AARP Eye Center
The fourteen local advocates who completed the 2023 Vermont State Walking College, in collaboration with AARP Vermont, have announced their Walk Action Plans for their communities.
The Vermont State Walking College program is presented in partnership with America Walks, a national education and advocacy organization which works to advance safe, equitable, accessible, and enjoyable places to walk and move by giving people and communities the resources to effectively advocate for change.
"We are delighted to welcome this group of passionate local leaders who are working to improve walkability and livability in communities throughout the state," said Kelly Stoddard-Poor, Associate State Director with AARP Vermont, "The Fellows represent a range of backgrounds and experiences, including community organizing, health and wellness, economic development, and planning.”
The Vermont State Walking College Fellows, and their Walk Action Plans, can be found below:
GiGi Beach from Johnson
My name is GiGi Beach. I am a nearly life long resident of the beautiful green mountains of northern Vermont. My family relocated in 1964, but to true Vermonters I will always be a flatlander. I am a proud mother, grandmother, and devoted rescue dog parent. Recently, I was elected a Johnson Village Trustee (my first foray into politics) and appointed to the Board of Directors for Lamoille County Planning Commission. I am the Treasurer of Johnson Works, a group of local businesses working toward economic development and success after the ravages of the Covid 19 pandemic. I am the owner and Curiator of The Little Curio Shoppe located in Johnson.
Nature has always been a gift in my life. In my youth I spent summers hiking in the Green Mountains and Adirondacks, recreating on and in Lake Champlain and enjoying local swimming holes. On a visit to Great Britain, in my teens, I was awestruck by their public walking trails. What a brilliant way to encourage embracing one’s environment. I immediately thought every community in America should install public walking paths.
While much of my early career was spent in offices, the latter has been spent working with behaviorally challenged teens and special needs children and adults. I found that there was no greater asset to supporting their health and well-being than to spend every moment we could outside. This also led me to become painfully aware of the lack of accessibility for many, and if there was accessibility, it wasn’t always recognized by those without accessibility concerns. I would like to work toward removing barriers to ensure everyone has reasonable and safe access to our natural wonders. As well as encourage the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outside. Through education and example, I feel are the most productive ways to achieve success in healing our environment, which I believe is key to our survival.
Read Gigi Beach's Walk Action Plan.
Christopher Beebe from Guilford
(bio coming soon!)
Read Chris Beebe's Walk Action Plan
Marcey Carver from Bradford
(bio coming soon!)
Read Marcey Carver's Walk Action Plan
Sabina Ernst from Jericho
Sabina Ernst has lived in Vermont since 2015 and resides in Jericho with her husband, family, and cat. She volunteers in her community by serving on the Jericho Planning and Conservation Commissions and is also involved in local conservation and land stewardship projects. In her free time she enjoys hiking, birdwatching, gardening, and cycling. Sabina maintains a habitat garden which supports native wildlife in her yard and teaches others how to incorporate sustainable gardening practices into their home landscapes. In 2011 she walked 26 miles over two days to raise money for breast cancer research. She is very honored to be part of the Walking College in 2023.
Read Sabina Ernst's Walk Action Plan
Deirdre Holmes from Charlotte
Deirdre Holmes is a Dutch-American walking and cycling enthusiast. She lives in an old farmhouse in Charlotte, VT with her husband where they operate several world music enterprises, plant trees, garden and make maple syrup. Her two adult daughters now live in the UK and Canada. She has a MA in Ecological Urban and Regional Planning, and serves on the Charlotte Energy Committee, and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission on the Transportation Advisory Committee. She enjoys trips to Montreal where active transportation is increasingly inviting, comfortable and inspiring, as well as long rural walks in Vermont with a good friend, upbeat music or an engaging podcast.
Read Deirdre Holmes's Walk Action Plan
Alyssa Jette from Norwich
I am a graduate student at the University of Vermont, pursuing a master's degree in physical activity and wellness science. During my time at UVM I have learned the importance of walking to achieve many health benefits. I believe this movement will continue to rise as individuals utilize walking as their source of physical activity, outdoor therapy, social connection, etc. I also believe it is essential to support outdoor activity by providing residents with safe, accessible environments. For these reasons, I am looking forward to learning from the Vermont State Walking College to become an advocate for healthy, walkable communities!
