Vital Communities Builds Resilience in the Upper Valley

One of Sustainable Woodstock’s valued partners in the work of achieving long term resilience is the nonprofit organization Vital Communities. From its office in White River Junction, Vital Communities (VC) serves sixty-nine towns in the Upper Valley, on both sides of the Connecticut River.

VC’s mission is to help this region “be the best place it can for people to live, work and play.” It promotes a higher quality of life and more active civic engagement by addressing issues “where regional coordination and leadership can achieve results.” VC stimulates and supports collaboration among communities and diverse stakeholders.

I have seen this strategy at work up close the last few months as a participant in VC’s Leadership Upper Valley program. From September to June, thirty people representing businesses, nonprofits, arts organizations, and health and education institutions meet each month to learn together about the challenges and opportunities facing communities in the region. We go behind the scenes to see firsthand how community institutions function and how they are interdependent.

This experience has reinforced my understanding that sustainability involves much more than solar panels and recycling, and that resilience cannot be achieved by one town in isolation. Our task is to strengthen regional systems that meet human needs and cultivate a sense of loyalty and stewardship toward our particular corner of the planet. This task becomes all the more urgent as we watch national and global systems become more dysfunctional.

VC conducts six primary programs: Energy, Transportation, Food & Farm, Local First, Valley Quest, and the Leadership training I’ve described. One of Sustainable Woodstock’s recent successes, the Solarize campaign, was a collaboration with VC’s Solarize Upper Valley, a project of its Energy program. VC has partnered with 24 towns in the last two years to help 370 homes install 2.2 megawatts of renewable energy capacity and provide $8.5 million in economic activity.

The Energy program aims to entirely eliminate our region’s reliance on fossil fuels through efficiency and renewables by 2050.

VC’s transportation work, through its Smart Commute project, encourages ride sharing, public transportation and bicycling options, and we hope to connect with this work in the coming year. (Please contact us if you might like to serve on our new transportation action group!)

Food & Farm promotes agriculture and local sourcing of foods through the annual Flavors of the Valley event, Valley Farm Fresh project (see valleyfarmfresh.org for a complete guide to local food sources) and the Upper Valley Farm to School Network (which participates in our own annual Trek to Taste celebration).

Eighty-seven businesses in the region (and counting) participate in the Local First Alliance, helping to drive regional economic development. VC encourages Valley residents to buy locally, and Alliance members commit to re-circulating their money in the community through charitable giving and local purchasing (not to mention increased employment).

Finally, Valley Quest is an innovative and fun program that uses treasure hunts to celebrate community, natural history, cultural sites, stories, and special places. It has helped hundreds of area residents, especially young people, become better acquainted with their region.

Vital Communities recently hired Tom Roberts as its new Executive Director. Folks in Woodstock will remember his good work as head of the Ottauquechee Health Foundation, and he is bringing the same vision and enthusiasm to VC. We at Sustainable Woodstock look forward to partnering with him and his great team in the coming year.

Please visit vitalcommunities.org to see what this wonderful organization is doing and how you can support their efforts.

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