Wednesday, December 14, 2016

To Pitch a Tent


     "I went camping (with Laraway School) and I would have my tent up in minutes while the boys didn't know how to do theirs, so I helped them," Mara recalls.  She also remembers a hiking trip in which she and a female staff member got a little lost before reaching their destination....again, before her male classmates found their way with staff.  These are sweet and sometimes funny memories of her experiences as a Laraway student.
     "I was bullied at my old school," Mara said.  "Laraway was a new school with new people.  I was kind of excited when I found out I was going there."
     Mara adjusted with ease, building positive relationships with staff and fellow students.  She spent 9th, 10th and 11th grade at Laraway School.  She returned to public school for 12th grade, earning her high school diploma.
     "Laraway taught me a lot---like cooking with Tim, Patrick, Shellie and Erin.  We ran a bread company at the school called Yeast Coast," Mara said.  "Math was always kind of hard for me, but my teacher made it fun."
     Mara and her fiance live in central Vermont with their rescue puppy, Lily.  She owns her own car and has been employed as a dietary aide at a nursing home since 2013.  More recently, she assumed an additional part-time job as a support worker for an individual with autism.  She was considering becoming an LNA, but is now thinking about building a career within the field of autism.  She is happy and independent, grateful to have a supportive fiance.
     "He helps me feel better when I'm sad," Mara said.
     Asked if she could think of another funny story from her time at Laraway, Mara laughed and said, "Oh, there are too many to remember!  Shellie caught me on the phone with my boyfriend (now her fiance) while in the woods on a camping trip!  We just did a lot of fun stuff.  We camped at the Waterbury Reservoir and went to Hampton Beach---that was my first time at the ocean.  They even remembered my birthday, making it extra special."
     "Laraway is an excellent school," Mara said.  "They do a really good job, especially when they encourage your dreams, telling you to not give up on yourself."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Dave McAllister named Director of Substitute Care Program

 Dave McAllister has been hired as Director of Laraway Youth & Family Services’ Substitute Care Program which oversees therapeutic foster care and micro-residential programming.   He brings extensive experience, having served Laraway in numerous capacities since 1999.
McAllister joined Laraway at age nineteen as an overnight staff member in a residential program.  His roles expanded over time, encompassing crisis support, case management, staff supervision and new program development.  He serves as Treasurer of the Vermont Coalition of Residential Providers.  Active community involvement, coupled with graduate studies in Organizational Leadership, position this Lamoille County native well to lead the program.  
“I am really excited to serve kids and families requiring a high level of care,” McAllister said.  “I love having the opportunity to create and innovate while exploring new strategies to become even better at what we do.”
“Dave is a strong and compassionate leader,” said Greg Stefanski, Laraway’s Executive Director.  “Substitute Care is considered a leader in providing foster care as well are residential, crises and early intervention services and supports.  I look forward to Dave building on these successes and finding new ways to support our kids, their families and the staff and foster respite families who work with them.”

     Laraway Youth & Family Services is a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and building on the strengths of children and youth with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, through alternative education, therapeutic foster care and public school based behavioral intervention supports.  For more information, visit or email 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Laraway Youth Appear on WLVB Radio with Roland Lajoie to tout Upcoming Photography Opening Reception on October 19th

     Four teenagers in Laraway's therapeutic foster care program appeared on WLVB Radio with DJ Roland Lajoie to talk about a Photo Voice project they've been working on since last summer. They've created art, music and photographs to be featured in a show at Laraway's Gallery Space on our Johnson Campus.
     The Photo Voice project, called B.E.A.T.S., captures images depicting healthy alternatives to alcohol and substance abuse.  Youth took photos depicting spending time in nature, creating art and making music, among other activities.  The project is a Laraway collaboration with Healthy Lamoille Valley.
     The public is invited to attend the Opening Reception on Wednesday, October 19th, 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Laraway Youth & Family Services, 275 VT Route 15W, Johnson.  For more information, or to RSVP, contact Katherine Stamper at or 802-635-2805 x 106 or Jessica Bickford at


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Laralympics Returns to Laraway School

