Everyone Eats Comes to Claremont!

Thanks to a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Upper Valley Everyone Eats model is crossing the Connecticut River: Vital Communities is working with Claremont, NH, partners to pilot a program in that city that will provide restaurant-made meals to people in need.

Beginning March 25, three participating restaurants (The Hitchin’ Post, Sunshine Cookshop, and The Common Man) will each prepare 65 meals per week for the Claremont Soup Kitchen, for a total of 195 meals per week. The restaurants will receive $10.90 per meal ($10 plus a 9% New Hampshire rooms and meals tax) and are asked to allocate at least 10 percent of their ingredient budget to New Hampshire farms and food processors. These nutritionally balanced meals are intended for anyone experiencing food insecurity or whose food insecurity has been impacted by the pandemic. The program is currently slated to run for 10 weeks. Partners hope this pilot will inspire enthusiasm for a larger-scale adoption of this model in New Hampshire.

“The Claremont Soup Kitchen is truly blessed to be chosen to participate in Everyone Eats,” said Cindy Stevens, the kitchen’s executive director. “This program is one more example of how amazing our community is and their willingness to look out for their neighbor. It is heartwarming to know that not only can we provide for those needing food assistance but also those who are struggling to keep their staff working.”

The Claremont program is modeled on Vermont Everyone Eats, for which Upper Valley Everyone Eats (UVEE) is the Upper Valley hub, administered by Vital Communities. Begun in August 2020 and slated to continue through June 2021, Vermont Everyone Eats is funded by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and made possible through a grant provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA). UVEE is a partnership of Vital Communities, LISTEN, the Upper Valley Haven, Willing Hands, and numerous Upper Valley restaurants and social service providers.

The Claremont program is also inspired by other programs around New Hampshire that connect restaurants to people facing food insecurity due to COVID, such as Community Kitchen of Keene, Community Meals to Go in Portsmouth, and the Monadnock Restaurant Project.

“This model, this pandemic response, has cropped up around the state, around New England, and the country because it’s so efficient and impactful,” said Lauren Griswold, Vital Communities’ coordinator of UVEE and the Claremont program. “With one source of funding it supports an economic sector and boosts community food security.”

As of March 14, UVEE had accomplished the following:

  • Meals served: 70,000
  • Individuals served: 68,300
  • Seniors served: 15,000
  • Revenue for restaurants: $700,000
  • Revenue for farms and food businesses: $46,500

For information about UVEE and Claremont Everyone Eats, check out the UVEE web page or email uvee@vitalcommunities.org.

The hottest spot in White River Junction this summer? A parking lot!

An underutilized parking lot behind the Hotel Coolidge in downtown White River Junction will become a vibrant, pandemic-safe place to eat, visit, and watch films and projection art this summer, thanks to an $18,000 grant from The Vermont Community Foundation (VCF), the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), and the Better Places partners.

The project also helps re-start the downtown’s First Friday celebrations, suspended due to the pandemic, with community arts projects and light and sound installations to re-animate the entire downtown and celebrate the arts community centered there.

The grant was obtained by a partnership centered on White River Indie Films (WRIF) and including the Town of Hartford, the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce, Vital Communities, CATV (Community Access Television), the Briggs Opera House, the Center for Cartoon Studies, and local businesses and film and media artists.

Light River Junction First Fridays with WRIF” aims to revitalize White River Junction’s “First Friday” celebrations, disrupted by COVID, by attracting people of all ages back to the village through film and media arts. From May to August, WRIF will transform downtown parking lots into an attractive forum for safe dining and cinema viewing. Film, including work by local filmmakers, will be projected in novel ways in spaces enhanced by local visual artists. The project is expected to revive social interaction and economic activity through the arts in reimagined and ongoing ways that can offer inspiration to other Vermont communities.

“The vision originated in WRIF’s experimental ‘Light River Junction Festival of Cinema Light,’ a weekend of outdoor projection in downtown White River Junction,” explained WRIF Board Member Samantha Davidson Green. “In December 2020, we shouted out to local filmmakers, who shared their work freely for the public to enjoy safely—whether by car or through snow on foot—projected on buildings and in shop windows. Its success revealed how much the community craves the shared experience of art and the potential for re-imagining cinema and media arts events to draw people back to our hurting downtown businesses. The Better Places grant enables WRIF to partner with an amazing team of local organizations and the Town of Hartford, many of whom pioneered the First Friday celebrations years ago, in our efforts to revitalize our local economy and heal our community fabric through the arts.”

