As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, Vicky Smith had a video call with Roxane Leopold, former Executive Director, and Rick Davis, former Board Chair. Please enjoy the unedited (forgive misspellings) transcript of this call:
Rick: Hey, by the way, Roxane and I, there’s a name for the two of us. Partners in crime.
Roxane: We were a dynamic duo.
How did you first hear about King Street Center and what made you really choose to get involved? What made you choose to take a chance on King Street Center?
Roxane: Well Rick, that’s you, honey, you predate me.
Rick: Okay, well okay. And then Roxane or I can tell you how she got involved, but I’ll let her do it. I was a real estate developer at the time and we were restoring a block of historic buildings on Battery Street, which is between Main Street and King Street. And we stored all our tools in one particular building. I came to work seven o’clock one morning and the door was sprung open and all our tools were gone. I called the police and told them, filed that. And just a few hours later, they called me back and they said, “We got your tools.” I said, “What? Already?” And some King Street kids were selling the tools on Church Street. And so they said, “Do you want to press charges?” “Well let me speak to the kids and their parents first.” So I had a chance to do that. And for me, it was an eyeopener. It was the moment that changed my life and reflection, you know a little bit about what I’m doing now and Permanent Fund and Let’s Grow Kids and all that. It’s all thanks to that and thanks to King Street and thanks to Roxane. But what happened was I learned a little bit about poverty and what the challenges these families and these kids were facing. Long story short, we hired a bunch of them to work on our job site and we had these great guys working for us that took them under their wings. Some of them went on to stay in the profession. And then a guy named Harry Atkinson who was on the board of King Street and knew me and he said, “Rick, I heard about this and maybe you ought to think about joining the King Street board.” And so I went up there and I did, but it was a time when the board was in disarray. I don’t think there was a board chair. The executive director had quit.
Rick: They were about to lose their whole budget, I think was $60,000 and it was almost 100% United Way funding. And I remember this distinctly, the volunteer was Buddy Coffrin and worked at the Merchants Bank for United Way and he had made his visit to King Street and they were about to cut out the funding, which would’ve been the end of King Street. And so I went in there and to his office and pleaded with him to give us just a little bit more time to see if we could pull some things together and put in a new application. And so we had to hire… Oh so then within a week I was the board chair because that was almost by default. And so we had to hire an executive director. So we did a quick search and this is serendipity, but Roxane applied for the job. And so that was the biggest event that happened at King Street. And so I’ll let her take it from there.
Roxane:Well as noted in my notes, I had been to King Street a year or two before when the teacher at the kids’ schoolhouse, Nari Penson said, “You have to go to this King Street place and see a Martin Luther King film.” I thought I would be a good mom, so I took the kids. We sat on the floor, [inaudible] I think was the name of the teacher at the time. It was dark, it was not a gorgeous place at all, but I sat on the floor, watched the movie, and that was it. Then unsuccessfully, I looked for about a year to find part-time work when the kids would be in school, no luck at all. Somehow or other, I must have seen this ad or Jonathan told me about the ad. And I thought, “Oh boy, they’re looking part-time, executive director.”
Roxane: So I applied and I just was not in a great mood the day of the interview and Johnathan said, “Oh, just go down the hill and see what happens.” So I did, and I met Rick and I remember that interview. I had to do role playing as if some near do well teenagers were going to beat me up and I had to respond and somehow I had to save myself. Apparently I did. But I remember Rick saying, “Listen, we need money. Could you raise $25,000 for King Street?” I said, “I couldn’t raise 5 cents for King Street the way it looks now.” Holes in the wall and dingy and dark. Anyway, somehow or other, I left there feeling so really excited. And I ran to city hall, two blocks away. I said, “Jonathan, I want this job.” He said, “Okay, then you need to call Susan Roche. You need to lobby.”
