Get Involved With Workforce Housing In Your Town

The workforce housing shortage is a challenge that impacts everyone in the Upper Valley. Many communities are working toward solutions—and you can get involved.

Upcoming Opportunities to Get Involved

  • Royalton, Strafford, Sharon, and Tunbridge have joined together to form a housing group for their four-town region. They are working together for mixed senior-family-student living in South Royalton to serve all four towns and a volunteer-supported home rehabilitation program that would help transform existing buildings into homes for more people. Join the next meeting Thursday, February 13, at 7:00 pm at the Sharon Congregational Church.
  • Mount Ascutney Hospital and Health Center sponsors a housing group for the 13 towns in their service area. The group is starting to work with residents and towns to reduce barriers to long-term rental. Join the next meeting Thursday, February 6, at 12:30 pm in the Mt. Ascutney hospital board room.

Contact Vital Communities Workforce Housing Coordinator Mike Kiess for more information.

Canaan Keeps FarmRaisers Alive

Kale. Carrots. Beets. Potatoes. Powerkraut!

These are just a few of the delightful local foods I’ve received from Root 5 Farm over the past few months as part of my fall FarmRaiser—a community-supported agriculture (CSA) fundraiser run by the Canaan Elementary School PTA that supports the school, the farm, and the idea of healthy, local eating in our community.

Vital Communities launched the FarmRaiser program in 2012 and coordinated it for several years before moving on to other projects. Canaan Elementary was among the first to adopt the program—and, according to Becka Warren at Vital Communities, who helped establish FarmRaisers in our region, it’s the very last school in the Upper Valley to keep the program going.

So why does Canaan bother?

It’s not a big fundraiser for the PTA—the school earned $600 for the 25 shares community members purchased this fall—but money isn’t the goal anyway, says PTA Secretary Hillary Gillies.

“The PTA loves it because it promotes local farms and foods and healthy eating,” says Canaan parent Kristen DeLeault, who for the past four years has coordinated the program. Kristen has worked hard to find partner farms—past partners Blue Ox Farm in Enfield and Autumn Harvest Farm in Grafton unfortunately went out of business. This year she coordinated a plan with Fairlee-based Root 5 Farm to personally pick up the FarmRaiser shares at their normal CSA pickup location in Lebanon and deliver them to Canaan Elementary. Her persistence and commitment have made the program possible.

“There aren’t many big farms nearby in New Hampshire that can sustain what we were hoping for,” Kristen says. “It’s not as local as we’d like, but it’s still in the Upper Valley.”

For Root 5 Farm, co-owner Danielle Allen says, the program just broke even financially. But it still made good business sense. “It was a great way to move product, especially in the fall when we have big harvests,” she said. “And we got exposure to a whole new set of customers without the farm having to do a lot of legwork.”

“It’s a lovely collaboration. It brings an awareness of farms and healthy food in our communities,” Danielle says. “It has all the good feels.”

“Canaan Elementary School continues to inspire us with its creative thinking about fundraising that is delicious, healthy, and local,” says Becka. “We love seeing the FarmRaiser continue all these years, and we hope other area schools consider whether it might work for their communities. It shows that eating local can take root at the earliest age (pun intended)!”

As a parent and FarmRaiser participant, I love that I can support my PTA and a local farm business all while getting something healthy and delicious for my family in exchange. My kids always look forward to FarmRaiser pickup day—and while they enjoy their fresh, local Kale Chips, I get to indulge in some delicious and simple Curried Carrot and Coconut Soup!

Want to start a FarmRaiser in your school? Get started with our online resources.

Celebrating our Volunteer of the Year

Ed. note: Vital Communities Executive Director Tom Roberts made the following remarks to honor 2019 Volunteer of the Year Bill Geraghty at our Open House on December 6.

We are delighted to celebrate Bill Geraghty as our Volunteer of the Year.

It is fitting that we honor Bill as we are celebrating our 25th.  As with many of the previous volunteers we’ve honored, their service to Vital Communities and the Upper Valley spans many years.

Bill has served on our board of directors for 11 of the last 13 years, coming back to serve again after his carefully laid out leadership succession plan fell apart due to a job change out across the country.

Bill has served twice as chair of the board, running prompt, efficient meetings and ably standing as our volunteer leader in the Upper Valley.

