United Way of Northwest Vermont
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Liz Gamache: How to make a local impact this giving season

This commentary is by Liz Gamache, a former mayor of St. Albans and a longtime resident of the city. She is currently part of the senior leadership team at United Way of Northwest Vermont and serves on several nonprofit boards. 

One of the many things I love about living in Vermont is how we take care of each other and value strong communities. As the days get shorter and darker, we are also entering a season of gratitude — a time when many of us reflect on our blessings and ways we can give back.

Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, is an international day of giving — a global movement intended to “unleash the power of radical generosity around the world.” For me, this day is an opportunity to reflect on ways to give back locally; to look at what the needs are in my community and consider what I can do to make a difference in my own backyard. 

Every person in Vermont benefits, either directly or indirectly, from the mission-driven work of local nonprofits. I personally became familiar with how important Vermont’s nonprofits are to building strong communities when I joined the staff of my local United Way 20 years ago.

Since then, I’ve dedicated my professional and community life to supporting local mission-driven organizations and programs. I’ve worked for small and large nonprofits and in local government. I’ve volunteered for many organizations, often serving on boards. I was even the mayor of St. Albans (a volunteer job) for six years.

Nonprofits, by design, are meant to serve the common good, often filling in the gaps where government and the for-profit economy fall short. There is so much essential work happening right here in our local communities.

I can tell you firsthand that there is no shortage of local organizations that need your support. There are organizations that help individuals and families meet basic needs and cultural organizations that enrich our lives through art and historic preservation. There are environmental causes striving to protect the planet and nonprofits serving marginalized populations and advocating for a more just and inclusive society. And much, much more.

Given that Vermont has the second-largest nonprofit sector (per capita) in the country, it can be hard to know where to start. I suggest starting with organizations and causes that are near and dear to your passions. Has a friend or family member been touched by an issue or an organization doing great work? Asking community members for recommendations or researching Vermont-based nonprofits at Common Good Vermont is a great place to start. 

I find it rewarding to support a variety of local organizations and missions. I currently serve on the boards of AgeWell, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, Franklin County Home Health, and Franklin County Industrial Development Corp., and have been a past board member for the St. Albans Museum and Local Motion, among others.

What I love about supporting my local United Way is that I know I’m helping address multiple challenges in my community. As a staff member and donor at United Way of Northwest Vermont, I am inspired every day by United Way’s work bringing local people together to solve

local problems. We focus on the local needs most important to — and told to us by — our community: meeting basic needs (housing, food, and transportation), promoting mental health, supporting families, preventing substance misuse and fostering financial stability.

In addition to funding local organizations that are doing critical work, United Way runs our own programs and leads special initiatives like the new Mental Health Initiative and Northwest Vermont Regional Prevention Network that are focused on long-term change and addressing inequities in our systems that affect the lives of our neighbors.

We see the willingness and generosity of Vermonters to help neighbors in need and we recognize that there are many ways to give. Some people give money, some volunteer by giving their time, and others advocate for those in need. Some people do all three!

Together, we can do the work that no single organization can do alone. We can address immediate needs and we work to fix systemic problems. That’s the power of #LivingUnited!

Visit www.unitedwaynwvt.org for more information on ways to give, advocate and volunteer in your community.

This Giving Tuesday, I invite you to think locally. By giving local, you contribute to the growth and improvement of the place you spend the most time in the world. You help build a stronger community and a brighter future for yourself as well as your family, friends, and neighbors.