Costello at work for Rutland community

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 10/21/10]

Don’t call Steve Costello a spokesperson. Granted, as director of public affairs for Central Vermont Public Service part of his job at times entails doing just that – being the public face of the local energy utility – but if Costello is a spokesperson for anything, it’s Rutland itself.

In addition to media relations, Costello also handles employee and financial communications as well as coordinating CVPS’ community events like the Gift-of-Life Marathon – an annual blood drive, which has as of late helped to put Rutland on the map.

A Burlington native, Costello has deep roots in the Rutland community. Indeed, any Rutlander who’s been here long enough either knows or is related to the Costellos. And those with a long enough memory will recall the Carbine Costello store on the corner of Center Street and Merchants Row, co-owned by Costello’s grandfather.

Naturally, Costello spent a lot of time in Rutland visiting family and friends.

After high school, Costello stayed close to Burlington, attending St. Michael’s where he majored in journalism.

During his sophomore year in 1985, he had an internship at the “Rutland Herald.” By 1989, he had moved down to Rutland to work as business editor for the “Herald.”

Costello looks back on his time at the “Herald” fondly. “It was a great time to be there,” he said.

Eventually, Costello traveled up Route 7 where he landed at the “Addison Independent” as editor, and, then, up to the “Herald’s” sister publication, the “Barre-Montpelier Time Argus,” taking on the role of city editor.

In 1996, Costello joined up with CVPS in the public affairs director position. Originally, he was to be stationed in Montpelier, but soon, CVPS President Bob Young asked Costello to move down to Rutland to run public affairs for the entire company.

Costello noted that the jump to managing public relations for an energy utility wasn’t planned.

“I never expected to leave journalism,” he said.

“In journalism, everyday is different,” he said, adding that when considering the job at CVPS, he was afraid that he might get bored.

Still, the job at CVPS intrigued him.

“It was an opportunity to do some really neat stuff,” he said, explaining that his work is not strictly in media relations, and that the company’s emphasis on community and environmental issues lined up well with his personal ethics.

Since joining CVPS, Costello noted that he has yet to have a day where he has been bored at work.

That lack of boredom is due to the fact that Costello and CVPS manage to identify and support projects that go beyond typical public relations window dressing – projects that attract meaningful investment from the community, and tend to take on a life of their own.

Once such project is “Meeri Meets the Ospreys,” a children’s book written by Costello and published by CVPS in 2001. The book tells the true story of Meeri Zetterstrom, a Vermonter who successfully worked to help a pair of ospreys nest and breed at Lake Arrowhead.

The project was the culmination of more than a decade of work on CVPS’ part to restore Vermont’s osprey population. Earlier efforts had worked to reestablish nesting areas for the endangered birds, but the book managed to educate the public in a whole new way.

Nine thousand copies of the books were distributed throughout the state in libraries and classrooms – every second-grader in the state received one.

According to Costello, the book was also a way to acknowledge Zetterstrom’s efforts to save the birds.

“Meeri’s legacy is an example of determined people who accomplish great things,” Costello said.

In 2009, CVPS created the Zetterstorm Award, which honors such people throughout the state.

Another such example with a local tie is the Gift-of-Life Marathon. The annual blood drive returns to the Paramount Theatre on Dec. 21 for its eighth year.

The success of this event, which in 2009 collected a record-breaking 1,024 pints of blood, has been the source of much community pride.

“This community is always hungry for something to rally around,” Costello said. “The Gift-of-Life is a great example the competitive and collaborative spirit of Rutland.”

Over the summer, Boston beat Rutland’s record by 153 pints. The news has only served to further fuel that competitiveness.

Costello and other organizers are already looking at ways to bring the record back home. The event in its current configuration is at capacity so they will have to get cre ative by expanding hours and recruiting more staff and volunteers in order get more pints.

“Beating Boston is a pri ority,” said Costello with dose of local pride before underscoring the real importance of the drive collecting blood that some one will use.

“Last year, over 1,000 lives were saved because Rutland,” he said.

A recent result of the Gift-of-Life has been the filming of “The Blood this Town,” the soon-to-be released documentary writ ten, directed and pro duced by Brooklyn film maker Art Jones about the blood drive and the Rutland community large.

Costello first met Jones several years ago when Jones produced a couple corporate films for CVPS. As he got to know Jones, he kept pressing him about doing something about the Gift-of-Life. Initially, Jones wasn’t hooked, but his interest was piqued in 2008 when Rutland broke the record previously held by Boston.

Jones agreed to shoot the 2009 drive.

“I wasn’t expecting anything more than a short,” said Costello. “But Art saw something more.”

By the end of shooting, Jones decided that he wanted to tell the story of Rutland not just the Gift-of-Life.

For Costello, the drive is an analogy for Rutland: “There’s a huge challenge, but people come together to beat it,” he said. “It shows a path for a better future.”

Costello who has already seen an early cut of the film says it will “surprise people,” noting that while it shows some of the city’s best assets like the Farmers’ Market and Pine Hill Park, it is also at times very honest, putting Rutland on display, warts and all.

(There will be a sneak preview screening of “The Blood in this Town” at the Paramount Theatre Oct. 22 and 23. For tickets and more information, call the Paramount Box Office at 775-0903 or visit http://www.para  mountvt.org  .)

Through it all, Costello has managed to find a balance of working and living in Rutland. He and his wife – college sweethearts who have been together for over 20 years – enjoy the outdoors, kayaking, running, and hiking around the region.

“I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in – both at work and in this community.” he said.

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