The Vermont Council on Rural Development is committed to supporting locally defined progress in rural communities throughout Vermont. This month with the severe flooding, many communities have experienced a devastating setback impacting individuals, families, businesses, downtowns and villages across the state. VCRD is not an emergency response organization, but in times like this, we need to take a pause and think hard about how we can be most useful to communities as they continue to respond, recover and revitalize following these challenging events.
One role we can play is that of a convener and resource connecter. In 2020, when we all unexpectedly faced a global pandemic, we quickly saw community leaders rally around each other to help and support their neighbors. These “community response” or “mutual aid” groups were intentionally locally focused and independently impactful, strong and effective, but there was a clear demand for help with convening, collaboration and resource sharing. VCRD, along with several other key partners, set our regular work aside and jumped into that space to provide a platform for discussion and support as these leaders responded to community needs. Out of this convening, we eventually formed our Vermont Community Leadership Network which has nearly 3,000 members today. Through this network, we offer convening on a range of community development topics, as well as workshops on leadership skills and resources, to support the work of community builders and leaders.
In the wake of the flooding events, we engaging this nNetwork again — not to lead community response efforts, but to provide a space for these selfless local leaders to join together, provide support to each other, and share lessons learned. Last week, we organized a virtual network discussion, Local Flood Response and Recovery: Sharing Needs, Resources and Plans for the Future, as an opportunity to share response and recovery challenges, best practices and thoughts on how to move forward. Nearly 200 people across the state registered for this workshop and shared a wide range of challenges, needs, bright spot stories and resources with each other. A panel of resource leaders shared their early assessments of what they are seeing on the ground, as well as resources and needs that are emerging. On that call, it became clear that response and recovery efforts are fast, effective and critical, but can be potentially made more efficient and meaningful with regular chances to get together, share ideas and learn from each other.
Because of this, VCRD will be continuing to host a series of conversations and workshops outlined below for those involved in response and recovery efforts in their communities. These sessions, open to all, will provide opportunities for connection, peer networking and conversations on critical topics as we all continue to respond to immediate needs and begin to recover and plan for a vibrant and resilient future.
This is not an easy time for Vermont communities. There is still much work to be done to clean out, recover and rebuild. Here at VCRD, our thoughts are with those impacted by this flooding as we are working hard as a team to identify needs on the ground and how we can be useful. We hope this series of conversations and workshops can be a positive starting point of connection and support. We look forward to working in the coming days, weeks and months, with all of the leaders and responders on the ground working in support of their neighbors and towns.
Upcoming workshops and conversations:
– 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, Workshop: Establishing, Managing, and Disbursing Community Relief Funds
– 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, Network discussion: Community-Led Response and Recovery
– 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, Workshop: Local Community-Led Resilience Initiatives
To learn more and register for any of the above convenings, please visit vtrural.org/leadership-network/upcoming-workshops/
Jenna Koloski is the community engagement and policy director at Vermont Council on Rural Development and lives in Huntington.
This Commentary, published 8/8/23, is part of a series for the Times-Argus / Rutland Herald and can be seen on their website here: https://www.rutlandherald.com/opinion/commentary/vcrd-helping-communities/article_1df1477f-3c09-5610-a439-beeffff9e4fe.html.