Montpelier Builds Public-Private Social Welfare Partnership | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Montpelier Builds Public-Private Social Welfare Partnership 

Local Matters

When was the last time you knocked on your neighbor’s door? In Montpelier, that simple question has prompted an emergency planning initiative called Capital Area Neighborhoods.

In August, city officials asked volunteers to connect with neighbors who were struggling to pay fuel bills. Although fuel prices later dropped, CAN organizers say the city’s call to civic arms has spawned an informal safety net that is helping vulnerable residents cope with economic hardship caused by the recession.

CAN projects have taken different forms in each of Montpelier’s 11 neighborhoods. In one, volunteers are making home visits to elderly neighbors. Across town, longtime residents are meeting each other for the first time at monthly potlucks and signing up for volunteer weatherization services.

Gwen Hallsmith, director of planning and community development for the city, says such social “connectivity” has always helped Vermont towns weather hard times. It was only in her lifetime, Hallsmith adds, that Medicaid and Social Security usurped social-welfare responsibilities traditionally assumed by town managers. “There’s a lot of talk about building the physical infrastructure at the national level,” she says, “but we have to build up the social infrastructure, too.”

CAN combines the best of public assistance with old-fashioned human interaction. When organizers leafleted the town this summer, they distributed “Winter Planning Guides” that included contact information for local agencies that offer emergency services.

Diane Derby, a CAN organizer who has owned a home in Montpelier for more than a decade, says she has never seen such “orchestrated coordination” on a citywide level. After all, Derby notes, Montpelier lacks community-organizing tools such as Front Porch Forum, a Burlington-based email listserv serving 10,000 residents, public officials and police officers in Chittenden County.

It’s worth noting, too, that most shut-ins tend to be offline. As a result of the CAN program, organizer Bethany Pombar keeps in touch with an elderly man who doesn’t have access to the Internet.

“I’m never going to come to one of your potlucks; I’m not that kind of person,” the man told Pombar a few months ago. Then he offered his driveway for emergency parking and asked Pombar for help moving an old bed from his basement.

“I consider him a success story in the CAN project,” reflects Pombar, a thirtysomething who caroled outside her prickly neighbor’s house in December. “I keep an eye out for him, and he keeps an eye out for me.”

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

More By This Author

About The Author

Mike Ives

Mike Ives

Mike Ives was a staff writer for Seven Days from January 2007 until October 2009.


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation