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Volunteer of the Year - Chris Milazzo

In 2011, I was emerging from a dark time in my life.  I had been battling depression for a long time, and I was also coming out as gay during that time.  So, it just seemed almost serendipitous that Easton Mountain came into my life at that time.

Many first timers like to get their feet wet by volunteering.  I didn’t just get my feet wet – I plunged.  My first visit was in September 2011.  The retreat that weekend was a celebration of the autumn equinox, which was done through a sweat lodge ceremony.  As wonderful as it was for me, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to come back.

In mid-2012, I had begun to research Tantra. As luck would have it, Easton had advertised a Tantra weekend.  Having seen the serendipity of the moment and an opportunity for me to expand my horizons, I immediately registered for the event.  Not only did that retreat ignite my study of Tantra, it also forged my long and amazing relationship with Easton Mountain.

Over the next two years, I attended many more retreats, but I had never volunteered.  In 2014, I decided that it was time for me to give back to a community that had given me, and continues to give me, so much.  Nowadays, as a seasoned Easton volunteer, I can say with certainty that volunteering is a great way for first-time visitors to get their feet wet and to get to know the community.  Depending on the retreat, you can also interact with the guests, many of whom are also long-time members of the Easton community.

Every time I come back to volunteer, I feel that I am doing my part to help keep Easton alive.  I remind people that Easton is mostly a volunteer-run organization, so volunteers are vital to its very existence.  Volunteers perform many tasks, including prepping meals in the kitchen, keeping the lodge clean, doing laundry, and, depending on the weather, working on the land itself.  No task is too big or too small.

People have asked me what I get out of volunteering at Easton, and why I volunteer.  The one word that seems to stick out is “gratitude”.  I’m grateful for all that Easton has given me, so I have a strong desire to give back.  There is also a desire to help create a safe space in which people can do any deep work that they need to do, are volunteers are very much in the background helping to create that safe space.

Easton Mountain has changed my life in so many ways, and I feel honored to be a part of such an amazing community of queer people.

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Philanthropist of the Year - Greg Skalny

Greg Skalny

Greg Skalny retired after a lifetime of apprenticeship and a quarter of a century of management in the import distribution business.  With his brother, he grew a fledgling company, Willow Specialties, into The Willow Group of companies, serving the packaging, commercial display, floral, food service, and home accessories markets with a concentration on baskets and related items. Greg sold his interest in 2007, after starting his relationship with Easton Mountain where he stepped into the world of LGBTQ spirituality and embraced becoming a queer elder.  He found a new way to express himself. 

Greg is a 1980 graduate of Gettysburg College, and holds BA in English Literature, a privilege and legacy of his parents' emphasis on the value of a Liberal Arts education. During his tenure with Willow, he built the business through acquisitions of companies based on markets served.  Among the companies acquired was Skalny Basket Company, started in 1928 by his grandfather, a Polish immigrant basket weaver; which had left family control in 1979.  The business required frequent travel to Asia where Greg witnessed China's period of rapid development and urbanization, but most of his travel was to rural production areas.  When Greg retired, The Willow Group was considered an industry leader.  Since his grandfather's day, the companies relied heavily on immigrants, displaced persons, and refugees as a reliable labor force, providing hundreds with first jobs as they adjusted to American life.

Today, Greg devotes much of his time to Easton Mountain and is a retreat junkie.  His other interests include serving on Foundation boards which direct funds to quality of life issues in the Rochester, New York community.  He also serves on the advisory committee for the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies at the University of Rochester.  

Greg cites a simple philosophy as a queer elder, nee Daddy.
What we all needed from our actual dads, but only some received:

  • Show up regularly and consistently.
  • Choose to have soft opinions.
  • Be generous as prudent and able.

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Activist of the Year - David Knapp

David Knapp served for ten years as a professional Boy Scout District Executive, and also volunteered as a District Commissioner working with adult Scout leaders beginning in 1987.  He also served on the National Scout Jamboree Staff with 35,000 Scouts in 1989 and 1993. In 1978, he was the Connecticut Chairman of Scouting For All to combat the BSA on their new policy prohibiting gay youth and leaders.  He was also the main witness for the state Human Rights Commission against the BSA in the Connecticut state employees case regarding United Way deductions going to the BSA, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court after six years, leading to a decision against the BSA, although this was nullified by the James Dale Case which decided the BSA can discriminate.  He also wrote and introduced a resolution condemning the BSA policy for the Connecticut Annual Conference of the United Church of Christ and the National Synod for the United States, both of which passed with overwhelming votes.  In 1993, he was expelled from the Boy Scouts of America because he was outed by one of his step-daughters; although he was reinstated as a member of the Connecticut Yankee BSA Council and is on the Boy Scout Committee to promote Scouting in all U.C.C. churches.  His personal BSA story is in two books, Stories from the Other Side by Frank Crowley and Time To Live: Seven Tasks of Creative Aging by Robert Raines.  His accomplishments include being state and outreach coordinator for the Stonewall Speakers since 1996; founding the Shoreline PFLAG chapter in Madison, founding and serving on the board of GLSEN in Connecticut; and being responsible for the 1000 member First Congregational Church of Guilford becoming Open and Affirming, and for a fraternity at Wesleyan pledging gay students.  

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