Trending in Rutland in 2011

Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Rutland County Express on Dec. 29, 2011.

Two thousand eleven is almost behind us, and it’s a year I think almost all of us are happy to put in the rearview. But before we ring in 2012, let’s take a moment to look back. Borrowing from Twitter, I’ve compiled my list of the biggest stories trending in #RutVT in 2011.

#BloodInThisTown. The film may have debuted in 2010, but in 2011 Art Jones’ documentary about the Gift of Life Marathon and Rutland’s community spirit made its mark. Seeing the film’s potential as an organizational and inspirational blueprint for similarly struggling communities around the country, Jones and company hit the road, screening the film at festivals, schools, community forums and even Capitol Hill.

And it doesn’t end there. Earlier this month, Jones successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign raising more than $15,000 to continue these screenings and develop an accompanying discussion and action guide. The film is an effective resource that has value beyond Rutland to, as Art Jones says, “change the narrative” of small-town America.

#Giorgetti. To say a centralized, modern municipal recreation center in Rutland is long overdue is an understatement. The idea had been discussed for more than a generation. In 2011, it seemed the time had finally come. A plan was developed and delivered to the community: It was clear, it was equitable, it was conservative — it just made sense.

Then, suddenly, it didn’t. The subsequent recall campaign was, as one organizer, put it “a surprising and confounding display of smear, lie and distract politics the likes of which we don’t normally see here in Vermont.”

In the end, the rec center was lost (for now); however, the lesson learned was clear: To mount such an (in hindsight) ambitious campaign requires equally ambitious outreach into disparate parts of the community without taking any segment or vote for granted.

#BelieveInRutland. What started as a slogan for the rec center’s “Vote Yes” camp, quickly became a mantra for those in our community who believe that Rutland’s best years are not behind her. Following the sucker punch of May’s revote, the phrase evolved to “I still believe in Rutland” — a defiant rallying cry that flew in the face of those who would put Rutland down or hold it back.

#IreneVT. A natural disaster is a defining moment for any community. How will it respond? How will it recover? How will it rebuild? Such an event is a test that can bring out the best and the worst.

In Irene’s wake, Vermonters showed only their best. Despite our differences, we acted with selflessness and unity.

Indeed, before the rain had even stopped or the floodwaters receded, people were leaping into action to help their neighbors and reconnect their towns. Homegrown relief networks like #VTResponse and Restoring Rutland disseminated vital information and coordinated volunteer efforts. Business leaders offered up resources, material, spaces, whatever was needed to get the job done. Newly formed causes like I Am Vermont Strong raised not only funds but also morale as Vermont natives and friends from near and far rallied to show pride for our little state.

The memory of Irene will endure both here in Rutland and around the rest of the state — the physical, personal and emotional loss was too great to soon forget. The silver lining, however, is that Vermonters were put through hell and came out of it stronger and more connected than before.

#LiveLocalMusic. The Rutland music scene has a long history. Dating back to the early days of Satin and Steel, there has always been a deep well of local players and surprising talent for a town our size. After a span of unevenness marked by shifting venues, DJ/dance club saturation and the decline of local radio’s relevance to the scene (remember WEBK?), 2011 was a return to form.

Several bands cut their first albums this year, including George’s Back Pocket and DanK and The Funksticks. Singer-songwriters/rockers Duane Carleton and Rick Redington also had new releases. And as a result, all were eager to perform.

Harmony-rich, alt-country quintet Split Tongue Crow got back to its RutVegas roots this year with a Thursday night summer residency at Center Street Alley and has become the centerpiece around which Rutland’s “underground” bar has built a vibrant and enjoyable venue for local bands.

#GiftOfLife. We knew it was a mammoth undertaking, but that didn’t deter us from taking a shot at the national record for most pints of blood collected in a single day. The Gift of Life Marathon had a lot riding on it this year. “The Blood in This Town” has turned the annual event into a symbol of everything that was right with Rutland — the same spirit of charity, giving and community that we saw amplified after Irene.

In the end, the 1,855 pints donated fell just short of the national record; though, it was enough to make it “the second-largest community blood drive in U.S. history, and the largest per-capita,” according to CVPS spokesman Steve Costello.

While the record would have been great, I could not help but note the significance of being number two. After all, we are historically and symbolically Vermont’s Second City, a position that has long defined us and challenged us to do better.

As Costello put it, “The greater Rutland community did something amazing … and I have no doubt its spirit will shine again next year, whatever goal we might set.”

And that’s 2011. Tracing the arc of the year, it takes an interesting trajectory. From the divisive rec vote to the uninhibited sense of community after Irene to the bittersweet denouement of Gift of Life, this year has challenged us as individuals and as a community to continue to do and be our best in the face of whatever adversity we may face.

Happy New Year.

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