STARKSBORO - Over 200 residents of Starksboro gathered last Thursday evening in the multi-purpose room at Robinson Elementary School for a community dinner and to hear presentations from a group of Middlebury College students.
Over the past three months, the students have been researching the town and interviewing residents in an attempt to capture the essence of the unique community of Starksboro.
The student project was the first phase of an Art and Soul Civic Engagement Project grant awarded to the town by the Orton Family Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust. The purpose of the grant is to engage residents in conversations about the town's future and to encourage people who may not normally speak out to take an active role in planning for the future.
Over the course of the semester the students, led by Middlebury professor John Elder, fanned out across the community to meet and interview a cross-section of residents - old-timers and newcomers alike. Their findings were then compiled into digital audio, photography, music and narrative clips and even into a book that was distributed to the attendees.
The presentations focused on the farming community and included interviews with Art and Susie Clifford of the Clifford Farm on Route 116 and Larry and Sue Shepard from South Starksboro.
Another area of town that fascinated one group of students is the Hillsboro area, which was once a thriving community, now deserted and populated only by the graves of it's former residents. These presentations and more will soon be made available on the town's website for everyone to see and read and to which they may add their own stories and comments.
Throughout the evening, there was a palpable feeling of belonging to something unique in the crowded room. Long tables were set and decorated with winter berries and greens and people intermingled with their friends, neighbors, and the college students, who made a point of meeting and talking with their dinner companions.
Also in attendance were members of the Orton Family Foundation's board of directors, as well as Lyman Orton, members of the Vermont Land Trust, various community leaders and of course, members of the Starksboro committee who will administer the grant, Robert Turner, Frank Spina, Vera Ryersbach, Jan McCleary and Dan Noel.
At the close of the evening, the Starksboro Selectboard presented each student with a certificate naming them honorary citizens of Starksboro, and a Starksboro t-shirt as a keepsake of their time spent making friends and learning about the town.
Then, in typical Starksboro fashion, everyone pitched in to break down tables and chairs, leaving the room cleaned up and ready for the next day's elementary school activities.