Clara Martin Ctr. Honors Spahn: A Man Dedicated To Helping Others

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People / Sep. 7, 2017 9:05am EDT

By Heidi Allen Goodrich


Arny Spahn smiles by a granite bench that the Clara Martin Center has placed at its 24 South Main Street site in Randolph to honor his work and commitment to his local communities. (Provided) Arny Spahn smiles by a granite bench that the Clara Martin Center has placed at its 24 South Main Street site in Randolph to honor his work and commitment to his local communities. (Provided) It’s common to see the same friendly, familiar faces at all the community events. Arny Spahn is one of those faces. Spahn has worked on several local town projects and served on many boards, including the Clara Martin Center board.

To honor Spahn’s work and commitment to his local communities, Clara Martin Center has placed a granite bench at their 24 South Main Street site in Randolph, for the community to enjoy as they stroll by. The agency also named an annual award in his name—the “Arny Spahn Community Service Award.” The first Arny Spahn award was given to Marla Simpson at the agency’s annual meeting in 2016.

In 1976, Spahn was appointed to the CMC board of trustees by the Brookfield Selectboard. He has been there ever since, serving as treasurer, president, and as a member of all committees of the board.

Growing up in Providence, R.I., Spahn’s first “real” job was working at a counter in a diner attached to the bus station. Serving people— making them lunch, making them feel good—started his devotion to serving others.

“At that age, I was one of those on the lower social end,” he said. “But, I started to see that there were lots of other people with less hope, less skills, less means than me.”

At 18, he left to join the Air Force and later worked in Danbury, Conn., building high voltage test equipment. He eventually became the company’s staff photographer and technical writer, where the concept of duty became even more important to him.

“Combining the idea of giving because I could, with the idea of having a duty has carried through to today,” Spahn said.

His love of photography brought him to Vermont in the 1970s to attend a photography course in Woodstock. Soon after, he and his wife Priscilla moved to Vermont where they opened their own photography business, Bridge Hill Studios. It started in their home in Brookfield and eventually moved into a studio in Randolph village, until their retirement in 1997.

Mental Health Interest

Spahn’s interest in the mental health field stems from his family’s experience with mental illness. When he was a preteen, he remembers his cousins struggled with mental illness. At the time, he didn’t know what it was, but he knew they were challenged and kept at home by his uncle.

“Clara Martin Center is a place where everyone can find help working through whatever is causing unhappiness,” he added. “When tragedy strikes, from a suicide to a natural disaster, we are available. When the situation calls for it, there is no charge.”

When Spahn first came to Clara Martin Center, the agency was very small, with only one office in Randolph. He credits the steady growth in services and size of the agency over the last 25 years to Executive Director Linda Chambers’ leadership, but admits that the Board has been pretty stable, allowing that growth to happen.

“Probably the best thing to happen [to the agency] is the smooth transition between CEOs,” he noted. The mental health field is continually evolving and this has been true for Spahn’s tenure, which has led the agency through initiatives such as helping to rebuild the downtown, launching an independent school, and establishing an electronic health record.”

Spahn believed the implementation of the new Electronic Health Record provided opportunities for future planning at Clara Martin Center.

“Having good policies means our data is safe and accessible, and contains helpful information. Knowing what we are doing, and what the trends are, lets us work better and more efficiently.” He said.

One of the biggest initiatives for the agency was the decision to drop developmental services.

“We could see that that half of the agency was a financial burden which we could not sustain,” he said.

Another big initiative was to develop East Valley Academy, the center’s independent school in East Randolph.

“It starting as a way to take a few students with behavioral problems aside so they could learn what they needed to fit into a schoolroom,” he noted. “We became more sophisticated and started taking on the most difficult kids in our service area. Today, we can work with kids almost all the way from first grade to graduation, keeping them on an educational path.”

Personal Focus

Acting on his deep personal devotion to help communities, Spahn urged Chambers to work with Peter Winslow to rebuild 10 Main Street after several fires had gutted Main Street, saying it was “for the health of downtown.”

“Taking part in rebuilding Randolph after the fires was a big financial risk,” Spahn admitted. “I thought that we could work it out, and Linda did. I think Clara Martin Center played a major role in saving downtown Randolph.”

When asked about the future of mental health, Spahn commented “My biggest hope right now is that the federal government will understand that there is an obligation to help folks who are unable to help themselves, that parity between mental and physical health is necessary. As a nation, we need to focus on addiction as a major disease.”

For now, Spahn will continue his focus on making an impact at a local level.

“Clara Martin Center is a vital part of life in our service area,” he said. “We do a lot of good here, and have a lot of positive influence in the state because we are very good at what we do.”

This can be attributed, in part, to Spahn’s long dedication to the agency and commitment to ensuring that the clients are always at the heart of every decision.

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