A glance around Marilyn Buhlmann’s Brattleboro home tells you without a doubt two things that drive her passion: creativity and commitment to her adopted community.
She will be leaving Brattleboro in October, splitting her time between Florida and Colorado to be closer to family. Boxes are packed with paintings, her ceramic bowls and the ‘Wise Ones”, shamanic two-foot tall ceramic figures she hand-built.
Piles of file folders must be gone through before her move; they represent the many community organizations she has impacted as a volunteer leader; three years of organizing the River Gallery School auctions while a board member; serving over 10 years on the Board of the Women’s Crisis Center (4 years as chair), where she coordinated the Women’s Film Festival for 3 years, and volunteering as a bereavement counselor for Brattleboro Area Hospice for 13 years.
“I love the act of giving, being able to share myself and my resources with this wonderful community that I have made my home for the past 50 years,” Buhlmann said.
Her longest commitment, serving as a restorative justice volunteer on a Youth Services’ Diversion Board, concluded last month after 22 years, culminating with her induction into Youth Services’ Hall of Fame, the organization’s top award for its volunteers.
Buhlmann’s monthly meeting as a panelist focused on repairing the harm caused by the community member. “Diversion holds those who violated the law accountable in a manner that promotes responsibility to individuals, community and relationships,” she explained. “Also, when appropriate, we addressed underlying needs or issues that led to the offense.”
In her family of origin, not unlike many Youth Services clients, Buhlmann experienced trauma and violence and extreme poverty. “My life experiences have given me a lot of insight in all of the volunteer work I have done,” she explained.
She knows from her own childhood that often young people just need nurturing and guidance to help them succeed and realize their full potential. “I had a couple of teachers who told me I could go far in the world, despite my limitations. Their belief in me stayed deep inside me like a candle flame even in my darkest times,” Buhlmann testified.
In her 30’s Buhlmann was finally able to go to college, propelled by the tiny flame sparked years before. “As a Diversion board member I try to light the same flame in others,” she explained. “It is rewarding to have a part in what is often a transformation,” Buhlmann said.
Like many transplants, Buhlmann first came to Vermont in 1972 to ski, discovering instantly that “she belonged here” and made it her home over the next five decades. Buhlmann worked many years as a waitress, running a hotel desk and performing other administrative jobs before she was finally able to go to college in her ‘30s to study to be a dietician.
Marilyn Buhlmann will leave big shoes to fill, according to Patrick Fleming, the Youth Services Diversion Case Manager who coordinates six restorative justice panels of community members each week. He described Buhlmann as “a natural” at this work, unusually compassionate and someone who could instinctually alleviate the defensiveness of the most challenging clients.
Before the term became widely used, Buhlmann’s approach was trauma-informed, according to Fleming. “We could trust her with the most complex cases and know she would understand on a cellular-level what was important and what wasn’t. She also inspired our clients to look at and address the issues that led to their offense,” explained Fleming.
Buhlmann is being inducted into Youth Services’ Hall of Fame as the agency’s first-ever recipient of the Restorative Justice Advocate Award. Her portrait will join Liz Richards and Ben Underhill, two other champions of Youth Services who devoted decades to the young people of Windham County, in the hallway of Youth Services.
The Hall of Fame is a way for Youth Services’ board to recognize community members like Buhlmann who make outstanding and sustained contributions to youth development and the agency’s outreach. “Marilyn went out of her way to champion Youth Services and restorative justice at every opportunity,” Fleming recalled.
Like the “Wise Ones” figurines that Buhlmann fashioned from a lump of clay into something with meaning, Buhlmann’s decades of empathic listening and questioning on Youth Services’ Diversion Board has helped close to 3000 Windham County community members transform their mistakes into life lessons that help them choose a better path going forward.
To find out how to join in this important work with our community members, please call Youth Services at (802) 257-0361 or visit www.youthservicesinc.org.