Inaugural Women In Leadership Luncheon celebrates women of Southwestern Vermont

Women gather around Bennington College’s President Walker during the Women’s Luncheon:

Vermont Business Magazine The Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Berkshire Bank, presented the inaugural Women In Leadership Luncheon at the Wilson House in Dorset, Vermont on Wednesday, May 11 from 12pm to 2pm.

Eighty ticket holders, many of them women, enjoyed an afternoon rich with networking, conversations, lunch, awards and celebration. 

The luncheon highlighted the many women leaders in the Southwestern region of Vermont, while creating connections, partnerships and networking opportunities with those in attendance. Lunch was provided by the Wilson House and included light appetizers, salad, chicken and salmon, rice pilaf and peas and blueberry pie.

Matt Harrington, executive director of the Chamber, welcomed the attendees before passing the microphone over to Lori Kiely, the Vermont Regional President of Berkshire Bank. 

Kiely welcomed the group of business, non-profit and community leaders introducing many women-focused initiatives currently underway at Berkshire Bank.

“Providing women with opportunities for financial, physical and emotional wellness is a priority of Berkshire Bank, so we are pleased to help make this gathering possible,” added Kiely. 

Following the welcome, Laura Walker, the President of Bennington College, provided the keynote address. President Walker, who prior to Bennington College spearheaded the transformation of NYPR from two city-owned local stations to the nation’s largest independent non-profit public radio station group, regaled the attendees with stories about NPR, big bird, her mother and being a woman leader in a competitive New York City environment.

Presented at the conclusion of the luncheon the Chamber and Berkshire Bank handed out four awards. 

The first award was the Young Woman in Leadership award given to a young woman between the ages of 21 and 40 for outstanding leadership and service and who is seen by her peers as a woman on the rise. 

This award went to Kaiya Kirk of couch and cork, the Better Bennington Corporation and the Bennington Bookshop.

Harrington added, “Having studied Theatre and Black Studies at Bennington College and graduating in 2020, she chose to stay in Bennington and we are so lucky, as a community, that she did.  One nominator said this about her: she is a force for positive change and an example of leadership, service and citizenry; is energetic, enthusiastic, and compassionate.” 

The second award was given to the Woman of the Year for her outstanding leadership and service to her organization, community and career.  This award went to Susan Plaisance of the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. 

“This woman has worked tirelessly for her home community and the region for over 30 years.  Said one nominator, ‘She is a connector, supporter and friend to many.’ I’ll also add a mentor to many who have passed through and decided to make The Shires their home,’” commented Harrington before the award was handed out.

The third award was for Lifetime Achievement and was awarded to a woman who, throughout her lifetime, has made outstanding business/nonprofit leadership contributions to her community, while inspiring other women through mentorship and support.

This award went to Carolyn Blitz who founded Old Mill Road Media, publisher of Stratton Magazine, Vermont Magazine, Vermont News Guide, Berkshire Magazine, and Manchester Life. Blitz has also served as the Chair of the Board of the Carlos Otis Stratton Mountain Clinic, Chair of the Board of the Stratton Community Foundation, and Chair of the Board of the Mountain School at Winhall.  She is a founding member of the Manchester Business Association, and has served on the boards of the Southern Vermont Arts Center, the Bennington Museum, and the Manchester Music Festival. 

A final award was handed out by The Wilson House, host of the event, to a Woman In Recovery. 

This award was given to Representative Kathleen James who couldn’t be in attendance due to the ongoing legislative session, but was able to accept the award over video.

“After the last few weeks we’ve all been through, although we didn’t plan it this way, I think this was a perfect time to celebrate the power of women in our lives.” said Harrington about the event. “This event was about celebrating the many great women of the region and the sacrifices for career, family and community they have all made. It’s time we celebrate the amazing women in our region and the wealth of knowledge, talent and insight they bring to our businesses and organizations. Our mission at the Chamber is to promote, lead and advocate a unified effort, on behalf of our members. I think that has to include the marginalized, under-represented and minority-based members too.  We were excited to bring the region’s best of the best together today; a day full of sun, celebrations and new connections.” 

Berkshire Bank and the Chamber would also like to thank the many supporting sponsors of this event including the Shires Young Professionals, the Bennington Banner, KW Vermont Brenda Jones Real Estate Group, Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning, VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region, United Counseling Service, Coggins Auto Group, Park-McCullough Historic Governor’s Mansion, At Home Senior Care, Lundgren Subaru of Bennington, Bennington College and the host of the event, The Wilson House.

An additional thank you to GNAT-TV for filming and distributing the event. The event coverage will air on GNAT-TV’s Comcast Cable channels and GNAT-TV’s website

Photos courtesy of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber and Lorianna Weathers Photography

Kaiya Kirk receiving the Young Woman in Leadership award, with Lori Kiely, the Vermont Regional President of Berkshire Bank (left) and Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber (right):

Carolyn Blitz receiving the Lifetime Achievement award, with Lori Kiely, the Vermont Regional President of Berkshire Bank (left) and Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber (right):

Susan Plaisance receiving the Woman of the Year award, with Lori Kiely, the Vermont Regional President of Berkshire Bank (left) and Matt Harrington, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber (right):

President Laura Walker of Bennington College providing the keynote at the Women In Leadership Luncheon:


(Dorset, VT)  The Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce 5.12.2022. 


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