We are pleased and honored to be bestowing the following awards during the 2022 Freedom Fund Dinner. Each will be accompanied by a unique and custom-made award plaque by the Rutland Mint.
LIfetime Achievement Award
Dr. Lydia Clemmons
Dr. Lydia Clemmons is a medical anthropologist with a 35-year career designing and leading public health, education, and community development programs in the US and more than 20 African countries. She is internationally recognized for her innovative work integrating arts and culture into social and behavior change programs.
Lydia began her international work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Democratic Republic of Congo. She then worked for numerous global and national foundations and nonprofit organizations. Lydia grew up playing music, writing short stories, driving tractors and taking care of the livestock on her family’s farm in Charlotte, Vermont. She returned to Vermont in 2013 to help her parents preserve the farm- one of just 0.4% of all farms in the US that are African-American owned- for future generations. As the co-founder and President of Clemmons Family Farm, she provides leadership for the Clemmons farm’s transition into a vibrant nonprofit organization, and oversees its arts, culture and agriculture programming. The organization has a state-wide network of more than 200 Vermont artists of the African diaspora.
She has a PhD in Anthropology from University of Pennsylvania, a Master in Public Health from University of Michigan and a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University.
Senator Patrick Leahy
Patrick Leahy was elected to the United States Senate in 1974 and remains the only Democrat elected to this office from Vermont. At 34, he was the youngest U.S. Senator ever to be elected from the Green Mountain State. He is an outspoken advocate for civil rights, constantly fighting to ensure that no person is discriminated against because of their race, religion, economic status, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Senator Leahy has long championed legislation to protect the right to vote, to expand federal protections to all Americans regardless of who they love, and to enact commonsense reforms to criminal justice and sentencing laws that unfairly impact some Americans.
Following the Supreme Court’s harmful decision in Shelby Counter v. Holderthat gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Senator Leahy responded by holding two hearings on the need to fully restore this critical piece of legislation. Additionally, he introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act, which if enacted would have restored some of the most critical protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Criminal Justice Award
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Homegrown Vermont ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, has long supported a variety of social and environmental causes. In 1985 Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. undertook a public stock offering to support its ongoing growth. The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation was created at the same time, with an initial gift from Ben of 50,000 shares and an unprecedented decision by the company’s Board of Directors to commit 7.5% of the company’s annual pretax profits to philanthropy. This foundation continues to support projects and organizations in Vermont and nationwide. The company has also been very visible in its support of racial equity and criminal justice reform, including vocal support of the Black Lives Matter movement and recognizing climate change as a racial justice issue.
Community Service Award
Bennington: Mary Gerisch
Currently living in Bennington, Vermont, Mary volunteers for many service organizations including the Bi-State organization Rights and Democracy Institute, where she is a past Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, was a founding advisor, and the leadership council. She is also a past president of the Vermont Workers Center, and was active in the Bennington Organizing Committee which supports the Put People First Campaign, the Healthcare is a Human Right Campaign, and the Put Patients First at the Vermont Veterans Home Campaign. Mary also is a former Chair and current Secretary of the Town of Bennington Democratic Party, and Vice-Chair of the Bennington County Democratic Committee.
Rutland: Lisa Ryan
Lisa is the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS). Prior to VLGS, she was the Director of Domestic Violence Response Systems at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Lisa’s passion for connecting with others and building strong relationships is complemented by her multiple leadership roles within her community. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Vermont Council on Rural Development. She served on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen from 2017-2021 and is a founding member and the former First Vice President of the Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP. Lisa also served on the Vermont Commission on Women from 2019-2022. She holds a Master of Science in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies from Champlain College and a Bachelor of Art in Psychology from Temple University. Lisa is a mediator, facilitator, restorative justice practitioner and trainer; and social and racial justice activist. In her free time, Lisa enjoys traveling, sports, and spending time with her family and pets.
Middlebury: François Clemmons
Maestro Clemmons was born on April 23, 1945 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. When it was discovered that he had a singing voice of purity and power, he began performing locally at church functions. In 1968, Dr. Clemmons won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From there he performed in many prestigious opera companies and productions and with several orchestras. In 1976 he received a GRAMMY award (Best Opera Recording) as part of the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus’ recording of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. For 25 years, Dr. Clemmons performed the role (which he created) of Officer Clemmons, a friendly neighborhood policeman, in the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” on the Peabody award winning children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. From 1997 until his retirement in 2013, Maestro Clemmons was the Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence and director of the Martin Luther King Spiritual Choir at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, where he now serves as the Emeritus Artist in Residence. In his time at Middlebury, François has mentored hundreds of students, who he thinks of as his “cosmic children.”
Youth in action award
Addie Lentzner (she/her) is a first year student at Middlebury College. She is the founder of the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, the End Homelessness Vermont Coalition, and Connecting Classrooms. She has worked extensively on issues of racism, education, and poverty in the community, and is really passionate about social justice.
Kayon was born and raised in Jamaica and currently resides in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. Kayon Attends Castleton University. She is a current college junior that majors in Political Science with minors in Statistics and Marketing. Current President of the NAACP Chapter at Castleton University. Kayon is a student ambassador and a tour guide for admissions at Castleton. She is also a McNair scholar, tennis player, peer mentor for college steps, community advisor for residence life, and acting secretary of the New England Area Compliance youth and college division. Kayon hopes to receive a JD/PHD and do research surrounding policy reform. Kayon’s hope is to become a senator one day.
Executive Leadership Award
One of the founding members of the Rutland Area NAACP, Caitlin Gildrien has served on the executive committee for six years, first as Third Vice President, and then as First Vice President, as well as serving as media committee chair. Raised in California, she has lived in Vermont nearly 20 years. She studied graphic design, world religions, and literature but ended up with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Agriculture. She ran an organic vegetable farm with her husband for 10 years, and now works as an interactive designer in online K-12 education. A poet as well, she spends her free time writing, losing battles with weeds in the garden, and updating the Rutland Area NAACP website.