BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Greater Falls Connections in Bellows Falls has been awarding its Active Community Engagement Award annually since 2013. The award recognizes local individuals or businesses that are active in community engagement in the Greater Falls area. Nominations for this year’s award were solicited recently, and the Greater Falls Connections Board made the selection.
The winner was revealed at their eighth annual gathering in the pavilion at the Recreation Center in Bellows Falls last Wednesday, Aug. 11. It was a very hot night with a heat advisory in effect. Wisely, during the afternoon, the organization changed the traditional grilled burgers and hot dogs to just ice cream. Attendance at the event was less than normal, but Community Outreach Coordinator Deb Witkus noted, “Considering Covid, it’s not a bad turn out.”
Last year, due to Covid, the award process took place virtually. Former Board member Susan Williams was there this year. She said, “It’s always exciting for me to come to these events, and its always exciting to see who the winner is.”
Current member Marty Gallagher has been on the board for three years. She said, “I think it’s a good award anytime you can recognize the unsung heroes of the community, when you can recognize the efforts people put into making the community better.” She noted that the Greater Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce has its Person of the Year, always a noticeable person that most everybody knows. “These are the less visible unsung heroes.”
Gallagher describes Greater Falls Connections as a “complex organization, all with a focus of intervention and connection that gives a voice to those who don’t have their own voice.” She also notes that for the first time they are including three youth members on their board.
Now in her seventh year as director, Laura Schairbaum said she was “so happy we can get together, so important after the year we’ve had.”
In past years there have been winners in various categories, four categories last year and two the year before. Schairbaum said this year they “decided to keep it simple and make it that much more meaningful to the winner.”
Witkus noted in her award speech that this year’s winner, Julie Cermola, office manager at Parks Place Community Resource Center in Bellows Falls, was nominated by Brendan Penney and Megan Applegate, who called her “the glue at Parks Place,” the person that keeps things together by being always there, always going the distance, and inspiring folks in recovery.
Cermola grew up in Saxtons River and Bellows Falls, graduating from the high school in 2010. She attended Vermont Technical College where she trained to be a veterinary technician and has worked in that profession. She says her black lab Murphy, always with her, “has become known as the greeter at Parks Place.”
She shares that at one time she had an addiction to drugs, and she states proudly she has now been sober for two and a half years. She is now a recovery coach at Turning Point Recovery Center, officially helping others in recovery.
Cermola is also a singer. She was a contestant in the Southern Vermont Idol competition a few years ago, and in school she appeared in musical productions as the lead in “Guys and Dolls” and “Annie.” She also has sung the National Anthem before Pee Wee Football games since she was 15.
Cermola’s mother and stepfather were present for the event. Jeanette Harvey said, “I am beyond proud of how far she’s come. She’s my sunshine.”
For more information about Greater Falls Connections, call 802-463-9927 or go to www.greaterfallsconnections.org.