Roxane: Imagine this, lobby the board, tell them you’re interested and so on. So I’m not even sure which calls I made. Maybe Don Ladue. I have no idea. But at any rate I was hired. I think I was the only applicant. So never mind. But it was fabulous. So that was November of 1985. That’s how I got started. And then I remember one of the first things we did was we called up Harry Atkinson who saved everything. We said, “This brown building with a psychedelic flower on it has got to go. This is not gorgeous.” He had green paint, gallons of it. So we painted the building that for first year and oh we had the help of Brian Pine and Michael Monte and those guys early on. So that was the start.
Rick: By the way, Roxane did a… I was there, there was a one staff member we had wanted to do the role playing thing to see if Roxane was up to the job. And it even scared the heck out of me. I’m sitting there, but she handled it beautifully and I think she may have been the only applicant, but even if there had been a dozen, she would’ve gotten the job. She was who she is.
Vicky: So is there a particular person, moment, or memory that stands out to you? I’ll start with you Rick first, maybe you’ve captured some of that.
Rick: There are. Let’s see, there are a couple of them, and one I’ll say, and Roxane’s heard this story. I was over there in the old building and looking out the back window and there were low income housing backed up with their backyards altogether there. And there was a little girl in the backyard and she was trying to wash her hair in the mud puddle with a box of tide. And so that was such a visual. And so wow. And so a couple of the staff members, probably Roxane, but went down and put their arms around her and brought her into King Street and heard the story. Her mom wasn’t home. There was no food in the refrigerator. She was taking care of her… She had been to school and I think it had been the first day or so of school.
Rick: She, I think was about six years old, first grade or so. And the kids had all said at school, “You smell, you stink, what’s wrong with you?” And because she hadn’t had a bath in forever. And so she was trying to do something about that and the only thing she could think of is to try to wash her hair. And so the King Street wrapped her arms around her, heard her story and I can’t remember the rest, but probably made sure she had the care that she needed and should have. That was for me the most poignant thing and just brought home how critical our mission is. I’ll tell you one other.
Roxane: She was by the way on the cover of our capital campaign brochure, Rick. That little story. That little girl.
Rick: Oh, no kidding. So that story, by the way, I went out, I was asked to be a speaker for United Way that year. And I told that story every single where I went. Because that story resonated so much, they made me speaker of the year and I got to tell it in front of 600 people in the Radisson Hotel. But the beauty was it put the spotlight on King Street and the mission, which is what I loved about it. But anyway, the other one for me, I don’t know, Roxane, there was so many and we could go… Oh, I’ve got others. I’ve got so many good ones. Okay, I’ll tell you the one first that really made me start the final straw that made me say, “I’ve got to start the Permanent Fund for Vermont children,” which was 22 years ago.
Rick: And that was dedication of the new building, which was the new building before your last renovation, Vicky, and Roxane and I had… That story I want to tell too, had really led that effort to raise the money for that. And Bobby Miller was instrumental. Oh God, that’s a story too. And I mean, wonderful people like Bobby Miller, such a rare and wonderful person who we had recruited and recruited to be on our board and everything else. But anyway, we were making the dedication. The governor was speaking. It was my turn to speak next as board president. Roxane has probably already spoken. And I looked over at the wall that’s facing… It was in the fall and it was a cold day, the wind blowing off the lake. But there was sunshine down against the wall of the building.
Rick: And there was protected from the breeze. And there were seven young women standing against the wall. Each one of them had a baby in the arms, each one of them. Now that was before iPhones. If I’d had a picture, it was worth 1,000 words. And so I knew these really girls and I knew their families I knew their background I knew the challenges they had faced. I knew. And I went over and I talked to each one of them after this thing. And they all wanted me to hold their babies. They were so proud of their babies. And these babies were the most beautiful little babies with all the potential in the world and I knew that they really didn’t, with very few exceptions, didn’t stand a chance to lead the kind of life we would like them to be able to lead.
Rick: I just knew they had the cards stacked against them. We knew that. And so I said, “We’ve got to change this dynamic for the state of Vermont. It’s crazy. It’s not fair. There’s an equity issue here because of the circumstances to which you were born, but it’s also a major deal for the state of Vermont. We’re losing so much potential.” So that was the Genesis for starting the foundation. And that moment at King Street was what really did it. Of course, leading up to that, all of that leading up to that, thanks largely to Roxane who took me around her first week, she took me to all the low income programs in the Burlington area and what an eye opener it was for me. And so I couldn’t get enough of it at the time. So I attended every single meeting, a task force, who was it, Ruby Payne? Who’s the one who wrote about the culture of poverty?
