University of Vermont

Kaela Gray

Undergraduate student, community development and applied economics major

Kaela Gray

Having grown up in Vermont's bucolic northeastern Vermont, Kaela Gray was alarmed by the traffic-clogged roads and infinite march of strip malls she saw on visits to her mother's Massachusetts hometown. "It must have been so weird growing up here." Just as alarming: her mother's disclosure that the landscape was mostly rural when she was a child. "I sometimes come back and I don't even recognize where I am," she told her daughter.

Gray is doing her best to make sure that the forests and fields of her childhood region of Lyndon, Burke and Lyndonville remain recognizeable 30 years from now; she is assisting in the local commission's new planning process through a service-learning project in a community development and applied economics (CDAE) course. Gray says the need for keen foresight is essential for her hometown as potential major development just up Route 114 at Burke Mountain promises to impact the area.

Once the plan is completed, she'll take it the next step by researching recommendations to help them move toward implementation.

Hometown help with global perspective

Gray's thoughts on community development are shaped by her experience in Cerro Azul, Honduras, where she took a study abroad course and encountered some of the same questions about ecotourism in the tiny Honduran village that Vermont faces thousands of miles away. "It is this beautiful place where they are trying to find ways to benefit from the surroundings and protect them at the same time," Gray says.

Back in Lyndon,discussion at the meetings often turns toward what residents would like the area to be when their kids grow up. Sharing the table in the local municipal building with her friends' parents, Gray reminds the group: "I am your kids."