WEST DOVER -- Recent University of Vermont graduate Marissa Edwards was honored this spring by an award that reflects her dedication to becoming an exceptional female leader.
"I was pretty nervous to have to stand up in front of people and speak but it was a great honor to be recognized for my work," said Edwards, a resident of West Dover. "I was very excited and a bit surprised at first."
Edwards gave her acceptance speech on May 9 at the Vermont Women's Fund Annual Celebration of Vermont Women at the Sunset Ballroom in South Burlington. Her nomination came from Naomi Galimidi, annual fund manager of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.
Edwards was one of three winners of the Holly D. Miller Award, which is an annual award named after a former Vermont Women's Fund council member. The award itself is an engraved picture frame.
It goes to women who exemplify trails of "a community leader, philanthropist and great believer in the ability of individuals to grow and change," a press release stated. The award ceremony highlights the nominees and programs they were involved in.
Edwards was awarded for her extensive work in the seven week, all female Vermont Youth Conservation Corps summer program to develop self confidence and leadership qualities. The VYCC program was funded by the Vermont Women's Fund.
The program began in June and she was placed on the Women's Park Restoration Crew, which worked in the Groton State Forest.
"The work was physically difficult. We were moving huge rocks and we were active all day from sunrise to sunset," said Edwards in her acceptance speech. "The first week was really the hardest as my body and muscles had to adjust to the work, but it became easier as time went on. I had been expecting this physical challenge, but I was not expecting the mental challenge it also presented."
Each member of the crew took turns being crew leader, which was an experience that she said changed her.
"Taking my turn in this position helped me change from the person who would wait for someone else to give me instructions to someone who was much more proactive and I became skilled at assigning tasks and ensuring those tasks were completed on time," said Edwards in her speech. "Before my experience as a crew member with VYCC, I know I was holding myself back with my lack of confidence. Now, I sometimes look back and wonder, ‘How many opportunities before VYCC did I let slip away because I didn't think I'd be good enough."
She told the Reformer that the summer program was a lot of hard work but it was rewarding.
"We were up really early in the morning, basically moving really big boulders," said Edwards. "It was really fun being with the crew the whole time and camping out. It was really beautiful."
Another difficulty besides the physically demanding aspects had been the length of the program.
"The mental part of it was that it was really long days for seven weeks," Edwards said. "It can be a really long time when you're out in the woods like that."
This summer, Edwards plans on attending another VYCC summer program. She knows she will be part of a Roving Crew, which will be improving trails. However, she does not know where her crew will be located for the program.
Edwards graduated from UVM in May with a major in biology. She plans to hold a 10-month Americorps position in October after completing another VYCC summer program.
Edwards told the Reformer that she wanted to thank everyone at VYCC and the Vermont Women's Fund for making it all possible.
The Vermont Community Foundation funds the grants for the Vermont Women's Fund and other organizations that are involved in similar ventures.
"It does grant making to support work that helps to support empowering women and girls and to help them make choices so that they are successful in life," said Jen Peterson, vice president for community grantmaking for the Vermont Community Foundation. "(We help fund organizations that) put on programs for skill building, education or career training like the VYCC summer series that sort of help girls expand their horizons and see that they have a whole host of options available to them."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.