Fresh Food Sources: An Update

For an increasing number of families, the cost of putting food on the table is becoming more and more of a burden. If you or someone you know could use a hand, know there are many local resources here to help. They change frequently, which is why we put together this update.

  • Check out Upper Valley Strong’s town-by-town list of food resources and UNH Cooperative Extension’s interactive New Hampshire Food Access map to find your nearest food pantry, nutrition assistance, and more.
  • The websites vt211.org and 211nh.org offer up to date info on food and other resources, listed by town.
  • Find your nearest summer meal site, either in this Vermont spreadsheet from Hunger Free Vermont, or this New Hampshire map from UNH Cooperative Extension.
  • The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is distributing free family-sized boxes of fresh (often local) produce, meat, and dairy to those in need. Slots are filling up fast — don’t put off registering here for this month’s distribution events in Bethel, Bradford, Hartford, and Springfield.
  • Veggie VanGo is distributing fresh food to multiple Upper Valley locations.
  • There is always ample funding for SNAP benefits (called 3Squares in Vermont) for those who could use the financial assistance — never worry that participation would pull funding from families who “need it more” — and some guidelines have been relaxed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Vermont families may also be eligible for WIC’s Farm to Family coupons towards fresh produce at farmers’ markets and farm stands.
  • We always love to promote Vermont’s Crop Cash and New Hampshire’s Granite State Market Match programs — both double SNAP EBT benefits towards produce at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Anyone with SNAP benefits can utilize these incentives at their nearest participating farmers’ market or farm stand.

Theater + Pandemic: Four Upper Valley Theaters’ Stories

Remember when performances looked like this? (That’s Opera North performing at Blow-Me-Down Farm in summer 2019.) Needless to say, times have changed.

How do you do your work when its usual nature involves bringing people into close proximity in indoor locations — a nonstarter in these pandemic times? Four Upper Valley professional theaters offer examples. And while you’re reading this, consider donating to your favorite arts organizations and artists to help them get through these tough times. Arts in the US generally operate with narrow margins and bargain budgets; if we want them to be around to lift our hearts and tell our stories, we need to support them.

Opera North

Opera North, active mainly in the summer, usually stages two full productions in the Lebanon Opera House. In the past two summers, it has also offered shows at the magnificent Blow-Me-Down Farm venue the company has been creating on the banks of the Connecticut River in Cornish NH in partnership with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park — two summers of collaboration among circus artists, singers, and orchestra in a mash-up of performance and music drew in people who might not have expected to enjoy opera.

This summer is different: no LOH shows, but three performances at the Cornish site:  “Bluegrass and Broadway” on Saturday, August 1, featuring Klea Bankhurst, an actress, singer and comedienne, and Plainfield legends Pooh Sprague and the Four Hoarsemen; and Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Thursday, August 6, and Saturday, August 8, sung in English by a cast of 10 singers with a 24-piece orchestra. What’s more, tickets are free, thanks to some generous donors. Click here to obtain those free tickets.

Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)

Northern Stage

This White River Junction theater company has held no live events since the shutdown began but has been using digital platforms in varied and engaging ways. Play Date, a play reading class with online discussions and performances curated and led by Northern Stage and its family of artists, takes place every other Friday through September 25 (next one: July 17). Online performances include an engaging production of the only play we know of based on a Vital Communities program: Elisabeth Gordon’s  Small Town Trilogy, based on actual exchanges on the Norwich Community Discussion List. It’s still available for viewing. A July 1 online discussion on the Robin D’Angelo book White Fragility, facilitated by Brittany Bellizeare, a nationally known actor, teaching artists, and diversity and inclusion consultant, is available for viewing; email boxoffice@northernstage.org and you’ll be sent the link. So many people expressed a desire to continue the conversation that Northern plans to hold additional sessions in the coming weeks (details to come).

All these online events are offered for free, although donations are needed from those who can afford them. Writes the company: “Even the most vibrant not-for-profit theater companies operate with a narrow margin between success and failure, and a challenge like this is unprecedented in our lifetime. We hope those who are able will make a donation.”

