- By Tom Weaver
It’s quiet this afternoon in Centennial Woods. When Hillary Laggis ’14 was here five days ago, not so quiet. Squeals and screeches bounced off the maples, rushed down the brook, and rose up through the pines—the sound of kids romping through the woods and having fun.
They were here with the DREAM Program (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure and Mentoring), which matches children from low-income families with a college-age student. Led by Laggis and a wide circle of fellow UVM students, the younger kids took on a scavenger hunt—“This is a pinecone, right?” one tentative little boy asked—while the teenagers learned wilderness survival skills with help from UVM Outing Club leaders.
Laggis’s leadership on this event is just one of many efforts that helped the junior in public communications earn a nationally competitive Pearson Prize this year. She was chosen as one of twenty winners, out of more than 20,000 applicants. Laggis received $10,000 to help defray the cost of college, as well as guidance, support and training from the Pearson Foundation around endeavors in community involvement and social entrepreneurship.
While work in the community has been a key part of the junior from Hardwick, Vermont’s years at UVM, that day in Centennial Woods has special meaning for Laggis. It was the first of many activities that honor the memory of her close friend Avi Kurganoff, a fellow UVM student who passed away last March. “Avi’s Adventures” carries forward Kurganoff’s plan to create a program to get local underprivileged youth into the woods, opening them to the same wisdom and joy he found there in his own life.