Jenny Levy, our outgoing board chair and VP of People, Community and the Environment at Hypertherm, said of Bill:

Bill’s calm, insightful, witty and wise character is a bedrock for the Vital Communities board. Like any real bedrock, it sticks around and allows others to grow around it – that’s Bill. He knows the history, knows the trials and errors and the successes, yet is eager for new ideas and to work with everyone. Like bedrock, you can always trust and count on Bill. He always does what he says he’s going to do, and signs up for way more than his fair share of work on behalf of our community.

Bill first got involved with Vital Communities 18 years ago when he was serving as the Vice President of Human Resources at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and joined our Upper Valley Transportation Management Association (TMA) as D-H’s representative. He was active in looking at alternatives to building more parking garages by improving transportation and housing options for D-H employees.

Over the years, Bill has served on nearly every committee we have here – with substantial service on our finance and nominating committees.

Because of his HR expertise, he was a key part of the search committee that hired both me and my predecessor, Mary Margaret Sloan; he was called upon for invaluable HR advice by both of us and has presented a set of trainings for the staff on HR matters.

Mary Margaret had this to say about Bill:

Bill was a lifeline for me. Often executive directors are isolated, but Bill wasn’t just the board chair, he was a true partner. If I needed advice — he was there. If I needed someone to share worries with — he was there. He is brilliant and kind, but my favorite thing about Bill is his sense of humor. We’d talk about something serious, and then he’d get a twinkle, and make me laugh. … Vital Communities… has been extraordinarily lucky to enjoy his leadership.

And Bill was on and chaired the Leadership Upper Valley Board of Governors and a key member of the Heroes & Leaders dinner planning committee, including serving as master of ceremonies for the event. Stacey Glazer, who ran LUV for many years used these words to describe Bill: “direct, super-helpful, wise, honest, caring, civic-minded, supportive and steady presence.” She summed it up well: “Bill was always there for Vital Communities when we needed him.”

And Bill did all this for Vital Communities while also serving as a member of the Hanover Selectboard, as well as being on other nonprofit boards.

I can echo Jenny’s, Mary Margaret’s, and Stacey’s sentiments and express my personal deep appreciation for Bill’s thoughtful, caring, and patient approach.

I am delighted to present Bill Geraghty our Volunteer of the Year Award for 2019.

Stand in Your Circle of Strength and Lead

Ed. Note: On May 30, Vital Communities honored 12 community leaders who’ve added immeasurably to the vitality of the Upper Valley at its annual Heroes & Leaders Celebration. The following are the event’s keynote remarks from Jenny Levy, the immediate past board chair of Vital Communities and Vice President of People, Community and Environment at Hypertherm.

Congratulations to Vital Communities for 25 years of cultivating positive change in our 69 towns of the Upper Valley. It has been my honor to be part of caring for and growing that impact during my 5 years on the board, just a short part of the long history of this incredible organization.

Congratulations to the honorees this evening. I am humbled to be a part of your celebration tonight. You are joining another seven “classes” of heroes and leaders. Prior honoree categories include Olympians, Veterans, Women Leaders, Visionaries of the Upper Valley, Mentors, Young Leaders, and Long-Standing Stewards – some of whom are here with us tonight. Thank you all for being a critical part of what makes the Upper Valley such a special place.

When you listen tonight, read about past leaders, or, like me, work alongside two of them, Barbara Couch, a Woman Leader, and Dick Couch, a Visionary of the Upper Valley, it is easy, and frankly appropriate, to be in awe. We are quick to put them all on a pedestal.

This very event makes us pause and look up to these heroes and leaders and the heights they have achieved. We sit here and look at THEM up THERE. I start to wonder HOW did they do it? WHERE does a hero or a leader come from? Maybe it was the Wheaties they ate for breakfast, or, as Warren Buffet might put it, they got a winning ticket in the ovarian lottery. So, knowing I was going to have the opportunity to speak tonight, I did some homework. I reached out to heroes and leaders from this year and prior years and asked them this simple question: “What was a moment that set you on the path to becoming a hero or a leader?” The answers they each gave were varied and inspiring, and, lucky for all of us, instructive.