Read Alyssa Jette's Walk Action Plan
Barbara Johnson from Shelburne
I am recently retired from a 45-year career as a clinical lab scientist at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont. I grew up near Schenectady, NY and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in 1976. I raised four daughters all of whom still live in Vermont. I walk outside almost every day regardless of inclement or challenging weather, and I believe this activity is vital to my physical and mental health. When I purchased my home about 30 years ago, I wanted to live in a place where I could go out and walk for 30 minutes without driving somewhere to do that. I was surprised by how many housing options were eliminated from my search because of this criterion. I am interested in promoting a future where more people walk or bike to needed services such as schools, town offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, libraries, and post offices. I believe this would lead to a society that is healthier and more connected to neighbors. I hope that my participation in the Walking College will help me to be a strong advocate for this vision.
Read Barb Johnson's Walk Action Plan
Joel Kolata from Burlington
Age 33. Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. I spent my summers much in the same way I do now - riding bicycles, exploring the woods, reading, and playing video games. I graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2015 with B.S. in Computer Engineering and worked a couple jobs as an industrial automation engineer. Now working as a web developer to build payment and bill management websites which serve rural communities.
In my spare time I enjoy bicycle rides, hiking, skiing, noodling on guitar, and leisure walks. My current reading list is "Poland: A History", "Walkable City Rules" by Jeff Speck, and "The Story of English" by Cran, MacNiel, and McCrum.
Read Joel Kolata's Walk Action Plan
Colin Larsen from Burlington
I first came to Vermont as a Middlebury College student. After graduating in 2017, I had the opportunity to experience many different examples of both good and bad urban design in places like Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia.
I work now as a podcast producer for a non-profit focused on technology in government, and spend my free time as a member of Vermonters for People-Oriented Places (VPOP), a grass-roots advocacy organization trying to build dense, walkable neighborhoods. By creating communities where everyone can travel without needing a car, we will be healthier, wealthier, happier, and cleaner.
Read Colin Larsen's Walk Action Plan
Robert Leidy from Burlington
I grew up along the Delaware River where there are 60 miles of canal paths and beach walks on the nearby Jersey shore. Walking slows me down so I can concentrate and really think things through. If I am with my family and friends, it is even better to have a discussion. As I moved northward to Burlington, walking in the woods, in various towns, and always parking as far away as possible to where I was going to get a walk in. I have noticed while traveling that walking can provide social connections as well.
I am a retired semiconductor optics engineer and enjoy gardening and riding my e-bike around town as well as walking. I am trying to work with the Burlington Walk / Bike Council on issues relating to connecting our walk / bike infrastructure to our neighboring communities. How can we improve our infrastructure so that we become less car dependent and develop healthy connections? I would like to work on this!
Read Robert Leidy's Walk Action Plan
Sophie Quest from Burlington
Born in Detroit, Michigan, went to Cass Tech to spend the whole day playing in band or orchestra.
Always wanted to be a professional flute player and achieved that, mostly in Manhattan, ending in Vermont.
Love my family, forests/woods, lakes/rivers, walking, neighbors, Vermont, Zoom friends.
Beth Anne Royer from Hinesburg
Beth Anne Royer is a poet and a librarian. She lives in Hinesburg, Vermont and enjoys using her feet and self-powered wheels to get around. She enjoys contemplating spaces where commerce, surprises, and art can all get along. She reads a lot, likes long bike rides, and sometimes will walk to the airport instead of taking public transportation there. Her enthusiasm for human power has its roots in her childhood in a small, walkable town (the home of Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon).
