United Way of Northwest Vermont
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Light and hope abound in Vermont communities

By Jesse Bridges, CEO of United Way of Northwest Vermont 

The Winter Solstice, December 21, marks the shortest and darkest day of the year. At this time of year, I find myself especially attuned to the light and the hope that abounds in our community every day, no matter the season. 

It is all too easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed by the interconnected challenges our community is facing – from the housing crisis to escalating mental health and substance misuse challenges to public safety concerns.  

These challenges are real and daunting, but I promise you they are not hopeless. I know this because in my role at United Way I get to see people coming together every day to make things better for themselves, their colleagues, and their families, friends, and neighbors. 

You don’t have to look hard, and you don’t have to look far to find local people doing good work and creating positive change, despite challenges.  

Consider my colleague who became a certified trainer this year in Mental Health First Aid and has already helped dozens of fellow community members learn strategies and tools for supporting someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Hopefully helping increase our community response and allowing our first responders, nurses, and social workers to care for those most in need. 

I think of a young leader in our community, another coworker, who is helping to lead substance misuse prevention efforts in our region and in his spare time volunteers as a youth soccer coach and mentor helping our teachers create opportunities for the next generation.   

I look to a United Way Working Bridges Resource Coordinator who recently helped a single mom who was struggling to afford rent and groceries despite having a good job and working full time. 

I’m inspired by dedicated staff and volunteers who work with United Way’s local partners like the Howard Center, Age Well, the Janet S. Munt Family Room, Samaritan House, Turning Point Centers, and Martha’s Kitchen, just to name a few. Every day, these organizations provide essential resources, connections and hope to people in our community.  

I think about our neighbors struggling with substance use disorder who find themselves in the Emergency Department, to be cared for by exceptional staff and find community support from peer recovery coaches who are there to offer hope and recovery to people in their darkest moments.  

I find hope in the programs and people of organizations like Outright Vermont, Circles of Courage, King Street Center, Spectrum, and the Richard Kemp Center as they create exciting, safe, and welcoming spaces for all. 

Even on the darkest day of the year, we are surrounded by so much light.  

I like to say that United Way sits at the intersection of government, businesses, nonprofits, and community, because that’s where change happens. Change happens when local people come together to focus on local solutions. But it is not just the change that happens at that marvelous intersection, it is hope and pride in what we all accomplish when we work together. 

As we head into another Vermont winter and approach a new year, let’s choose to focus on – and to grow – what’s working in our communities. Let’s encourage our hopes, rather than our fears. 

Help make change possible. Together, we can make things better for ourselves and for our families, friends, and neighbors. 

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