By Marianne Apfelbaum
A wide, grass-green streak of hair is the first hint that Sabrinajoy Milbury is not your garden-variety business owner. “When I work with plants, I feel as if I am dancing with them. Sometimes I am the leader, sometimes they are,” she wrote on her blog in explanation of the naming of her company, Just Dancing Gardens & Greenhouse in Williston.
The dance began 16 years ago when Milbury decided to start her own business after stints as an office worker, home daycare owner, Mary Kay consultant and volunteer at her daughter’s school in its gardening program, which she created, and where she enjoyed sharing her knowledge and passion for gardening with the children. “I loved going around to different classrooms with my little cart…building gardens…planting trees,” she said.
After participating in “Growing Places,” a Women’s Agricultural Network program designed for women interested in starting or growing an agricultural-based business, Milbury set up shop in her South Burlington backyard, where she built a local following of both gardening enthusiasts and those with brown thumbs. “I don’t have a green thumb, but I wanted lots of plants,” says Leslie Holman, a Shelburne resident and one of Milbury’s longtime customers.
Holman brings her pots to Milbury every spring – “Isn’t it Sabrina time yet?” she laughs — and as Milbury’s clients often describe it, “Let’s her do her magic.”
Milbury’s potted plant creations are “visually and aesthetically phenomenal. They are a mélange of textures. I could never recreate that,” says Holman. “It’s her love of flowers that does it. She literally brightens my life. It is the highlight of my spring when I bring her my pots.”
The art of gardening
Milbury agrees that her approach to her work is a unique one. “I am an artist. I use plants and soil as my medium.”
Her “paints” are an eclectic and broad collection of high quality flowering and vegetable plants, many of which are not the norm at other garden centers. “One of my favorite plants is crossandra. I adore this plant and haven’t seen it anywhere else,” she says. “It has amazing orange flowers with shiny, glossy leaves and it flowers all through the summer.”
Milbury says one advantage she provides to customers is that she has more flexibility as a small grower to carry these types of unusual plants. If she sees or hears about a plant that intrigues her, she says, “I’m just gonna try this plant!”
She is very selective about what she offers. “The only zucchini worth growing is Costata Romanesco,” she asserts. “It is firmer and less watery (than other types) with a nutty flavor, not as seedy, just yummy.”
She also speaks admiringly about the benefits of container gardens. “I love the convenience of them. You don’t have to kneel or weed. They are easier to maintain and move around – in this business, a lot of what you do is move plants.”
After more than a dozen years, 57-year-old Milbury’s business was so successful it began outgrowing her backyard greenhouse, so she started looking to move her business. A friend referred her to Mike Isham, who runs the Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road in Williston. She visited the farm in August of 2011 and she immediately thought, “Oh, this is a pretty cool place.”
She and Isham worked out an agreement and she opened her greenhouse behind the Isham barn last spring. For his part, Isham likes Milbury’s “positive and outgoing” personality and that she offers “much higher quality” and is not trying to compete with Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
Just Dancing is the first in what Isham hopes will be a series of collaborations on the farm to create an “agricultural center for Williston. I don’t want people to think of Williston as just a shopping center,” he says.
Milbury is happy to be on board. “The Isham family has welcomed me with open arms. I love this family. It’s a great place to be.”
By Stephanie Choate
Redoing your kitchen cabinets and not sure what to do with the old ones?
Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity is starting a new initiative to raise money for affordable housing and keep reusable items out of the landfill.
The organization opened a Habitat ReStore earlier this month, selling donated used and new building materials and home goods.
“The main mission of the ReStore is to be able to build more affordable housing,” said David Mullin, Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity executive director. “Right behind it is the environmental aspect—keeping tons, literally hundreds of thousands of tons, of material out of landfills.”
Mullin said that approximately 20 percent of items going into landfills is building materials. The Habitat ReStore will take those unwanted materials, resell them at low prices and put the earnings directly toward local affordable housing projects.
Habitat is now looking for donations to fill the warehouse, including furniture, appliances, windows, home décor items—anything that would go in a home.
“Everything including the kitchen sink,” Mullin said.
For example, Green Mountain Habitat recently received a donation of 800 gallons of Cabot stain, which it will sell at a discount of 50 to 80 percent.
There are approximately 750 Habitat ReStores nationwide. Vermont is one of two states to not yet have one.
“Habitat found that the ReStore idea was a great way to generate money for Habitat that we could put towards building more affordable homes in the community,” Mullin said. Last year, Habitat ReStores nationwide brought in $77 million.
“We’re really excited to have the first one in Vermont,” Mullin said.
