Calling for Civil, Inclusive Communication & Interaction: Thoughts on January 6

As an organization that brings people together, bridging boundaries and engaging our whole community to create positive change, we were shocked and saddened by the images that came to us from Washington, DC, on Wednesday. Watching a violent mob overrunning the Capitol,  recognizing the contrasts in how these protestors were treated compared to those calling for racial justice in the summer, seeing the violation of two of our nation’s most important institutions: fair and free elections and the peaceful transfer of power—all were ugly reminders of the deep divisions and systemic racism in our country.  This is not the nation we want to be. 

How do we pull back from this brink? At Vital Communities, we are reminded of our founding by members of the Upper Valley League of Women Voters. Nationally and locally, the League strives to involve people in the electoral process, especially the disenfranchised. We value the work done by the League, Fairfight in Georgia, and others to make the electoral process more truly democratic. 

The local League members who founded Vital Communities in the early 1990s believed it wasn’t enough to increase people’s access to voting; voters needed to be informed about important issues and understand the region as a whole. They saw the need for conversations and problem-solving among people from a spectrum of experiences, identities, and political outlooks. 

Nearly three decades later, that sort of deep, civil, inclusive conversation remains one of our guiding ideals. We believe this kind of community interaction can be, in its way, an antidote to the cynicism, misinformation, divisive rhetoric, and racism that is harming our nation. This week’s events at the U.S. Capitol were a stark reminder of the work that remains to be done. We’re hopeful that others will join us as we work to bring people together and build true community. 

The Vital Communities Staff

2020 Volunteers of the Year: The Upper Valley’s Mutual Aid Groups

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Upper Valley, it brought an ever-lengthening list of questions and concerns. Would supplies of food and other essentials hold out? Where would those suddenly without income get help? Who would support those at greatest risk from the coronavirus so they could stay home and stay safe? Where could people get the best information about testing, public health measures, and social assistance programs?

Seemingly overnight, an answer sprang up: the “mutual aid groups,” an interconnected array of community-based volunteer groups that reached out to residents and shared information with each other. Those Upper Valley mutual aid groups, numbering close to two dozen, have been chosen as Vital Communities’ collective 2020 Volunteers of the Year.

“We usually choose an individual for this honor, but this year it seemed fitting to shine a light on the incredible network of people who stepped up for their neighbors with such ingenuity and resourcefulness,” said Sarah Jackson, Vital Communities Executive Director. “The mutual aid groups have been a great demonstration of how to be resilient in the face of challenges. They used online tools like surveys, meetings, spreadsheets and community listservs to reach those in need and to share information among other groups. The volunteers are people from within each community, who understand their town’s people and their needs.  The networks represent a true grassroots effort.”

Mutual aid groups constitute an ever-changing and not sharply defined list, but below is a representative list of some of the Upper Valley mutual aid groups, with contact information in the links:

Much help has also been provided by the Central Vt Council on Aging and local “aging in place” groups as well as through various communities’ boards of selectmen, town clerk’s offices, churches, village stores, schools, food shelves, and libraries.

Rehab Grants Create 68 Housing Units

Grants to landlords and property owners to help fix up vacant, unused rental properties have resulted in 68 new housing units in Windsor and Windham counties, according to recent figures from the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust and Downstreet Housing

Property owners could receive up to a $30,000 grant per rental unit from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, which was utilizing CARES Act funding to improve the overall quality, availability, and affordability of rental housing throughout the state. The application deadline was November 1. Read more about the program here.

“A safe place to call home is an essential part of staying healthy, especially during this COVID pandemic,” said Mike Kiess, Vital Communities’ Workforce Housing Coordinator. “This program was a smart investment of public funds. The relatively small grants helped transform vacant properties into quality places to live. No new public infrastructure was required, and the additional residents provide more tax revenue for communities.”

The program added units to the following communities:

South Royalton (4)
BellowsFalls (7)
Bradford (1)
Brattleboro (15)
Hartford (9)
Newbury (1)
Norwich (1)

Springfield (9)
Williamstown (6)
Wilmington (1)
Windsor (14)