City, blood drive have grown together

City, blood drive have grown together

In less than two weeks, the greater Rutland community has the opportunity to do something truly remarkable — help save thousands of lives while putting its best foot forward for all to see.

The Gift-of-Life Marathon, or GOLM, Rutland’s annual celebration of community and goodwill, is expected to collect somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 units of blood on Dec. 17. Maybe a little more. Maybe a little less. Maybe a national record. Maybe not.

While breaking the record would be great — and I sincerely believe it’s possible — I know two things will happen regardless: The hundreds of donors who turn out will affect thousands of lives, and Rutland will make an enormous statement about itself.

The Rutland that will host the GOLM this year is not the one that hosted the first drive, and the people who will donate blood or volunteer time are not the same either. Some who attend this year were there for the first one, no doubt, but the community and the people who live here have changed considerably since the first GOLM.

Eleven years ago, the Paramount had reopened and hosted the GOLM, but the theater struggled to stay open, much of downtown was barren, empty storefronts casting a pall, and many accepted the image foisted on Rutland by others. “Rut Vegas” wasn’t just a derisive term; it epitomized how many here and elsewhere thought of the city.

In those days, there didn’t seem like a lot of hope here; I even told an interviewer I thought Rutland needed the blood drive, which quickly started setting state and regional records, as an annual reminder that the community can do great things.

Fast forward to today. The Paramount is flourishing, with world-class entertainment and community events virtually every week. Phenomenal new restaurants dot the downtown, along with new stores and service businesses few would have imagined in Rutland a decade ago. Empty storefronts have become the exception. And the blood drive has expanded to five sites and a goal about six times larger than the first year’s collection.

The blood drive certainly isn’t the driver of all that is good in Rutland, but somehow its fortunes and those of the city have moved along on more or less parallel tracks, both growing, finding various levels of success, often surprisingly, and then reaching for greater heights. The common denominator is the people, who have rallied around the city just as they have rallied around the blood drive, with passion and compassion.

Pride in Rutland — both here and across the state — is growing by the day. You can feel it in the coffee shops, the restaurants, the barbershops and City Hall, and you can feel it when you talk to folks in Burlington, Montpelier and communities statewide.

Rutland is making a new name for itself as a thriving, resilient and innovative community, and on Dec. 17, I’m growing increasingly confident it will make a name for itself among the most generous and kindhearted communities in America. I urge your readers to be a part of this extraordinary day by volunteering or making an appointment today.

Steve Costello is vice president of generation and innovation at Green Mountain Power, which along with Castleton State College and WJJR sponsors the Gift-of-Life Marathon.