Mullin noted that the Habitat ReStore will not compete with other local resale stores, such as Goodwill, since it focuses on building supplies and home-related goods.
“We’re not competing with (other resale stores), we’re competing with the landfill,” he said.
The Habitat ReStore is located at 528 Essex Road (Route 2A) in Williston. To schedule a time for Habitat workers to pick up your donation, call 922-5184.
Love is, LLC is a new non-medical, in-home care company based in Craftsbury, Vermont.
Owners Peter and Amanda Smyth live in Craftsbury with their four school-aged children. Peter was employed in the airline industry for 14 years, but left his piloting career when it became increasingly clear he should be doing something more meaningful with his life. Amanda has worked in the in-home care industry where she gained experience and insight into what it means to run a business that provides compassionate and outstanding care. Both have always enjoyed spending time with the elderly.
Love is strives to provide service that will allow people to stay in in the comfort of their own homes rather than go to a facility. Services range from personal care and homemaking services to companionship and respite care. While Love is primarily serves the elderly, it is not limited to the elder population. Love is can provide help to anyone after a surgery, illness or with a disability.
Love is employs more than caregivers. All Love is caregivers have undergone extensive background and reference checks, and are insured and bonded. The company serves Lamoille, Orleans, Washington and Caledonia counties and surrounding areas. For more information call (802)-586-9133 or www.loveishomecare.com.
The U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP are launching a strategic alliance to provide counseling and training to entrepreneurs over the age of 50 who want to start or grow a small business. Through SBA’s online training courses and its nationwide network of business mentors and counselors, the two organizations expect to train 100,000 “encore entrepreneurs.”
“No matter what your age, if you have an idea or a business that’s ready to move to the next level, the SBA wants to make sure you have access to the tools you need to start and grow,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills.
SBA has set up a dedicated web page for those over the age of 50 featuring: an online self-assessment tool to help potential small business owners evaluate their readiness to start a business as well as information that will help with business planning, shaping a winning business idea, professional counseling, financial services and information to find local resources in your area. This web page can be found at: http://www.sba.gov/content/50-entrepreneurs.
SBA and AARP also will jointly develop and host a customized online course, self-assessment, and webinar series for older entrepreneurs. SBA already offers a suite of online courses for people who want to start and grow their business. To take a course, go to http://www.sba.gov/training under “online courses.” Course topics include start-up basics, finance strategies, marketing tactics, overseas trade and more.
For more information on SBA’s programs and services, please visit www.sba.gov.
Employers using new hiring tools
By Dr. Stephen A. Laser
If you’re looking for work and unacquainted with the new reality of proving your mettle, you’re in for a big surprise. If landing a job isn’t hard enough for today’s unemployed worker, companies have added a layer of difficulty to the process which makes getting hired that much harder. Specifically, you will probably be asked to take an on-line test just to be considered for an interview. And once you do earn the opportunity to be interviewed, you will likely face another challenge in the form of behaviorally-based methods of questioning your qualifications for the job.
As a business psychologist who has practiced my profession for over 30 years, I’d like to offer some helpful and practical advice without trying to teach you ways to “game” the system.
With unemployment still lurking near 9 percent and little likelihood of going much lower, job seekers can use all the friendly advice they can get. Remember, nothing is gained from distorting your answers to test questions or lying during a job interview. In the event you do manage to fool a prospective employer, the chances of succeeding on the job are small, and you will be back at square one while suffering another embarrassing loss of employment. On the other hand, many people are totally uninformed about the gauntlet they must run, and this includes being unprepared for testing and interviewing techniques which, with a little groundwork, allows you to give a good account of your qualifications.
On-Line Testing: What are employers looking for?
Using on-line tests to screen job applicants before meeting them face-to-face has become commonplace among employers. The explosion of eligible job applicants, especially during the past several years during the recent recession, has made the practice of on-line testing even more advisable for companies looking to winnow down the pool of available candidates. So what are these tests and what are they looking to find?
Most on-line tests are really surveys seeking to measure a job applicant’s attitudes and likely responses to certain job-related situations. In particular, these tests are looking to measure a person’s conscientiousness and attitudes toward work, to include paying attention to detail and being organized as well as the ability to meet assigned deadlines. At the same time, these tests focus on a person’s ability to get along with others in the workplace, where operating as part of a team is often a very important component to achieving overall company goals and objectives. The numbers and names of tests used on-line are legion. They run the gamut from name-brand instruments to tests developed by various statistically-trained individuals and sold to companies for their own use.