Vital Communities grew out of what we can think of as the Rabbi Hillel category of leaders. He was a first-century Jewish scholar who wrote, now translated, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” Reading a 1993 Valley News Sunday editorial is what sparked a prior honoree, Betty Porter, to start a conversation with the League of Women Voters, and then one meeting, and then another, and then a whole organization was founded that we all now benefit from greatly. Don’t forget it was one person reading one article that set this future in motion.

An honoree tonight, Stan Williams, was standing in his driveway years ago, watching his son bike down to the Norwich library to do his homework on their computers, which had internet speed the Williams family couldn’t get at home. His son had just asked him, “Dad, can’t you do something about this?” Stan’s neighbor, with whom he was chatting at the time, piled on, “Stan, don’t you know something about telecom? Maybe you could get us internet?” Lucky for all of us, Stan listened on that day. Now 3,000 rural customers are connected to ECFiber.

One of the Upper Valley Visionaries, Van Chesnut from Advance Transit, tells a similar story of being called to lead. Advance Transit had just completed a small pilot project for DHMC that found ridership significantly increased if their employees could get on the bus for free when they simply showed their badge. Seeing this positive result, Van wondered if he could figure out how to do that for all Upper Valley citizens. Lucky for all of us, our community now benefits from the largest, free, non-urban public transit system in Vermont and New Hampshire. Betty, Stan, and Van all answered Rabbi Hillel’s questions with “Yes, me” and “Yes, now.”

Next, there’s the ABBA category of leadership. The “Take a chance on me” set of stories. Julia Griffin, the town manager for Hanover and a Woman Leader honoree, describes when she was fresh out of grad school and was the assistant to the assistant of the City Manager in Santa Monica, California, John Jalili. Despite being low on the totem pole Julia describes John’s mentorship as critical to her future path. He took time to teach her some key principles: to wade in quietly, to not force things, to think of community as theater, and to be patient. Likely, many of us consider, “Where would Hanover be without Julia?” The real questions are, where would Hanover be if John hadn’t taken the time to teach these lessons to Julia? And where would Hanover be if Julia hadn’t stopped and listened and taken these lessons to heart?

Rob Taylor described his father, Steve Taylor, an honored Long-Standing Steward, going to work at the Valley News in his 20s and being made the managing editor at that young age. Steve’s own capabilities helped him earn that position, but it was also someone else who took a chance on Steve to run and grow our region’s source of news and insights, in fact the very one which decades later inspired the creation of Vital Communities.

Julia and Steve and many others like them had people who saw something, some spark, some ray of potential, and those people took a chance on them. In turn, Julia and Steve took full advantage of that chance – they didn’t back away, they trusted themselves and the person on the other side of the table.

There’s another category of hero and leader, the “You can run but you can’t hide” type. This became apparent when I was talking with Elyse Crossman about her honor as a Young Leader as the executive director of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce. She grew up feeling like she was just known as “Ray’s daughter” and she resented it. You see, her father, Ray Gagnon, was on the Claremont City Council, was the Mayor and a Representative to the New Hampshire Assembly. Elyse’s turning point was when she stopped trying to run away from the legacy she was so lucky to be a part of and started to embrace the lessons of leadership and making a positive difference her father had been demonstrating her whole life.

One of the honored Women Leaders, Sara Kobylenski, former executive director of the Haven and ongoing change maker, told me she was recently given a stuffed giraffe by her friend Jill Lord (a Long-Standing Steward honoree by the way). The card with it said, “Because you always stick your neck out for others.” It was at that moment that Sara realized this is exactly how she has lived her life, snapping her back to a memory of being a 4-year old on the playground and sticking up for another child there. Elyse and Sara have embraced their greatest sources of strength and use that to fuel their ongoing impact.

Finally, are the seed-sowing moments of heroes and leaders. Edie Thys Morgan was in the first class of Olympian honorees as an Alpine skier in the crazy speed events. She was on the World Cup circuit for 6 years and participated in two Olympics. When asked what her moment was, she described that the biggest impact came from small precious doses of encouragement she received from her mother every night she tucked young Edie into bed. These small moments knit together to form enormous inner security and confidence that later fueled Edie.

