Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vermont’s NeighborWorks Organizations: The Power of a Network

By Deborah Boatright,
Northeast Regional Director,
NeighborWorks America
I had the pleasure of spending NeighborWorks Week 2012 in Vermont, crisscrossing the state while visiting all five of our network affiliates. Each one is doing excellent work in challenging communities under inspired leadership. But it is what they are doing together that truly distinguishes them, and is a model for the region and the country.

Vermont's five HomeOwnership Centers have worked together for more than a decade to provide services statewide through the NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont. This framework was critical last summer when Tropical Storm Irene struck, causing devastation everywhere. A dozen towns were totally cut off as nearly every river in Vermont flooded. Rebuilding efforts still loom large. The Alliance's NeighborWorks Week event was to restore a flood-damaged teen center and was featured by the USDA.
Vermont NWO volunteers load a heavy piece
of debris onto a truck. Photo courtesy
of Windsor Windham Housing Trust

Tropical Storm Irene was impetus for NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont to undertake long-term planning for statewide disaster response, with NeighborWorks America’s support. As part of this effort, each organization now has video-conferencing cababilty to make collaboration easier. Already, the state's only two certified reverse mortgage counselors are planning to meet virtually with seniors from any location.      

The trust and mutual respect among Vermont’s NeighborWorks organizations (NWOs) runs deep within the organizations and was readily apparent throughout my visit. They are thriving in the nexus of independence and interdependence. Different NWOs take the lead based upon their capacity and expertise. Collaborations are based on strength and shared interest.

Champlain Housing Trust established a Mobile Home Lending Program to repair and replace mobile homes (over 15% destroyed by Irene) and received a prestigious Cornerstone grant to strengthen operations of six Community Land Trusts, including those at three other NWOs.  NeighborWorks Western Vermont's H.E.A.T. Squad, aggressively conducting energy audits and rehabbing homes under a multi-million dollar Department of Energy grant, will soon be statewide. Central Vermont Community Land Trust and Gillman Housing Trust are part of a national pilot aimed at keeping seniors in their homes

Brattleboro Food Coop
Photography by Ann Wright, courtesy of Windsor Windham Housing Trust
All the Vermont organizations embrace green. The expansive Brattleboro Food Coop complex just built by Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) includes a green roof, a pellet-fueled boiler, and 24 units of affordable housing. It is another example of how Vermont’s NeighborWorks organizations are forging new partnerships well beyond the housing world.

I believe that the continued growth and impact of community development depends on its relevancy in areas such as health, employment, and education. It is all about taking part in strengthening our quality of life. The Vermont NWOs are leading the way by creating new pathways to sustainability and greater impact; and we are proud to support their success.