Falko’s Goodbye Post

As some of you may know, I will soon be leaving Action Circles to start in a new position as the Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Vermont. This is an incredible opportunity, and it needed to be for me to consider leaving Action Circles. Before I make my transition I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the lessons I learned at Action Circles, and the things that make this organization so special.

Like many people, what drew me to Action Circles was the opportunity to work with Amy Shollenberger. I will never forget that Amy was the first person in Montpelier to take a chance and hire me when I was a new law student looking for a summer internship. When I started law school my entire resume consisted of professional theater work and odd summer jobs. I had sent about a dozen resumes and cover letters to organizations across the state and heard nothing back but crickets. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find somewhere to work for free. Finally, I learned that Amy and the folks at Rural Vermont were interested in interviewing me, I was overjoyed.

When I sat down with Amy, she informed me that with my resume she didn’t think I was the right candidate for their legislative internship, but that I would be a good fit for their communications and organizing internship. This wasn’t what I was expecting, but it meant so much to me that someone had taken the time to look beyond what was missing on my resume and to focus on the valuable skills that I could bring to the table. That is exactly what Amy does, she thinks differently and sees things that others can’t.

After I finished my time at Rural Vermont, I kept finding myself referencing things I had learned from Amy and I looked for opportunities to work together again. We got our chance when Amy and the team at Action Circles were brought in to manage the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition. Time and again I would be surprised by Amy’s uncanny ability to stay calm in almost any circumstance, and to read situations in a way that others couldn’t.  We ended up winning that campaign against fierce opposition, and the Action Circles team was a big part of what helped get us over the finish line.

When I had the opportunity to join Action Circles a few years ago I jumped at the chance. I had learned a great amount in my time with Vermont Public Interest Research Group and was ready to broaden my advocacy experience and start working directly with clients. I remember my first day on the Job listening to Amy present with a panel of other lobbyists about the upcoming session.  Being new to the organization it was important to me that I learn to speak with a unified voice. I found myself trying to predict how Amy would answer each question, and I was wrong almost every time. This was both exciting and scary, I knew I was going to learn a lot, but I also had a lot to learn.

Over the past three sessions Amy and I worked so closely together that I started to not only be able to predict how she would answer questions, but to be able to reach the same conclusions independently. The closest thing I could compare this to was Daniel’s training with Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Instead of learning “paint the fence”, “wash the car”, or “catch the fly” I learned “where you look is where you go”, “build a platform and let them stand on it”, “act with hope”, and of course “reacting is losing”. Just like Daniel, I didn’t get it all at first, but with practice these skills became powerful tools I could use in any fight. I can’t claim to have the same vision as Amy, but my time at Action Circles has helped me see things in a way I never could before.

Another thing that makes Action Circles such an incredible place is the clients who chose to work with us. Over the past few years I have gotten to know so many passionate intelligent leaders working to make Vermont a better place. I am going to miss working with all of you, you taught me so much. Most importantly you taught me how to really listen and to ask questions. I feel privileged that you trusted us to help you in your important work. It made it a lot easier to drag yourself up to the State House in the middle of a snowstorm when you knew what it could do to improve people’s lives.

Finally, I will miss the team at Action Circles. Amy, Cindy, Colin, Jake all bring all bring their own unique skills to the table that keep the organization running and help our clients win. This team is unlike any other I have been a part of. We are rarely in the same place at the same time, but everyone knows what they need to do to support each other in getting the work done. I can’t thank our team enough for the patience and wisdom you have shown me. Your confidence in me helped me grow and take on challenges that I could not have tackled before. I know I will just be moving to an office down the street and we will see each other often, but I will miss being part of this team.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of my time at Action Circles, this is not goodbye but see you soon. I am sure we will find many ways to continue working together to make Vermont a better place for everyone.