Overview & Strategy
Flooding in Vermont caused by torrential rains in summer 2023 put downtowns and villages under water, forced residents to evacuate from their homes, washed out roads and bridges, destroyed crops, and threatened dams. The Vermont Community Foundation quickly established the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund to help to cover immediate support as Vermont moves through this crisis, as well as essential and far-reaching recovery efforts that will be needed to build back across towns and villages, farms and families, watersheds, and homes.
As of January 2024, the Community Foundation has moved primarily into the third phase of grantmaking from the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund. This phase of grantmaking focuses on community resilience and watershed management efforts.
Focus will be on additional grantmaking in areas where dollars can help build social capital and foster well-being, which are key underpinnings to community resilience, climate adaptation, and watershed projects. Grantmaking areas will include:
SMALL, RURAL COMMUNITIES
In small, rural communities where the 2023 floods have created greater challenges or new opportunities, VCF will work with local leaders and community members to identify key projects that will bolster recovery and build toward future resilience. The mix of projects or initiatives will depend on each community but may include restarting key services, visioning for the future, and holding community connections strong. In addition, VCF will support efforts to ensure that communities have local networks and resources in place to provide individual and family assistance when a crisis occurs or a disaster hits.
Vermont’s problems with housing supply and affordability were worsened by pandemic trends and pushed past the brink by flooding in 2023. These disruptions have laid bare the human and economic consequences of Vermont’s housing crisis, making it even clearer that Vermont cannot achieve the state’s aspirations for communities, well-being, and the economy without changes in approaches, policies, and housing supply. Initiatives include: helping promote adequate supply of a variety of housing types, ensuring flood-resilient construction for new homes in our historic centers, and supporting existing homes to become more resilient.
More Vermonters than ever are struggling with their mental health, across all ages and demographics. This worrisome trend began before the COVID pandemic, but it has continued through the recent years of dislocation and social isolation. The 2023 floods added trauma and stress to many households and communities where homes were destroyed or damaged and daily life was disrupted. Collective efforts now are important to hold people safe and supported and to continue to build the resources, connections, and capacity that Vermont needs. Initiatives include: supporting the mental health of youth and adults, particularly those who have experienced repeated weather-related disasters.
For over a decade Vermonters have been working together to be better prepared for more frequent and intense storms and yet, there is still work to do. The 2023 floods refocused attention on the very real threats that the changing climate poses to Vermont’s communities and economy. This is an important moment in time to foster increased investment in our collective capacity to proactively prepare for the impacts of climate change, to reimagine community development patterns, and to ensure Vermont towns and villages are safer before the next severe weather event. Initiatives include: regional watershed management, environmental justice, and climate adaptation strategies.
ARTS AND COMMUNITY PLACES
In this time of polarization and isolation, Vermont communities need ways to connect at a human level more than ever. The arts have tremendous power to bring people together from all walks of life to work, play, create, and solve problems at the community level - and strengthen the sense of belonging. These activities foster higher levels of ongoing resilience and trust in the community and have direct benefits to individual well-being. The need for connection is elevated in places that had serious impacts from the 2023 floods, where many people are hurting and rebuilding efforts will take a long time, with difficult decisions along the way. Initiatives include: supporting collaborative projects that support community gathering and healing, reactivate damaged community spaces, and build resilience through a renewed sense of shared identity and belonging. For more information about the Arts and Community Places grants available to flood-affected towns, please contact Andy Barker (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kate McCarthy (email@example.com).
Earlier Phase Strategies
Phase 1 – Immediate Response and Relief
Phase One is about meeting people’s basic needs as the waters recede— about keeping people fed and sheltered in emergency situations and helping those who were most directly impacted. Phase 1 will include a spectrum of fast-moving grants in multiple waves to:
- State and regional partners who have experience dealing with these kinds of crises and which can assist with temporary housing, food, clothing, case management, etc. such as the Red Cross, Vermont’s five community action agencies, and the Area Agencies on Aging, among others.
- Partners focused on getting immediate support to small businesses and farms including NOFA-VT, the Intervale, AALV, Montpelier Strong Recovery Fund, and the Main Street Flood Relief Fund. Also a partnership with the Vermont State Employees Credit Union to offer no-interest loans for individuals.
- Local efforts centered in the affected communities—such as Civic Standard in Hardwick, Woodstock Hub, Black River Good Neighbor, and the Barre Partnership – that are serving as critical resources for communities, often leading response efforts and coordinating volunteers. Also, through a partnership with Hack Club Bank, matching support for ad hoc local projects coming together to meet specific needs.
- Nonprofits whose physical spaces have been directly affected by the flooding, to help get them back up and running so that they can continue to serve their communities as quickly as possible.
Phase 2 – Building Back Communities
Once the conditions on the ground signal that emergency needs are relatively well covered, the grantmaking strategy will shift into Phase 2, which is about building back Vermont’s communities. To support a recovery that positions people, places, and the economy for the future, the fund will support and invest in the following areas:
- Housing and Shelter - including efforts to keep people sheltered while rebuilding; support for home repairs; support for those wanting or needing to think about rebuilding differently; solutions for mobile home parks impacted by the flooding.
- Farm Recovery - support for coordination efforts in getting information to farmers and helping navigate federal funding process; resources for growers who crops/products are eligible for less federal support; ensuring that all types of farms and farmers have access to resources.
- Main Street Vitality - continued recovery of existing businesses; support for new businesses and start-ups, including women- and BIPOC-owned; support for revitalization of historic buildings affected by flooding; efforts to foster connection and a sense of place in Vermont’s small towns and villages (e.g., parks, benches, public art, recreation paths).
- Mental Health and Wellbeing - crisis counseling for people who were in dangerous situations or experienced loss or injury; enhanced support for people living with acute mental health needs in flood-stricken areas; stress and psychological first aid training for local leaders; longer-term support for survivors and responders; building social connection and re-connection in communities.
Phase 3 – Community and Watershed Resilience
The third phase of grantmaking focuses on watershed management efforts to increase community resilience. Since Irene, Vermonters have been working together to be better prepared for more frequent and intense storms but there is more work to be done. Communities will need to continue to adapt to the changing climate and mitigate even more dramatic changes in the future. In this phase of grantmaking, the Community Foundation will partner closely with organizations such as Watersheds United Vermont to support local groups in identifying risks, reducing vulnerability to future storms, and helping to facilitate relationships across sectors and town borders to ensure a just recovery.