Monday, December 30, 2013

Rich Farrell elected Vice President of VCORP

     Rich Farrell, Assistant Director of Substitute Care at Laraway Youth & Family Services, was elected Vice President of the Vermont Coalition of Residential Providers (VCORP).  The coalition is comprised of people, resources and programs focused on the well-being of Vermont’s children and families experiencing out-of-home care placements for kids.
     “Any opportunity to improve the lives of the children and families we work with is a privilege,” Farrell says. 
Laraway responds to the needs of at-risk kids and their families by offering innovative, strength-based services through alternative education, therapeutic foster care, and public school based support programs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Houses of Gingerbread and Spice

The gingerbread houses perched in Laraway's conference room beckon with a gentle prod.  Peppermint spirals, white chocolate drops, and other confections wrapped in colorful foil are artfully arranged and cemented with royal icing. 
Colors tease and tantalize, but it’s the sweet fusion of ginger and nutmeg subsumed in a sea of molasses, eggs and flour---real, genuine gingerbread---that draw folks in with their holiday aroma.
 Chris, a student at Laraway School, has been building the edible edifice featured in the image below.  He and his classmates have been working with Aaron McGee, Walter Wendling, Dave Ward, Cherise Boutin and James Marsh to design, build and even wire with lights and music these culinary masterpieces. 
As we prepare for the holidays, the learning continues.  We offer you greetings of the season.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Season of Introspection

       A flock of geese, cloaked in darkness, offered up their rhythmic chant, bodies bent southward in a gesture of longing for places warmer. They fly over Laraway, reminding us that winter is near.
       Summer is the guest that never overstays her welcome.  She announces her arrival shortly after Memorial Day, lingers for a while, and slips away like water through our fingers.  Steamy afternoons and sweltering nights are replaced by mist-chilled mornings and extra blankets at bedtime.  Autumn's darkness makes the ritual of rising for school and work just a little bit harder.
           There's a crispness in the air.  Laraway's gardens and fields are resting, taking a break from staff and kids' planting, tending and harvesting.
            And, yes, the snow will come, sometimes fast and furiously, sometimes daintily like a gentle sprinkling of salt, altering the landscape and encouraging us to look more deeply within.  And the children and youth at Laraway will ski, snowshoe and search for animal tracks on their journeys toward learning, healing and becoming whole.  Here's to a season of introspection.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Senator Bernie Sanders' Staff visit Laraway

     Phil Fiermonte and Abigail Kiablick of Senator Bernie Sanders' Office recently visited Laraway.  Greg Stefanski was delighted to take them on a tour of our facility while updating them on our work with children and families.
     A highlight was an informal gathering, modeled on the Senator's signature "Town Hall Meetings" in which Fiermonte and Kiablick met with several Laraway School students and staff to learn about the issues that matter to them.  Providing adequate support for military families and easing the path to college for students of limited financial means were among the issues discussed.
     Fiermonte reported on an essay contest the Senator's office is sponsoring and invited Laraway students to consider participating. The Senator is asking Vermont high school students to tell him what they think about the state of the country and its future.  Essays are to be 250 to 500 words about students' views of the state of the Union, as the President prepares to address Congress and the nation in January.  Finalist essays will be entered in the Congressional Record. The winner will get a visit from Senator Sanders at his or her school where Sanders will conduct a Town Hall Meeting.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kyle Bennett stars in Lyric Theatre's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

     Sometimes you just have to take a chance.  Kyle Bennett was new to Vermont.  He was even newer to Laraway---his first day, actually----when he learned about Lyric Theatre's auditions for its fall musical. 
     Equipped with a newly-minted degree in musical theater from Millikin University, this native Iowan found his way to Vermont's Green Mountains.  He was soon hired as a Behavior Interventionist in Laraway's Backpack Program, a role in which he provides one-on-one support to youth in public schools.  Kyle is soon to demonstrate to local theater-goers that he's equally adept at playing a lead role on stage, under bright lights and accompanied by a live orchestra.
     "I am excited to do Joseph because it was the first show I was involved in as a child," Kyle said.  "I was in the children's choir and it's amazing to revisit the show and experience it from a whole new perspective.  It's a treat to have been cast as Joseph when I was so new to Vermont and Lyric Theater.  I'm thankful for the opportunity."
     Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  will be performed at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts on November 14-17.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Flynn Box Office at (802) 863-5966 or visiting  Photo:  Steve Mease