Rick: But anyway, she came, United Way brought her to Vermont and I went to that retreat and I couldn’t get enough of learning. And thanks to King Street, I became a mentor to a little guy and you know this Vicky. And through him, I got to know his family and his sisters. And I know all his neighbors and cousins and learning about poverty and what the challenge is for these families and these kids. It was such an eye opener for me. And I attribute that all to King Street. And of course, attending the King Street dinners with families and getting to know those families and Roxane, I’m going on too long here, but Roxane, and I know you Vicky have followed up, considered it not just to be a program for kids, but really what she called a settlement house for the whole family in the community, which it was. And so anyways, it was like going to only the very best possible school you could go to learn about these things.
Roxane: That’s wonderful, Rick. That just is absolutely as accurate as I remember it. And we were an unlikely couple, that is for sure. But somehow or other, the synergy was there and we just were, I think effective because we were an unlikely couple. In terms of memories, as Rick has said, there are so many, but I remember in terms of my personal growth, Dottie Highly, Dorothy Highly. She was the one who was a student of mine at CCV. She was a rough character. She was a neighborhood leader. And when I told my class that I had been hired for this job, she said in her smoke filled gravel voice, “You’re never going to make it unless I take you around the neighborhoods. You’re way too fancy, but I’ll tell them you’re decent.”
Roxane: And she did. And we became friends over the years, but she was instrumental really as personal growth, like, “All right, kid.” The other one in that regard was Nancy Zahniser whom I met perhaps a month after I was hired. And I think I mentioned this in my notes. We were at a very fancy party all dressed to the nines. And I don’t know if I was a little insecure or embarrassed, but I said to her, she was the principle of Lawrence Barnes at the time. “Oh my gosh, what if our King Street families or our groups saw us now?” She said, “They should. Don’t you change who you are. You are not a blue jeans kind of girl. If you are not authentic, they’re going to see you right away, be who you are.” So many of you know, that I would dress and wear pearls and heels.
Roxane: And sometimes I had to be who I was and wearing that outfit one day when we had our Sunday night suppers, a guy on the street, somebody you knew Rick, who would panhandle a little bit, was making a little money through [inaudible] to register voters, came in on the Sunday night when we were at maple street and this was a group and he was registering voters and getting paid. And he went to one guy and said, “All right, can I have your vote and where do you live?” Says this guy, “I live in the dumpster on that corner in the summer and I live under that porch in the winter.” And I was just riveted.
Roxane: So after the meal, I walked out with this gentleman and I said, “Please tell me more. I’m just so interested in your story.” And I often said if my mother could have seen me in pearls and heels talking to this vet about living in a dumpster, that would’ve been coming full circle about life. At any rate, he said, “I can’t be confined. I need to make my own decisions. I need to live where I want to live. And this is my choice.” And that was a teaching moment for me. “This is my choice.”
Roxane: And that leads me to all of the partnerships that we all created. Everybody on this Zoom that brought us together with the foundations and the nonprofit agencies and the colleges. And so many of… It was kind of a big hug really. And we were doing it kind of low key I would say. There was nothing too flashy about King Street, but I think we were authentic. And I think people saw that. And then when Rick Davis said, “You know this building on maple street is just too small. We need to grow.” Because Rick was, as you can imagine, a big promoter of growth and change. And I don’t know how the turtle fund came in.
Rick: I want to tell that story.
Roxane: Go. You go.
Rick: May I?
Roxane: Yes, of course.
Rick: Roxane is absolutely right. And of course we could never embark on, on this without her leadership, but the turtle fund was headed up at that time by a guy named Bell Williams. Do you remember him Vic?
Vicky: Oh, he still calls us. Bell and Bella stay in touch.