     You didn't make the trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics?  No worries.  Laraway is hosting a 3-day, Olympic-inspired extravaganza appropriately called "Laralympics." To prepare for the event, students have been studying the geography and history of the specific continents---as opposed to countries--- their educational teams are representing in the games.
     "This is the second time we are hosting Laralympics," said event organizer Jess McCoy.  "Laralympics builds a really great sense of community; it brings everyone together across classrooms and teams.  Plus, creating opportunities for healthy competition while keeping our students moving and growing is important."
     The continents represented include Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, North America and South America.  As part of their studies, students have created flags and T-shirts for their designated continents.
     The event opened with a torch-lighting ceremony.  Athletic events include biking and canoeing plus traditional field and track events with a relay race.
     Laraway's cafeteria joined in on the fun by preparing themed meals to coincide with the continents studied.  Africa was represented by a tasty peanut soup and chicken couscous.  Egg rolls, sesame green beans and teriyaki chicken offered flavors of Asia.  Brazilian black bean stew and Peruvian Lomo Saltado satisfied South American appetites.
     "The food piece is really cool," McCoy said.  "Everyone is encouraged to step out of their comfort zone" a culinary sense!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trailblazers: Fr. Rick Swanson and Tim Heath-Swanson hike to create a scholarship for Laraway youth & recent alumni

     Trailblazers. Two hikers. Three weeks. Two-hundred-seventy-three miles. Rick Swanson, rector of St. John’s in the Mountains, and Tim Heath-Swanson are on a quest to create a scholarship fund for at-risk youth, and recent alumni, from Laraway Youth & Family Services pursuing post-secondary education.
     “Laraway is a valuable local organization,” Swanson said. “They help the  children they educate and the families they serve become rooted in their own strength. Tim and I are proud to support furthering the educational opportunities for Laraway youth.”

     The hikers will host a trail-themed Photo Reception to support the Trailblazer Scholarship at Laraway Youth & Family Services on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., 275 Vermont Route 15 West, Johnson, Vermont. Please RSVP by September 12th to Katherine at 802-635-2805 x 106 or For more information, please visit

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Unexpected Gifts

     "I made this for you."
     The youth held out a piece of art. He transformed a well-worn skateboard, one he'd spent many hours riding, into a unique artwork. The piece was emblazoned with a "thank you" in artistic script emulating a skilled tagger. Urban art is art, too.
     He was expressing gratitude for a grant received to replace his old---and cracking apart---skateboard for a new one. The money came from a unique fund set up by St. John's in the Mountains Episcopal Church which provides grants of up to $75 for youths' basic and recreational needs. The fund has paid for snow boots and kitchen items for young adults starting out on their own. It's also paid for skateboards---a plethora of skateboards---for youth who find the athletic activity a great way to focus and, sometimes, just let off steam. Skateboards are serving a genuine therapeutic purpose at Laraway, promoting physical and emotional well-being while fostering positive social skills. Teaching is happening on our playground as older youth teach younger youth how to ride---supported by Laraway staff.
     One doesn't work at a place like Laraway anticipating "presents" from the youth we serve. It's actually the "presence" of the youth in our lives that is the "gift" of working in human services. We see their struggles. We also see their strides. We are there to help them dust themselves off and move forward when they take a tumble or life sends them a curve ball.
     I was delighted to share this piece of art on a recent visit to St. John's in the Mountains to thank congregants for their support of our work with at-risk children and youth. I was humbled by the expression of generosity from a Lararway youth who is juggling so much on his plate, and yet, he recognizes the importance of a simple---yet beautiful---thank you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Duck Whisperers


