Focus on Volunteerism By Phil Webber
Shawn Phelps walks a lot around Eastman, especially from her home to South Cove, but she knows the road system quite well. Frequently, guests to Eastman will stop and ask directions. Last summer, a lovely couple stopped her, asking for help, saying they were lost trying to find their friend’s house. After giving them detailed, turn-by-turn directions, the couple thanked her and asked where she got that beautiful harness for her dog. Shawn replied: “Guide dog school,” and continued on her way. She chuckled to herself about what she imagined to be the conversation in that car. “Did we just get directions from a blind woman?!”
Legally blind since the age of 12 due to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retinal disorder, Shawn encapsulates the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” What hasn’t Shawn done, either in her personal life or volunteering at Eastman? Let’s start with Eastman. After moving here full time in 2004, her first experience was to serve as a member of the Nominating Committee. She then became secretary of Deeryard Special Place. After a few years of living and working here, she was elected to the ECA Board of Directors, serving two years as its Vice President. She was a member of the Hospitality Task Force, the Ad-hoc Walk/Bike Committee, and the very time-consuming and important Governance Task Force.
While on the Board, Shawn chaired the Vision Steering Committee. She also chaired the Board Personnel Committee and was liaison to both Sustainable Eastman and the Volunteer Coordination Committee. She co-chaired (along with Elaine Lascher) the Strategic Planning Committee, which developed Eastman’s first strategic plan known as Plan 2020.
It’s always fascinating to learn why someone volunteers. Shawn grew up in a small town in southwestern Ohio. Her parents were very involved community volunteers, including the PTO, school board, parks commission, and various church committees. As a youth, Shawn was in her church choir, president of youth fellowship, heavily involved in speech and theater society, and more.
When asked what she gets out of volunteering, Shawn replied, “It makes me feel good, giving back; we need to leave this world a better place. Of course I enjoy meeting new people, learning a lot of stuff, having new experiences, and obtaining a greater appreciation of where I live.”
Shawn graduated from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio. Asking her what she did for a living before “retiring” does not elicit a simple response. Without going into too many details, here is an overview: public relations; human resources; writing children’s literature; developing and patenting a reading system for blind parents to read to their children; being a staff psychologist for a private school (after attending graduate school to become a licensed psychologist); opening a private practice; teaching graduate level classes as an adjunct professor at a local college; appearing in family court to provide expert testimony on children and families; and serving the State of Vermont as a clinical supervisor for a parent education program. Whew!
Shawn and her husband, Bob, a retired commercial security systems expert, have two daughters – Jen, who works as a nurse at New London Hospital and lives in Eastman, and Karen, who is a paralegal living with her husband and two sons in England. Of course, there is also Wilson, Shawn’s big, loveable guide dog, who keeps the house lively with his off-duty antics.
Another wonderful story from Shawn’s amazing life: While in college, Shawn and her friends went out for dinner after a football game. There were three couples and Shawn. They were joined by a guy she knew from campus. The biggest table in the restaurant sat six. The three couples took that table, which left Shawn and the spare guy sitting together at a table for two. It was all a set up, and Shawn and Bob just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Outside of Eastman, Shawn has volunteered as church deacon; was a foster parent for the Irish Peace Project; served as president of the Rutland Council of the Blind; was a member of PsychCare network; was on the Child First Advocacy Center’s board of directors and PTO; served on the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council as a legislative advocate for policy change (appointed by the governor); served on the board of directors for Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind; and served on the Grantham Village School Strategic Planning Committee.
Currently Shawn is president of the Eastman Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to provide grants for environmental, recreational and educational programs in the local area. She is an alternate Council representative for Deeryard Special Place and recently has been appointed to the Council Executive Committee. Her hobbies include traveling, walking/hiking, canoeing/kayaking, reading/writing, cooking/baking, and attempting to play the guitar.
Didn’t I say Shawn was a busy person? Another awesome volunteer serving the Eastman Community.
Phil Webber is a 20+ year resident of Eastman and past president of the ECA Board of Directors. This is the fourth of a series of articles he is writing about Eastman’s volunteers.