How We Got Here
Like many other organizations, we established a “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee” in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and national Black Lives Matter protests. We began changing some of our practices, but we held on to others. We were not fully ready for the changes we needed to make. In recent years, we have received feedback from a wide range of people, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We appreciate the time and energy they have spent with us. It has allowed us to engage more deeply and honestly than before.
We are still learning, practicing, and growing the muscles of holding ourselves and our organization accountable. This includes our own behavior in recent years, as well as the organization’s historical and current impact in the community. The development of this webpage is a place for us to open up about our successes – and most importantly our failures – as part of stepping into community accountability.
Our New Guiding Principles
We found ourselves continually referring to our “JEDI principles,” but in retrospect we did not have clarity about what they were. We then realized we had already created them as a staff through our JEDI-informed strategic planning process – we just called them by a different name. What follows is our first iteration of our JEDI principles. We are aware they may change over time, and that it will take time and practice for us to honor them fully.
- Hold ourselves accountable for our impact as we establish, strengthen, and heal community relationships.
- Advance systems, practices, and policies that are just, both internally and externally.
- Practice continual growth by slowing down, showing up with integrity, testing alternatives to the status quo, and listening to and trusting perspectives that challenge our own.
- Work collaboratively to foster inclusive and welcoming communities where all individuals have access to the resources and community support they need to live and thrive.
- Strive to act in close reciprocity with and respect for the land, climate, and natural ecosystems.
Our Executive Director, Sarah Jackson, reflects more deeply and personally on how we arrived at these principles.
Holding Ourselves Accountable
One necessary step to better include and engage our whole community is to practice relationship building and repair. A group of local community organizers of color asked us in the spring of 2023 to apologize for harms we have caused. An excerpt of our apology:
“We acknowledge and apologize that we have implemented programs in which participants of color, particularly women, were not comfortable or fully heard. We are sorry for silencing community organizers of color on issues such as climate justice, racial equity, and immigration, and for not being fully inclusive as we designed, implemented, and evaluated projects and events.”
If anyone would like to have a conversation with us about this apology or other aspects of our JEDI work, please let us know either by contacting our Executive Director Sarah Jackson via her email (email@example.com
How Our Work is Changing
While articulating our JEDI principles was an important step, we also recognize that they won’t matter unless we use them to actually change how we work. We have taken internal and external steps to align ourselves more closely with these principles, and we have more work to do going forward. Below is a snapshot but not a complete list of ways we are making changes.
Administrative and Organizational Work
Equitable internal systems and policies help to create a more inclusive and healthier workplace.
- Mission Statement: Revised our mission statement in Spring 2021 to amplify our commitment to JEDI, and then removed the amplification in Summer 2023 when we acknowledged our actions were not in line with our stated values. Read more here.
- Board of Directors: Opened Board recruitment to the public through Community Discussion Lists, e-news, and regional newspapers to increase access and diversity.
- Land Acknowledgement: Added an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement, written by Donna and John Moody of the Winter Center for Indigenous Traditions, to our website.
- Transparency: Created an internal transparency document for staff to ask questions anonymously, and to track JEDI Committee recommendations and their subsequent outcomes.
- DEI Benchmarking: Began regular DEI benchmarking using a tool shared by DEI Consultants.
- Community Apology: Offered a belated apology to community members for implementing programs in which participants of color, particularly women, were not comfortable or fully heard; silencing community organizers of color on issues such as climate justice, racial equity, and immigration; and not being fully inclusive as we designed, implemented, and evaluated projects and events. Read more here.
- Hiring Practices: Updated hiring practices to increase trust and transparency and added the Hiring Practices statement publicly on our website.
- Salary Structure: Established new salary structure to value lived experience, ensure a livable wage, increase internal transparency, and attract job seekers from varied socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Cost-of-Living Adjustment: Changed the Cost-of-Living Adjustment structure to increase pay equity and allocate more funding towards staff health insurance coverage.
- JEDI Committee: Staff self-organized a JEDI Committee to facilitate JEDI work, 2020-2022.
- JEDI Project: Transitioned the JEDI Committee body of work to a project under the Executive Director’s supervision, led by a 3-person staff team and structured to offer all staff easy ways to engage with JEDI work. Trialing this new approach for 6 months.
- Decision-making: Including Executive Director in JEDI Project Team discussions so that decision-making power is “in the room” from the beginning.
- Budget Allocations: Increased budget allocations for JEDI Staff time, trainings, and consulting.
- Strategic Planning: Integrated JEDI values and perspectives into a year-long, intensive strategic planning process including staff and Board.
- Adopting JEDI Principles: Collaboratively developed JEDI Principles, which were articulated by drawing from institution-wide introspection during strategic planning.
- Staff Trainings and Workshops: Offer staff ongoing trainings and workshops on a range of topics like implicit bias, trauma-informed community engagement, and cross-class collaboration, in all-staff, small group, and individual settings.
- JEDI Discussions and Group Learning: Host staff-wide discussions, often surrounding a particular content area the staff explores together, like “white supremacy culture in nonprofit work.”
