21 April 2012
Goodbye Irene: Area Relief Fund Wraps Up
More than seven months after the Ottauquechee River swept through their house in East Woodstock, Kirsten Connor and Darren McCullough finally moved back home. In some ways, their return is a metaphor for the town’s post-Irene recovery. While difficulties and disruptions still remain, the community is moving beyond the disaster and getting on with life.
This is also a time of transition for the Woodstock Area Relief Fund which has begun winding up its activities and transitioning its flood recovery responsibilities to other organizations. The fund, created just days after the August 28 disaster by a coalition of community organizations, eventually raised and dispersed more than $480,000. Over these past seven months, it has provided flood-related assistance to 121 families in Barnard, Bridgewater, Killington, Pomfret, Reading, and Woodstock.
"The response to the creation of the fund was immediate and generous," said Sally Miller, director of Sustainable Woodstock which administered the fund. "In a time of real need, the resources we were able to distribute made a huge difference to the lives of dozens of families in our community."
The ongoing needs of a few local families still in the process of recovery will now be handled through Upper Valley Strong, a regional recovery group that is acting as the umbrella organization for COVER, Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, the Haven, Southeastern Vermont Community Action, and Windsor Windham Housing Trust. These organizations will provide social services and arrange access to the statewide pool of funds administered by the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.
Although the Area Relief Fund is winding down its operations, other groups are still active. The Woodstock Irene Team that so ably coordinated volunteer activities in the wake of the floods is still meeting. Its main focus now is to capture key lessons and record them in a community emergency response plan that will define how volunteers can best help in any future disaster.
Meanwhile, Vital Communities is exploring an entirely new initiative. While most flood relief attention rightly focused on individuals and families, many area businesses were also badly affected. So this organization is exploring the possibility of creating a volunteer-based program to help in the recovery of small businesses that continue to struggle. Interested businesses with five or fewer employees should contact Vital Communities’ Mary Margaret Sloan on 802-291-9100 or Sustainable Woodstock.
It's been a long journey, but strong and immediate community response has allowed the Woodstock area to restore itself much faster than most other flood affected regions in the state. The role played by Sustainable Woodstock in that recovery process has been recognized by SEVCA which recently gave the Woodstock non-profit its annual “Community Catalyst Award.”
"It's a very nice honor, and we were delighted that we could play a role in our community’s recovery," said Miller. "But the thanks really should go to the many generous donors and particularly to the relief fund’s four volunteer caseworkers who worked for months meeting individually with every applicant and finding resources for them. They are the real heroes here."
The smiles on the faces of Kirsten and Darren as they showed off their rebuilt home last week reflect the joy and appreciation of the scores of families that this community supported to recover after last year’s disaster. But now it’s time to move on. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so memorably said, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
by Christopher Bartlett