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.