When I asked one of tonight’s honorees, and my friend, Pru Pease, she knew exactly the moment when she saw herself as somebody. It was when she walked through the doors of the Family Place, another honoree as a Long-Standing Steward, looking for guidance. Pru was pregnant with her second child and her first was perched on her hip with two broken legs. Christie Binzen, the ED at the time, came walking down the stairs, looked directly into Pru’s eyes with warmth and knowing and simply said, “Welcome.” It was in that one look, that one word, that Pru knew she was being seen for who she was and could be and that she was strong, deserving, and powerful—shall we say, truly heroic? Earlier, you heard for yourself what that small seed grew for Pru and the countless people Pru has likewise empowered.

Will we all be patient and diligent to sow seeds, like tonight’s honorees Pooh and Anne Sprague from Edgewater Farm, and the half dozen other farmers honored in prior years? These heroes know how to plant a seed at the right depth, in the right light, and with the right nutrients so that we may all in turn be nourished. What seeds in our community are we each planting and tending to?

Will we all raise our hands like Betty, Stan, and Van and answer the questions, “If not you, then who? If not now, when?” In what area of your life could you be answering these questions in the affirmative? When will you take up the call to stand in your circle of strength and lead?

When will you take up the call to stand in your circle of strength and lead?

Will we all take a chance on someone? Are we in a position to see something in someone else and have the guts to act on it? Or, has someone tried to take a chance on you? Like Julia and Steve, did you put your faith in them and yourself and did you take it? What additional greatness could occur if we each did so?

Will we all be brave enough like Elyse and Sara to realize our calling? Will we ask ourselves the same question: What are we running from, that if we stopped, turned around, and faced it, we would find our greatest source of strength?

As you now know, the heroes and leaders before us and in years past all come from where you and I sit tonight. They are not far above or away from us. The very future of the vitality of our community, our nation, even our world, rests on all of us learning these important lessons and taking them to heart. Look at yourself. Look around this room. Look around your community. Who and what will we be celebrating next year and at the 50th anniversary? You see, we are all creators of heroes and leaders, indeed, we are all heroes and leaders.

Thank you.

Heroes & Leaders: Creating a Vital Upper Valley

Every spring, Leadership Upper Valley, a program of Vital Communities, hosts the annual Heroes & Leaders Celebration to recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the Upper Valley. In 2019, we are pleased to honor 12 Leaders who add immeasurably to the vitality of our region. Read about these honorees below.

Liza Bernard and Penny McConnel met at a book discussion group and years later opened the Norwich Bookstore in 1994. Liza Bernard moved to the Upper Valley in 1977. She managed the Vermont State Craft Center in Windsor before starting her own business creating handwoven and hand-knit clothing. She worked at art galleries and consulted for art exhibitions across Vermont and did a short stint at King Arthur Flour, where she helped compile their 200th Anniversary Cookbook. A founding member of Local First Vermont, Liza was also a founder and enthusiastic promoter of Local First Alliance. Liza has served on the board of League of NH Craftsmen, the Child Care Center in Norwich, and the Abbott Memorial Library in Pomfret, where she lives. Penny McConnel and her husband Jim Gold have lived in Norwich for 41 years. Penny has always worked in retail and became a bookseller in 1981 at the Dartmouth Bookstore. She was a buyer there and later at a bookstore at the Powerhouse Mall. Penny has served on the boards of the Vermont Public Radio Advisory, Vermont Humanities Council, New England Independent Booksellers Association, and is presently on the boards of the Norwich Public Library and Norwich Senior Housing.

Len Cadwallader started his professional career running an after-school tutoring program in Johnson’s War on Poverty program in Lackawanna, New York. He worked at the Farm & Wilderness Camps in Plymouth, Vermont, for 21 years, first as Business Manager and then as Executive Director for 13 years. After a brief stint as the Executive Director of Kendal at Hanover, Len was hired in 2000 to become Vital Communities’ first full-time Executive Director, a position he held for 11 years. Throughout his professional career, Len always took time to get involved with social justice issues. For example, Len accompanied the Guatemalan couple who had lived in Sanctuary for 10 years at the Benedictine monastery in Weston, Vermont, when they decided to repatriate to their homeland. For the past two years he has commuted to the Massachusetts prisons where he co-facilitates anger management workshops in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) program.

