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Darren Mark demonstrates his Språng Chair at a recent Brattleboro Farmers Market.

BRATTLEBORO >> Three videos produced by Mondo Mediaworks for the Brattleboro Retreat were winners at the 26th Annual Lamplighter Awards on June 2.

The New England Society for Healthcare Communications held its annual awards to honor the marketing, public relations, and communications excellence of 58 hospitals, healthcare facilities, and marketing/advertising agencies.

Two Mondo Mediaworks productions, "Jim's Story" and "Raina's Story," each brought home two silver awards, while the "Building Hope Together" video won an Award of Excellence.

"It's exciting to have our work for a local organization be recognized on a regional level. Brattleboro Retreat deserves to be acknowledged for their remarkable services for mental health and addiction," said Shane McFalls, head videographer for Mondo Mediaworks. "It's also nice for us here at Mondo Mediaworks to take a moment and pat ourselves on the back for showing that a smaller agency can measure up to the larger companies."

The awards presentation, held in Providence, R.I., had a total of 381 entries and recognized 189 of them with gold, silver, and awards of excellence.


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Mondo Mediaworks started production on "Jim's Story" and "Raina's Story" in early spring of 2015. The two videos are profiles of former patient success stories and were used as part of Brattleboro Retreat's 2015 Annual Report to Stakeholders and Friends. The videos have proved to be powerful in web and social media awareness, inspiring people to "share" the content and providing a place for others to share their stories.

"Building Hope Together" was produced to act as an overview of the organization. Originally designed for the web, the video has proved to be an effective expression of the organization's mission and environment and is now used for a variety of things, including employee orientation.

"Producing these videos, with the raw emotions and intensity of the stories, was such an amazing experience to be a part of," said McFalls. "It's very rewarding to be able to work on a project that has a goal of helping someone. Our hope for these videos is to inspire anyone who might be seeking help to pick up the phone and make that first call."

Local man develops new chair to prevent back pain

BRATTLEBORO >> A writer knows a thing or two about sitting, which is why Darren Mark designed the Språng (rhymes with "strong") chair as a dynamic sitting experience that allows for free movement of the pelvis and hips while supporting the back through an articulated backrest that supports the spine.

After five years of development, including four years of prototype testing and consultations with healthcare, sports and bodywork professionals, Mark, who lives in Brattleboro, launched a Kickstarter effort to raise $35,000 for production of 100 units of the Språng.

Manufacture of the chair will be local, according to Mark, who has been working with Vermont craftsmen to come up with sustainably sourced materials.

With its retro mid-century modern lines, the Språng features a thick, padded seat that molds to and centers the lower body. Major muscle groups, including the core, are engaged and can move in any direction as the seat balances and rotates on large ball. The seat cushion is attached by flexible bungee cords to a lower platform, which can roll or be fixed with locking castors. Meanwhile, a sleek and adjustable articulated arm allows for the back bolster, which contains high-quality springs that encourage back movement, to be positioned anywhere along the spine — wherever the support is needed.

Wood finishes are available in a choice of blonde or walnut. Seat cushions, made of high-test stretch fabric, are available in fiesta red, black, graphite and grass green.

A transplant from Brooklyn, Mark first dreamed of the Språng chair eight years ago after experiencing severe back pain after long periods of sitting. Citing recent medical research that ties prolonged periods of sitting to epigenetic changes and even early death, Mark believes that the Språng "will save countless individuals from succumbing to 'sitting disease,'" which he jokes is "the new smoking."

Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University's renowned Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, has expressed early enthusiasm for the Språng Chair's design concept.

"I think your chair design concept addresses many benefits," he wrote. "And rethinking the back support design concept is a big plus."

Further, Hedge has invited Mark to present the Språng Chair to his graduate ergonomics class this Fall, so that they can study the chair's benefits.

According to Mark, the Språng is not so much furniture as "interactive gear" that improves a number of body and mind functionalities. More than just building the core, the Språng — with its molded seat that distributes weight — allows the user to pull and push, using the tension from the bungie cords to improve blood and nutrient flow throughout the body's circulatory system. The big muscles — the hamstrings and and quads — engage and relax without consciously having to remember to "stand up and stretch."

Other benefits Mark cites are: Keeping the pelvic floor strong; improving proprioception for those who have challenges in this area (such as individuals with autism); enhancing mindfulness; improving balance; and engaging the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems.

The Kickstarter campaign has raised over $20,000 to date. Project backers who contribute $249 or more will receive one of the very first Språng Chairs, which Mark plans to begin shipping in September.

