On June 12, 2024
Columns

Building a stronger Killington-Rutland community:Essential nonprofits tackle tough issues

Vermont’s vibrant spirit thrives on a network of over 7,000 nonprofits; some 1,500 of them in the Killington-Rutland region alone. Considering that number, it’s not surprising that some of these organizations prompt the question: “Why does that nonprofit exist?” Yet, the ones that tackle tough issues and enrich lives spark admiring comments, like “Imagine how awful it would be if that organization did not exist.” 

Essential nonprofits are in that latter category. The answer lies in their impact. They are the ones that address serious challenges — such as access to food, safety, housing, medical care, and security — for some of Vermont’s most vulnerable populations. They provide crucial services for our children, teens, and older residents, as well as educating future leaders and advancing entrepreneurs. They create assets that enliven our downtowns, and celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion, while also enhancing our rural heritage. 

They also happen to be nonprofits that retain talented staff, committed volunteers and donors who support their mission, vision and values on a regular basis. They readily answer the “why” with clarity, purpose, and courtesy.

Since the pandemic, several visionary leaders of such nonprofits, as well as notable community volunteers, have been featured in this column. Those listed below are perhaps not as well known or their causes have become more crucial. Here’s hoping this list sparks support for them — whether through donations, volunteering, or other resources. 

Leading with honesty and heart

Audrey Bridge, director of the Community Cupboard of Rutland County since 2022, is both genial and refreshingly direct about how challenging it has become to procure enough food for “the Cupboard.” She gets to her point with authority and empathy — without a shred of melodrama or self-promotion. 

The power of authentic leadership

Mary Cohen, executive director of Housing Trust of Rutland County, exudes competence, confidence, and compassion in all her interactions, whether with beneficiaries, or with board members and other advocates. Housing is one of Vermont’s most pressing and often controversial issues, and Cohen’s approach is an inspiration to other community leaders. 

Building a more inclusive community

William Fourney-Mills, executive director of Rutland County Pride, champions the LGBTQIA+ community. His data speaks volumes — in a recent conversation Fourney-Mills cited surveys that reveal a surge in people relocating to Rutland County due to Pride’s positive influence. “We rank higher than Burlington for LGBTQIA quality of life,” Fourney-Mills declared. 

Empowering newcomers

Ellen Green and Naomi Fatt are just two of the courageous leaders of Bridge to Rutland, a nonprofit that helps asylum seekers find housing, resources, education, and legal aid in Rutland County. In just three years, BTR has become an authoritative partner spearheading Rutland’s efforts to become more diverse, inclusive and welcoming. 

Championing Vermont’s future

Kevin Chu, executive director of The Vermont Futures Project, enthusiastically engages supporters and doubters alike in statewide discussions about Vermont’s economic future. In his presentations, Chu fosters respectful dialogue while emphasizing how intersecting economic development, environmental sustainability and social justice is essential for Vermont’s future. He exudes appreciation for every person who engages him — regardless of age, gender, income, or ethnic group. 

The power of one

Roger Louiselle is a one-man testament to the power of community engagement; his responsiveness to family, neighbors and colleagues makes him a local hero. Loiselle serves on the board of the Housing Trust of Rutland County, and for almost five decades, has been an avid member of the Rutland South Rotary Club, whose primary cause is education. The Club’s annual fundraising event draws hundreds to the Spartan Arena and, since 1982, Rutland South Rotary has contributed over a million dollars to the Rutland community. 

Unleashing creativity, inspiring new careers

Kim Griffin, executive director of the MINT, dubbed “Rutland’s Makerspace,” oversees a 14,000-square-feet facility that offers a breadth and depth of activities, workshops, and networking opportunities. Many of them are focused on STEAM projects — science, technology, engineering, art and architecture, and math — all of which are essential to Vermont’s future. 

Revitalizing the downtown core

Hali Issente, the new director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, is one of those extroverts who always has a sincere smile, even when face to face with a confrontational community advocate. Issente’s fans cite his seemingly boundless energy and sincere optimism as he begins to develop new activities to boost the economic impact of Merchants Row. 

A legacy of giving

Steve Costello, the retired Green Mountain Power executive whose leadership of the Gift-of-Life Marathon for countless years has resulted in thousands of people donating blood, continues his quest to boost Rutland’s quality of life. His vigorous fundraising on behalf of the downtown Rutland Sculpture Trail, has delighted forward-thinking Rutlanders and visitors alike, most especially those who understand that such art exhibits not only illuminate our rich history but provide inspiration to transform our future. 

Quiet hero 

Bobby Poquette is considered by many Rutlanders the most dedicated volunteer in the region for his work, especially on behalf of the American Cancer Society’s local Relay for Life. Poquette was recently touted by WCAX-TV’s Joe Carroll, in his popular segment, Super Seniors. 

As Carroll noted, “Many people measure success by the car you drive or the college you attend. Poquette has neither, but he might be the richest man in Rutland.”

Choosing to make a difference

With 1,500 nonprofits, and counting, in the Rutland region alone, choosing where to lend support can be challenging. All the more reason astute donors and other community advocates look to support nonprofits that have a strong board, talented leaders, an essential mission and solid vision, stable finances, dedicated staff and enthusiastic volunteers. Those are also the nonprofits whose leaders can clearly explain why their nonprofits exist. Even more important, they can clearly demonstrate the void the community would experience if they ceased to exist. 

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable  educational institutions: lizdimarcoweinmann.com.

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