As for the 2020-21 season set to begin this fall, BOLD Associate Artistic Director, Jess Chayes writes: “Northern Stage is currently on the cusp of announcing an exciting fall line-up of brand new virtual programming while remaining open to the possibility of live performance if circumstances allow. Beyond the fall and winter, we are remaining flexible and imaginative so we can best respond to changing health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19.”

Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)

JAG Productions 

This White River Junction-based theater was poised to hit a new peak this spring when Esai’s Table by Nathan Yungerberg, a play it helped develop (and shared with the Upper Valley), was to open in New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Days before opening, COVID shut down all New York theater. (Hear about the play’s history here.) A mystical, heartbreaking exploration of Black Lives Matter themes, it was a great example of the classic and contemporary African American theater it is JAG’s mission to develop and present.

Bouncing back from that setback, Founder and Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green (one of Vital Communities’ 2019 “Heroes & Leaders”) has used JAG as a platform for powerful online programming on racism, holding a series of interactive digital conversations with Black artists across genres discussing “Black theatre, Black art, Black organizing, Black joy, Black critical thought, Black fantasy, Black history, and more during a time of death, betrayal, and a global pandemic.” Participants have so far included award-winning playwrights Keelay Gipson and Stacey Rose, poet Major Jackson, choreographer Felicia Swoope, writer Desmond Peeples, and cartoonist Lillie Harris. Videos of past conversations are archived on the JAG website. (Consider a donation to help pay the artists who contribute to these online gatherings.)

Shaker Bridge Theatre

To counter the blues from having to cancel its final two plays of the 2019-20 season, this Enfield theater, located above the town offices and library, decided to hold a contest for short plays set amidst this pandemic, featuring two or three characters. The 14 winners (see the list) will be given staged readings in the theater in the 2020-21 season, and some may be performed via Zoom in the near future.

Newly Increased Rebates for Home Weatherization

Newly Increased Rebates for Home Weatherization

Now’s the best time to think about weatherizing your home as both New Hampshire and Vermont state weatherization programs have announced a temporary increase to weatherization rebates.  NH Saves rebates have increased to 90%, funding up to $8,000 per household, for projects completed before November 15 — compared to previous caps of 50% and $4,000.  Efficiency VT rebates have increased to 75%, up to $5,5000 per household, for projects enrolled by August 31 — compared to 50% and $4,000 previously. In addition, Efficiency VT will make the first six months of payments (up to $900) on Home Energy Loan for anyone who applies before October 31.

Not sure where to start? Here are some useful Vital Communities “cheat sheets” that take you through the process. Note that these documents still quotes old, lower rebate percentages and caps, and that to access some of the links, you will need to paste the URLs into your web browser rather than just clicking on them.

New Hampshire residents: NHSaves Rebate Guide

Vermont residents: Home Performance with Energy Star/Efficiency Vermont

Making Solar Energy Accessible for All

Making Solar Energy Accessible for All

The best-kept secret about solar energy is how affordable it can be. Thanks to changes in the market and technology as well as rebates and other financial assistance, people at any income level can reap free power from the sun that pays back its investment and is kinder to the environment.

Want to know more? On Saturday, July 18, from 10 to 11 am, Sustainable Woodstock and Vital Communities will host an informational meeting on Zoom about creating affordable solar opportunities for all Upper Valley residents, including those with low to moderate incomes. Norwich Solar Technologies, Twin Pines Housing Trust, and Norman Sun LLC will be leading a discussion about how private individuals and companies can collaborate with the nonprofit sector to develop solar energy designed for low- to moderate-income households. 

We will explore how partnerships between the private and public sectors can help income-sensitive Upper Valley residents add solar energy to their homes. We will also explain how these same benefits can apply to nonprofits, municipalities, and other entities without a tax burden! Case studies will highlight how this has been done in Vermont, but the model can work in New Hampshire as well. 

This event is ideal for: non-profit managers, representatives of financial institutions, city/town planners & planning board members, local energy committee members, select board members, town managers, city mayors, regional planning commission staff, regulators, legislators, solar developers, and any resident interested in affordable solar! 

Register for the meeting through Eventbrite, and you’ll receive Zoom instructions by email.

