Vermont business leader among USA Today's Women of the Year for flood recovery efforts

is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.

Katie Trautz’s steady and methodical care for those around her proved to be just what her city needed when tragedy struck. She took on a role that didn’t exist – helping an entire community recover after a natural disaster.

Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, was among the hardest hit by flooding in July. Days of torrential rains caused the Winooski River to overflow its banks and rise to five feet above street level. Retail inventory, restaurant equipment and prized possessions were all wiped out in first floors and basements of businesses and homes. Two Vermont lives were lost, including one from the neighboring town of Barre.

In the days that followed, there was an immense amount of work to be done but residents and business owners had a difficult time knowing where to start. Muddy sediment covered the roads and had washed into structures. Mail and trash services were interrupted, and municipal water had been contaminated. There was too much repair work for contractors and hardware stores to handle all at once.

Residents and business owners were unsure if they should wait to clean up until insurance providers had taken a look at the damage, how to access Federal Emergency Management Agency money, or apply for small business disaster loans. Much of the city was shuttered again after many businesses were just finding their footing following a post-pandemic reopening.

During a time of despair and confusion, Trautz offered information, answers and forward momentum, often going door to door to assess the needs of Montpelier's business community. As executive director for Montpelier Alive, an organization that normally promotes downtown businesses, tourism and the arts, Trautz took on much more and is being credited by many in Montpelier for preserving their livelihoods.

For this reason, Katie Trautz is named Vermont's 2024 recipient of USA TODAY's Women of the Year.

Katie Trautz stands in front of the Winooski River in Montpelier on Dec. 15, 2023. She and Vermont's capital city have a complicated relationship with the river after it overflowed its banks in July and damaged many businesses and homes, and claimed two lives. Colorful artwork spanning the river is meant to help Montpelier residents reckon with the damage and move forward in harmony with the river. Trautz's work as Executive Director of Montpelier Alive was instrumental helping businesses recover and access resources after the devastating flood, and it also commissioned the artwork seen in the photo. She is USA Today's 2024 Women of the Year recipient for Vermont.

For the Women of the Year project, Trautz was asked about her personal inspiration and important experiences in a Q&A format. Her answers are below and, in some cases, were edited for length or clarity.

Who paved the way for you, or who did you pave the way for?

I immediately think about my parents and how they paved the way for me and my brother. They were great examples of hard workers, kind, thoughtful people who were definitely role models and very supportive on my life journey.

What is your proudest moment and do you have a lowest moment?

One of my proudest moments is watching Montpelier come back after the flood and wandering the streets and noticing how vibrant it actually feels now compared to four or five months ago. And really feeling the community spirit that brought us to where we are. Our collective efforts carrying Montpelier forward after the flood has felt like a proud moment for me and probably many others.

One of the low moments I've experienced since the July floods here in Montpelier is hearing the voices of the businesses and community members as they felt so disheartened and hopeless after this disaster and feeling very lost within that. And me not being able to always guide them forward. I've also experienced a low moment of wanting to show up and do my best at any given time, but when there is so much on my shoulders it's really hard to show up and be a great parent, be there for my community and be a support for the business community and downtown Montpelier all at the same time.

Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive is the Vermont recipient of USA Today's Women of the Year for 2024. Trautz was instrumental organizing flood recovery efforts after many Montpelier businesses were damaged and shuttered following the July flood. Her organization also commissioned art pieces for still abandoned retail spaces, like the one she is standing in front of on Dec. 15, 2023, to bring vibrancy back to the state capital while still acknowledging the devastation the city and state experienced.

What is your definition of courage?

My definition of courage is showing up and doing the work that needs to be done in the face of challenge. Not being afraid to face the challenge but also taking the measures that are needed to do the best work that we can at those times.

Is there a guiding principle or mantra that you tell yourself?

Doing the best that we can. I tell myself that all the time because I know that it won't always be perfect and it won't always be exactly the solution or the answer as a result, but I hope to do the best I can in any given moment.

Who did/do you look up to?

I very much look up to my parents, but my mother, in particular, who was a strong leader but had a very humble heart. She really just wanted to do good for the world, for the community and do good work. She was very thoughtful. So her leadership style had a big influence on me. She was also a great mother who cared very deeply for her family.

Businesses are open again in downtown Montpelier, in part due to the work of Montpelier Alive Executive Director Katie Trautz, as seen on Dec. 15, 2023. She helped mobilize recovery efforts following a catastrophic July flood that damaged and shuttered many businesses in Vermont's capital city. For this reason she is Vermont's 2024 recipient of USA Today's Women of the Year.

How do you overcome adversity?

In the face of adversity I tend to look for collaborations and lean on pillars of strength around me to move through the challenges with confidence.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself to hang in there and allow life to take you on its journey. I think when I was younger I definitely wanted more control over how things would turn out for me, but you quickly learn that life has its own plans and it's about the process and the journey.

Contact reporter April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Katie Trautz earns honor for helping Montpelier recover after flooding