Rick: Good guy. I like him very much. He had been coming up to Vermont regularly to check out the programs and I got to know him and became friends and took him on a tour of Lake Champlain and da, da, da, da, and had dinners with him and so forth and learned that he was very interested in the stock market. And so we’d talk about the stock market and I learned that like most of those foundations, the turtle fund had to give at least 5% of their corpus every year to give out. And I also learned that in one year, the stock market went way, way, way, way up at the end of the year, way up. And he was in a pickle because he hadn’t spent anywhere near his 5%. And I knew this. So Rox and I had had this discussion. We said, “We need a new building, we need a bigger building. And not only that, we really would like to get back to King Street where we belong.”
Rick: And so we had identified a location, but we had no money. And so we said, “Okay Bell, let’s have a luncheon and we’ll meet you down in Woodstock at the Simon Pierce restaurant for dinner,” and it was snowing and everything. So we went down there and had dinner with Bell and laid it out for him and said, “Bell, we’ve got to have a new building and would you consider a grant of $350,000?” Now understand the largest gift the Turrell Fund had ever made in Vermont was 25,000. And they typically did that Johnny Appleseed grant making throughout the state. And he said, “Whoa. Oh, okay. I’ll think about it.”
Rick: Well then a week or so later, he called me up. He said, “You got it.” I said, “I got what?” “You got the 350,000.” I said, “Oh my gosh,” I called up Roxane. And so then the next step was we needed to find someone who would be the campaign chair, so to speak. And we needed someone also to make the big gift. And so I called up Holly Miller. I said, “Holly, would you be willing to lead this campaign?” Because she was a superstar and she was leading VNA and so forth. And she said, “Well I can’t right now because I’m leading VNA’s campaign, but how about my husband?” I said, “Oh my gosh.” I knew Bobby Miller and what a great guy he was. It never occurred to me that he’d be interested. So Roxane and I had lunch with Bob and Holly and boy didn’t we have a great time.
Rick: A lot of laughs as you can imagine. And Bobby said, “Let me think about it.” And he called the next day, he said, “Rick, I’ll tell you what. I’ll do it as long as you’re there to back me up. And I will make the $100,000 gift for the naming of the building. Now 100,000 was like a million today. You understand that? And so then we embarked with Roxane and Bobby and I embarked on this. We actually had hired a Bill Riterson. And so Bobby and I took a look at what Bill recommended and we said, “We’re going to throw that out the door.” He gave us all the what you should be doing to raise money. And we started with the president of every bank and we went to…
Rick: Oh, the first thing Bobby did was he cornered me on the steps outside the old building. And he said, “Rick, you’ve got to step up.” And I said, “Bobby, I’ve…” He said, “No, you’ve got to do at least 25,000, but if you want, I’ll loan you the money.” So I said, “Okay, that’s a stretch for me at the time.” Honestly, it was. I said okay and so we went around and Bobby, to each bank president, Bobby said, “I’m doing 100, Ricks is doing 25. This is critical for the community. We want you to put in 25.” And each bank said yes. And we kept doing that over and over and over.
Rick: And there are many more our other stories, but we raised so much money in such a short period of time. We went way beyond our goal. And I think our initial goal was 800,000. And at 1.1 or 2 million, we said, “Okay, we’re…” And then so Peg Anderson came on with Roxane and they kept going and raising more and more, leveraging that great start. But to me, I’ve been involved in other campaigns, but that was by far the most fun and the quickest and most successful ever. Thanks to largely Bobby and Roxane.
Roxane: Oh, it was wonderful. I remember hearing about Holly Miller, had not met her. She was a player in town and we met for lunch and frankly I was really nervous. Well, she spilled her soup in her lap and she laughed and I thought, “Okay, no problem. This is a real person.” And then when Bobby agreed and gave that $100,000 gift and I’m sure I cried because it was in the upstairs room on maple street. He said, “Let me take you for a ride.” He had a little red Mercedes and he took me for a ride in his sports car to their home in Shelburne.