 

New Help for Renters and Landlords

To help landlords and tenants facing pandemic-related financial problems, refer to this resource sheet created by Upper Valley Strong, a coalition made up of over 35 non-profit organizations, agencies and town representatives who come together during times of crisis, such as COVID-19. Further information about promoting safe practices in your housing community can be found on the Upper Valley Strong website.

New Hampshire:

Funding from the CARES Act will be available to NH residents for rental assistance.  The five Community Action Program (CAP) agencies in NH will be administering the funds.  There are 2 types of assistance:

  • A one-time grant (up to $2,500) for past due rent (from April 2020) or other housing-related expenses as a result of lost household revenue or increased household expenses (must be related to COVID-19).  This grant program is targeted to those households who will be able to maintain their housing without assistance after the one-time assistance payment.
  • Short-term rental assistance for those who are looking to maintain or secure permanent housing (includes first month’s rent and ongoing short-term rental assistance).

What You Should Know:

  • Both the one-time grants and the short-term rental assistance will be coupled with regional case management services to help connect households to appropriate services as defined by the household and the agency.
  • There are no income guidelines, but the loss of income or additional expense must be COVID-related.
  • An Eviction Notice is not required, but a Demand for Rent or ledger is necessary.
  • You do not need to have met with your city/town welfare first in order to get access to funding.
  • Program payments will be made directly to the landlord or provider.
  • The program will end by December 30, 2020.

How to Apply:

  • The program opens on June 30, 2020. To be notified when the application is available, sign up on the TCCAP interest form website.
  • Applications will be online, but paper copies can be requested
  • If you need help applying, you can contact:

If the amount of arrears cannot be cured by rental assistance from the CARES Act, tenants can apply for additional rental assistance from City/Town Welfare.

Vermont:

Rental Housing Stabilization Fund:

Up to 3 months of emergency rental assistance and rental arrearage payments to property owners suffering from non-payment of rent, to prevent tenant evictions and prevent an increase in family homelessness. Available to all property owners with a maximum of 20 units assisted per owner.

AREA OF NEED:

  • Landlords and Tenants
  • Payments will be disbursed by housing service provider(s) selected through RFP process with oversight authority through Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.

Re-Housing Recovery Fund:

Emergency housing rehabilitation grants and forgivable loans to make up to 250 units of housing available to re-house homeless families experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.

AREA OF NEED:

  • Homeless Families/Substandard Existing Rental
  • Housing Stock Grant and forgivable loans disbursed by housing service provider(s) selected by RFP process with oversight authority through Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.

How to Apply:

For up more information about how to apply for funds through the state of Vermont, please visit the Vermont Economic Recovery and Relief Package Website.

Additional Resource in VT:

Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA): SEVCA provides a wide variety of services to individuals and families in Windham and Windsor Counties, including utility and housing assistance; help accessing State and local support networks like 3SquaresVT, supplemental fuel assistance, medical insurance, unemployment benefits, etc.; financial literacy courses; small business development; tax assistance; weatherization services; Head Start; advocacy, information, and referrals; and thrift stores. SEVCA is also available to help people affected by COVID-19 find, explore, and access options for recovery and stabilization. Visit the SEVCA Website for more details.

Pick Your Own is OPEN ♥

Yes…Local as Usual, Safer than Ever.  

Pick Your Own strawberry farms opened this past weekend. Get out there and pick the delish! There is nothing like ripe berries. So good. Each berry that comes into season is better than the last. And Pick Your Own keeps the farms that feed us in business. If you are healthy, have cash flow, and are okay with the guidelines, you can impact local business success by picking strawberries and/or future PYO crops. A win-win. 

Here are the details on new guidelines for Pick Your Own, and remember, always call ahead before you go to be sure the farm’s PYO is open that day, as well as to familiarize yourself with the farm’s COVID-19 adaptations.

Pick Your Own is allowed in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and you can search for PYO farms in the Vital Communities Guide. New Hampshire farms have best practices from the state and Vermont farms have Guidance from the state, so you can be sure farm PYO guidelines are based on the known science and rules.