Delia Clark was Founding Director of Vital Communities, serving from 1993-1999. She is currently Principal at Confluence, where her work focuses on building sustainable communities through facilitating civic engagement, place-based learning, heritage interpretation, strategic planning, and community dialogue. She is a frequent trainer and facilitator in these areas throughout the United States and internationally, for organizations that include National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, Shelburne Farms, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Delia is the co-author of Questing: A Guide to Creating Community Treasure Hunts published by University Press of New England; Learning to Make Choices for the Future: Connecting Public Lands, Schools and Communities Through Place-based Learning and Civic Engagement; Building Skills for Effective Facilitation; and other manuals and chapters that have collectively been translated into six languages. Mother of three grown children, Delia lives in Taftsville with her husband, Tim Traver.

Ivy CondonIvy Condon is deeply involved in her community as a native of Claremont. There she helps to coordinate programs and events as the Center Coordinator at the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center. Ivy is also in her fifth year as the Stevens High School girls’ varsity basketball coach. She works with volunteers from the girls’ teams each week at the Community Center to teach young children the game of basketball. In her spare time, Ivy and her husband run a basketball club, the Claremont Lady Hornets, which includes girls from 3rd through 12th grade in the Claremont area. Ivy enjoys being a positive role model for the many youth athletes and young adults she has contact with in Claremont. Ivy has a strong passion for her community and is on the Healthy Vibrant Claremont Committee, which works to bring positivity and needed changes to Claremont.

Edgewater Farm is a family farm located along the alluvial plains of the Connecticut River in Plainfield. Originally a five-generation family farm owned by the Colby Family, Pooh and Anne Sprague have owned and operated Edgewater Farm since 1974. Although initially the Spragues maintained outside employment, they were encouraged by their county agents to try growing strawberries on the farm. The first strawberry crop was harvested in 1976, and from that point other crops were added to accommodate market demand. By 1983, both of the Spragues were working full time on the farm and, along with a few greenhouses, they opened their Route 12A Plainfield farmstand. Today they grow vegetable and ornamental bedding plants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and vegetables. They sell products through their greenhouses, farmstand, and CSA, as well as at select locations in the Upper Valley. Edgewater Farm donates to area food shelves through the local nonprofit organization Willing Hands. Pooh and Anne—along with their children, Sarah and Ray, daughter in-law Jenny, and 36-year veteran Mike Harrington—are involved with managing the many different aspects of the farm. With their third generation growing up on the farm now, they continue to take a long view of land stewardship.

Jarvis Green is a director, performing artist, and cultural worker from Anderson, South Carolina. He moved to Vermont in 2011 from New York City and founded BarnArts Center for the Arts in Barnard in 2012. He is the Founding Producing Artistic Director of JAG Productions and the former Director of Theatre Arts at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. Jarvis received his training at the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City, as well as South Carolina’s Anderson University and Governor’s School for the Arts. Jarvis has developed work with The Public Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, Village Theatre, 5th Avenue Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Capital Playhouse, BarnArts Center for the Arts, ArtisTree, Northern Stage, and North Country Community Theater. In 2017, Jarvis accepted the New England Theatre Conference’s Regional Award for Outstanding Achievement in the American Theatre on behalf of JAG Productions, in recognition of sustaining theatrical excellence.

A strong work ethic, a passion for helping others, and a sincere love of animals have been at the core of Curt and Sharon Jacques’ life and their business. Curt’s background as a top-performing territory sales manager and nutrition specialist for a national feed company and Sharon’s professional training as a nurse combine to form a unique mix of technical knowledge, drive, and heartfelt compassion that conceived a remarkable destination retail location and valued home to some 35 employees. Curt and Sharon purchased West Lebanon Feed & Supply in 1995. In 2007, they opened an 11,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that celebrates the human-animal bond. The business has since developed into a nationally and internationally top-awarded store in its industry. Now, Curt and Sharon’s vision of “Your Life, Your Style, Your Store” takes new shape through their venture GooberPick, as they continue to find innovative ways to serve the people and animals in their lives.

Tunbridge resident Prudence Pease created a career dedicated to advancing the lives of others in her local community and across Vermont and New Hampshire. She has been involved with many organizations in the Upper Valley including The Family Place, Orange County Parent Child Center, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, and Community Partnership of Orange-Windsor. Since 2014, Pru has worked for Granite United Way designing and implementing the Work United initiative in the Upper Valley. A journey that began with one full-time employee and five business has now grown to a team of three full-time resource coordinators serving 11 companies in the Upper Valley. Prudence is a certified Bridges Out of Poverty facilitator and has trained more than 16,000 individuals nationwide, drawing on her compelling personal story of growth and change. A graduate of the Vermont Leadership Institute, she is a highly sought-after speaker on the topic of economic diversity.