- JEDI Book Club: Offering optional staff-wide book club with biweekly discussions.
- Sharing Resources: Facilitating more pass-through funding to support smaller organizations, grassroots groups, and efforts led by those who have been systematically denied access to resources.
We are practicing power-sharing, resource-sharing, humility, and vulnerability to take new approaches to our project design and implementation.
- Strategic Planning: Added “Ability to Live and Thrive” as a pillar of the strategic plan, guiding us to focus on programming that more intentionally benefits low- and middle-income community members.
- Working Communities Challenge: Provided administrative support for a community-led program focused on an underserved geographic area and tailoring housing solutions to low- and middle-income communities (e.g., making the creation of Accessory Development Units a possibility for homeowners with fewer resources).
- Housing Programming: Connecting with more diverse community members and organizations to support a spectrum of housing solutions that reflect the diverse needs in our community, with a focus on affordability.
- Early Childhood Education Initiative: Increasing the accessibility of affordable and high-quality early childhood education.
- Early Childhood Education/Food Access Project: Co-creating a program that increases food access in early childhood education centers and responds to explicit needs of these centers and the families enrolled.
- Transportation Programming: Engaging with direct service providers to increase transportation options for households with limited resources, distributing shopping trolleys to food shelves and affordable housing communities as a transportation solution that tackles food insecurity, and advocating for equity lens in state transportation networks.
- E-Bike Subsidy Pilot: Implemented a new equity-focused, sliding scale of self-reported need as part of a low barrier application for a subsidy to cover some or all of the cost of an e-bike.
- Upper Valley E-Bike Lending Library: Expanded program’s reach through new host organizations, towns, and businesses, expanding our geographic range, hosting Demo Days at accessible locations, bringing the e-bikes to schools and other outreach.
- E-Bikes Everywhere: Acquired two donated e-bikes for permanent lending beginning in 2024 to provide additional mobility options.
- Affordable Energy Resource Fair: Created an annual event that pivoted energy and climate work to focus on addressing energy burden and households struggling to meet their needs.
- 3-Year Mobile Home Outreach Project (Past Project): Reduced energy burden of low-income Vermonters living in mobile homes.
- Equal Access to Broadband Pilot (Past Project): Enabled access to broadband at subsidized rates through EC Fiber initiative.
- Valley Quest: Redesigning elements of this program using an equity-centered design model in collaboration with diverse community members.
- Climate Change Leadership Academy: Rewrote the curriculum and introduced new speakers to more explicitly focus on JEDI, climate equity, and environmental justice for 2022 cohort. 2023-2024 cohort paused while strengthening our internal JEDI foundations, issuing our apology to community organizers of color, and reflecting on next steps.
- Food Vision Prize: Increasing opportunities for BIPOC food producers & businesses.
- Community Discussion Lists: Added a BIPOC community discussion list by request from BIPOC community group.
- BIPOC Farmer Toolkit: Developed this toolkit as part of the Every Town Project.
- BIPOC Homeownership and Business Ownership: Beginning collaboration with BIPOC community members seeking partners in effort to increase BIPOC homeownership and business ownership and in creating a more welcoming Upper Valley.
- Farm to Film Fest (as part of Climate Farmer Stories): Collaborating with BIPOC food systems workers and community members on the design and content of the Climate Farmer Stories Farm to Film Fest which is focused on regenerative agriculture.
- Leadership Upper Valley: Transitioned to new staff management and implemented changes in content, speakers, and feedback solicitation and responsiveness.
- Corporate Council: Convening local business leaders who use their collective power for change on initiatives which include a DEI Community of Practice; an affordable housing loan fund; and a workforce development group seeking to recruit and retain BIPOC, people with disabilities, and Veterans.
- Upper Valley Equity Exchange: Coordinated and participated in a learning, action-planning Community of Practice Pilot for nonprofits working on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that was led by an independent BIPOC consultant, and guided by a diverse Community Advisory Group who held decision-making power on selection of participants and the consultant who would lead the program.
- The Local Crowd: Working exclusively with projects led by BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, people with low incomes, and people with disabilities to move $40k+ to community-led projects.
- Local First: Shifting focus to creative and just distribution of resources, including access to land and goods.
- Upper Valley Resilience Network: Co-creating a network of groups working on food system resilience and providing equity trainings, pass-through funding, and opportunities for participatory decision-making.
- Upper Valley Farm to School Network: Established a committee of teachers, farmers and Vital Communities staff to co-design and run a process for equitable distribution of mini-grants, including adding social and environmental equity principles to prioritize awards.
- Upper Valley Everyone Eats (Past Project): Provided administrative support for a COVID-responsive food access program supporting restaurants, restaurant workers, and families and individuals without affordable food access.
Reflections from Staff
We are trying to embrace being more open about our growth process – not just our results. To support this, we are creating new opportunities for staff to share how JEDI is shaping their projects, their learning, and their reflections. We will publish these posts as staff are feeling called to share, so keep an eye out for new and ongoing content.