The project’s main site is the parking area at 40-50 Currier Street, behind the Hotel Coolidge and Gates-Briggs building, which owns the lot and supports the project. The lot is bordered on several sides by white-sided buildings that will serve as projection surfaces for cinema and moving image installation art. In addition, a portable screen will be erected in one end of the lot for screening high-resolution feature film content after dark. The site is adjacent to the Wolf Tree Bar and in walking distance from a half-dozen restaurants, making it convenient for outdoor dining.

The project also involves a number of other aspects, including community art projects and smaller film and video projections and sound installations at spots throughout downtown, with changing content by local filmmakers and sound artists.

These activities will be part of White River Junction First Fridays, which are scheduled for May 7, June 4, July 2, and August 6.

The project’s organizers see its impact as three-fold:

  • Boosting the local economy by stimulating downtown shopping and dining;
  • Helping our recovery from the social isolation of COVID with programming that is welcoming to all and accessible by public transportation; and
  • Supporting the creative economy—which has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic shutdowns—by drawing people back to arts-rich White River Junction and showcasing works by local and emerging film and media artists, including participants in the Vermont- and New Hampshire-wide Freedom & Unity Young Filmmakers’ Contest and a CATV-sponsored Film Slam/festival.

The White River Junction project was one of only eight chosen from among 63 applications representing 54 communities across the state from Canaan to Pownal and Alburgh to Brattleboro. A total of $129,275 was awarded.

These grants will help communities reimagine and reopen public spaces for safe dining, shopping, and recreation, while showcasing the state’s unique sense of place. The community-driven projects ranged from village green and park improvements, to public art installations, alley activations, community arts centers, music and performing arts series, as well as other grassroots projects that bring people together safely in public spaces.

“Better Places grants are an important tool in our toolbox to help revitalize our communities as we recover from the pandemic,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I want to thank the Vermont Community Foundation, the National Life Foundation, the Vermont Arts Council, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and the Vermont Department of Health for their work on this program as we support improvements in towns and villages across the state.”

“Public spaces can tell a story about our communities—they bring us together when accessible or leave us isolated when they aren’t,” says Vermont Community Foundation President and CEO Dan Smith. “The Community Foundation is committed to working with other state leaders to support projects that bring people together safely and contribute to the recovery and resilience of our economy, culture, and sense of connection.”

“First Fridays” started more than ten years ago through the collaboration of local businesses such as Revolution with the Center for Cartoon Studies, Main Street Museum, and others to celebrate downtown, becoming a community ritual gathering around the arts and local commerce.

With the exception of the past year, WRIF has presented an annual film festival and special screenings since its 2004 founding, in various downtown locations, at times in conjunction with First Fridays. WRIF and CATV have also partnered for film slams and screenings.

Free Webinar on Writing Waterway Quests, April 8

Valley Quests are treasure hunts set in special locations around the Upper Valley. Each Quest follows a unique set of clues that teach you about a place’s ecology, wildlife, and history while leading to a “treasure box” with a special stamp and log book for you to sign. But they’re not restricted to dry land! Wetlands, streams, and lakes are also among the special 160+ Upper Valley places that Quests explore.

Learn how to make your own waterway-based Quest in a webinar with Vital Communities’ Sandy Gmur on Thursday, April 8, 7 to 8 pm, sponsored by the Springfield (VT) Town Library and the Black River Action Team. Register here.

Come with ideas and questions for a waterway Quest of your own and work with Sandy and other participants to turn your idea into a Quest that could be added to Vital Communities’ Quest directory!

Having moved to the Upper Valley two years ago, Sandy has found Quests invaluable activities to help her get to know her new communities. With so many beautiful bodies of water throughout the Connecticut River Watershed using a canoe or kayak is a great way to introduce people to these special places.

Quests can help people appreciate a precious natural asset, says Kelly Stettner, director of the Black River Action Team. “Our waterways are priceless treasures in and of themselves, as places to boat and fish, swim and splash.  They also provide incredible value to the healthy function of the entire ecosystem: everything alive relies on clean water.  From turtles to trout, salamanders to songbirds, and dragonflies to deer (and everything in-between!), wildlife depends on our rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, and even wetlands and bogs to flourish.  By writing your own water-based ValleyQuest for a public waterway in your area, you can help visitors as well as residents responsibly explore and come to appreciate these fascinating and sometimes overlooked gems. Awareness of a river or lake is a first step toward appreciation and a desire to help keep it clean and healthy, fully functional for humans as well as for wildlife.”

Go here to learn more about creating your own Quests, as well as books and stamps to go with them!


Vital Communities Seeks New Board Members

Do you want to make a difference in the Upper Valley?