     Ricky* is twelve years old. He enjoys four-wheeling and fishing for bass and catfish. He prefers catfish, “because they taste better.” He likes to mow the lawn. He’s partial to baseball caps. He enjoys being outdoors; it shows in his deep tan, freckles and sun-bleached, blond hair.
     Ricky is enrolled in therapeutic foster care, known as Substitute Care. He’s also an awfully kind kid. It was on an after school outing with staffer Wade Anderson that Trevor helped save the life of an injured mallard duck.
     “I picked Ricky up from school and we drove to Berlin Pond to go fishing,” Wade recounted. “We got out and Ricky said, ‘Hey, look over there.’”
     “There” was a muddy area across the parking lot. Ricky noticed a distressed duck. Its body was folded over, its head partially submerged. Every once in a while it stirred, a little. It was too weak to quack.
     “What should we do?” Ricky asked.
      The answer was clear: they needed to help the injured fowl. As they walked to the bird, a woman was removing a raft from her car.
     “Ricky took the initiative to tell her about the duck,” Wade said.
     She explained she was trying to rescue the duck to bring it to the Vermont
Institute of Natural Science’s (VINS) avian wildlife rehabilitation facility in Quechee.
     “We can help you,” Ricky said.
     Ricky and Wade helped the woman maneuver her raft; Ricky held it steady as she rescued the injured duck. Wade watched from the shore. The female mallard was entwined in fishing line, trapped, like a fly, in a web.  Line wrapped around her head, wings, feet and torso.  She was afraid. She was exhausted. She trusted her helpers.
     Fishing line was gently cut away; the duck was wrapped in a soft towel and secured for safe transport. Contact information was exchanged between rescuers. About a week later, Wade was contacted by the woman to say the duck was healed and ready for release at the pond. She asked if Ricky wanted to perform the release.
     “It (the duck) was heavy in the box,” Ricky said. “I could feel it moving around and quacking.  Once I opened the box, it just took off.”
     Ricky received a certificate from VINS, thanking him for his role in saving a the wilds of beautiful Vermont.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

And now, a story from Laraway's Fisher Cats Team

       For our morning meeting game, we wrote a story one sentence at a time taking turns around the circle. This is what we came up with:
       One day at summer camp, we went on a hike.  We saw a bear.  We also saw a deer.  The bear and the deer started talking to us.  They said "What a great morning!" They asked if we wanted a fire to make s'mores.  But, the animals were tricking us because they really wanted to eat us.  The bear brought out a big cauldron, filled it up with water, and put it over the fire.  Then, he added carrots and onions. The bear told the Fisher Cats that it was a hot tub, and they were excited to try it. 
      All of a sudden, a helicopter flew over their heads and a line came down. Alyssa, Melissa, Vinny, and Alex came down the line.  Alex said, "They tried this yesterday! Get out quick!"  Everyone climbed up the line to escape the deer and bear.  We flew to McDonald's because the smell of the carrots made us hungry. 
      Then, Vinny took us all fishing and we caught a big fish.  Afterward, we all ate blueberry pies and lived happily every after.  Until... the next group went hiking. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"...the best thing I've gone to in my life"

     "This is the best thing I've gone to in my life!" said an enthusiastic student.  The young man then proceeded to give the presenter a hug.
     Jan Reynolds---writer, photographer and world traveler extraordinaire---visited with students at Laraway School as part of our summer program. Her presentation captured images of faraway mosques, deserts, camels and hot air balloons floating through clouds.  She transported her audience to the Himalayas with its crowning peak---Mount Everest.  Her camera's lens introduced the marketplaces brimming with spices in varying hues and, more importantly, the people with whom she sipped tea while learning about their culture.
     "We (Americans) invented plastic and styrofoam," remarked Reynolds.  "There is no such thing as trash for the indigenous peoples I visit.  They use everything."  She offered the example of the yak's importance among Himalayan peoples.  The animals provide meat, milk, cheese, carrying-power and blankets.
     Reynolds has worked for National Geographic Magazine and is the author of the Vanishing Cultures  book series.  She's a graduate of the University of Vermont and was a member of the U.S. Biathlon Team in 1983 and 1984.  She's a skilled mountaineer and skier, having crossed the New Zealand Alps on cross country skis in 1979.
     Reynolds has achieved extraordinary heights in her career.  Her story is inspiring and loaded with important messages for our students...about setting goals and working towards them.  For more information, visit


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CLiF Grant brings Vermont author David Martin to Laraway

    Vermont author David Martin recently visited Laraway Youth & Family Services (Laraway) to read some of his books aloud to students. His visit was supported by a Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) Summer Readers Grant. Martin’s lively presentation was followed by a generous book giveaway of brand-new children’s books.
     Martin, author of a slew of books for children, including Shh! Bear Sleeping, enchanted his audience with his dramatic reading style and a little bit of juggling.
     “CLiF’s presentation was awesome,” said Adria Dube, Operations Manager for Laraway’s Backpack Program.
     CLiF’s Summer Readers Grant helps keep kids reading during the summer.  As part of the grant, each child present chose two books which they read and keep. Laraway is delighted to work with CLiF to foster a love of reading.
     CLiF is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1998. Its mission is to nurture a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural children in New Hampshire and Vermont. Over 18 years, CLiF has inspired 180,000 young readers and writers through literacy program grants and has given away more than $4 million in new, high-quality children’s books. For more information, visit or email

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"It keeps me from playing video games..."