What is different this year: 

  • Kids under 13 may not be allowed to pick. As Edgewater Farm says, it’s the saddest rule ever. It’s the rule in Vermont and some New Hampshire PYO will be adopting the rule. It’s just hard for kids to stay in place, and not eat …
  • You may not be able to eat on site, including during picking. A rule in Vermont, possibly adopted at New Hampshire farms.
  • To create social distance, Vermont PYO must have no more than one person per 200 square feet of picking area, and people must maintain six feet of distance. Again, New Hampshire farms are largely following this rule. You may need to wait for space to open up before you can go into the fields, so get your patience ready.
  • Wear face coverings! It’s suggested, and farms are allowed to require it.
  • Picking containers will either be your clean ones from home, disposable ones provided by the farm for you to take home, and/or farm containers that stay on-farm and are disinfected after you use them. 

Upper Valley PYO includes currants, summer raspberries and fall raspberries, blueberries, pumpkins, apples, elderberries, flowers, and more. You can be sure we will announce each crop on Instagram as it comes in. 

To read the Guidance in Vermont, click here. To read the New Hampshire best practices, click here.

Pivot, Perseverance & Passion: Business Recovery Forums

Many small businesses are overwhelmed with navigating the new normal while implementing rigid safety and sanitation protocols. Staying afloat during this challenging time and with ever-changing information requires the ability to pivot, have perseverance, and passion. Join Pandemic Small Business Navigator, Denise Anderson, and fellow business owners for weekly forums to get answers to questions and share challenges and information during this critical period as we re-open our economy.

Recordings and resources from the Spring series:

July 1, 2-3:30 pm: “Well-Being in the Workplace: Managing Stress & De-escalating Conflict”

Previous conversations in this series were intended for business owners but this one really targets a broader audience. “Workplace” has come to mean a different thing – our workplace may now be our kitchen or the garage. I even had a Zoom meeting with someone in a tree house! We now know all of our colleagues’ pets and children. In this context stress in the workplace translates more expansively than in the past and this session provides tools and information to recognize and address challenges as they arise in this new environment.
Can you find your HAPPY place, again? We are in the middle of a crisis and it is normal to experience emotional distress, but it is necessary to take care of ourselves, our families and our work. Everyone worries about the same things, but few of us talk about it or know what to do. Following an incident a few weeks ago, at an area Farmer’s Market, we at Vital Communities started talking about the fear and anxiety caused by this pandemic and the different ways we as individuals manifest stress. It impacts how we work and interact with others so it felt like an important topic to explore further – how to identify and respond to stress-induced behavioral challenges.
Join us to learn from local experts and explore tools and resources that support emotional and physical well-being for all of us – employers, employees, customers and clients.

Share your pre-forum questions with Denise at denise@vitalcommunities.org

We are making a video of this meeting to be shared later online. The video will show the Zoom boxes of those who speak and ask questions. If you wish to speak but not have your face appear, feel free to disable your camera. You may also watch the session online after it’s posted.

Previous forums:

May 27: Restaurant and hospitality Zoom audio recording (forum starts at 14 minutes into the recording)

Presenters-
Andrew Chevrefil, Andrew.Chevrefils@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Gordon Lodewyk, Gordon.Lodewyk@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Michael Hinsley, michael.hinsley@hanovernh.org, Hanover Health Officer

June 10: Restaurants #2 Zoom recording, Password: 9D#^R%Tk

Presenters
Andrew Chevrefil, Andrew.Chevrefils@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Gordon Lodewyk, Gordon.Lodewyk@vermont.gov, Vermont Department of Health
Michael Hinsley, michael.hinsley@hanovernh.org, Hanover Health Officer
Lori Hirshfield, Department of Planning and Development  – lhirshfield@hartford-vt.org
Brett Mayfield, Health Officer – health@hartford-vt.org
Scott Cooney, Fire Chief – scooney@hartford-vt.org
Mike Bedard, Fire Marshall – mbedard@hartford-vt.org

June 17: Eat, Celebrate, and Sleep Zoom recording, password 8Z*r*9+7

Presenters:
Nancy LaRowe, Vital Communities Local First – nancy@vitalcommunities.org
Amy Spears, Vermont Chamber of Commerce – aspear@vtchamber.com
Kiki Keating, KikiNetwork Global Connections – kiki@kikinetwork.com
Denise Anderson, Vital Communities Pandemic Small Business Navigator – denise@vitalcommunities.org