There is no best way to game the system. Furthermore, giving a misleading picture of yourself can lead to unintended consequences, such as being asked to interview for a job where you will be a poor fit for the demands of the role. At the same time, there are some helpful hints to aid you in responding to on-line testing tools. First, most test-takers struggle with the question, do I answer items as if I’m at work or more generally, to include when I am with my friends and family? The best approach is to consider your behavior in the company of your colleagues at work, not your family and friends. For example, the freedom to say what is on our minds is a luxury most of us enjoy with family and friends, but which can be detrimental in the workplace.
Another word of caution is about answering questions in the extreme, if asked to “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” with an item along with milder responses in between. If you do have a strongly held belief about something, then by all means express it, but answering in the extreme to show the strength of your convictions is not always a good idea. In addition, don’t manage your impression too hard. Most sophisticated tests have scales which measure “faking” and you don’t want to be flagged for making yourself appear unrealistically attractive as a potential employee.
Behaviorally-based Interview Questions: At one time, companies were caught for asking personal questions of job applicants which had little relevance to performing the job. Specifically, questions about marital status, children and childcare arrangements along with inquiries into national origin or background were routinely asked and often used as a basis for selecting job applicants. It’s illegal to hire and discriminate on this basis, and so enter the neutral behaviorally-based interview questions.
These questions center on specific situations any job applicant might have encountered in a previous place of work. For example, employers will ask a candidate to tell about a time they dealt with a difficult employee or had to plan a project from start to finish. Other behaviorally-based interview questions might ask about handling an unexpected change at work or dealing with an important customer that wanted you to bend the rules for them. The number of questions like this can be quite daunting, and to get an even better picture of what might be asked, Google the topic “behaviorally-based interview questions” to learn more about what to expect.
Let me offer a couple of helpful suggestions. First, when giving an example from prior jobs, make sure you can recall situations from different employers and not just one particular position or company. Second, make sure you come prepared with two or three examples of successes and setbacks during the course of your career. Be able to explain what happened as briefly as possible along with your role and the role of other people in the situation. No one likes an egomaniac. Next, tell what you learned from the situation, and more importantly, how you have applied those learned lessons going forward in subsequent situations.
Finally, what about answering the most dreaded of all interview questions, “Tell me your biggest weakness?” Remember, your biggest weakness is probably your biggest strength taken to extreme. For the very bright job applicant that can mean thinking you’re smarter than everyone else. For the socially-skilled candidate that can mean trying to please all the people all of the time. For the super-organized and efficient individual that can mean an obsession with detail. A response like “I could spell better” or “I work too hard” makes you sound silly at best and disingenuous at worst.
It’s a new world out there for today’s job seeker. Companies have become more sophisticated in their screening techniques, and you need to stay ahead of the game. While faking tests results and lying on interview questions will only cause you more problems in the end, being prepared and doing your homework to know what to expect is only sensible given the gauntlet you are being asked to run in order to find a new job. Good luck!
Stephen A. Laser, PhD has more than 30 years of experience as a business psychologist. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Laser has been a guest speaker to various groups of unemployed individuals, typically over the age of 40, and previously taught courses in business psychology at Northwestern University, Roosevelt University and the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
Stock photo www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
More boomers & seniors being hired
Are workers really retiring anymore? A new study shows 57 percent of workers age 60 and older said they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company, showing that retirement no longer means the end of one’s career. The nationwide survey was conducted by Harris Interactive© and included more than 800 U.S. workers age 60 and older and more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resources professionals between surveyed between Nov. 9 and Dec. 5, 2011.
When asked how soon they think they can retire from their current job, one-in-ten (11 percent) respondents said they don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire.
While an increasing number of mature workers are putting off retirement, the good news is that more employers are looking to hire more seasoned staff. According to the survey, 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers age 50 or older this year, while 41 percent said they hired workers age 50 or older in 2011. Seventy-five percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 plus, with 59 percent of those employers saying it’s because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.
Mature workers can find job-search success by emphasizing the qualities that set them apart.
Leverage your professional and real-world experience — When updating your resume or interviewing for a job, think about your experience in terms of both work-related and life skills. Whether it’s your strong leadership skills or your wherewithal to weather a tough economy, play up the strengths that come with having more years under your belt.
Bring value to your company in other ways — Find new ways to contribute to the organization, outside of your day-to-day tasks. Spearhead a mentorship program or offer to train new hires.
Consider part-time or freelance work — Forty-nine percent of workers age 60-plus said they will most likely work part-time once retired.
