On June 14, 2023

Vt needs a system for child care and more houses for people to live in


By Dan Smith

Editor’s note: Dan Smith is the president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation.

Since 1986, the Vermont Community Foundation has been a source of enduring philanthropy that supports the strength of Vermont communities. The ability to work over decades offers an important perspective on how conditions change over time. 

Given that scope of work, the question we try to stay focused on is: What makes for strong communities today and in the years to come?

We are optimists at our core: Across Vermont, we see plenty of reasons to believe that progress is possible. The work we do with partners in every corner of the state inspires us to that view. Vermonters look out for one another, and they work together. 

Our work in communities also informs our understanding of the critical needs facing Vermont — needs such as child care and housing. Alongside our fundholders and donors and in partnership with organizations across the state, we have used philanthropy to leverage impact alongside state, federal and private partners on these and other issues. 

Where we can see agreement, trust and respect, we see the potential for progress. 

We are also realists. In some important ways, Vermont is at risk of squandering the potential for progress. We have seen the consequences of a deeply systemic opportunity gap that chips away at the health of our communities. We see a rising tide of civic, economic and social disengagement. 

When lack of child care keeps someone out of the workforce, when the cost of housing and lack of options drives a family to leave the state, when education after high school is essentially a prerequisite for economic security but statistically correlated to whether or not your parents went to college, then we have neighbors experiencing community in very different ways. And our community is only as strong as our neighbors’ experience. 

In America, if you were born in 1945, you stood a 90% chance of doing better than your parents. If you were born after 1980, that chance hovers around 50%. That’s not progress. 

The future facing Vermont’s children shouldn’t be a tossup, but the fact that it is explains why so many younger Vermonters have lost faith and are cynical about their future and the reliability of our institutions.

The consideration for a strong community is not what it is today, but clarity about — and progress toward — what it needs to become tomorrow. Progress is its own indicator of vitality. 

In a recent survey of Vermont Community Foundation grant recipients, we were startled by how many respondents highlighted increased levels of divisiveness and a decline in civil discourse. Many noted community tensions over race, socioeconomic background, new versus long-term residents, rural areas versus urban areas, young versus old, and/or new technology culture versus legacy traditions. 

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