• I Heart Rutland: Residents of Rutland hold the key
    By Korrine Rodrigue
    Commentary | October 02,2013
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    Korrine Rodrigue
    I moved to Rutland more than eight years ago from Miami, Fla. My friends and colleagues in Miami often ask me “Is it true that in Vermont there are beautiful farms, covered bridges, ski mountains, and colorful leaves in the fall? Is it really like what they show in movies like Baby Boom?” My response is and always has been “Yes, it’s all true. Vermont is truly the most beautiful state and whoever lives there is lucky.”

    I moved to the land of runners, yogis, charming inns, maple syrup, dairy farms, and Ben & Jerry’s. We are healthier, fitter, leaner, more peaceful and happier than people in most other states. We have a great sense of community that is often not felt in places like Miami, NYC and Los Angeles.

    Yes, Vermont is great but in the last few years our community has been plagued with the ill effects of substance abuse. We have all seen it firsthand, whether we have had our house or car broken into, our car stolen, or our business vandalized.

    I became involved in our community just over one year ago due to the tragic death of Carly Ferro. I felt as a researcher who focuses on substance abuse, I personally could not watch our community become even more susceptible to drugs than it already was. I could not witness another tragedy that truly could have happened to any one of us or any of our kids.

    So for the past 13 months, I have been working closely with our police chief, Jim Baker, on a strategic plan for Rutland. My focus on a daily basis has been: How we can fix this? How can we make all Vermonters healthy physically and mentally? How can we make our community less susceptible to drugs and reduce the overall demand for drugs?

    We all know the reality here: The cops arrest the dealers but we have a huge demand so other dealers move right in.

    I know that the problems in this community will not be solved by the police department, the hospital, social service providers or other entities on their own. There is not one entity that owns this problem. This is our problem; we all own it.

    Every single day I make a point to drive around the streets of Rutland and take a close look at what is going on. There are people in our community who are truly struggling and need help. To be honest, at times it is a bit overwhelming. But I know we can fix it and now is the time.

    I often wonder: Are we contributing to the problems with our politics, our beliefs, and our attitudes? As people are we complicating things here in Vermont? As a community can we think outside the box and take risks and chances on things that we may have not supported or wanted to do in the past?

    Can we put aside labeling, judgment, personal gain and recognition, and political agendas to do what is right for the people in Vermont? As a community can we do a critical assessment of what is not working?

    Can we stand up together and say “this is not working” and why? Can we say, “I think we need to implement something different because it just may improve things”? Can we work as a unified Rutland community team to each do our own part?

    We cannot blame people, we cannot point fingers, we cannot constantly be negative, we cannot pass judgment, and we cannot focus on what has not been done. We cannot just hope that these people leave and become someone else’s problem. This is not what Vermonters do. This is not our nature.

    At the end of the day, we have all had different opportunities and maybe more support in our lives than others. We have so many great people in Rutland who are so committed to helping people and improving our community. Every person in this community has something they can offer. We all have different skill sets and strengths.

    What can you offer a child in need, a single mother in need, a struggling family, someone who has just lost a job, or someone who is struggling with addiction? It is not always a monetary contribution that matters or makes the difference. Sometimes people just need to know that people care, that the community cares.

    Korrine Rodrigue is a senior research associate at the University of Miami - Miller School of Medicine.
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