BY BILL LOCKWOOD, as seen in The Shopper: https://vermontjournal.com/featured-articles/rockingham-rural-development-task-force-three-month-check-in/
ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – Last year, the Rockingham Selectboard invited the Vermont Council on Rural Development to come to Bellows Falls and hold community meetings for a process called “Let’s Take Action Rockingham” that would lead to defining town wide action steps intended to improve the community and quality of life of its residents. A meeting Feb. 13 of statewide experts and residents launched three task forces of resident volunteers. Each task force had specific “actionable goals.” Now, roughly three months later, and amid the arrival of an unexpected pandemic, here is a look at where things stand.
The formal council report says, “Many Rockingham residents, especially youth, would like to see a space dedicated to youth gathering.” Hailee Cochran is leader of the task force to build a youth center. She reports that things are going well. They have had a meeting and have been in touch as well as having gone over the concepts they want for the center.
She says, “We have a lot of pieces in place, but we are waiting for the anxiety of COVID to lift a little before moving forward.”
Based on the theory that youth should be involved at all levels, many of the task force members are school age. Cochran says the task force wants to “be sure it’s youth led and not just a place to hang out,” but to also provide resources for them to eventually have a positive impact on their community.
Cochran sees a lot of members “overwhelmed” at the moment with learning online and being isolated at home. Supporting each other has been part of what the group has been doing through the current crisis. Youth Services agreed to be their fiscal agent for grant writing and more integrated relationships. They have met with many of local groups and officials including the town and village boards.
The report says the Redevelop Bellows Falls Buildings task force will “plan, fund, and implement projects to leverage public and private investment and engage community input to preserve, revitalize, or repurpose vacant or underutilized buildings.”
Ray Massucco leads that task force. A first step on which much of the rest is based is to create an updated inventory of the village’s available buildings. Massucco says, “There is very little activity since much of our work is dependent on researching town records.”
The Town Hall is now reopened on a limited basis. He says, “As we come out of the pandemic, existing businesses are going to have to recover before we see much investment in new ones… Hopefully, the down time will let us do even more in depth research on the target properties.”
Laurel Green heads the task Force to Advance Community Energy, Efficiency, and Resiliency. Its 20 members have decided to become part of statewide Community Resilience Organizations, and they have broken into five teams.
The Renewable Energy Team is collaborating with the Town Energy Committee. They are promoting energy conservation. The Weatherization team is working with Efficiency Vermont to encourage homeowners and landlords to take advantage of the many rebates and incentives available. The Transportation Team met with directors of The Current to express support for increasing public transportation. Gardens-Compost-Swales team is working with Fact TV on composting education and creating a pollinator-friendly garden downtown. And the Resilience Team helped get Rockingham Help and Helpers started to fill in the gaps in services to those in need from the pandemic.