June 24: The OTHER Covid-19 Laws, recording, password 4L%8^994

 Presenters:

Denise Anderson, Pandemic Small Business Navigator at Vital Communities
Kim LaBarge, EA, Public Accountant – kim@labargeaccounting.com
Richard Paul, Jr., CPA – richardpaul@richardpaulcpa.com

 

July 1: Well-Being in the Workplace: Managing Stress & De-escalating Conflict recording, password 9U&8+97t

Following this session Vital Communities realized that some of the suggested actions offered by the Officer Santagate, taken out of context, could be considered inappropriate, insensative, or dangerous in the current system of white supremacy.
The de-escalation presentation was focused on conflicts involving enforcement of face covering and other public health protocols during the pandemic. Our invitation to law enforcement was intended to offer tips and techniques for businesses, by-standers, and the community to have the skills and confidence to de-escalate a situation without police intervention. Office Santagate clarified that the police should only be called when there is a real physical threat and not when someone “feels uncomfortable”, especially given the current racial tensions and that Hartford Police Department follows the state recommended Anit-Bias Policing polies.
Presenters:
M. Chase Levesque, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Geisel School of Medicine
Melissa.C.Levesque.Folsom@Dartmouth.eduJessica Geiben Lynn, Sr. Organizational Effectiveness Consultant, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Jessica.J.Geiben.Lynn@hitchcock.org 
Officer Cori Santagate, Hartford Police Department, Csantagate@hartford-vt.org

Wellbeing in the Workplace – Resources

GENERAL RESOURCES
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.
Psychology Today Website – To find a specialized therapist, refer clients to the Psychology
Today website where they can enter filters to help them find a therapist who takes their insurance
and specializes in what they are looking for – both by diagnoses and approaches.

LOCAL RESOURCES

DHMC Psychiatric Emergencies: (800) 556-6249, press 7 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
UVCovidRelief.org
A group of volunteer licensed mental health counselors who are available for 30-minute
appointments to support residents of the Upper Valley who are affected in any way by the Covid-
19 pandemic. Individuals can take advantage of up to 6 sessions and can book the appointment
online through the website: uvcovidrelief.org.

NEW HAMPSHIRE COUNSELING AND SERVICES

West Central Behavioral Health
9 Hanover Street, Suite 2
Lebanon, NH 03756
Providing comprehensive mental and behavioral health treatment for adults ages 18+ and
seniors. Their clinical team develops a personalized plan of treatment designed to assist clints in
managing symptoms, improving health, and enhancing quality of life. They offer individualized
counsline sessions as well as psychiatric assessment, case management and emergency services.
GENERAL INQUIRES: (603) 448-0126
EMERGENCY SERVICES: (800) 564-2578

VERMONT COUNSELING AND SERVICES

HCRS
49 School Street,
Hartford, VT 05047
GENERAL INQUIRIES: 802-295-3031
CRISIS LINE: 800-622-4235
HCRS provides creative, collaborative and compassionate health care services that are
responsive to the needs of our community. They provide emergency services, individual
counseling, adult outpatient and substance abuse programs and more.

CLARA MARTIN CENTER
39 Fogg Farm Road
Wilder, VT
GENERAL INQUIRIES: (802) 295-1311
CRISIS LINE: 800-639-6360
Serving children, families and individuals coping with behavioral challenges, emotional stress,
mental illness, alcohol and other drug problems. They offer counseling, psychiatric services,
consultations, short term crisis intervention, education for families related to emotional and
behavioral challenges, evaluations, respite care, housing, assistance in obtaining disability
benefits, help with finding and keeping employment, outreach and home-based services, alcohol
and drug treatment, a walk-in clinic and a 24-hour emergency service system.

Three Upper Valley Institutions that Could Use Some TLC

What’s it like to navigate the pandemic when you’re the one signing the checks? Three Upper Valley bosses and business owners tell their tale, and why they value our support!


Legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash (left) backstage with Lebanon Opera House Executive Director Joe Clifford in October 2019. Photo by Nancy Nutile-McMenemy.

