Path to a national record
This week Rutland, Vt., will attempt to do the impossible (again). The people of this city have made a habit of defying the odds, tackling enormous challenges and home-growing new initiatives to build a better, stronger community. This coming Tuesday, upwards of 2,000 Rutlanders and area friends will meet within the city limits, roll up their sleeves, and give enough blood to save the lives of up to 6,000 people — renewing life for family members, neighbors and a world of people beyond Rutland’s borders.
If this Tuesday’s Gift-of-Life Marathon collects 1,969 pints of blood in the process, Rutland will surpass the best that Chicago, L.A., New York, Boston and Manchester, N.H., can do in one-day donations. It’s amazing, yet not surprising, that Rutland’s unique capacity to reach further and to give is what may land the city in the national record books.
What gets done this Tuesday means so much to the local community, but it also has major lasting impact far beyond Rutland’s borders, for people in small towns and hard-hit cities who want to believe that they too can rally and renew their communities and are looking for both inspiration and true-grit models to follow. But don’t just take anyone’s word for it, take it from a bona-fide outsider.
I will be driving the five hours from Brooklyn to Rutland early this Dec. 18 for the same reason I journeyed to the Gift-of-Life Marathon three years ago with a film crew: I seek hope, and I find it in Rutland. In 2009, with the nation’s economy and landscape at their most bleak, Rutland announced it would attempt to give an astounding 1,000 pints of blood to kick-start an infusion of new life and possibilities for others. Our cameras captured Rutlanders in action at the 2009 GOLM. We met hundreds of people and made new friends. On that day, we learned about community groups and local initiatives that were actively working to lead change and revitalize the Rutland area year round. Where there was darkness nationally, Rutland offered light.
It may sound bizarre to some, yet there are now hundreds of towns and countless people looking to Rutland, hoping to spark some of the same spirit, rebuilding and innovation in their own communities. There’s no sugar-coating Rutland’s story, and our film doesn’t shy away from the city’s problems and challenges. Yet the fact that Rutland is so fiercely real is the very reason why towns in Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and Ohio identify with it so strongly. It’s what makes Rutland’s work-in-progress so compelling, accessible and, yes, transformational.
There’s a powerful shift under way: What gets done in Rutland now resonates elsewhere. The Gift-of-Life Marathon no longer focuses on an “unthinkable 1,000-pint goal,” and as Rutland attempts a daunting 1,969 count this year, it will, more unshakeably than ever, let small towns and cities know they can matter.
How does Rutland get to 1,969? My plan is to take the New York Thruway, that’s where it begins for me. I know Steve Costello and his team have probably worked out a range of logistical paths to a safe and healthy victory for Dec. 18. I also know that to get within reach of the national record — with only a few days (hours!) to spare — you’ve got to go to the phones today. If at all possible, you should call 1-800-RED-CROSS to make an appointment to donate at Tuesday’s GOLM.
New York City
The writer is the director of
“The Blood in this Town.”