Tony Blake: Non-stop volunteer hooked on helping others

Courtesy photos
Tony Blake volunteers with youngsters such as Alex ( left ) in the Vermont Adaptive Ski program at Sugarbush. Mentoring at Burlington’s King Street Center sometimes involves field trips such as Ausable Chasm in New York with mentee Caiden ( right ).

Volunteering may be in Tony Blake’s blood.

“I grew up in a family that was very much involved in caring for people,” the Charlotte resident said. “I became involved in volunteering when I was in my teens.”

When he was a sophomore at the University of Vermont, Blake started a program called Adopt a Grandparent, and he subsequently became the student coordinator for the Office of Volunteer Programs, coordinating the work of 2,000 students.

That volunteering spirit continues to this day.

Blake loves to ski, but his wife Sara does not. “When my kids outgrew ‘skiing with dad,’ I needed an excuse to go to the mountain on days that weren’t that nice,” he said.

Having seen the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports program at Sugarbush, Blake decided to volunteer in 2009. “I almost instantly became addicted to the program,” he said. “I’m there virtually every single weekend for two days and I try to get there mid-week as well.”

The program helps skiers with a wide variety of disabilities and Blake has worked with skiers who are blind, deaf, quadriplegic and on a ventilator, or have cerebral palsy, but his main focus has been on those with developmental disabilities.

“I still ski for fun,” he said, “but honestly it puts a big smile on my face just talking about the program. It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”

For years, Blake also served on a number of nonprofit boards but he has stepped away for a while to concentrate more on field work. He has been a conductor on the Polar Express for years and in 2013 he was asked to serve on the board of the Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation.

He agreed, as long as he would still be allowed to serve as a conductor. Blake is also a Senior Buddy to a young mentee at the King Street Center in Burlington.

The 65-year-old Blake has lived in Charlotte since 1993. After graduating from college, he worked in the restaurant industry but once he sold his last restaurant in the mid 1980s, he began working as a restaurant broker, selling inns, B&Bs and restaurants.

In the 1990s he shifted his focus to commercial real estate and became one of the founders of V/T Commercial. Because the needs of commercial real estate brokers are very different from those of their residential colleagues, he was one of the founders of the Chittenden Commercial Real Estate Association.

“This is a small enough community that we needed to be cooperative competitors, so we formed our own organization for sharing information and continuing education,” he explained.

Blake notes that as an empty-nester, with his wife working as a teacher, he can prioritize his time to make sure he is able to juggle family, work and volunteering. “My job is one that I can do from home and at night,” he said. “So much of it is on the computer that it gives me the flexibility to do other things.”

Blake is happy to be able to find time for his various volunteer activities but insists that his participation is selfish. “If it wasn’t for the need to make a living I’d do volunteer community service full time,” he said. “Spending three hours on the mountain with someone with Down Syndrome who gives you a big hug afterwards – that lasts forever.”

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