Roxane: I’m not quite sure why, but he showed me around his home, including all of Holly’s shoes. So I knew her shoe collection well before I had many conversations and a friendship with her. And that just was a love affair that really continued because of Rick’s overture. Rick knew him from business, but they were a couple, they were essentially just grown up King Street kids as you well know. And I think our story resonated with them and it gave them the proverbial opportunity to give back and boy didn’t they do that. Yes, it was fabulous.
Vicky: So you’ve spoken so much about achievements and contributions, but is there a crystallized achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Roxane: You want to say something Rick?
Rick: Can I let you start?
Roxane: Yes, our affiliation with the King Street neighborhood revitalization corporation, which in those days was using federal money, probably to do some of the work that Rick was doing too, but it was to create affordable housing in that neighborhood, which was designated by HUD as one of the sort of low income and in need of housing and so on. So because we were there and I think we shared board members at one particular time, but the creation of attractive, healthy, clean housing was really important because these families lived in a meager ways. But all part of that was to get rid of the Chicken Bone and the Chic, which were two hideous bars, not far away. And they were havens for bad behavior. Let’s leave it at that. So at any rate, we worked through Jonathan’s help as well and the city to get rid of those bars.
Roxane: I remember the Chic was a biker bar and that was really scary. The Chicken Bone was well known to a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but we were able to really I think change the neighborhood by shifting those businesses into another location. Rick, David Abdu had his own problems. He remains to be a wonderful friend, Rick and I went to court when he appeared in shackles because he had been arrested. And Rick and I I think were willing to provide testimonials to his goodness. He was really a good guy who got caught in a bad situation. But that was a part of being in that community that needed help. And I think we were able to do that. That’s a big one for me. And why don’t you talk about that, Rick, because you were very much a part of all that.
Rick: Yeah, boy, there’s so many. And I think what Roxane’s alluding to, Vicky, is something that you’ve kept going and that is this full community involvement and partnership and collaboration. Being a big, huge asset to that neighborhood, but also to the whole greater Burlington community. And so a couple of things that I’m really proud of to this day and one is the early childhood program. And I remember fighting hard for that and trying to put as much pressure on Roxane as I could.
Roxane: And you did. And it worked.
Rick: I wanted more and more these babies to have this opportunity for high quality and I could see how important it was and what we did at King Street was really high quality. That’s one thing Vicky, you and Roxane have done is you’ve set a very high standard of quality and you were alluding to that earlier. But that was really important. And I’m very proud of that early… And I know that Head Start is heading it up, but it’s based there in King Street. And I fought really hard for that. The other one was our adult to child mentoring program.
Roxane: Oh, for sure.
Rick: That one, that has changed the lives of young children as well as the adults. And look, I told the story and how it changed my life and such an eye opener for so many of these adult mentors said to me, “Wow, I had no idea. Now I understand.” And they become advocates for low income people and kids getting a fair chance. And so that was run by Gabriella and did an amazing job I thought. And it was really the signature mentoring project for the state of Vermont. That’s what it became. And she became a leader. And then when after I started that foundation, we focused initially quite a lot on adult child mentoring throughout the state. And she was right there front and center and helping us get it right.
Vicky: And continues to be.
Rick: Successor to Mobius, which we started. Yeah, so that… By the way, and that relationship I had with.. I had a couple of little guys, but one was this guy, Robert, and I got to know him so well. And he and I stuck together. He was eight years old when I met him and he was in third grade at Lawrence Barnes. And I would go in and read with him once a week. And he didn’t want to read, but I said, “Robert, if you will read with me once a week, and if you’ll go to the stern center,” which I ended up paying for, “Once a week to help with your reading.” Because he couldn’t read a single word in third grade, I said, “I will take you to Disney World.” He said, “What? Disney World?”
Rick: SO he said, “Okay.” And so he read for a whole year and by the way, and he went to the stern center and he was never able to read at full grade level, but he can read and get by and thanks to that. And yes, we did go to Disney World.
Roxane: I forgot about that.
