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Monday, October 31, 2011

“I Am Vermont Strong” - Devastated By Irene - Vermonters Find Strength In Unity

“I Am Vermont Strong”

Devastated By Irene - Vermonters Find Strength In Unity

By Dell Hill

Full Disclosure - I’m a native Vermonter, born and raised in Barre, Vermont and have lived in the Green Mountain State for 61 of my 66 years.  “I Am Vermont Strong” is more than just a slogan to me; it’s a way of life.

Scenes like this were all too common...and tear the heart right out of any Vermonter.  To watch helplessly as a covered bridge is ripped from it’s moorings and swept away is more than some could handle.  (Mild language advisory) 

And this was the report from WCAX TV just a few days later.

"I am Vermont Strong." You may have seen it on a volunteer's T-shirt, Gov. Peter Shumlin, or even on Lt. Governor Phil Scott's race car.

"Strong is both a physical and a mental thing," Eric Mallette said.   

"It's more about the message than the logo," Lyz Tomsuden said.

It's a logo heard loud and clear since Tropical Storm Irene.

"I think Vermont strong to me means everything that this campaign has done and that's people helping people. To me, that's what Vermont strong is all about," Mallette said.

Mallette, an avid social media user, and his girlfriend, Lyz Tomsuden, a graphic designer, created an icon Monday after the storm which friends quickly turned into their profile picture.

"All of a sudden we were getting all of these emails and suggestions that we should make T-shirts," Tomsuden said.

So they did.

"And I said wouldn't it be cool if we woke up tomorrow morning and we sold 100? We woke up and we had sold 300," Mallette said.

"We've raised way more than we thought. We thought we could raise maybe $1,000-- sell 100 T-shirts," Tomsuden said.

One month later, 4,000 T-shirts sold and more than $60,000 raised for the Vermont Food Bank-- they've started a company.

"We see it growing in a number of ways. There's a whole new product line being developed right now. Other things claiming, 'I am Vermont Strong' that you can proudly wear or carry," Mallette said.

The company is shipping internationally and plans to work with more nonprofits in Vermont to spread the message of strength.

"It's made me feel even better about where I live," Mallette said.

From two Vermonters who played to their strengths and accidentally started a movement.

Click here for more on the T-shirts.”

There are just three words on the Seal of Vermont - “Vermont Freedom Unity”.  It was designed by Ira Allen, brother of Ethan Allen of the famous Green Mountain Boys, among the founders of the first State to join the Union after the original thirteen.

It is in that spirit of unity that thousands of Vermonters have reacted to the natural devastation of Irene.  From T-shirts to chicken pie suppers.  From bake sales to race cars.  Vermonters have rolled up their sleeves and helped one-another because it was physically impossible to do it alone.  

And I wasn’t kidding when I said “race cars”.  The Lieutenant Governor of Vermont is Phil Scott, who also happens to be a championship caliber race car driver.  Scott’s sponsors graciously adopted the “I Am Vermont” theme and the State’s second-in-command raced the car in several events - including a preliminary event to the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Loudon, New Hampshire - letting the world know that Vermont was “open for business” and the State’s recovery was well underway.

Vermont’s Lt. Governor, Phil Scott - A Racing Champion & Vermont Strong

Here’s a snippet from one the great names in New England stock car racing history - T. J. Ingerson.

“LOUDON, N.H. -- Phil Scott is unlike any other stock car driver. He races because he has a passion for it. It’s his hobby. He goes to Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl in Barre, Vt., every week, driving his familiar green No. 14, with one goal in mind: to win.

But, Phil Scott is also the Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. And today, he races for an entire state. He is Vermont Strong.

After damaging floods tore through the State of Vermont in the wake of Hurricane Irene, Scott’s day job took precedent. He had to miss one of the biggest races of the season at Thunder Road, one he felt he could win, to be one of the leaders that the state needed.

“[Vermont] has suffered from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene,” Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott said. “Some parts of our state were devastated. Many parts, including many roads and bridges, have not been reopened. We suffered over a billion dollars in damage. We’re encompassing on our tourism season. I have to say, with all the rain, we’re going to have one of the most beautiful fall foliage seasons in a long time. But what we found, with all the media attention, is that there are many cancellations.”

Scott, today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, is one of 43 competitors to race in the third edition of the ACT Invitational. But, unlike the other 42, Scott’s message is clear - Vermont is open for business. Vermont welcomes you to come and visit them. And that Vermonters are strong.”

Read the entire posting by T. J. Ingerson by clicking right here.

Thousands have been inspired to help by purchasing the “I Am Vermont Strong” T-shirts and with direct donations of food, clothing, building materials to put new homes where flooded homes used to stand, and just about every other conceivable need for survival following a natural disaster.  With profits from the sale of something as simple as T-shirts, the project has donated over $60,000 to Vermont Food Shelf programs, which were literally wiped out by the flooding, or totally depleted of food by the demand for assistance following the flooding.

Progress has been painfully slow...but, progress non-the-less.  Many roads and bridges, totally destroyed by the storm, are slowly being brought back to passable condition and not any too soon - Winter in Vermont is no time to be building roads and bridges.

To the thousands of you who have helped us, we say THANK YOU.

For more information on the “I Am Vermont Strong” project you can click right here.  Facebook members can also get lots more information by clicking here.

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