        "It keeps me from playing video games..." is how one youth in Laraway's Backpack Program explained his desire to attend a summer field trip to the Pump House Water Park at Jay Peak.  Backpack coordinates a 5-week, multidisciplinary summer program encompassing academics, volunteerism and good old-fashioned fun in the sun activities.  The trip to the water park has become a staple, a much-anticipated highlight of summer.
     The trip is funded by a small fund allowing each and every youth at Laraway to apply for a $75 grant.  The fund in generated by gifts from Laraway's generous donors.  The grants most commonly cover recreational activities that help youth grow as individuals.  Some youth apply for grants for basic needs such as clothing for a new job or outerwear when the weather chills.
     It's a bit of  a tradition for Backpack youth to apply for a grant for the water park trip en masse --- all together ---- and to take the day trip together, accompanied by Laraway staff.
     A quick review of the youthful applications reveals the former "reasons" stated for their water park requests.  One of our younger Backpackers opted to draw a picture (see above) to make her case for the grant.
  • "Going to Jay Peak helps me be part of the group"
  • "I like the bus ride because I can sit with friends"
  • "This will help me by meeting new people and making new friends"
  • "It's a good place to go to get away from the stresses in my life"
  • "It will help me try new things"
  • "It will give memories of having fun"
  • "I don't really get out of the house a lot, except when I'm with Laraway" 
     Teaching young people to ask for what they want is important as is teaching them to work for what they receive.  We are grateful to Laraway's donors for the gifts they give which, in this case, allows a group of Backpackers a fun-filled day splashing about while also building social skills

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Duncan McDougall of Children's Literacy Foundation is Graduation Speaker

     Duncan McDougall left the business world 18 years ago to start a nonprofit organization that, most fundamentally, gets kids excited about reading and writing.  The Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF) has since provided inspiring literacy presentations by authors, illustrators, poets, and others, and delivered more than $4 million in new books into the hands of 180,000 children in over 400 towns.
     Laraway has been a beneficiary of a CLiF Year of the Book Grant during the past year.  Our youth have benefited greatly from guest author visits and readings as well as book giveaways which send them home with brand-new books to read...and keep.
     "Books can take you anywhere you want to go," McDougall said to an audience of Laraway students, staff, families and community friends gathered for graduation ceremonies.  As folks sat under the blue sky, McDougall recounted his own childhood adventures plowing through titles including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; and The Hobbit, among others.  He aptly pointed out to students---some of whom are challenged by reading---that listening to books on CD is also a great option.
     Reflecting on his childhood reading, McDougall said, "These friends got me through the hard times.  They opened me up to new worlds."
     Duncan's engaging speech was an appropriate precursor to youth awards and issuing of diplomas.
Awards included Independent Reader, Homework Taskmaster, Conversationalist and Most Improved in the Session.  One of our elementary students received the coveted Golden Pencil Award.
     Laraway Board Chair David Bergh assisted School Director Julie Landry and Laraway Executive Director Greg Stefanski in presenting diplomas to our four graduates.  The ceremony ended and all proceeded to the cafeteria for a wonderful meal of barbecued chicken, salad, corn on the cob and festive chocolate cupcakes.  Let summer begin!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Laraway Receives Youth Justice Award