Vital Communities seeks new board members who share our commitment to inclusive, equitable, and long-term community engagement that cultivates the civic, environmental, and economic vitality of the Upper Valley. With 17 full- and part-time staff, a $1.4 million budget, and a service area covering 69 towns in NH and VT, we work with partners to lead projects in the areas of climate, economic resilience, energy, farming, food security, housing, leadership training, place-based education, and transportation. 

We are actively seeking to diversify our Board as part of our commitment to identify, include, engage and connect with residents of all ages, genders, races, cultures, faiths, abilities, professions, documentation status, income levels, sexual orientation, and geographic locations within our Upper Valley service area. Previous Board experience is not required.

With a new Executive Director building on our 25+ year history and crafting a vision for growth that enables the organization to bring more diverse voices to the table to inform the design and implementation of our projects, this is an exciting time to join the Vital Communities Board of Directors. Board members will be guiding the organization’s next strategic plan (2022-2025), ensuring that it aligns with community needs. They determine Vital Communities’ mission and purposes, ensure that programs align with the mission, and assess progress toward annual and multi-year goals. “The staff are doing amazing work,” said one Board member recently. “It’s so important…I get so excited about the programs being implemented and about Vital Communities overall.” 

Board members serve in a volunteer capacity for two- or three-year terms starting on June 1. Board member roles and responsibilities (listed on pages 3-4) include attending six meetings per year which are conducted either via Zoom or in person. Reimbursement for mileage and other expenses is available, and orientation and training are provided.

If you are interested in applying, please complete the application at the link by March 31, 2021. If you would like further information, please contact Barbara Barry, Board Member (bbarbellb@gmail.com) or Sarah Jackson, Executive Director (sjackson@vitalcommunities.org).

Apply here



Expectations of Board Members:

  1. Understand the mission, policies, and programs of Vital Communities as well as an understanding its current and future needs;
  2.  Understand the financing of Vital Communities as well as its regularly circulated financial statements, as scrutinized and presented to the Board by the Finance Committee;    
  3. Share information about Vital Communities’ goals and accomplishments with diverse networks throughout the Upper Valley;
  4. Identify and secure individual donations for Vital Communities, and support Vital Communities staff as needed in identifying and securing other financial resources to further the cause of Vital Communities;
  5. For those in a financial position to make donations to organizations, contribute annually to Vital Communities’ fundraising appeals by including the organization among your top three nonprofit giving opportunities, thereby enabling Vital Communities to report 100% Board giving, as required by many donors;
  6. Identify and assist in facilitating new professional and social connections with Upper Valley individuals and nonprofit organizations that would be mutually beneficial;
  7. Assist the Nominating Committee in creating a board that reflects the diverse geographic, demographic, socio-economic and professional composition of the Upper Valley;
  8. Prepare for, attend, and conscientiously participate in board meetings (five 2-hour meetings per year plus one day-long retreat) and  serve on at least one committee of the board (variable schedules for committees, depending on focus and time of year);
  9. Participate in personal / professional development around key issues such as racial justice and in topics related to nonprofit Board best practices
  10. Identify and engage with at least one Vital Communities program and its staff members and, if the program has an advisory committee associated with it, attend at least one advisory committee meeting per year; and  
  11.  Attend at least one public Vital Communities event annually, apart from board meetings.     

Expectations of the Board as a Whole:

  1. Determine and approve the mission and purposes of Vital Communities;
  2. Select and evaluate the performance of the Executive Director of Vital Communities;
  3. Lead the strategic planning process, drawing on staff input and identifying emerging and evolving community needs, ensuring that programs align with Vital Communities’ mission and creating measures by which progress toward goals may be assessed and documented;
  4. Ensure strong fiduciary oversight and financial management of Vital Communities;
  5. Assist in fundraising and other resource development efforts;
  6. Share information about Vital Communities’ goals and accomplishments with diverse networks throughout the Upper Valley;
  7. Approve new programs; 
  8. Participate in annual Board self-assessment;
  9. Maintain a regular and open line of communication with Executive Director through the Chair and Executive Committee of the board; and
  10. Gratefully acknowledge and support the hard work and dedication of the Vital Communities staff members.     

Expectations of Vital Communities:

To support Board Members, Vital Communities will:

  1. Send an agenda and board materials in a timely fashion, prior to Board meetings;
  2. Provide new Board Members with an orientation to Vital Communities;
  3. Keep Board Members informed of organizational issues, financial challenges, etc. so that Board Members are able to make informed decisions during meetings;
  4. Provide information needed to participate in Vital Communities activities, advisory committee meetings, etc.;
  5. Offer ongoing Board Member education and training opportunities; and
  6. Provide Board Members with Directors and Officers Liability insurance.