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Raising the Roof on Laraway's Outdoor Pizza Oven

     Volunteers from Johnson State College arrived at Laraway on Saturday, November 2nd ready to work.  Under the careful guidance of Cornelius Murphy, Laraway's Farm Steward, and Marcella Houghton, Laraway's AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, the roof was raised on our outdoor pizza oven built by staff, kids and volunteers from Ben & Jerry's.  The oven project was spearheaded by Sue Lenel, a Laraway School staffer.
     Hammers are swinging in earnest.  Each additional nail, each additional batch of volunteers moves us closer to completing our project.  Soon enough, we'll be baking our own breads and pizzas, teaching kids about following recipes, prepping food and creating a product they can be really proud of.  Thank you to our volunteers!



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Happenings at Laraway

     Laraway is dressed and ready for the most spooktacular of holidays....Halloween!  Pumpkins, painted and decorated by staff in all manner of silly and ghoulish states, are scattered throughout our agency.  These spooky creations can be found perched on a windowsill or nudged near a copy machine, adding a festive touch for kids.  Thank you to Tony and Joie Lehouillier of Foote Brook Organic Farm for donating 150 pumpkins.
     Meanwhile, in Laraway's kitchen, Lisa Rock is cooking up a tantalizing and tasty special breakfast and lunch for Halloween.  Breakfast will feature "Witch's Brain & Mummy's Fingers" (Scrambled Eggs & Sausage).  Lunch will include "Zombie Eyeballs with Intestines"  (Swedish Meatballs with Egg Noodles).
     Laraway kids across program areas are enjoying numerous Halloween activities.  Games, cookie decorating and pumpkin painting were featured at a party hosted for youth.  Students at Laraway School, dressed in costumes, will engage in arts and crafts activities on Halloween afternoon, topped off by Trick or Treating in Laraway's administrative wing.
     We expect this to be a haunting good time!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Laraway School Director Appointed to State Panel

            Julie Landry, Director of Laraway School at Laraway Youth & Family Services, was appointed to serve on the Council of Independent Schools.  The Council, established in 1990, advises the Vermont Secretary of Education on policies and procedures for independent schools.  The Council’s eleven members include representatives from approved and recognized independent schools, as well as two members of the general public.
          “I’m delighted to serve on the Council as a representative for approved independent schools,” Landry says.  “Vermont’s independent schools provide critical education and treatment to meet the needs of at-risk youth in our community.”
          Laraway responds to the needs of at-risk kids and their families by offering innovative, strength-based services through alternative education, therapeutic foster care, and public school based support programs.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Cidering Time

     Laraway eclipsed the 100 gallon mark.  We've produced 216 half gallons of fresh, sweet, unpasteurized far.  Our cider press, carefully tended by Laraway Behavior Coordinator Cal Stanton, is put into service at our farm location.  The project is an annual ritual at Laraway School.
     "All the apples were collected within five miles of Laraway," Stanton said.  "Local residents graciously allowed us to gather apples from their properties."
      Kids learn to glean, clean and press the apples.  They also participate in delivering jugs of the homemade cider to community neighbors who donated the apples. 
     The cidering process offers a full experience---start to finish---in a relatively short period of time.  Kids loving making, tasting and sharing their "product."
     Pressing apples into cider is so much more than getting kids outside on a beautiful fall day.  Cidering allows the children and youth we serve to get in touch with a rural Vermont tradition that harkens back to a simpler time.       

