On Trend this Season: Generosity

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” – Maya Angelou

Whether you are a full-time or part-time resident, people who choose to live in the Okemo Valley consistently lend a hand to their neighbors, and there are many organizations and businesses that provide opportunities for residents and visitors alike to give generously.

The Chester Andover Family Center (CAFC) is one of the non-profit, community-forward organizations operating in the Okemo Valley that has been at the forefront for decades, providing services to residents of Chester and Andover. This fall, CAFC kicked off a large fundraising effort called Project Next Steps with a September tent sale at the Family Center, the project will benefit the center’s community service programs. The center holds a huge annual Christmas Tent Sale, and this year’s event is planned for Saturday October 7. “They have everything you need for the winter holiday season,” said CAFC’s board member Nena Nanfeldt.

CAFC also operates a thrift store. Proceeds help support their community-based programs, and they accept donations of gently-used items year-round. Other events include The Empty Bowl Fundraiser, scheduled for Saturday, November 18, 2023. Last year’s Empty Bowl event was a success, raising over $5,000 via a raffle and a silent auction. Nanfeldt reported that it would provide about “60 households with two months of supplemental food.” More information about CAFC’s events for the holidays and throughout the year can be found at their website at chester-andoverfamilycenter.org.

Businesses Giving Generously Year-round

Many area businesses find clever and successful ways to give back, especially during the winter holiday season, often working together to advocate for their communities.

“I am a true believer that if you have a business in the community, and you earn a living, you need to support that community,” said Katherine Burns, Broker/Owner at William Raveis Vermont Properties (WRVP). One way that WRVP gives back is by sponsoring an annual coat drive to benefit area residents and families. “We have organized the coat drive since 2009 [and] normally get anywhere from 100-200 coats,” reported Sarah Sheehan, a Broker with WRVP. “We reach out to the Mount Holly and Ludlow elementary schools to find out what their students’ needs are,” explained Burns. “We sort out the coats, lay them out in our office, and [the school administrators] come in to get what they need.” The remaining coats are donated to Black River Good Neighbor Services (BRGNS).

When Black River Good Neighbor Services began in the 1960s, they were called the Community Welfare Committee. The organization formed to distribute food and other assistance to their neighbors who were struggling by providing free food and other provisions. Currently, BRGNS operates clothing and furniture thrift stores in Ludlow. During the holidays, BRGNS delivers meals and gifts to children of area families at risk. A community effort involving dozens of area businesses and individuals, BRGNS has served over 526 families over the past four years. They also provide disaster assistance, as exemplified by their work in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, and 2023’s flooding event.

In March 2024, WRVP’s Comedy Night celebrates its 20-year anniversary. The event raises between $5,000 and $8,000 to support scholarships and educational programs benefitting OMARA, a local, non-profit booster club that offers scholarships, financial aid, and support to athletes through the Okemo Competition Programs, and the Okemo Mountain School.

Throughout the year, WRVP partners with Ludlow Streetscapes, an organization that has been operating for more than a decade to keep Ludlow beautiful. Funding from donations and events have helped pay for the baskets that adorn the light posts and bridges around town, filled with flowers in the spring and summer, and winter greens and decorations for the holidays. Last year, Streetscapes started offering smaller versions of these baskets to local businesses, and 21 made their way to establishments around town, with matching festive greens and red bows. The baskets will be offered again this year.

At Mary W. Davis Realtor & Associates (MWD), Broker/Owner Suzanne Garvey and her business partner Julie Abraham are proud to continue the tradition of community support established by founder Mary Davis in 1958. During the winter holiday season, Garvey, Abraham, and their staff organize an annual giving event to benefit BRGNS. Collaborating with ClearLake Furniture in Ludlow, MWD matches all donations up to $2,500, and every person who donates receives a keepsake ornament. Every season features a new design, making each ornament part of a winter-in-Vermont collection. “We prioritize supporting our local community to assist positive change … it’s just the right thing to do. We are in this together, hand in hand,” Garvey said.

“Both the Mary Davis ornament event, and the William Raveis Coat Drive have had a huge impact in supporting us during the holidays and winter months,” said Krey Kellington of BRGNS. “We assist a growing number of folks, and families with children, in large part due to these two local business events.”

Gail Beardmore, License Partner at Engel & Völkers in Ludlow, also believes in serving the local community. The company sponsors a yearly, town-wide Christmas-themed scavenger hunt called Elves on Main Street. People sign up to hunt for the elves that have been hidden in each of the shops in downtown Ludlow. The store owners donate items, and prizes are drawn at the end of the event.

As a lead up to the holidays, Benson’s Chevrolet in Ludlow hosts a Toy Drive every year to benefit Toys for Tots. The lobby of the dealership is decorated with a Christmas tree and other festive trimmings, and a Toys for Tots donations box is set up for people to drop off toys and games to be distributed to underserved children.

Another active and philanthropic member of the Okemo Valley business community is Troy Caruso, owner of Fox Run Golf Club in Ludlow. Caruso once again plans to host his annual Christmas party fundraiser in affiliation with Assisting Children Today (ACT), a charity founded by Caruso with Chris Brosi. ACT helps support families with sick children by raising funds, organizing events, and managing volunteers. This year’s event is tentatively planned for Saturday, December 16 at Calcutta’s restaurant at Fox Run (check foxrungolf.org for updates). Admission will be free and there will be free gifts to all children.

The Okemo Valley Women’s Club (OVWC) does an annual Tree of Remembrance Fundraiser.  Donations are made in memory of a loved to benefit the club’s annual scholarship for high school students living in Ludlow, Mount Holly, Cavendish or Proctorsville. The Holiday Tree is located in Veterans Park in Ludlow, kicking off with a tree lighting ceremony in November, and stays lit through Presidents Week in February. OVWC is affiliated with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. You can find them on Facebook.

Americans are notoriously philanthropic. The largest percentage of donations, approximately 70%, come from individuals, and more and more nonprofits are starting up nationwide. In the Okemo Valley, there are many dedicated groups, some new, some decades old, led primarily by hard working, kindhearted volunteers, who offer support to their neighbors in need every day. Always welcome are donations of money, clothing and household items, and time, especially appreciated during the holidays. A study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology in November 2006, found that “people who gave social support to others experienced lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, greater self-efficacy, and greater happiness.”

By Paula Benson