Walk For A Healthy Community

September 20, 2023

When I came here last year, one of the first large community events that people talked about was the Walk to End Hunger.  Some of you may have heard of it, others of you may not be familiar.  Walk to End Hunger was a week-long canned good drive, that ended with a variety day and community walk. Last year our efforts raised just over two thousand dollars in cash and food donations – which is something to be incredibly proud of.  


Then throughout the year, under the direction of Dr. Elia Desjardins and Jennifer Mackenzie, a group of Academy faculty teachers worked to generate an inspiring proposal for the ways the walk could be more.  They explored ways that we could take something that matters greatly to the St. Johnsbury Academy community, and to the larger Northeast Kingdom community, and provide more help and more hope. 


In the course of my life, I have seen time and again, the power of community. When a community comes together, there is strength. A healthy community is one where people hold genuine respect for one another – and a commitment to a collective “we”. That’s why we aren’t walking to end hunger this year, we are, instead, walking for a healthy community.  


This will be realized through a partnership with Northeast Kingdom Community Action or NEKCA. NEKCA’s mission is to empower individuals, families, and communities by promoting hope, healing, and support. NEKCA has 26 locations throughout the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, including four food shelves, the largest of which is here in St. Johnsbury. They provide a variety of community-based services including emergency food shelves, emergency fuel assistance services to support folks who are homeless, and homelessness prevention. After COVID and now, after a summer of economically devastating rain, the need for their support to meet food and other basic needs is greater than ever. They believe so deeply in the idea that just because a person has less, they are not less. Their work helps provide people access to those basic resources to be fully human. 


Our community here at St. Johnsbury Academy gives us terra firma – firm ground – while the world is changing, sometimes quite rapidly, around us. NEKCA does the same for people in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; NEKCA is a place where safety and hope are stocked on shelves and given out to all who need it.  Others from the community have shared their thoughts about the potential of this effort and other ongoing ways we can realize opportunities to deliver further on Dr. Howell’s promise to help students “become part of something bigger than themselves.” 


In a speech to the community, Chef David Hale, a longtime Academy faculty member, shared these thoughts about the role SJA can play in supporting the larger NEK community 


“I have been at the Academy for almost 15 years.  We feed our community every day in a multitude of ways.  The needs of the community go beyond simply filling bellies.  Kindness, companionship, growth, empathy and love are at the core of our mission. This week, we are asking you to see beyond the boundaries of the Academy. to recognize deeper needs, envision larger successes, and feel greater joy. We will walk, but much more importantly, we will work within our advisories to make a choice about how to help and explore the possibilities of one community focused on making something great.  


“You are young, still trying to figure things out; believe in your power to help others.   Let’s do something that has never been done before.”   


Sophomore Donley Johnson, one of several student leaders who spoke to peers, delivered the following message: 


“We are Walking for a Healthy Community to send a message of hope to the residents of the Northeast Kingdom. We want to let people know that no matter who they are, they are part of a caring, dedicated group of people who will help them meet their needs.  


“The walk is the culmination of a week of striving to understand and assist our fellow humans. By learning about the issue of food insecurity and doing our part to provide food to those in need, we are doing both the community and ourselves a favor, as a group of people that strive to understand and support each other is a key ingredient for a healthier community. 


“Of course, the issue of food insecurity won’t simply go away after we spend a week learning about it. We are going to be part of a long and hard process: tackling one of the biggest issues facing not just St. Johnsbury, but the whole world. What I would like you to think about now, even before the week is over, is how you want to keep working towards food security. It is easy to think about this as a one-and-done thing– something we pay attention to for a while and then allow to drift out of our focus. Or, perhaps food insecurity is something that you need to think about on a regular basis. Maybe it is deeply ingrained into your life and you would love to be able to spend time not thinking about it. It is a true luxury to be able to take for granted a full meal every morning and evening, whether or not you take advantage of that. Therefore, I have a challenge for anyone who wishes to participate, but I would like you to pay particular attention if you are certain that dinner tonight will be enjoyable, varied, and filling: have this week be the kickoff for a year spent learning about this issue and making an effort to fix it. If we are consistent in our efforts to build a stronger, more understanding community, we can start to heal the damage caused by decades of limited access to food, one of the most basic human needs. At some point this week, set a goal for yourself: what will you do by the end of this year to create a healthier community?” 


The Walk For A Healthy Community is an opportunity to deepen our connection to community in tangible ways. 


Binaca Hanson

Assistant Headmaster for Academic & Student Life


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