     Laraway's therapeutic foster care program, Substitute Care, was recently recognized with the David Jacques' Memorial Award for Excellence in Youth Justice.  Jacques was a highly-regarded youth advocate who dedicated much of his career to helping at-risk youth.
     Erin Longchamp of the Morrisville Department for Children and Families, said this in her nomination:
     "I nominate the Laraway program, Substitute Care, in particular, for the Youth Justice Summit Award.  In my experience working with Laraway staff, they have gone above and beyond to support the youth in their programs and maintain a youth focused approach.  I have personally been involved in many re-entry meetings that focus on where the youth is at and how to support them in moving forward.  In one particular case, Case Manager Katrina Lawrence held a restorative circle where the youth listened to the impact her behavior had on her care provider and then the youth was able to reflect upon what she heard before decisions were made about what needed to happen to repair the relationship and hold the youth accountable (she had stolen a piece of expensive jewelry).  I felt that as a result of this process the victim was heard, the youth was held accountable, and charges were not filed.  The youth and care provider/victim were able to continue their relationship as well, which was something that was a challenge for this particular youth who had experienced many disrupted placements with caretakers.  Providing these types of interventions are a welcome change and are having success for youth as well as the adults in their lives, schools, communities, peers, etc."
     Thank you, Katrina!.  Thank you, Substitute Care staff!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Jam Session: Animal Crackers and Chopin, too

     The Second Congregational Church hosted a fun and musically diverse Jam Session on Friday evening, April 29th in Hyde Park. Ted Lambert served as Emcee, entertaining the audience with church bulletin missprints --- a unique and family friendly source of humor!
     The century-old structure with soaring ceilings and exquisite stained glass boasts fine acoustics in the small town church.  Church and community members played piano, organ, guitar, flute, harp, concertina and even ukelele.  Audience members were treated to spirited renditions of Shirley Temple's Animal Crackers, African American spirituals, and ditties from the Shetland Islands.  Bach made an appearance at the organ.  The music of Chopin and Debussy graced the keys of the grand piano, played by church choir director Melissa Senesac.  The range of music from blues to musicals to classical to ragtime was impressive.
     Thank you to members of Hyde Park's Second Congregationsal Church and all who turned out for the event.  Funds raised support Laraway's Crisis Fund.  For more information about Laraway's Crisis Fund, please contact Katherine Stamper at 802-635-2805 x 106 or

Laraway's Julie Landry and a community friend
Musicians tuning their instruments
Laraway's Greg Stefanski, Melissa Senesac and Laraway Board Member Kyle Senesac

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Greenhouse Raising Event at Laraway!

   You might be familiar with the term "Barn Raising", which describes the collective action of a community coming together to help build a barn for a member of that community. After using grant funding to purchase a much needed greenhouse kit, Laraway's Land Stewardship team felt that embracing the idea of community gathering and teamwork would be a great way to kick off the spring and start construction of our own greenhouse. On April 21, over 25 community volunteers (which included Johnson State College SERVE students and Americorps members), staff, and youth came out on a balmy, sunny Thursday to help construct our new greenhouse and assist with beginning of the season garden projects. Volunteers worked from 10am to 4pm helping to construct the greenhouse base and side walls, prepping raised beds, planting greens, spreading mulch and flipping compost. During lunch, which featured brick oven pizza made by Laraway staff, a volunteer recognition took place to acknowledge all of our volunteers who had worked with us in the last six months (many were volunteering at the event!). New friends were made, laughs were shared, and even dirt high fives were exchanged. We were able to get quite a few big projects done with so many hands and are so grateful to our volunteers for their efforts. We hope to see them out in the garden again this season!

Land Stewardship will be hosting regular volunteer hours every Wednesday from 1:30-4pm at the Laraway Garden. Please email Ginny at if you are interested in volunteering!

Getting the Greenhouse base set up. Photo by Laura Biren.

Laraway's pizza oven, ready to roll [out pizza]. Photo by Laura Biren.

Volunteers moving raised beds. Photo by Laura Biren.

Photos by Emily Hutchinson and Laura Biren.