Monique Priestley is a designer, gamer, geek, and connector. She founded The Space On Main in Bradford, Vermont, as a nonprofit in 2017 in hopes that it could promote a greater sense of community and connection for people living and working in the Upper Valley. Monique believes strongly that everyone has a responsibility to give back to their communities. In Bradford, Monique holds several elected positions and serves on a number of town commissions. She is a director for Vermont Council on Rural Development, Global Campuses Foundation, Cohase Chamber of Commerce, Cohase Rotary Club, and Little Rivers Health Care. Monique volunteers as a mentor and was a member of the 2018-2019 cohorts of Leadership Upper Valley and Changemakers’ Table. She was named Cohase Chamber’s 2018 Citizen of the Year and Vermont Attorney General’s March 2019 Vermonter of the Month. Monique also telecommutes full-time for CampusCE Corporation in Seattle.

Stan Williams is Chairman and CFO of ValleyNet, the nonprofit operating partner of ECFiber. ECFiber is a Vermont Telecommunications District formed by 24 towns seeking to provide high speed Internet to every location in its member towns using no taxpayer funds. ECFiber has raised $32M of institutional financing to date and is more than halfway to its initial goal of covering 1,400 “underserved” miles of the 1,700 miles in its towns. Stan’s prior career was spent financing and developing networks in the US, Italy, and the UK with Cellular Communications, Cellular Communications of Puerto Rico, Cellular Communications International, and NTL (now Virgin Media.) Stan and his wife Jenny live in Norwich. He is a member of the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation and Upper Valley Land Trust boards (and a former Vital Communities board member) and has been an Upper Valley devotee since his family bought a summer camp on Crystal Lake in Enfield in 1973.

Doug WiseDoug Wise has a lifelong passion for using his talents to make a positive difference in the community. Doug graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959 and then earned his MBA in Marketing from Columbia University. He spent his career working in international marketing for major multinational corporations, has been a visiting professor in Pace University’s MBA program, and has been cited as one of America’s top business leaders and thinkers. Throughout his career, Doug has also been an active community member in the Upper Valley. He has served on a variety of boards and councils, including for Leadership Upper Valley, Ledyard National Bank, the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, Upper Valley Land Trust, AVA Gallery & Art Center, and numerous others. He continues to be deeply involved with Dartmouth College. Doug lives in Grantham with his lifelong partner Joanne, where together they have hosted more than 10 international Dartmouth undergraduate students.

Chuck Wooster and his wife Sue purchased Sunrise Farm in White River Junction in 1999, and Chuck brought the old farm back into production the following year as a seven-member vegetable CSA. Fast forward to 2019, and Sunrise Farm CSA has 300 members, has expanded to a second farmstead on Route 5, and, in addition to year-‘round organic vegetables, produces pasture-raised lamb, chicken, and eggs, and maple syrup, honey, and firewood. Chuck has been an active volunteer in Hartford, serving on the Selectboard, Conservation Commission, and as Town Moderator. He has also volunteered as a board member for the Upper Valley Land Trust and for Vital Communities’ Food & Farm program. Chuck writes on agricultural issues for the Valley News and other publications as time allows.

Have You Seen Our New Logo?

Have You Seen Our New Logo?

What do you think?!

Vital Communities brings people together to cultivate civic, environmental, and economic vitality in the Upper Valley—and after 25 years, it felt like time to refresh our look to match the impact and vibrancy of our work.

Vital Communities is an innovator, willing to test new approaches and share our learning. We focus on the unique challenges and resources of rural communities, specifically the Upper Valley—our laboratory for results-based community organizing. We are cross-disciplinary, collaborative, and ready to think and work in new ways. We build networks, bridge boundaries, and catalyze positive change in the Upper Valley.

We are Vital Communities.

Logo design by Nomad Communications

Business Leaders Housing Breakfast

We had a packed house at the Fall Business Leaders Housing Breakfast, with more than 180 community members registered to attend.

