BY BILL LOCKWOOD, as seen in The Shopper:

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – A year ago, Rockingham launched three citizen task forces eager to complete “actionable goals” by tackling areas of need identified by a process brought to town by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. In December of 2019 at the invitation of the Selectboard and Development Director Gary Fox, VCRD staff came to Bellows Falls and held three open community meetings in a process they called “Let’s Take Action, Rockingham.” Areas of need were identified as establishment of a youth center, redevelopment of Bellows Falls buildings, and the advancement of community energy, efficiency, and resiliency.

Now, a year later, Fox says the launching last year coincided with the Covid-19 shut downs and caused some “stalls and set backs,” but now he feels “it is starting to come together.”

The Youth Center Task Force was heavily dependent on input from students. School shut down and the loss of in-person social interaction was a major disruption that put the project on the back burner for many involved. It is hard to imagine creating a safe gathering place when the pandemic wisdom is for them not to gather at all. Task force leader Hailee Cochran reports that they are now starting in earnest again.

Laurel Green, leader of the Energy, Efficiency, and Resiliency group reports gains on a number of fronts that include quite a few collaborations with both new and existing groups. They created the organization Sustainable Rockingham that formed five teams: Resilience, Renewable Energy, Gardens-Composts-Swales, Weatherization, and Transportation. Out of that has come Rockingham Help and Helpers that brought together local organizations in response to Covid to fill the gaps in community services. They are partnering with the Rockingham Library to present programs to foster resilience and revise the Multi Hazard Mitigation Plan. They are also collaborating with the Bellows Falls Community Garden, Rockingham Energy Committee, and the MOOver – formerly The Current – for public transportation. Anyone wishing to help in these projects should contact [email protected].

Ray Massucco, who leads the Development of Bellows Falls Buildings Task Force, says they set out to fill a need for a current roster of empty buildings to offer perspective developers. He says now they are partnering with Fox’s efforts to create an incremental development alliance bringing a number of various kinds of partners such as government, grant funders, businesses, and nonprofits together to create a marketing analysis of what to target and its impact on development and infrastructure. Some grants have already been obtained. Fox says progress on all fronts is to be reported to the Selectboard at the end of March.

Fox says that VCRD staff are returning to set up a meeting of all three task forces to see if they can collaborate on a single plan. He can envision perhaps a youth center in a formerly empty building that will be redeveloped in an environmental friendly way. Fox sees that and other similar projects to be identified as fulfilling the primary purpose of the process – that being the creation of a corps of community people who will become ecocentric and knowledgeable in moving forward. He has recorded multiple trainings from experts the council provided. Contact Gary Fox through the Rockingham/Bellows Falls Development Office for access to the trainings or for information on the various projects at [email protected].