For the Lebanon Opera House, the pandemic has been an intermission—a really, really long intermission. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, LOH was forced on March 13 to suspend all programming by national touring artists, resident community arts partners, and the Lebanon school district. At present, LOH will be dark well into Fall 2020. Due to the absence of ticket sales—upon which, like many in the arts community, LOH relies heavily—the LOH Board of Directors made the painful decision to furlough three of its four full-time staff members in mid-April.

 Executive Director Joe Clifford remains under full-time employment and he’s working feverishly to raise much-needed bridge funds, reschedule performances (including the Grammy-winning Béla Fleck and The Flecktones, on June 2, 2021), issue refunds for canceled shows, and book performances for 2021.

 “As a ‘nonessential’ business whose mission is to build and bind the community through large-scale gatherings (i.e. performances), COVID-19 has struck at the very heart of our work,” said Clifford. “The nature of event planning dictates that we work months, sometimes a year, in advance. We simply cannot afford to cease the planning, booking, selling, and marketing of performing arts events. Of course, we’re operating on COVID-19’s timeline and the ability to host successful public events is no longer guaranteed. At this point, we’re fighting for survival. Our return to ‘normalcy’ will take many months as patrons slowly warm up to the idea of once again sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of their neighbors.”

 A donation made to LOH through the TLC 4Ward program will have far-reaching ripple effects. The relative health of LOH’s operations directly impacts Lebanon restaurants, shops, and more than a dozen Upper Valley-based arts groups (Opera North, Revels North, and North Country Community Theatre among them) who set-up residence on the LOH stage each season.


Left Bank Books has been part of Hanover’s Main Street for over 20 years. Owner Nancy Cressman writes: 

Building relationships with book-loving people is the foundation of our mission. Our longevity comes from serving a loyal local customer base and being a welcoming and peaceful spot full of over 9,000 interesting books for locals and tourists alike. Our collection is carefully curated to select authors who are esteemed in their fields. Our collection spans many interests, age groups, and languages. We have contemporary and classic literature, poetry, cookbooks, field guides, history, books by local authors and about our region, children’s books, art books; architecture and music are also well represented, as well as other fields of interest.

The challenge for us at this COVID moment is that we lost three months of revenue while we were closed, but the rent, electric bills, etc, kept coming. Summer is normally our busiest season, but with the Dartmouth students not on campus and tourist travel very curtailed, it means we will be looking to our local customers to support us by buying books. This is a hard ask, because so many local businesses need help in this time, but if you believe the Upper Valley needs a used book store where people can find titles that a bookstore selling new books would not have, and you believe that the retail experience can be one of discovery and friendliness, please consider donating to Left Bank Books. Our store’s model is a wonderful example of local sustainability. We gather books from the community and send them out again to new owners. We purchase books for inventory from library sales, which helps in their fundraising. We believe in reuse—thus we sell used books! We hire local people, including many book-loving teenagers for whom this is their first job. We are small, committed and hyper-local.


April Woodman, owner of 100 Mile Market in downtown Claremont, didn’t have time to respond in writing because she was staffing her store, as she does most business days. Her market, which opened four years ago this May, sells food produced within 100 MILES of Claremont. Pre-COVID, 1oo Mile Market had been slowly building its customer base. “Then the world went crazy,” she said. “We stayed open 37 days straight, we didn’t close.” Sales boomed. “People needed what they needed and there was a giant hole in the supply chain, and we helped fill it.” They had to make upfront investments in additional freezer and cooler space for local meat and dairy, so they are short the capital and time to create an online ordering platform for curbside pick-up. TLC funds would help with that. At present, orders come via a time-consuming jumble of phone, email, and text messages. 


Got a few extra dollars due to pandemic restrictions on your activities? Consider helping local businesses and organizations through TLC 4Ward or patronizing those entities!

Regional Collaboration Along Route 11

Claremont in its 19th-century heyday. Courtesy of the Claremont Historical Society.

As part of an effort to better engage the southern portion of Vital Communities’ 69-town region, over five months in 2019 VC’s Mike Kiess visited towns and cities throughout what has come to be known as the Route 11 Corridor. These 23 municipalities clustered along that state highway and the Sugar and Black rivers, from Wilmot,NH, to Westminster, Vt.