We gained insights on the housing challenges facing the Upper Valley from Dartmouth College geographer Garrett Dash Nelson, plus got an update on the region’s real estate market from Buff McLaughry of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty and Lynne LaBombard of Housing Solutions Real Estate. Find the morning’s presentations on our Workforce Housing page, and contact Mike Kiess (Michael@VitalCommunities.org) for more information.

Vital Communities on NHPR’s “The Exchange”

GoingLocal_1Did you catch us recently on New Hampshire Public Radio’s weekday call-in show “The Exchange“? Their ‘Going Local‘ series explores the different regions of the state, and in early August they focused on the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region (the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley!).

Vital Communities was honored to have Energy Program Manager Sarah Brock join as a panelist, along with Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director David Brooks, and Valley News Reporter Tim Camerato. They talked about everything from traffic congestion on Route 120 to a bi-state parade from Orford to Fairlee—give it a listen!

Longevity & Commitment: Keynote Remarks from Heroes & Leaders 2018

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Kevin Peterson, Director of Economic Development for the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, who offered the keynote speech at our May 3 Heroes & Leaders celebration. Read his complete remarks below. You can watch the entire event courtesy of CATV8. PHOTOS BY MOLLY DRUMMOND.

I am humbled to share the stage tonight with this year’s Heroes & Leaders, and given their longevity and commitment to the Upper Valley, it’s no surprise that I have a direct connection with nearly all of them, as I’m sure many of you do, too.

Bill Boyle was part of the pediatric oncology team that treated my 12-year old daughter for leukemia, and I helped manage the Boyle Fund for Community Pediatrics.

In the fall of 1978, before starting my freshman year at Dartmouth, my father and I drove across the river to Dan & Whit’s so he could buy a couple of gallons of Vermont maple syrup to take back home to Michigan. I’ve been a customer ever since.

That same fall, inspired by my mother’s membership in a small cooperative food-buying club, I ventured to the far southern end of campus—WAY down Lebanon Street—to shop at the Hanover Coop and the old Food Bin, and I’ve been a member since the mid-1980s.

Laurie Harding and I have talked many times over the years about management issues facing Headrest and other nonprofit organizations.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Jill Lord asking for input on the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment, and grants from New Hampshire Charitable Foundation helped to fund previous needs assessments.

My favorite breakfast is fried eggs and Fruitwood Smoked Uncured Bacon from North Country Smokehouse, and I worked with Mike Satzow on the Fund for Greater Claremont.

I chair the advisory committee for my Dartmouth class project, which placed a Dartmouth student at The Family Place to serve as a year-long social-entrepreneurship fellow who helped develop a marketing plan for their Jewelry-O’s program.

Rob Howe and I sang together for several years with Zephyrus, a community choral group.

While I have never been inside the Canaan Hardware, based on what I heard tonight, I need to pay a visit!

I first met Steve Taylor in 1986 when he was leading a presentation on the New Hampshire Land Conservation Investment Program. After I joined the staff of New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, he helped me develop a list of the “100 Things to See, Do or Experience to Get to Know the Upper Valley,” and, since 2007, we have co-presented a seminar to the opening session of the Leadership Upper Valley program called on “What is the Upper Valley?”

The Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, which I administered at the Charitable Foundation, provided a grant for a permanent conservation easement on a portion of the Taylor’s Crossroads Farm property along the Ompompanoosuc River in Thetford.

Across a 15-year partnership with Tuck, I’ve engaged MBA interns, advised student leaders of the Tuck Social Venture Fund, and worked with John Vogel and the team at the Center for Business, Government and Society to co-host the Upper Valley Nonprofit Exchange, a series of professional-development seminars for area nonprofit leaders.

Each of these individuals and institutions represents a strand in an intricate web that is woven together to form a healthy, vibrant, strong and resilient Upper Valley community and economy. Let me share with you what I think are some other characteristics they all share.

The first is a sense of Place—as Dartmouth alum and author Norman MacLean wrote, “If you don’t know the ground, you’re probably wrong about nearly everything else.” Each person or institution honored here tonight knows the ground. They are deeply rooted in a geographic niche of the Upper Valley—a town, a facility, a subset of our region. They get to know their key audience or their core clients. They understand and have a deep and abiding sense of place and their role in it.