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Backpack...helping hands, healing hearts

     I ran across an interesting metaphor yesterday during an activity in the classroom.  Mrs. C. gave everyone a paper heart and told the class that they represented their hearts.  She took her own paper heart and crumpled a piece of it as she gave a pretend example of someone being disrespectful to her.  She crumpled another piece as she gave another example of someone making a rude comment.  She explained that this can be how your heart feels when someone does something to you that is not nice.  She then flattened it out and gave examples of apologies that can fluff a heart back up.  She then noted the crinkles that were still there.
     M followed along with the activity and then tore a piece of his heart.  A minute later I looked over and the tear became a missing piece of his heart.  I thought I'd metaphorically offer him a piece of tape and wondered how much help he may need using the piece of tape that I had offered.  I showed him the piece of tape.  He kind of looked at it, so I told him he could fix his heart with it.  What happened next was more metaphorical.  an I had thought this simple act could have been.  M said, "I don't know where the piece to my heart went." I helped him look for the missing piece to his heart.  It was nowhere to be found in that moment.  We haven't found it yet, but I'm sure M will be able to repair it in time.
Contributor:  Alan McGrath, Behavioral Interventionist, Laraway Backpack Program


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Potato Picking Time

      How do YOU like your potatoes?  Baked...Boiled...French Fried...Oven Roasted...Mashed?  The possibilities are many for this versatile vegetable.  Laraway kids and staff harvested twenty-five pounds of potatoes grown in our kitchen garden.
      "Our kids get so excited when they hear that an item served in our cafeteria is from our garden," says Lisa Rock, Laraway's Food Coordinator.  "It's great for us to be able to use produce grown here in the breakfasts and lunches we make for kids."
      Getting kids excited about growing, tending and harvesting vegetables is one piece of the important work we do to help children and youth develop a strong, centering sense of place.
       And what will Lisa do with those potatoes?  They are scheduled to make an appearance very soon at breakfast as yummy hash browns!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Have Justice---Will Travel Founder Visits Laraway

Wynona Ward, Esq., founder of Have Justice—Will Travel, offered three pieces of advice for youth in Laraway’s foster care program:  “Get an education.  Establish short term and long term goals, and see the world, that’s really important, too.”
Ward grew up in rural Vermont in a family experiencing domestic violence.  She later crisscrossed America’s lower forty-eight states as a truck driver before entering law school.  She is credited with creating an innovative, mobile, multi-services program that assists victims of domestic violence through the legal process, from relief from abuse orders to self-sufficiency and independence.  Her model is particularly adept at serving clients in rural areas where geographic isolation can impede access to services.
“Wynona serves as a real inspiration to our youth,” said Becca Hemmer, Director of Laraway’s foster care program.  “She showed how personal life experiences can inform our career choices.  She helps victims of domestic violence engage the legal and social service systems to forge new and peaceful lives.” 
For more information on Have Justice—Will Travel, please visit . 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Laraway Installs First Pieces of Its New Playground...get ready to play!

With tools in hand, Laraway staff members, with help from community volunteers, built the first pieces of a playground for their campus. Climbing structures and swings will enhance the farm site as will a basketball court that transforms into an ice rink in winter.
“Playgrounds matter for kids. Playgrounds promote healthy, active lifestyles” says Shellie West, Laraway Adventure Education Teacher. “If one of our kids needs a break, it’s great to be able to go out and shoot a few baskets or play on the playground.  It’s a positive way to alleviate stress.”
Private individuals, foundations and local businesses have contributed to our ongoing efforts to raise funds.  Laraway looks forward to hosting a community event in October to formally celebrate the playground.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How Does Laraway's Garden Grow? Move over Iceberg, lettuce, that is!