Read Beth Anne Royer's Walk Action Plan
Lyrica Stelle from White River Junction
Lyrica Stelle (she/her), MPH lives in the Upper Valley of Vermont where she works as the Chronic Disease Program Specialist with the White River Junction District Office of the Vermont Department of Health. Prioritizing walkability is an area where her professional and personal interests collide. Lyrica is an avid hiker, walker, and mountain biker and a firm believer in equitable access to walkable and rollable spaces. Her work in chronic disease prevention is largely focused on social determinants of health or upstream health influences such as access to resources and the built environment. She is excited to imagine and prioritize infrastructure that promotes walkable spaces while striving to center health equity to support healthy communities.
Read Lyrica Stelle's Walk Action Plan
Maryann Zavez from Randolph Center
(bio coming soon!)
Read Maryann Zavez's Walk Action Plan
Fellows completed a series of modules covering leadership development, coalition-building, walkable community design, local public policy, and strategic planning. The instructional content included online study materials, video-conferenced discussion forums with other Fellows, and community assignments. Each Fellow received one-on-one coaching from a Personal Mentor to assist them in developing Walking Action Plans for their communities.
The following Walking College Mentors were appointed to provide individual coaching and facilitate group discussions among the Fellows:
Jon Kaplan, retired Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager with the Vermont Agency of Transportation
Jon Kaplan recently retired after a 30 year career focused on planning and design of bicycle and pedestrian facilities and on policies related to active transportation. The bulk of his career was spent in the public sector with over 22 years at the VT Agency of Transportation in the bicycle and pedestrian program, where he was the coordinator since 2009. He also worked for one of the Regional Planning Commissions in Vermont as well as for engineering consultants. While at VTrans, he also served as the Safe Routes to School Coordinator, working with community members and schools to enable school aged kids to walk and bike to school. His background is in Civil Engineering, but his interests lie in the intersection between transportation, placemaking, economic development, health and equity. Jon bikes and walk regularly in his home town of Randolph, VT and loves using the family's 25 year old bike trailer to go pick up groceries.
Laural Ruggles, Co-chair of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Regional Council from Danville
Laural Ruggles, a resident of the Northeast Kingdom for over 40 years, exemplifies her commitment to her community and improving health and well-being in her work and in her personal life. Laural spent most of her professional time in healthcare. Her commitment to her community goes beyond her work; over the decades she has volunteered her time to working on local school improvement projects, women’s issues, place-based solutions for social gatherings and low-cost options for physical activity. She was an America Walks Walking Fellow in 2016, carrying out her Walking Action Plan by working with others to create an official Walk and Bike Advisory Committee in St. Johnsbury. This group remains very active today. Laural was an original member of the Friends of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, a non-profit devoted to promoting the non-motorized users of the trail. She currently co-chairs the NEK+ LVRT Regional Trail Council. She partnered with the Town of St. Johnsbury in 2018 on an AARP “Placemaking Projects for Changing the Built Environment Community Grant” that resulted in a large mural that adorns the LVRT Trailhead Pavilion in St. Johnsbury. Currently, she volunteers locally on groups working to improve food access, climate change and energy issues, and promoting the economic benefits of sustainable promotion of recreational assets in the Northeast Kingdom. All her work – whether paid or volunteer – is centered in equity: who benefits, who decides, who is harmed.
Karen Yacos, former Executive Director of Local Motion from Waterbury Center
Karen Yacos is an urban planner with a passion for working with people to make their communities as welcoming and sustainable as possible. She has applied her extensive experience in community design, active transportation, and sustainable development in communities across Vermont and the US. Most recently, she was the Executive Director of Local Motion, Vermont’s statewide advocacy organization for biking and walking.
About The Walking College
The Walking College was developed in 2014 by America Walks, with funding support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal of the national program is to build the capacity of local walkability and pedestrian safety advocates to improve their communities. In 2021, AARP Livable Communities partnered with America Walks to develop and implement a series of State Walking Colleges. More info. at www.americawalks.org/walkingcollege.
About America Walks
America Walks is a national education and advocacy organization devoted to increasing walking and expanding walkable communities throughout the U.S. With a network of more than 30,000 individuals and 700 partner organizations, America Walks’ programs include webinar broadcasts, federal advocacy initiatives, online technical assistance, community-based workshops, the National Walking Summit, and the Walking College. More info. at www.americawalks.org.