By Gordon Dritschilo
Two local nonprofit organizations want to know what they haven’t heard yet from residents of the northwest neighborhood.
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont and the Housing Trust of Rutland County are advertising to hire a community organizer to work in the neighborhood, to begin “immediately,” and to complete work by the end of next year.
The organizer will be tasked with talking to residents, identifying concerns and appropriate actions to address them, and finding ways for the residents to share common interests.
Elisabeth Kulas, executive director of the housing trust, said the position will be funded by a Vermont Community Foundation grant.
“It’s been about a year since it was awarded,” she said. “It’s a collaboration, so we had to tease out what that would look like, and it took a little longer than we thought.”
Kulas said the organizer will reach out to residents in the neighborhood to connect the two groups to people who had not participated in Project VISION yet.
“Renters are 73 percent of the population,” she said. “Renters typically aren’t as interested in the outcomes in their neighborhood. We want to find out what their needs are. … It’s intended to be a grassroots initiative.”
The northwest neighborhood has been the focus of a lot of government and nonprofit activity in the last couple of years, and Mary Cohen — HomeOwnership Center director at NeighborWorks — said community involvement has increased some. “It probably has changed for the better in the last 12 months,” Cohen said. “I get the feeling, when I go down there, people are coming out and engaging with what we are doing a little more, rather than peeking through the windows.”
Cohen pointed to the design of a new park on Baxter Street — built on the site of a blighted house NeighborWorks bought and demolished using a different grant — as an example of successful engagement in the community.
Even so, Kulas and Cohen both said the organizations want to make sure there isn’t anything they are missing.
“It’s very easy for us to think we know what someone else needs,” Kulas said. “We don’t unless we ask, and it’s important to make sure that asking is happening over and over and over again.”
The organizer will approach people one-on-one, Kulas said, in recognition that it might be hard for someone working to survive to find time to get to a community meeting.
Part of the effort will also include identifying natural leaders from the community and providing them training in community organizing.
“Ultimately, it could become a movement of its own, separate from our two organizations,” Kulas said.