Rick: And so I used to advocate for him. And one time I was out in sun valley and I got a call and it is his special ed teacher who I knew because I used to go in and advocate for him in all of those classes and for his IEPs. And I try to get his parents to come, but they’re scared to death of the school system if you know what I mean. You know that trust issue we have. And so I got a call from his special ed teacher saying Robert’s been kicked out of the auto body program, which is something I had really advocated for strongly because he never would’ve graduated without that tech school background. And I said, “Oh no, he’s got to have that.” So when I got back, I said, “Well tell Robert’s teacher that I’ll be back in a few days and I’ll come in and see him and tell Robert, I want to have a meeting with him.”
Rick: And she told Robert and he said, “What you called Rick?” And he said, “Oh,” it completely changed his tune. He’s got his act together. He got back in the program, he graduated from high school. Lynn and I were just invited to his wedding, which we went to. And he’s got a great job working at UVM medical center in maintenance and they’ve got a wonderful little boy and it’s such a great story. So anyway, that’s thanks to the adult child mentoring program at King Street.
Roxane: A couple of things I want to mention, first of all, we should really say how we got Miss Vicky.
Rick: How did we? Remind me.
Roxane: Oh Yeah, Miss Vicky. Well let’s see. King Street was associated with Adelphi Vermont. And Joanne Gumpert was a professor and somehow or other, there was another one of her students or something was there. I can’t remember who that was, Vicky. But at any rate when Diane Monaco left, remember Diane Monaco? She worked with us for a while. She left, she was a social worker and she needed more money. And Joanne said, “I don’t know, I have this student. I think she was working for the state. Let me just see if she would be available.” So Vicky, you can chime in there because she called you and then the rest is history.
Vicky: She did. Joanne and I did not have a love affair. She was my advisor in graduate school. And I was really about the lone ranger who was not interested in clinical work at all. So that’s the one thing Joanne and I had in common was community based social work. We felt like that’s where the field should be not in therapy. So we did agree about that, but we really butted heads quite a bit for that year, but she really gave me the greatest gift of my adult life aside from family and children. And that was bringing King Street into my life and rocks. You Rox, may remember, I always defined my life transitions based on hearings I was watching after grad school and I was getting ready to join the state. I was watching the Clarence Thomas hearings on TV, nonstop. That moved on.
Vicky: And then during a time where I had left the state and was deciding on next steps, I was in the midst of the Iran Contra hearings, and I was addicted to watching those on TV. So I always felt like there was something interesting to happen as I was watching hearings. And you called me out of the blue, pure serendipity and said, “Joanne Gumpert is on our board. I’d like to talk with you about King Street Center.” And I had a little bit of knowledge with King Street Center because when I worked for SRS, now known as DCF, I remember you would pull up in the van and pick up kids on my caseload at Lawrence Barnes Elementary School. So I thought, “Well it’s worth a chat.” And I think like you, it, I had that sense of excitement, that sense of open window and opportunity to really apply my trade, perhaps, which was really about a deep love of community work.
Vicky: And the first board meeting I ever went to was when you and Rick announced the large turtle gift. And so I thought, “Wow, this is really the time to dig in.” That was very exciting. That was in the fall probably of 1992, that that gift was announced. So we had many adventures. I was only in the old building for a year and then we transitioned to the new 87 King Street. But it was a whirlwind and exciting year to be digging in with King Street Center at the time that was the King Street youth center.
Roxane: The interview was about a minute long. The other really important person over the years was Michael Carrera from New York who, gosh, became associated with us. His whole premise, which became the teen futures program was a tremendous boost I think to King Street, but I’ll remember he had a book and whenever he would be discouraged about the work he was doing with kids in the projects in New York, he said, “Keep it up. You never know when the magic will hit.” And I’ve never forgotten that because this is… Our work, our collective work requires the patience and tenacity and determination and adjustment to disappointments and excitement about accomplishments. But it’s work. It’s our life’s work. Yeah, he was fun.
Vicky: He really, in an essence, for me defined what prevention was all about, which was really keeping kids busy, as he said, above the bell. But it really pushed King Street Center to be the first organization, and I would say in the state of Vermont, that decided to start programs for teens during the three to six timeframe, rather than waiting until all the younger kids cleared out and then the teens could come in the evening. And we were the first to do that.