Those interested in learning more about the Sprang Chair should go to www.sprangchair.com. The link for he kickstarter campaign is www.bitly.com/sprangchair.

Brattleboro author and illustrator create childrens' book

BRATTLEBORO >> "Ralph Flies the Coop," an upcoming children's book aimed at teaching children about broadening their horizons through travel, intercultural experience, and foreign-language learning, will be released in September by Green Writers Press.

"Ralph Flies the Coop," written and illustrated by Brattleboro residents, Jaimie Scanlon and Ellen Tumavicus, uses the character of Ralph, a rooster who leaves the farm and travels the world learning to say "cock-a-doodle-doo" in different languages, to introduce children to the concept that stepping outside our comfort zone and being open to different types of people and experiences can change our lives — and ourselves — for the better.

The book's message of "openness to otherness" became particularly timely, says its creators, given the current themes of anti-immigration and xenophobia dominating the political climate around the globe. "The project took on deeper meaning as we continued to collaborate over the past year," said illustrator Tumavicus.

Scanlon and Tumavicus, both veteran educators, drew upon their own experiences living and teaching abroad to create the story and imagery. Scanlon was inspired to write the story over a decade ago while teaching English to children in Japan.

"I was teaching a group of kindergartners the sounds that farm animals make in English--the cow says 'moo;' the pig says 'oink, and so on," said Scanlon. "The kids thought it was hysterical and wanted to teach me the sounds in Japanese. I wanted to write a children' book that would capture that playfulness and the fun of language-learning and international travel, especially for kids ,like many in Vermont, who may not have a lot of exposure to multiculturalism."

When she and Tumavicus began working together, Scanlon says, they agreed that the final product needed to address the broader, related themes of acceptance of diversity and the meaning of global citizenship.

Tumavicus, a public school art teacher who has taught at international schools in Trinidad and Spain, cites current events, including terror attacks around the globe and Donald Trump's anti-immigration platform, that sparked a sense of urgency about including the message of acceptance and a desire to encourage parents and educators to start conversations with children about cultural diversity.

"Watching the news, we realized the timeliness of Ralph's message," she said. "The future will depend on the ability of today's children to move past the fear and break down these perceived barriers. We hope this story will lay that groundwork in a fun, age-appropriate way."

Four Columns completes installation of 'Window Project'

NEWFANE >> In cooperation with WW Building Supply and Home Center, the Four Columns of Newfane has completed the first installation of the Window Project, bringing excitement and energy to Newfane's Route 30.

One window is dominated by a 24-foot cypress and stainless steel folding masonry ruler created by artist Peter Kirkiles. The other window displays the message, "Make it Happen," highlighted by Kirkiles' giant red carpenter's pencil, suggesting that given the tools, change can happen.

Four Columns stands at the center of southern Vermont's cultural, culinary and arts scene. In addition to a private collection of original artwork, the Four Columns features a rotating exhibit of local artists throughout the property. Currently, Dummerston artist Nancy Burgess' painted relief sculptures are on show in the parlor.

Four Columns has been lucky to work with gallerist Diane Birdsall, whose efforts in creating an evolving art experience have led to the establishment of the Four Columns as an arts destination.

For more information, call 802-365-7713 or visit fourcolumnsvt.com.

Two local projects receive VEDA financing

BRATTLEBORO >> Vermont Distillers, Inc., in Marlboro, and Mullaney Hospitality Group, in Manchester, each received financing to help Vermont commercial, agricultural and renewable energy economic development projects move forward.

Vermont Distillers received $50,000 in financing to help it purchase distillation equipment that will be used to produce an apple brandy using fermented cider from locally-produced apples, and make smaller production runs of other distilled spirits. Operating since 2012, Vermont Distillers, Inc. was founded in 2010 after its owners won $10,000 in the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation's annual business plan competition.

In Manchester, Mullaney Hospitality Group received $1.5 million as partial financing for a $17.7 million hotel construction project. Mullaney is constructing a new 97-room, 62,000-square-foot Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel on 2.63 acres on Main Street. Mullaney also received partial funding from Mascoma Savings Bank. The first national chain hotel approved for in-town construction by the town of Manchester, the Hampton Inn & Suites is expected to create 26 new jobs within three years of construction.

"VEDA is pleased to offer financing assistance that will help businesses expand, enhance recreational and tourism offerings in our state, and support Vermont agriculture," said VEDA CEO Jo Bradley. "Renewable energy generation projects will also come to fruition with VEDA's help."