Stock photo www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
By Phyl Newbeck
Sitting can be hazardous to your health. That’s the conclusion of studies reported from the Spine Resource Clinic at the University of Washington, Women’s Health Magazine and the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association. The studies say sitting puts extra stress on your back, increases muscle tension, and results in “stagnant circulation,” as compared to standing. Chances are, you’re reading this from a sitting position, either at home or perhaps on a break at work. If so, I have two words for you: Get up.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society released a report finding that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours; for men the figure was 18 percent. In 2011, a study by the American College of Cardiology found mortality increased among those who sat for long periods of time. Additionally, the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even premature death could result from prolonged periods of sitting. Even for those who exercise, sedentary behavior is considered a risk factor.
One way to avoid the perils of sitting is to use a standing desk. Standing desks are just that — work stations at which the user is in a standing rather than a seated position. Regular desks are roughly 30 inches high while the standing variety can be as tall as 45 inches. Sarah Burnett of the Risk Management Office at the University of Vermont says there are a number of university employees who have requested standing desks. She hastened to add that she didn’t necessarily think one type of office furniture was better than another. Rather than dictate a particular work position, Burnett said she counsels workers to move around during the day. “Sitting and staring at a computer for four hours, let alone eight, is not good,” she said. “Your blood isn’t flowing and everything freezes up on you. You need to get up and move.”
Liz Dickson of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources has just started using a standing desk, in part because her commute has doubled since her office was moved from flood-ravaged Waterbury to Winooski. Dickson didn’t make the switch because of any trauma or physical difficulties. “I like to be active and don’t like to sit down all day,” she said. “With the increased commute, I felt so sedentary and my body just wasn’t happy.”
Initially, Dickson went for a low-tech solution, placing a cardboard box on her desk and using it for reading and non-computer writing. When she saw a colleague’s hydraulic desk which can be raised and lowered, she decided to make a change. Peter Moreman, the Facilities Manager at the VSAC building where Dickson is currently located, provided her with a sectional desk which allows her to use her computer while in a standing position but other functions while seated. Dickson said the key to using a standing desk is to wear comfortable shoes and stand on a cushioned mat.
Moreman said some employees who request standing desks do so based on a doctor’s recommendation while others have come up with the idea on their own; nobody has ever requested to return to their prior arrangements, even those for whom the doctor’s recommendation was only for a short period of time. Moreman cautions that there is no “100% one size fits all” solution for those with sedentary jobs and adds that many of those who request standing desks eventually also request tall chairs so they can alternate between sitting and standing. In general, Moreman believes standing is healthier than sitting because people tend not to sit up properly. “One advantage of standing over sitting,” he said “is you achieve the primary goal of keeping your head directly over your back so it’s supported directly. You simply can’t stand as badly as you might sit.”
Dr. David Little of Fletcher Allen Health Care worries that some of the studies on sitting have not isolated all the variables; perhaps people who sit for long periods also smoke, drink, or have unhealthy eating habits. Additionally, he recognizes that older workers may not find it comfortable to stand for long periods of time so he suggests that seniors intersperse periods of activity during the day with periods of rest.
Dr. John Scott of Northeast Vermont Regional Hospital – Corner Medical in Lyndonville said studies show that even people who follow the recommended federal guidelines of 30 minutes of brisk exercise at least five times a week can suffer negative effects from prolonged periods of sitting. Those with sedentary occupations and/or lifestyles have twice the risk of colon cancer, increased risk of other cancers, a 64 percent increase in risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as a greater propensity for diabetes and obesity. Scott cautions that there is no proof that standing desks are a panacea for these conditions. An Australian study showed that those who got up during the day and walked a bit had fewer metabolic abnormalities, but no change in other risk factors. However, just because standing and walking isn’t a cure-all doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to change their position. “It certainly couldn’t hurt for people to get up more and not sit for a prolonged period of time,” said Scott. “I don’t see a downside.”
Polli hosted the game show “Survey Says!” for more than nine years on public access Channel 15. Kavanagh hosted 100 episodes of the Champlain College collaborative “Late Night Saturday with Tim Kavanagh” on WCAX-TV Channel 3. The trio now takes their game shows on the road to perform “spoofs” tailored to suit the needs of any client, including using industry-specific content. Polli and Kavanagh share hosting duties and Moller manages the show’s effects as well as the company’s website.
The trio will host two Family Feud-style live game shows at this year’s Vermont 50-Plus & Baby Boomers EXPO on Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Sheraton. The Game Shows VT team can create a lively, energetic hour of entertainment for any business or event. Contact phone numbers are: (802) 373-9024 or (802) 999-9029. The website is www.gameshowsvt.com
Local businessman and entrepreneur Steve Kozak has launched a new business and website called Worry Free Elder Care. The new site helps retirees and boomers take control of their life in retirement by putting them in touch with local experts in such critical areas as elder law and estate planning, long term care insurance, adaptive living space solutions, and services to extend living at home.
