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Before I Die: A writing prompt for the community in Rutland, VT

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Annabelle Williams, the catalyst behind Rutland, Vermont's take on the “Before I Die” project — which can be found on a blackboard on the back wall of the Vermont Farmers Food Center and on the “Before I Die” website — initiated it after watching a TED talk by artist Candy Chang, who began the original project on the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans in 2011.

The wall — where, as Chang’s website says, “anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in public space” — was born.

After learning Chang’s story and hearing the effect of similar projects around the world, Williams says, “I knew immediately that we would bring it to Rutland.”

To do so, she recruited several friends — as sister-organizer Sharon Nimtz says, “she did not take no for an answer” — and with the help of Susan Farrow, Susan Beard, Lowell Klock and others, the “dream board,” as Nimtz calls it, came to life.

After creating Rutland’s Wall last spring in the back room of the Rutland Area Food Co-op, the decision of where it should live was a difficult one. But, Williams explains, “when we finally decided to make it a roving wall, things fell into place.”

Unveiled at downtown’s HarvestFest in October, the wall was next moved to Depot Park that afternoon and then, Williams says, “opportunities began revealing themselves.”

After spending November in the Community College of Vermont’s student lounge on West Street, it was then taken to the Vermont Farmers Food Center, where it will stay for the winter months.

The intention of the wall — which is photographed before getting wiped clean for a new batch of responses — is to “encourage folks to let their voices be heard, by giving them an opportunity to state what’s most important to them,” Williams says.

Connection between people is what makes a community. A powerful community — one that has the will and ability to help each other live a meaningful life — becomes so when the people who make up that community are empowered and self-confident. Self-confidence comes from self-knowledge and self-acceptance. These things become possible when we realize we have shared dreams, hurts and joys. That we’re not alone.With its powerful, thought-provoking, and deeply personal question, the wall paradoxically speaks to the universal nature of the human experience.

“It shows us how much we all have in common as human beings — that we all want to lead a meaningful life,” says Williams.

Post your own response on the wall at VFFC between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each Saturday through April.

Pictures of “Before I Die” projects from around the country and world can be found at beforeidie.com. Visit Rutland’s mini-site is here.

(Full story was originally posted at RutlandReader.com)

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Workshops offered in Rutland, Vermont at The Writers' Room at Allen House. Also available for trainings and guest speaking. Visit my Blog, Wisdom Within, Ink for thoughts on writing to an authentic life.

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