Courtney Gabaree admits that Johnson wasn’t her first choice. But it ended up as the best decision she could make — for her sake and Vermont’s.
“It was just too close to home; I just wanted to go somewhere much farther away,” Courtney said. “But my best friend started going to Johnson right after we graduated, and I heard all these wonderful things and ended up visiting and I fell in love with it.”
But it was at Johnson State College that she found the knowledge, culture, and support to act and influence life-altering change.
After all, it takes a certain drive for a 20-something to influence the Vermont Senate — and succeed.
In 2008, Courtney interned with the Polaris Project in Washington, D.C., a leading nonprofit dedicated to globally combat human trafficking and slavery. She always had a passion for volunteering and community service projects, but that experience defined how Courtney wanted to dedicate herself.
“The more I learned about it, the more horrific I learned that it was,” Courtney said. “I got to a point where I felt that I had to do something about it; and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”
And like many Johnson students, Courtney didn’t just think — she acted. She found a stream of support from the college, specifically citing the efforts of retired professor Jerry Himelstein and university President Barbara Murphy, to devote her senior project entirely to the topic of human trafficking in Vermont.
“In the classroom, [my professors] helped prepare me for a specific way of thinking and problem solving that I couldn’t get anywhere else,” Courtney said, “and outside of the classroom, they pushed me to do a lot of the things that would help my career.”
That project was the impetus for Courtney to work with the Attorney General of Vermont to establish the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force and a Law Enforcement Advisory Board, working collaboratively to establish awareness and future policies within the state.
Courtney continues to fight against human trafficking in Vermont, serving H.O.P.E. Works as a youth advocate, working with youth survivors of sexual violence.
Courtney is a testament to the Johnson’s sense of community and proactive commitment. Even with her personal motivation and drive, she acknowledges that Johnson had a big part to play in realizing her goals.
“Don’t be afraid to ask something from the school,” Courtney said. “People are always willing to lend an extra hand at Johnson for what they’re passionate about.”