Build Your Community and You Build Yourself

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McGowan and his wife

Have you ever met someone who could actually do everything? For my last capstone speaker, I had the pleasure of meeting jack of all trades Stu McGowan. While he is currently rocking a lime green hair-do instead of pink, it was undoubtedly the first thing that I noticed about McGowan. Next was his big personality. He started his presentation with a hunting story that turned into a fun lesson on the chaga mushroom. The third thing I noticed was likely the reason why my capstone professor brought him in.

McGowan is a force of nature. Full stop. No question.

He is a prominent member of the Old North End who has done everything from produce videos made by kids for kids to managing over 50+ buildings in the area. He transfers those skills into every new opportunity, and one common theme for all of McGowan’s endeavors is the sense of community.

Over the course of the semester, I have taken a seriously look at the what it means to build your network, and I believe that McGowan is the perfect example of someone who does it right. One of the greatest examples of the strength of his network is his dedicated time to the Parent-Teacher Association in Chittenden County. Over the course of seven years he put in the work to create real change and structure for the betterment of his children’s lives despite the fact it was unpaid. He advised our class that sometimes the best way to get yourself in front of the right people or business, is to do so as a volunteer. It gives you flexibility, autonomy, and you get to showcase your work ethic and value in a prominent way. In his role in PTA, it also lead to conversations with legislators from all over Vermont. Working for one of the poorest schools in America, he met with senators, mayors, and other legislators who could see first hand the change that could be made.

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A row of houses in the Old North End of Burlington, VT owned by McGowan’s company Shoeless Construction.


Community work also doesn’t have to just be unpaid volunteer work. Businesses with strong ethics, and a clear commitment to their local neighborhoods. Through the Shoeless Construction, McGowan gave back by taking decrepit houses with absent landlords and renovating them to safer conditions. He even made a pointed decision to paint the houses with bright colors to give life back to the Old North End, and maintain the rent no matter the costs.

From our conversation with McGowan, I take away a fierce sense of determination and  three main concepts.

  1. Invest in yourself by investing in others. The world will give back to you what you put into it, and your community and your network are where you will find your support group.
  2. Everything you do is relevant. McGowan probably knows more skills than there are words in the library, and he learned them all by trying to do anything and everything that came his way.
  3. In a world that is specialized, don’t stick to just one thing. Broad experience will lead to better skills in project management and help you bridge the gaps between people.

If I can manage to do all three, than I have a solid future ahead of me. 

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