Even the wheelbarrow was happy to be working in such nice weather :) Photo by Laura Biren.
Article by Ginny Cooke, Land Stewardship Americorps VISTA.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Laraway Announces New Backpack Program Director

 Rich Smith, M.A., BCBA, has been hired as Director of the Backpack Program at Laraway Youth & Family Services in Johnson, Vermont. He brings extensive experience in educational and therapeutic settings.
Smith has, most recently, served as a Behavioral Consultant at Laraway. His professional background includes working for public school systems and mental health agencies. Smith spent over 22 years at Onion River Crossroads, a residential care program in Central Vermont, including 16 years as Executive Director.
“I am incredibly excited to assume the role of Backpack Director,” Smith said. “Our staff and community partners are a very dedicated and skilled group of people. I am extremely fortunate to be able to work with them to help the youth and families in our communities feel supported and successful.”
“Rich brings a wealth of compassion, experience and enthusiasm to the role of Backpack Director,” said Greg Stefanski, Laraway’s Executive Director. “We look forward to Rich leading and supporting the Backpack staff and working closely with our public school partners in helping our students and their families find success in school, at home and in the community.”
            Smith succeeds Shari Ryan who has returned to private clinical practice.    
Laraway’s Backpack Program provides comprehensive, strengths-based, individualized supports to children and youth, K-12, in the public school setting. For more information, please visit

Monday, April 18, 2016

2nd Congregational Church Hosts Jam Session for Laraway Crisis Fund on 4/29/16

     A family's furnace hovers near empty as temperatures outside dip into the teens. A youth reaches out for help, needing a safe place to spend the night. A child needs winter clothing. A family faces a near-empty refrigerator.  A former student and his mother are stranded in a domestically violent relationship several states away and require emergency assistance to return to Vermont where they have family supports.  There is an immediacy to the need---to tide someone over until more concrete solutions can be enacted.
     This is not Norman Rockwell's America. These real-life circumstances are emblematic of life in America today for youth and families struggling under the weight of socioeconomic disparity, exacerbated by mental health, learning and/or behavioral issues.
     Laraway operates a small and carefully managed Crisis Fund which is parceled out to address the day-to-day emergencies our clients face---when they've exhausted resources and have no where else to turn.
     "Laraway's Crisis Fund is there to provide immediate assistance," said Jim Heath, Laraway's Finance Director.
     Members of the 2nd Congregational Church of Hyde Park are stepping up to help Laraway grow its Crisis Fund.  The church is hosting a Jam Session on Friday, April 29th at 7:00 p.m. at 28 Prospect Street, Hyde Park.   The family friendly event, hosted by Ted Lambert, features a slate of local performers including Jeremy Sicely; Shaun Booher; Nate, Madison & Ruby Perham; Joe Ciccolo; Mark Faith; Melissa Senesac; Liz Fox; Ann Marie Bahr & Gerry Falkenberg; Beth Carrier and Debbie Yacovone.  Refreshments will be served.  Suggested Donation: $10.
     We hope you can turn out for what promises to be a wonderful community event.  For more information, please contact John Clark at 888-4864 or Katherine Stamper at 635-2805 x 106.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Proper Afternoon Tea


     The jam was strawberry.  The sugar was cubed.  The tea was Earl Grey with a Chamomile choice, too.  Authentic English teacups and saucers rested on fancy white tablecloths.  Homemade scones, baked by students in our kitchen, were complemented by shortbread and small savories.  There was even Marmite---for the initiated or simply curious.
     Laraway's conference room was transformed into a cozy tea salon.  Our resident Brits---Tim and Duncan---who serve on Laraway School's staff, provided real-time interpretation of the common British ritual.  Heather, a Laraway teacher, furnished the English China and led a lesson on tea with fun facts about the steaming elixir that fuels many a busy day.  Who would have known that tea was discovered by Shen Nung, Second Emperor of China, in 2737 B.C....and that it happened by accident?
     Members of this teaching team believe that students learn best when provided with both choice and hands on learning opportunities.  Integrating core academic content and life skills is an effective and positive way to support our students and their individual needs.
     "The coolest part is watching everyone work together, learn together and sit down to an elegant tea together," Heather said.

Note:  Thank you, Heather, for assistance with content.  Thank you, students, for the delicious scones.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Where's Roger Rabbit?

