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Community Visits Produce Tangible Results: Child Care Center, Warming Shelter, Among Achievements


By Amy Ash Nixon, as seen in the Caledonian Record:

The 2015 Community Visit process in the town of Craftsbury has led to a new child care center, opened earlier this month, work on improved internet access, arts and recreation opportunities, and citizens looking at land use planning and more.

Emily Maclure, co-owner of the Craftsbury General Store, chaired her town’s Community Visit process.

“For us, it was an opportunity to get my hands wet a little bit more than I had in civic duties. Being a store owner, we have a number of people constantly coming in here, so I think I felt like I was somebody people could come to in the community, said Maclure of her role.

Maclure said of the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s 2015 Community Visit process in Craftsbury, “It created a forum in which some new leaders came out, and the formation of new groups came out of it with really targeted tasks.”

“Two years later we actually have a child care facility up and running, we had some great leaders who headed that up,” said Maclure. “It’s pretty powerful.”

The name of the center, which received grants, is Craftsbury Saplings.

An effort to improve internet access in town is also well underway, and has likewise received grant funding, Maclure said.

“We’re really lucky that we had a group of people who said they were going to do something and latched on and did it,” said Maclure said.

“The things that have come out of it have been pretty great,” said Maclure of the Community Visit the town underwent two years ago.

Eloise Girard served on the task force which helped launch the new nonprofit child care center in town.

“All along with all the discussion and the different subjects, the lack of child care and the stresses it was putting on families and on businesses kept coming up,” said Girard. She said it was not among the top three priorities focused on in the end, but, “We decided to have a task force and we held a lot of discussion in the community to figure out the best way to serve the families. We focused on really trying to find a viable long-term solution for the lack of child care in the area.”

Girard said, “We met with so many different people, and we decided the best way to serve the need was to start a nonprofit child care center, and our name is Craftsbury Saplings, and the tagline is ‘A Community Children’s Center.’ We really wanted the center to reflect all the amazing things we have in Craftsbury.”

“The center has been opened for three weeks, we’ve been working very hard,” said Girard. “Right now, it’s at a temporary space in the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church, they have let us use that space for up to three years.”

Girard said, “We have to find a permanent space, a bigger space … Right now at the church we are a full-program and a lot of the food comes in donations from Pete’s Greens and cheese from Jasper Hill, things come from a lot of local farms. At the church, we don’t have to pay rent. We only pay the utilities.”

“We had a lot of different grants to make this project happen,” said Girard.

Girard said, “We had so much support from the community; the town of Craftsbury has been really great.”

Before the center recently opened, “Families had to drive pretty far to get some sort of services,” for child care, said Girard, who said the center is working hard to “pay the staff a livable wage.”

Other Town Community Visit Plans

The Community Visit process in St. Johnsbury in 2015 led to five priorities, including: developing a warming shelter for people who are homeless during the winter, which has happened; improving community communications and promoting a positive town image; redeveloping the riverfront; improving housing; and revitalizing downtown buildings.

Mike Welch, senior project manager with the Northern Community Investment Corporation, was the Community Visit chair in St. Johnsbury, and said this week, “The Community Visit helped ignite a spark to transform years of conversation into action.”

He said a Housing Assessment has been conducted and St. Johnsbury has budgeted funds for and hired a Building Inspector Code Enforcement Officer as a result of the process.

A grant has been applied for through the Northern Border Regional Commission grant application “to redevelop the former KC Rental Property on Bay Street (owned by the Town) and to construct a pedestrian/bicycle connection from the Welcome Center, through the honking tunnel, along the riverfront to connect to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail,” said Welch.

“In terms of addressing some of the vacant buildings in Town – the St. Johnsbury Development Fund … purchased the former ‘Glove Factory’ on Railroad Street, and two additional properties on Pearl Street (demolished to create opportunity for parking),” said Welch. “The Development Fund is now in the process of marketing this property – with plans to assist any interested developer to assemble financing for additional improvements – to put this long vacant structure, at the Southern Gateway of St. Johnsbury, into active, productive use.”

“The Town of St. Johnsbury, Joe Kasprzak, Chad Whitehead, the Board of Selectmen, in particular Jamie Murphy – have invested personally and professionally to turn the priorities identified by the Community Visit process – into real-life improvements,” Welch said.

Island Pond also went through the Community Visit process in 2016, and volunteers there report positive results.

Chair of the Island Pond Renewal Committee Mike Strait, also the owner of The Hearth & Home Country Store in downtown Island Pond (Brighton) said this week, “I can’t say enough positive things about the whole community meeting process. I’ve lived in Island Pond for 7 1/2 years and I’ve never seen our population more engaged to work for a better Island Pond. We currently have three very active committees that came out of the meetings.”

“The Town of Brighton in collaboration with the Downtown Revitalization & Economic Development Committee secured a grant from the VTrans Better Connections program to develop a working plan for a long overdue upgrade to the downtown infrastructure,” said Strait. “The committee is also working in conjunction with the Island Pond Chamber of Commerce on a variety of event and group tour marketing efforts. Strait said, “The ATV Committee is just wrapping up their first successful season in Island Pond which included ATVs being able to use some town streets for the first time ever. This committee is working tirelessly to connect our trail system to neighboring trails and ultimately New Hampshire.”

“The Brighton Recreation Committee hosted the first Maplefest in April of this year including a 5K marathon that ended up being run in the snow!” said Strait.