By providing direct access to local experts and professionals certified in elder care issues, Worry Free Elder Care simplifies the process of getting the best answers and information to the many challenging questions associated with retirement planning and aging, according to a company press release.
“I’ve gone through a lot of this process for both my father and for my wife and myself,” Kozak said. “I quickly realized that there’s a ton of information out there and a lot of service providers, too. My problems came from not knowing where to start, then having to plow through all the information to find what I was looking for. It can be confusing and very time consuming.”
His service, he says, has narrowed down the field of information and service providers to only the “best of the best,” to save consumers time “and a lot of frustration.”
Worry Free Elder Care has developed a 4-step process called L.E.A.H. – Long Term Care Advisor, Elder Care Lawyer, Aging in Place, and Home Care Assistance. In each of these areas, Kozak has researched the market and found the best local, certified professionals to service their clients, according to the release.
“When you know you are talking to the local expert, Kozak says, “you can feel confident about moving forward with a plan, whether it be for long term care insurance, retirement planning, or contracting for in-home services. Procrastination becomes less of an issue, too, if you know you are talking to an expert to begin with.”
For more information, visit www.worryfreeeldercare.com, call 802-399-2721 or email [email protected]
NEFCU celebrates 50 yearsBy Luke Baynes
A lot can change in 50 years.
In 1961, a year when gas prices averaged 31 cents per gallon and the average cost of a new home was $17,724, the newly founded IBM Employees Credit Union in Essex had 473 members and $2,298 in assets.
On May 25, when the renamed and community chartered New England Federal Credit Union celebrated its 50th anniversary with an open house at its main branch in Williston, it had more than 79,000 members and over $823 million in assets.
What began with seven IBM employees is now the largest credit union in Vermont. The credit union still has a branch at IBM but also has five others — Williston, Essex, South Burlington, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, and St. Albans.
President and CEO John Dwyer and Chief Financial Officer Susan Leonard said NEFCU’s success is due to its decision two decades ago to focus on the mortgage business at a time when many credit unions lacked the scale or expertise, plus the simple fact that they’re in business to serve their members.
“I think the goal for any credit union is to make sure that you return to members,” said Dwyer, who began with NEFCU 24 years ago and became CEO in January 2010. “We’re nonprofit. We do business for members, so we try to make sure we do value every day.”
With the banking industry still recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis that helped cause the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, one could hardly call these the salad days for mortgage lending. But Dwyer said NEFCU is in a stronger financial position now than before the subprime meltdown and that 2009 and 2010 were, respectively, NEFCU’s second- and third-best years ever for mortgage originations.
“Vermont has been fortunate that neither we nor any of the other local Vermont credit unions and banks originated the kind of loans that we all read about,” said Dwyer. “There has been some subprime lending in Vermont – primarily by people who aren’t here anymore.”
Leonard, who was promoted to CFO a decade into her 20-year career, agreed that NEFCU has made it to 50 because of its responsible lending practices, but said that responsibility starts with its members.
“Our members are responsible, and I think you can make the case that Vermonters in general are fiscally responsible,” Leonard said. “We really take our responsibility in that relationship very seriously and make sure that members are getting into a mortgage that fits them.”
Another thing NEFCU takes seriously is charitable work and its status as a good corporate citizen.
“Not only have we grown from an asset standpoint, but we’ve grown in our awareness that we need to participate more (in the community),” Dwyer said.
Some of the ways NEFCU gives back to the community are by hosting seminars that teach young adults about the importance of managing credit cards responsibly, having annual “Blankets of Hope” drives to provide warmth to the needy, and its participation in the “Big Change Roundup,” which raised $18,683 to benefit Vermont Children’s Hospital last year.
Looking back at the past two decades, Leonard spoke with pride about her company’s ascension to a prominent place in the local community, and its contribution to Vermont’s growth as a whole.
“Over the past 20 years we’ve had such incredible growth and change, especially in Chittenden County,” Leonard said. “We’re all proud that we’ve been able to be a part of that growth and that success.”
Dwyer echoed her comments, praising both his employees and his company’s member base.
“When you reach this kind of milestone, it’s nice to have capacity, it’s nice to have the 170 talented people we have working here, it’s great to have 79,000 members and it’s about focusing to make sure that what we return to the member is something they value,” said Dwyer. “We work hard every day to make sure we’ll be here another 50 years.”