     Meet Roger.  The small, brown-eyed, baby bunny found his way to Darah Zurit's classroom at Laraway School on a recent Monday---just for a visit.  Students read.  Roger perked up his ears to listen.  Students learned math.  Roger twitched his whiskers rhythmically, as if counting..  Students returned from lunch.  Roger wiggled his nose, zeroing in on the aromas wafting in from the cafeteria.
     We are well aware of the benefits of animals in our lives.  People with pets are likely to experience lower stress levels.  Pets are like "forever toddlers"---there are always happy to see us when we arrive home after a long day at school or work.  Researchers have identified positive physiological responses to pet ownership, including enhanced cardiovascular activity.  The Mayo Clinic, in an online article, reported on the many benefits to animal assisted therapy.  These include significant reductions in pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue. For more information:
     Back to Roger, the presence of a warm and welcoming, super-fuzzy bunny in a classroom presented the students with a furry "friend" to gently hold, talk with and care for.  Rabbits do not criticize.  They do not judge.  They sniff our fingertips, wriggle in our arms and teach us to be gentle---like them.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Granting Wishes: Your donations in action

     "Skateboarding is in my heart. Skateboarding helps me act better while at school.  Skateboarding helps me learn tricks, which is like learning math or whatever."
     These are the words of a Laraway youth applying for a Laraway Youth Grant.  After learning the skill at school, he wanted to purchase his own skateboard. Learning to skateboard enhanced his self-confidence and provided opportunities to develop social skills while interacting with peers.
     The Laraway Youth Grant Program is supported by donations to our Annual Appeal.  Youth may apply for a grant once a year to fund an item or experience that helps them grow as a person.  There's a one-page application that youth must complete.  Learning to ask for what we want is an important life skill.  Being willing to put in effort to get what we want is also an important life skill.
     It is through the generosity of donors that our youth have tapped into the grant to fund everything from ski equipment to music lessons to funds towards a camping trip at Disney World.
     In making the case for a grant towards the trip to Disney, the youth said, "It will give me an experience that I have never had before...and to see different parts of the (United) States I have never seen."
     Granting wishes and helping kids to learn and grow..these are the outcomes of your donations in action.  Thank you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Gallery Space: A Breath of Beauty in Winter

     American artist Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986) said,"I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn't say any other way---things I had no words for."
     Art is an often-used medium at Laraway, providing opportunities for the children and youth we serve to "say things" with art, to express emotions and creativity.  From the Art Room at our school to craft activities in our foster care and behavioral intervention programs, Laraway is ablaze in color.
     A new exhibit in Laraway's Gallery Space is the work of our of our youth whose inclination to paint large, colorful flowers, reminds one of O'Keefe's work.  This young person was first introduced to art when she was very young, by a family member who is an artist. 
     The exhibit is up until the end of February.  For more information or to arrange a visit, please contact Katherine at or (802) 635-2805 x 106. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Plan 'Til You're Planted

This month, the Laraway Art Gallery is featuring a slightly different form of art- garden plans! The garden plans were made by students during a Farmer on Site lesson in January and their feedback was integrated into the 2016 garden design. Please stop by and check out the creative ideas students have for this upcoming growing season. 

Plan ‘Til You’re Planted

On a cold January day, huddled inside a cozy, heated yurt, Laraway students directed their attention away from the snow on the ground outside and thought of sunshine, flowers, and tasty produce. During the first Farmer on Site of the year, the Land Stewardship team facilitated a garden planning workshop with school groups. Surrounded by pictures of creative garden designs, piles of books, and lots of colored pencils, crayons, and plenty of magazines to make collages, students got to work drawing a vision of what they would like to see in the Laraway gardens this upcoming year. Ideas big and small were crafted, including a hot pepper patch to be turned into tasty hot sauce, flowers of all kinds spread throughout the garden, and a dragon sculpture bench. Staff feedback also suggested a quiet space, pumpkin patch, and outdoor classroom. Students reminisced about produce they enjoyed last season and would like to continue to grow such as green beans, tomatoes, and carrots. As they flipped through seed catalogues, new types of plants caught their eyes such as sunchokes, wild roses, and rhubarb. From that planning session, a garden plan has been crafted and preparations are starting to be made for projects. Students will be starting seeds at the end of February, building projects will start up in March, and plants will be in the ground by April. We look forward to a creative, educational, and bountiful 2016 garden season!

If you have any ideas or would like to be more involved feel free to email Ginny ( or Cornelius (    

A Dragon Sculpture Bench to sit on during outdoor classes.

An Earth Bed to relax and rejuvenate in the garden.

A collage of flowers- one group of students expressed in interest in planting "flowers everywhere"!

