Pumping it up: Rutland’s pride runs in the blood(drive)

December 11, 2013 Circles of CommunityColumnsCommunityHealth Tagged: blood donationGift of Life MarathonGOLMRed CrossRutland VermontSteve CostelloTerry Jaye no comments


OK, let’s start with the confession: I have never given blood. Until I was in my mid-20s, I was under the weight limit, and then for more years than legitimate, I had the excuse that I had recently been in England, tromping through fields with all those mad cows.

But the truth is, I was scared. In high school biology when we were learning about blood type, I took an inordinately long time summoning the courage to prick my finger. I finally managed to do it after peer pressure — the silent kind that kicks in when you’re the only one not following suit — suggested I was being a baby for not causing myself physical harm.

But I haven’t had an excuse — other than fear — for years now. And again, 25 years later, peer pressure is working its magic. That and the possibility of winning a national record.

On Dec. 17 — this coming Tuesday — can Rutland donate the most pints of life-giving blood collected in one day anywhere in the country? It could happen. It has before — twice.

“Why isn’t the record held by New York or Atlanta or Los Angeles? Why is a community this small holding two of the top three spots of all-time in the record books? I think it says a lot about this community,” says Steve Costello, vice president of generation and innovation at Green Mountain Power and co-organizer of this year’s Gift-of-Life Marathon.

In its 11th and final year, the GOLM has a goal of 1,969 pints of blood. That’s a far cry from the 360 pints collected the first year, which, according to Costello, was considered a big drive back then.

When the Red Cross asked Costello — who was, at the time, director of public affairs at Central Vermont Public Service — to organize an employee drive, he took it a step further and made it a public drive. He recruited WJJR’s Terry Jaye to partner with CVPS, and from those humble beginnings, something amazing grew.

“Within a few years, Rutland was breaking state and regional records,” says Costello. “Right now we have the second and third spots for largest drives all-time nationally. If we break the record, we will have held three of the four largest in the country.”

And this year it has been cranked up even further with five donation sites and the commitment of Castleton State College as an additional sponsor along with GMP and WJJR.

Castleton President David Wolk explains the college has been participating in the Rutland GOLM since the beginning, but he says, “this one is different because we are making an all-college effort to advertise and market this important community endeavor to our college students, staff and community members.”

Wolk states that the college’s commitment to civic engagement, the growing connection of Castleton to the Rutland region and its recent investments in Rutland, spearheaded his greater involvement this year. But he says, “we also want to be leaders in this historic effort to break the record once and for all.”

This event is about more than breaking records. This is about Rutland, its self-respect and, as Costello put it, “the quality of people and organizations here.”

“The blood is the focus and the reason we do the GOLM,” Costello says. “But I think pretty quickly the event became a metaphor for the city itself — a symbol of the good in Rutland that, too often, was going unnoticed.

He continues: “This all started at a time when Rutland was really struggling with self-doubt, the population was dropping fast and much of downtown was empty. There didn’t seem like there was a lot of optimism at the time, but people quickly rallied around the blood drive, and I think now it is an annual reminder that if people pull together, we can do just about anything we set our minds to doing. The GOLM has become a rallying point for a lot of people and a significant point of pride in Rutland.”

Wolk agrees: “Rutland suffers from an undeserved self-image regarding our quality of life. The truth is that we are first-class citizens in Rutland. Winning the record would give Rutland the sense of pride and fulfillment that it richly deserves.”

“I am a Rutland native,” says Wolk. “So is my 94-year-old father, who loves this community as I do.  We are Rutlanders through and through. To have some small part in helping to put Rutland on the map is as good as it gets.”

“This record would be a proclamation that Rutland is back,” says Costello.

And for those “babies” like me, who are still resistant to the idea of donating blood, Costello has some words of encouragement as well as a highly-justified guilt trip: “Donating blood is simple. It’s virtually painless, takes just a few minutes and you leave feeling great. And if we come up one pint short and you’re the one who thought about going but then didn’t, you are going to feel terrible. And you never know when you, a friend or relative will need blood, so helping ensure an adequate supply is critically important.”

According to Costello, making and keeping an appointment is critical. “Last year 200 people with appointments didn’t show up,” he says. “If just 10 percent of them did, Rutland would already hold the national record.”

OK, OK, I’m going to make my appointment right now! Here’s how you can too: Go or call 800-RED-CROSS.

Weekly Writing Prompt

Each week I will post two prompts related to this week’s article; one for personal insight and one for a creative springboard. Let them lead you where you want to go.

  • Prompt 1: It is a gift of life to …
  • Prompt 2: Looking around the room of blood donors …

Joanna Tebbs Young is a writer and writing and creativity facilitator living in Rutland.
Twitter: @jtebbsyoung