SWANTON — The Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) presented its Community Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award to Hank and Molly Lambert this October during a day of workshops at Castleton University.
The VCRD is a non-profit organization supporting the development of Vermont communities. That may sound like an abstract concept, but Swanton is a testament to the reality of the VCRD’s work.
A three-day visit by the VCRD in 2015, including workshops and public forums, kickstarted the growth that has now become a fixture of Swanton: the Swanton Arts Council, the Swanton Enhancement Project, the creation of a community economic development coordinator.
Ask the Lamberts what that award means to them and they instantly shift the spotlight from themselves to the value of the VCRD’s work. But the Lamberts’ own accomplishments are equally meaningful.
Molly was Vermont’s first female Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. President Barack Obama appointed her to direct USDA Rural Development in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Hank was Manchester, Vt.’s town manager, Vermont’s Commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs and the director of the Vermont Local Roads program.
The Lamberts specialize in community engagement — as Hank put it, “getting people excited about where they live.”
“As an individual or a family, you can’t do a whole lot about impacting national affairs,” Hank said. “[Even] less so in Vermont. It’s easier for us to engage with state politics and state projects.
“But the real impact people can have is in these local communities. That’s where you can make a difference.”
The Lamberts weren’t the first Swanton residents to work toward revitalizing their community. As Hank noted, the village had a professionally designed downtown revitalization plan in 2001, nearly 15 years before the VCRD visit.
“People had a start,” Hank recalled, “but there wasn’t a way to make it happen or to keep the momentum going.”
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