Vicky: We were the first to say, “We might even have smaller numbers of elementary school age kids here so that we could also have teens here at the same time.” And it was really so necessary and what a great foundation when we started welcoming newcomers to King Street Center who had very large sibling groups and their parents were so grateful that all of the children could be here at the same time and have the siblings support each other. But we were the first to really welcome teens during those critical, after school hours. We still had them here at night too, but we had a much fuller slate of programming for them. And Michael was really instrumental in shining a light on that for us.
Rick: That’s a really good point, Vicky. It reminds me of back in those days, I don’t think it’s so true now, but the teen pregnancy was a real issue for that population. And I think you definitely have kept this going, but Roxane, as I mentioned, considered King Street to be the equivalent of a settlement house. Roxane and I had these conversations all the time. You got to know these families and these really challenging environments in which they lived. And you say, “Well that baby is growing up in that? It doesn’t have a chance. What can we do? Maybe we should be focusing on the parents, on the moms.” And then we said, “No, we’ve got to also focus on the babies.” And then Roxane would say, “It’s both, it’s not the chicken or the egg. It’s both.”
Rick: And so that was the whole mantra of King Street is not just the child, but the parents too. They’re so critical to this whole thing. And that reminds me, so after starting the permanent fund, one of the things we were doing is going around visiting all of the prisons in Vermont and we were focused in on children of incarcerated parents. So we’re meeting with inmates who had children, and we did every single, both men’s prisons and the women’s and just getting to really know what was going on. And one thing we found is that these parents, the one secret weapon we had was a genuine love of their children. They really cared. They wanted the best for their kids, even though they were unable to provide it. And so we talked to these inmates and then this one women’s prison, we went in there and you’ve got to go through all this protocol and go through all this security and everything.
Rick: And we get in there and there were about a dozen women assembled. And they were all eager to talk to us and they all had children and some of them were incredibly smart and articulate. And this woman, and my whole board was with me, there were about eight of us that were all in there, and this woman pipes up, “Hey, Mr. Davis.” I said, “Oh, hi.” She said, “I know you.” I said, “You do? “Yeah, I’m so and so from King Street.” And so I remembered her and she went on to tell us the mistake she had made. She said though how important King Street was to her and that she wanted the very best for her little daughter and she couldn’t wait to get out so she could start over and take care of that child. But Roxane used to say, we don’t bat 100% on everything. A few slipped through the cracks, but she still had huge potential, this young woman. That was an eye opener for me.
Roxane: That is a fun story. That is a fun one.
Vicky: Before I forget this, I wanted to add a layer to, Rick, your earlier story about partnerships and early education. And you really were the linchpin for our beloved, beloved longtime partnership with Shelburne Farms. That really was a result of your push for Friday programming and when we thought, “What are we going to do Fridays?” You had an idea and it really blossomed into this great love affair and benefit with Shelburne Farms and also how it really strengthened their own direction, their own lens of early education for not just King Street, but again, the broader community.
Rick: Well that reminds me of my mother. Shelburne Farms named their early childhood program after my mother. Because she volunteered down there for many, many years and got them started on the early literacy. And so I knew Alec really well. He’s a good friend. And so I helped a little bit, but yeah, that’s a really good program. By the way, speaking of my mother, remember Roxane, Vicky, I don’t know if you were there then, but who is the country western guy.
Rick: The Ramblers. But anyway, he came up with this crazy idea. We’re trying to raise money obviously and one ..No, the rocking chair. And you tried to rock forever and whoever rocked the longest wins and you’re raising money while you’re rocking. And anyway, it was a crazy one. My mother rocked for something like 36 hours and she still didn’t win, but she raised a bunch of money. And another one that somebody came up with was the longest mile. Remember this one? And so that was a race up-
Roxane: College Street.
Rick: On the very base at the waterfront all the way to the very top. And you could either walk or push a stroller or run. And some of these runners took it very seriously to see who would win. And we’re all trying to raise money. But I remember my mother, she walked, she was probably 75 years old and she was determined to walk and she had raised a bunch of money from her friends and she ran into Mimi Rearden, Dr. Rearden, who was her doctor. And she said, “Putty, I’m not sure you should be doing this. Here you are…” She’s walking up there. And anyway, it’s all about that volunteer effort that you guys set the culture for. It has been critical from day and I’m sure it still continues Vicky. I imagine it does.
