a British military road along an established Abenaki trail. Resistance to new roads has continued ever since, from the Green Mountain Parkway to the building of the interstates.

“Novelist Deborah Lee Luskin asks, given this opposition, how is it we now drive cars in all seasons, in all weathers, in all corners of the state?”

Given the difficulties with building roads, building a community seems easier, doesn't it? I hope to see you at one, two, or all of these events.

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on January 23, 2020.

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