“I’d usually set up one or two interviews in advance,” Kiess said. “But what was most fun was getting to the town a few hours early and walking down its main street and finding a place that clearly locals were going into,” such as a coffee shop or convenience store. “I’d start talking to people and asking them about their community, what they liked about it, what concerned them. I’d end up coming away with 8 or 10 substantial conversations in addition to the one or two I had planned. I’d always find people who offered a great perspective I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.”

What did he hear during this “diner diplomacy”? “People expressed a great deal of pride,” he said. “People are really devoted to their communities. They are honest about the challenges and shortcomings, but they want their kids to have a good experience growing up and feel that often it’s their town that makes that possible.”

Those dozens and dozens of conversations, coupled with lots of statistics about demographics, economy, and more, went into a 38-page report (“Route 11 Corridor Outreach Report”) presented in a February meeting of people from throughout that region. Now, after having to pause while everyone adjusted to the demands of the pandemic, the group will come together digitally for its second meeting on Tuesday, June 23, 4 pm.

In the February meeting, participants came up with a varied list of ways people in their region could work together to enhance life for its residents—including neighborhood clean-ups, shared sports and arts events between towns, workforce internships, volunteer-supported housing upgrades, composting, and community pride events. At the June 23 meeting, people will choose efforts to sign on to and will decide on next steps.

A lot of the faces in the room belong to people Mike met in those town visits and invited to participate in the longer-term effort. They include June Sweetsir and Hillary Halleck (Charlestown), Stacey Hammerlind (Newport), Beth Daniels (Southwest Community Services), Gary Fox (Rockingham), and Elyse Crossman (Claremont).

These 23 towns haven’t seen themselves as a region, historically. Older residents remember intense rivalries between high school sports teams. The area shares the impact of a decline in the industry that in the 19th-century built the urban centers of Claremont and Springfield. The region was also affected by the early 1960s decision to route Interstate 89 through Lebanon and Hartford rather than what was then the more populous and developed communities of Claremont and Springfield.

Cooperative agreements exist between towns for certain functions, and shopping and restaurants draw people into the region’s urban downtowns and shopping centers. Nor is it necessarily the goal of this process to get Route 11 to see itself as a “Lower Upper Valley.” “We’re not starting something new,” says Kiess. “We’re just weaving together relationships that already exist and looking for how Vital Communities can support these efforts.”

Meetings of Minds = Economic Help

A searchable guide to local businesses of all sorts, expert help for businesses trying to survive the pandemic, and a crowdfunding platform that already helped save our local daily newspaper: these and more are part of an overall Upper Valley economic recovery effort in which Vital Communities has played a critical role.

It began when Vital Communities was asked to do what it does best: bring people together from across the Upper Valley to identify problems and create solutions.  At a meeting of municipal leaders in early March focused on the health and municipal impacts of the looming coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon City Manager Sean Mulholland and Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin asked if Vital Communities could bring together local leaders around economic disruption.

Vital Communities started two weekly virtual meetings, one with people from local Chambers of Commerce and the other involving a broader spectrum, including a bank CEO, a town manager, a few local chambers directors, and economic development folks at the city, regional level, and state level.  “At that time, everything was changing really quickly,” said Tom Roberts, executive director of Vital Communities, “so having a weekly phone call was helpful, just to compare notes, to join together, and to talk about what the needs were.” 

The meetings helped get important new information to local businesses and helped everyone deal with puzzles like the federal Payment Protection Program and safely reopening. “It’s helpful for the different members to be able to ask somebody from a bank what’s going on with this, or someone on the city level about that,” added Tom.  

So far the meetings have given rise to a number of developments that help our local economy in the short term and long, including:

  •  the creation of a discussion list for businesses to share information; 
  • the hiring of a Pandemic Small Business Navigator shared by Vital Communities and Grafton County Economic Development;
  • a new Vital Communities Guide that lists local farms and businesses to keep money local by patronizing; 
  • a “buy local” advertising campaign; 
  • creating a community crowdfunding platform, TLC 4WARD, to support small businesses. 

TLC 4Ward has already raised over $155,000 for the Valley News and has recently expanded to allow donations to many different local businesses through the site. 

These meetings highlight the value of collaboration and shared information at a time when doubts and questions abound for many. We are stronger when we work together to solve our region’s challenges!

 

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