GFC presents this year’s ACE awards

Adult category winners Steve Crofter and Laurel Green, flanked by Deb Witkus, left, and Director Laura Schairbaum, right, of Greater Falls Connections. Photo by Bill Lockwood

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Last Wednesday night, July 28, 2022, Greater Falls Connections (GFC) held their ninth annual gathering in the pavilion at the Recreation Center in Bellows Falls. The event started with a barbecue dinner, a great spread of food with burgers and hot dogs grilled, as in recent years, by Board member Alex Stradling. Stradling said, “We do this barbeque every year, and it’s a great opportunity for the organization to honor people who make a big impact.” There was also a brief annual meeting of the organization, but the highlight of the event was the revealing of the winners and the awarding of the organization’s Active Community Engagement (ACE) awards for this year.

The adult award went to a couple this year. Laurel Green and Steve Crofter of Bellows Falls were recognized for all the improvements they have made in the community over the years, especially and most recently, Steve’s leadership of the group that assisted the resettlement of an Afghan family and Laurel’s tireless environmental work. The Youth Award went to Grace Waryas, 17-year-old student at Bellows Falls Union High School for her willingness to stand up and advocate for sometimes controversial causes.

The ACE award recognizes local individuals or businesses that are notably active in community engagement in the Greater Falls Area. This recognition, often of the “unsung heroes” of our community, has been awarded since 2013. Nominations were recently solicited from the general public. Director Laura Schairbaum said that this year they received the typical number of submissions, but heard of several people they “didn’t know at all.” She said, “The ability to recognize neighbors and see themselves shine is, both personally and for the community, a good thing.” Three of those nominated but not awarded were mentioned at the ceremony: Tony Falzo, Cass Wright, and Tessa Lynch.

Youth category winner Graces Waryas flanked by Deb Witkus, left, and Director Laura Schairbaum, right, of Greater Falls Connections. Photo by Bill Lockwood

Last year’s adult winner, Julie Cermola, said, “It’s meant a lot to me, just getting that award and being recognized for turning my life around has been humbling and given me more confidence in doing other things for other people.”

The 2014 adult award winner, Samantha Maskell, who is a Rockingham Youth Services Librarian, nominated the winner of the youth award. Maskell said, “Grace Waryas impressed me with her dedication to diversity, equity, inclusion, and safety by speaking up, which facilitated community conversations. I nominated Grace because, despite facing angry opposition, she has continued to speak up and expressed an ongoing commitment to creating a safe and supportive community.”  Waryas said, “I think this is really amazing how it’s brought the community together. I am being recognized for my work, and it makes me feel good.”

Schairbaum noted that this was the first time a couple were given an award together. Crofter said, “There’s lots of people who deserve the award, so many who helped each other. Everybody should pat themselves on the back.” Green said, “I hope the award helps make more people step up.”

Greater Falls Connections is based at Parks Place in Bellows Falls, and pairs people in need with agencies and organizations that can help, as well as helping coordinate helping efforts. Board member Doreen Stoodley said, “It’s a great organization. It brings community members together. It’s a great place for people to go, because they can get connected.”

State Representatives Leslie Goldman and Michelle Bos-Lun were there. Bos-Lun presented the awards. Goldman said, “Greater Falls Connections is a really important part of supporting our community.”

You may find Greater Falls Connections on their Facebook page, at, or by calling 802-463-9927.

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