The second characteristic is Longevity—every day, we see the time scale of our world getting shorter and shorter. We live in a culture of ever-decreasing attention spans. News and information comes to us in sound bites, 240-character Twitter rants and Snap Chat posts. We have come to expect immediate response and reward in so many aspects of our lives. Even our politics are short term—New Hampshire and Vermont are the only two states with a Governor who is elected for a two-year term. By contrast, tonight’s honorees take the long view. Each has an extended history in our community. One of my favorite books is Staying Put by Scott Russell Sanders. In it, he describes the joys and benefits of staying close to home—wherever that is. These honorees have chosen to stay in their place, serving as anchors in the collective life of the Upper Valley. They embody the idea of durability and consistency that extends beyond the span of an individual lifetime.

The third characteristic is Stewardship—the people we honor tonight are deeply committed to the health and vitality of our region. As the anchoring strands in the intricate web of our vital communities, they are people who think not primarily of themselves, but of the greater good, of broader societal and community benefit, of the commonweal—not a term we hear so often in our current national dialogue. What they do has larger meaning than simply running a store, serving an individual client or providing a service. While they may not even realize it, they are important stewards of this place we all call home.

I think we can all agree that the web of economy and community in the Upper Valley is pretty strong and resilient. The Heroes & Leaders honored tonight are emblematic of that strength and resiliency, and they are some of the strongest strands holding that web together and thus maintaining our sense of place. But that strong web will only remain so if we all remain connected to it, as well. If one or two strands are removed or broken, the web may remain, but it’s not nearly as strong and durable. Thus, we all need to engage with, build, and maintain that web in regular and meaningful ways.

That engagement can manifest in several actions.

#1. Buying stuff on Main Street. According to author and researcher Michael Shuman, every dollar we spend locally results in two to three dollars of additional economic activity in our area. That includes jobs for our neighbors, local tax revenue, vibrant downtowns, more shopping choices, and on and on. I know we all love our Amazon Prime account—and, true confession, we’ve got one too. But I think we—and our entire Upper Valley web—are much better off if we buy local first—at Canaan Hardware, the Co-op, Dan & Whit’s, or at LaValley’s or Farmway. The few pennies or dollars we might have saved buying online are just not worth the cost of weakening our local economic and community web.

#2. Banking with a community bank or credit union based here in the Upper Valley. That ‘bank on the corner’ is likely the one lending to our neighbor who is expanding a local business, or to Twin Pines Housing to develop affordable apartments near an Advance Transit bus line, or to a young family purchasing their first home. Our money, deposited in a local financial institution, provides the capital that makes this kind of community investing possible.

#3. Getting involved in community. The institutions honored tonight, all of our towns, and the many, many nonprofit and community organizations working in our region are always in need of people: to serve on a board, to participate on a committee, to help with a project, to provide financial support. Their health and vitality depends on strong and enduring civic and community engagement, which begins with all of us. Tonight’s honorees offer plenty of these types of opportunities, and the Valley News publishes a monthly listing of volunteer jobs, so there is no shortage of good choices for getting involved.

All of these relatively small and seemingly inconsequential actions, taken together, help to strengthen our web of community and economy, and our sense of place.

In 1999, Tom Slayton, who at the time was editor of Vermont Life magazine, gave the keynote address to the annual meeting of the Upper Valley Community Foundation—in this very room. I’ll close with a quote from that presentation:

“A sense of place is created by a thousand-and-one specific things—an accretion that, over time, creates human interconnections, myths and stories, folklore and—a place. But just as place is created by specifics, it can be lost by specifics. Hayfields and historic buildings, downtowns and mountain tops, swimming holes and the cool, ferny depths of the forests that line the hillsides—all these specific things are important, as are the lives of all the people who live here, their memories of the place, and the stories they tell. If one important museum has to close, if one vital village center becomes run-down and deserted, if one old man or woman with a good story never gets to tell that story to a listening younger ear—then in every case, a region’s sense of place is weakened. By the same token, every single local artist who can afford to keep working, every stretch of the Connecticut River that is cleaned up and re-opened to fishing, every traditional bridge that is maintained and kept open, every town that stays vital—all of those things strengthen a region’s sense of place. Ultimately, a strong sense of community results in a strong sense of place.”

Thank you to Vital Communities for hosting this wonderful event, and congratulations again to this year’s Heroes & Leaders.

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