    Red romaine lettuce found its way onto the tables of royalty for centuries.  History records the presence of this vibrantly colored vegetable in the dining halls of Persian Kings as far back as 55 B.C. 
     Laraway Farm's bountiful---if somewhat less "royal"---gardens abound this summer with herbs, potatoes, garlic and all sorts of leafy greens simmering in the sunshine, waiting to be picked.  Red romaine, with its mild flavor and vibrant hues, is a great addition to Laraway's table.
     Kids and staff were out on a recent morning plucking lettuce from our fertile, organic soil.  With a high germination rate and minimal pests, red romaine towers over iceberg lettuce with more than five times the Vitamin C.  As kids learn to garden, they also get to feast on our Farm's best pickings in Laraway's cafeteria.  It doesn't get much better---or healthier---than this!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Going for the Garlic

     Laraway teachers Walter Wendling and Aaron McGee, with their students, planted a garlic crop at Laraway Farm last spring.  The plantings have proven resilient---not unlike the kids we serve---amid early summer's gray skies and torrential rains.
     Although the garlic bulbs won't be ready for picking until the fall, garlic scapes---the curling tops of garlic plants which are both edible and delicious---have been harvested for use in Laraway's kitchen. 
     Pictured in the photo at right are Lisa Rock, Laraway's cook, and Marcella Houghton, our Americorp volunteer.  Garlic scapes can be chopped like scallions and added to salads.  They can be pickled and sauteed.  They're also known to make a tasty green garlic pesto.  As summer progresses, we look forward to integrating more produce from our garden into the breakfasts and lunches served at Laraway.  Happy summer!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Laraway Staff Realize Milestones

     Jim Heath, Laraway's Finance Director, is a 2013 graduate of Leadership Lamoille.  This program, an initiative of the Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce, engages emerging communty leaders in a 10-month course to explore the attributes and issues of Lamoille County.  Connections are forged among leaders within the business, educational and nonprofit sectors. For more information on Leadership Lamoille, please go to
     Cornelius Murphy, Laraway's Farm Steward, was the illustrator for the newly-published book, The Resilent Farm and Homestead  by Ben Falk.  The text, issued by Chelsea Green Publishing, is described as a manual for developing beautiful, resilient and highly functional human habitat systems fit to handle an age of rapid transitions.  For more information, go to
     Congratulations to Jim and Cornelius!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ben & Jerry's Community Action Team Spends a Day at Laraway

Johnson-based Laraway Youth & Family Services’ recently hosted seventy Ben & Jerry’s volunteers for a day of service.  The Vermont super-premium ice cream makers proved most adept at tackling projects on the agency’s 39-acre site to make ready for summer programming for kids and families.
With Laraway staff as team leaders, Ben & Jerry’s folks fell into groups, each assigned a specific task for the day.  Working with diligence
and tenacity, they built a bike shed, weeded an extensive perennial garden, planted the vegetable garden, cleared brush along our walking trail, planted a vast number of trees, dug an impressive fire pit and built a bread oven.
“We are grateful for our new friends at Ben & Jerry’s and appreciate their interest in supporting our important work with kids and families,” said Greg Stefanski, Laraway’s Executive Director

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Laraway Youth Art Featured in Installation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

     One Million Bones is a national social arts project to raise awareness of ongoing genocide and atrocities in places like Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Burma.  Project participants, from across the United States, created bones to symbolize lives lost to political violence.  Youth in Substitute Care, Laraway's therapeutic foster care program, crafted clay bones to become part of the installation.
     Vermont-made bones were featured in an installation at the University of Vermont in April; they will be part of a national installation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on June 8-10.  For more information about the project, please visit  Kudos to our Laraway activist artists!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Greg Stefanski to be featured on WLVB Radio

     Greg Stefanski will be interviewed by Roland Lajoy on WLVB Radio, 93.9 FM, on Thursday, May 23 at 9:00 a.m.  Tune in to hear Greg's updates on Laraway's exciting summer programming and and the "Journey to Fatherhood" parenting class he'll be co-teaching.  For more information about Laraway, please visit  For more information about the class, which begins June 6th, and/or to register, please contact the Lamoille Family Center at 888-5229.  The class is free.  The book costs $15; scholarships are available.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Laraway and Salvation Farms Host AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer

              Laraway Youth and Family Services and Salvation Farms are partnering to host Marcella Houghton,  an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer.  Houghton recently graduated from Middlebury College, earning a degree in Environmental Studies and Geology.  She will support agricultural, educational and outreach initiatives at both organizations.
“Laraway and Salvation Farms started working together in 2006,” said Theresa Snow, Executive Director of Salvation Farms.  “We’ve always been supportive of each other’s missions.  The Americorp opportunity came at a vital time and will serve to strengthen our shared interests in protecting Vermont’s agricultural landscape.”
“Marcella’s presence will bolster Laraway’s ability to further integrate agricultural activities into the services we provide for children and youth,” observed Cornelius Murphy, Laraway’s Farm Steward.
              Laraway responds to the needs of at-risk kids and their families by offering innovative, strength-based services through alternative education, therapeutic foster care, and public school based behavioral intervention supports.  Salvation Farms’ mission is to build increased resilience in Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Laraway Staff to present at VCORP Training Academy

     Laraway staffers Greg Stefanski and Rhonda Stuart will present a workshop entitled "The Four Pillars of Wellness" at the 1st Annual Residential Staff Training Academy sponsored by the Vermont Coalition of Residential Providers (VCORP).  The Academy will be help on Friday, May 3rd in Burlington.  Greg, Executive Director, and Rhonda, Human Resources Director, will guide participants in exploring the connection between between wellness, supervision, professional development, and self care.
     For more information and registration information, please visit

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Laraway receives Green Mountain Fund Grant

     Laraway recently received a generous grant from the Green Mountain Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation.  This fund, over the years, has made grants for recreational items and experiences for the children and youth we serve.
     Staff members shared some of the ways the Green Mountain Fund makes a difference in our work:
     "Field trips to the Fairbanks Museum, Green Mountain Audubon Center, and Burlington City Arts provided our students the opportunity to engage in learning activities in the community that celebrate local Vermont culture and history."  Julie Landry, Laraway School Director
     "Benefits of planned group events include team-building, enhanced peer relationships, incentives for positive choices and exposure to new experiences.  This is beneficial for all children.  This is particularly beneficial for youth in foster care."  Morgain Raleigh, Activities Coordinator
     We remain grateful to the Green Mountain Fund for their generosity!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

iKIDarod Comes to Laraway!

     Alaska has its famous trail sled dog race---the Iditarod.  Laraway has its iKIDarod!  Four teams comprised of kids and staff from Laraway School built homemade sleds from old skis and pieces of wood.  They raced along a snowy trail on our property.
     Team members took turns pulling their "musher" while stopping and changing roles at designated stops.  Each stop presented an obstacle, a task to be completed---solving a math problem, completing a crossword, and even quick-changing socks---before racing to the finish line.
     "We do it because it's a great way to build school spirit," says Dave Ward, Laraway's Outdoor Adventure Education Teacher.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Laraway Hosts Dr. Martha Strauss, Ph.D

     Laraway is pleased to host Dr. Martha Strauss, Ph.D who will present:  "Undoing Aloneness: Strategies for Co-Regulation with Traumatized Adolescents and Families" on Friday, March 29th.  This agency-wide training will be held at Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park, Vermont.  Although registration is now closed, we are pleased that staff from some of our community partner organizations will also be in attendance.
     Dr. Strass is a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire, and adjunct instructor in psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School.
     "Martha is a passionate and engaging speaker," says Sarah Squirrell, Laraway Backpack Program Director.  "From the astonishingly simple to super complex, her work links the core elements of working with youth who have experienced trauma and our roles as helpers and as a community."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Welcome Spring!

Spring arrived at Laraway with a blast of snow.  We've cleared paths and are savoring the "white stuff" knowing it will soon yield to green fields and gardens.  Staff and kids are taking full advantage---creating super speedy sledding routes on the hill outside our classrooms.  At Laraway, the learning continues---indoors and out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Laraway Launches New Website

After careful research and discussion with staff, kids, volunteers and community members, Laraway Youth & Family Services is delighted to launch its new website!