Greater Falls Connections announce ACE award winners at barbecue

Kiernon Galandar-Cochran receiving this year’s Youth ACE award. Photo by Bill Lockwood

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Since 2013, Greater Falls Connections, based at Parks Place Community Resource Center in Bellows Falls, has made a yearly Active Community Engagement award to recognize, as they state officially, “a local individual who is active in community engagement in the Greater Falls area. There are members of the community who work tirelessly to make a difference… Consistently, they selflessly devote their time and efforts, going above and beyond without thought of reward or recognition.”

The 2014 winner, Rockingham Free Public Library’s children’s librarian Samantha Maskell, adds, “They are the people who don’t make the press releases, but they have such an impact.”

On Wednesday, July 31, many of the organization’s participants and supporters turned out on a cloudy and humid evening for a community barbecue and recognition ceremony at the Recreation Center in Bellows Falls.

Nominations were made by a wide variety of community members. Deb Witkus, community outreach coordinator, says one of the main criteria is that they have a “lasting impact.” How they do that and how they go “above and beyond” are also part of nine basic categories considered. This year, the nominating committee, made up of community members and past nominees, decided to give both youth and adult awards.

The youth award went to Kiernon Galandar-Cochran, a participant with GFC. In her presentation speech, Witkus said Galandar-Cochran always makes sure that everyone knows they are wanted and needed. He is always there to lend a helping hand, and he is so infectious and powerful with his hope. Galandar-Cochran says he was “really surprised… I wasn’t really expecting to have people recognize me at this level.”

As to his efforts to help, he says, “This place isn’t going to change magically with what has to be done.”

The adult award went to Robert MacBride. He is well-known locally as the founding director of the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project, a group that has integrated the arts and development of the town. A former employee nominated him with a two-page letter detailing all the things he does under the radar to help people that few are aware of.

MacBride said, “I was totally taken unawares. Since I bought my house in Bellows Falls in 1981, I have been very happy being part of the community and contributing to its vitality in any way that I can. ‘It takes a village’ and so many people in Bellows Falls are participating and also worthy of this award. I am thrilled to accept the award on the behalf of us all.”

There were also over a dozen “Warm and Fuzzy” awards given out in recognition of various good things others associated with GFC have done over the last year.

Witkus says the Greater Falls Coalition has been around for about 15 years. It is under the umbrella of HCRS addiction and prevention programs trying to create stronger connections between agencies, schools, and community providers. She quotes Yohan Hari who holds that “the opposite of addiction is prevention.” Looking at local progress Witkus feels, “This community is strong and cares about its future.”

Susan Williams, addictions counselor and former GFC Advisory Board member, said, “Prevention is where it’s at.”

The GFC would like everyone in the area to fill out their annual survey on their Facebook page or at

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