Roxane: I wanted to add, because one of the questions I think was accomplishments. And I would say bringing in the refugee families. You have another word for it Vicky, newcomers. There was a time, as I mentioned, when King Street was very reluctant when the group of families from Somalia came and the community really was ill-prepared I would say. We went to several meetings to try to describe the situation and what they needed and so on and so on. And I remember, I think we had a staff retreat at Gabe’s summer house and there was talk of it. And I felt very strongly that this was our obligation to do our best to bring in as many children as we could. And of course the rest is history because those little donkeys now are graduating high school and I see their faces and they’re getting scholarships. Oh my, that to me is… What we did, we, collective we, for those families is really, I think, very meaningful.
Vicky: One of those early arrivals and then early recipients of the Roxane Leopold Scholarship Fund is off to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall to get her MSW and she’s sitting on the search committee for my successor. So that’s a something, something.
Roxane: That’s a something, something.
Roxane: And then of course the other thing we did collectively was, oh my gosh, hundreds of student interns. It’s got to be 2, 3, 400 from all of the colleges. And it started out really we were desperate for help in those days, remember Vicky? Anyone that walked through the door, we said, “Oh, good. Come.” So you start with three or five and then it became a fertile training ground for all of these young professionals, many of whom I think went on to mentor and I read your newsletters and their involvement continuous, but it it’s a life altering place. Whether you walk in the door believing that, there’s some funny things. We’ve had some funny events like the kids who would pull the fire thing in the building, we had three, four, or five fire truck incidents over the years, because it was tempting to pull that little thing down. Oh my gosh. It’s fabulous.
Vicky: I think you’ve both spoken about this, but we’d like to hear maybe a little bit more the impact King Street had on your life or how it has changed you. You’ve both really spoken about that, and maybe there’s something else you’d rather reflect on and share with us.
Rick: It changed my life. I had grown up in a probably upper middle class family. My parents were philanthropic and very involved in the community. But when I got out of the Navy and came back and started real estate development, my main thing was to try to be successful in my business. I loved outdoor activities and sports, and of course I was still chasing women and those were my main focuses.
Rick: I wasn’t thinking anything about poverty or families in poverty or kids in poverty. And so that really did change my life, and I’ve never looked back. And I also mentioned that it’s because of King Street and that experience that I started the Permanent Fund for the Wellbeing of Vermont children which has led to now Let’s Grow Kids. Vicky, you know that Let’s Grow Kids has led the effort for act 171 that just passed and the governor just signed it the other day and there’s going to be a big press event. This is leading the way to high quality affordable childcare for all Vermont children and one of the reasons we’re going to be so successful is because of the economy. The company has shined a picture on the critical nature of childcare for the economy.
Rick: And so that’s helping drive it, but the that’s not the reason we started. We started for the equity reason to create a level playing field for all children and that’s where the quality piece comes in. And we’re going to have that quality piece as a part of that. And so we’ve passed that, thanks to that background at King Street, and we are going to be successful. We’ll be the first state in the nation to have this I assure you, and a number of years ago, we passed act 166 which was universal pre-K for all three and four year olds, the first state in the nation to have it for four and three year olds. And again, so that’s a legacy. That’s a King Street success story. Never would’ve happened without King Street, without the guidance of Roxane, and without those aha moments for me. So I’ve got to end on that, I’m still fully committed and involved with that. And every time I see kids with their moms or their dads, I just can’t help it just warms my heart and I just want the very best for them because I know the potential.
Vicky: Lucky King Street, lucky Vermont.
Rick: I miss you, Roxane. I hope I see you soon.
Roxane: Oh honey I know, and you’re a grandpa, aren’t you?
Rick: Oh we’ve got three and one any day now there’s going to be a fourth.
Vicky: Oh wow, congratulations Rick.
Rick: Thank you. They call me Pops.