2016 Laraway Garden Plan

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

You're Invited: Open House at Laraway's Morrisville Office

     Did you know that Laraway opened an office in Morrisville?  Our Backpack Program, providers of public-school-based behavioral intervention supports and consultations, now has its own office at 30 Mountain View Plaza, Units 3 & 4 in Morrisville.  Space needs and a desire to locate program staff closer to where clients reside precipitated the move.
     Join us for an Open House at Backpack's NEW office in Morrisville on Thursday, February 18th, 2016 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Meet our staff, sample light refreshments and learn about the program.
     Please RSVP by Thursday, February 11th to Jena at 802-635-2805 x 226 or,  We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Thank you, Duncan Tingle, for a decade of distinguished service on Laraway's Board

     Duncan Tingle stepped down from Laraway's Board of Trustees followed a decade of distinguished service.  As a retired special educator and school administrator, Duncan brought valuable insights and expertise to Board discussions.
     Duncan served as President of Laraway's Board during our capital campaign, providing solid support and guidance through periods of research and discernment.  He was on board and active when it became evident that the best choice for Laraway was to move to and renovate a Johnson Farmstead.  Today, Laraway's 39-acre campus supports educational and therapeutic services in a pastoral landscape.
     "I could always count on Duncan to attend a donor event and lend a hand wherever needed," said Katherine Stamper, Laraway's Development Director.  "He's also a historian and lover of literature and I could also count on Duncan for a great conversation on good reads."
     Thank you, Duncan, for all of your fine work on behalf of the children and families we serve.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Laraway Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a Day of Service

        Martin Luther King, Jr, the slain civil rights leader, once said:  “Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
     Laraway Youth & Family Services’ staff embraced this question, marking the federal holiday with a day of service at the Johnson-based nonprofit.  Blankets were crafted for children in shelters. Cards were written and games were created for seniors in assisted living.  Bowls were designed for a hunger awareness project.  Toys were made for dogs living in shelters, waiting to be adopted.  These and other offerings of goodwill honor the legacy of Dr. King.
     “Our day of service helps us to look beyond our agency, supporting the work of other folks doing fine work in the community,” said Katherine Stamper, Laraway’s Development Director.
     Laraway Youth & Family Services is a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and building on the strengths of children and youth with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, through alternative education, therapeutic foster care and public school based behavioral intervention supports.  For more information, visit or email 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teaching at Laraway, solving a puzzle

     "I enjoy teaching this population and figuring our how to best help
 them to learn.  It's like solving a puzzle." 
~Laraway Teacher

     How might teaching a child experiencing special needs be similar to figuring out a puzzle?  This is a question I've pondered since visiting with a group of Laraway teachers.  They settled into the conference room following a day of engaging students in hands on learning in math, science and literacy.
     Basic advice on solving a puzzle often includes the following steps:  Flip pieces upwards.  Find the edge pieces.  Sort by like pieces.  Sort out any "special" pieces with distinguishing characteristics (lettering, etc.).  Work on small sections at a time.  Don't give up.
     Students who come to Laraway typically have struggled in traditional school settings.  What's a teacher to do when a student arrives, ready (or sometimes, hesitant) to learn?
     The teaching equivalent of "flipping a piece" upward might be getting to know a student, really  taking taking time to learn what he or she cares about and how he or she is most comfortable as a learner.  "Finding the edge pieces" might relate to creating a safe environment where students are willing to take risks in their learning to see how far they can actually go.  "Sort by like pieces" might be about allowing students to gather with others----in a school club or classroom activity---with others who share their interests.  This builds community.  This helps young people forge friendships tied to common interests.  "Work on small sections at a time" recognizes that---precious few learners experience Eureka moments of instantaneous, full and complete learning.  Most learners require small bites of information that, collectively, form a body of knowledge.  Finally, "Don't give up" reminds us that it takes time for children to heal from past hurts so they are ready and open to learning.  Even then, it can take time to find the best best way---the missing puzzle piece---to help a student grasp a mathematical concept or complete an assignment.
     Laraway's strength is in meeting youth where they are at, creating individualized programs to address their unique needs while helping them realize their full potential. 

Submitted by Katherine Stamper, Laraway Development Director