Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity

For many of us, making the decision to ask for help can be demoralizing. Vermont resident Shirley Lamothe faced this decision early in summer 2014, as working part-time on a fixed income did not allow her to pursue much needed home renovation on her own terms. “It takes you down in a way, but I said I got to get help,” Shirley explained.  A friend of Shirley’s sent her an application for a weatherization program through the Champlain Valley of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO). The program sends in a team to improve a home’s insulation, ventilation, and heating systems. Shirley filled out the application, and CVOEO notified her of her eligibility for the program. “I’m lucky—the team has been unbelievable, and so often, I’ve tried not to cry in front of them,” Shirley confessed.

For nearly fifty years, CVOEO has addressed economic issues and social justice by helping people “bridge gaps and build futures.” Jan Demers (CVOEO’s Executive Director) and Jenn Wood (CVOEO’s Weatherization Program Director) currently work at the forefront of this effort. Created in 1965 in conjunction with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” the organization strives to find solutions to poverty in the 21st century.[1] CVOEO furthers this mission by providing residents in need with the “basic needs of food, fuel and housing support.”[2] Demers explained that, “In a place like Vermont, I do believe that we havenot only the resources, but the will to end poverty.” Starting in 2005 with grants to support heating assistance, Argosy’s current partnership with CVOEO includes various initiatives.


A Multi-Faceted Approach

Composed of nine total programs offering a variety of services, CVOEO’s approach is multi-faceted.Initially, Argosy supported the operations of two CVOEO programs—the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf (CEFS) and WARMTH. One hallmark aspect of CEFS is the Community Kitchen Academy, which is a 13-week training program that prepares Vermonters for careers in the food service industry. The Academy boasts a job placement rate of 85%, with a total of 108 graduates since its inception five years ago in 2009.[3] WARMTH, the other Argosy-supported program, assists residents when they can no longer afford heating costs.

Most recently, in 2013, Argosy began providing financial support for CVOEO’s Weatherization Assistance Project (WAP). In general, the project aims to make a client’s energy use more efficient. To qualify, a resident’s income must fall below a certain income level, depending on their household size. Residents must then apply for the free service, providing information about their employment status, income, and fuel and heating costs. For the program, an ongoing challenge involves health and safety issues, such as asbestos, vermiculite, and mold, which need to be remedied before a weatherization project can get underway. Many of CVOEO’s clients are deferred on weatherization projects and according to Wood, this is “usually because clients don’t have the funds to take care of home maintenance issues.”  As an example, tests for mold and vermiculite can be upwards of $200, while complete abatement or removal can amount to $10,000 or more. Currently, over 100 homes are deferred for weatherization due vermiculite alone. Argosy’s grant intends to mitigate the frequency of WAP deferments, by funding necessary home clean-up and maintenance.

Specifically, Argosy’s grants to WAP support the cost of materials and labor for project workers, provides funding for WAP coordinator time, and covers expenses for additional staff time, training, and other tools or equipment. Through Argosy’s grant, it is anticipated that 12-20 originally ineligible households will receive WAP renovation. Moreover, half of Argosy’s funds were used to install solar panels on mobile homes. Argosy’s support has already contributed to several success stories.“In one particular household, there was a leaking roof, which we fixed by using the Argosy dollars,” Wood shared. “Without having those funds to take care of that issue, that household would have likely gone without weatherization.” To pursue this type of success, WAP prides itself on careful assessment and measurement of progress. WAP’s evaluation involves both gathering client feedback and being evaluated by the state of Vermont. Wood explained that WAP’s customer satisfaction surveys are returned “90% of the time,” thereby impacting WAP’s work.


Collaboration to End Poverty

As one of five Community Action Agencies in Vermont, CVOEO understands that it cannot work alone in its mission to end poverty. Demers asserts that, “We have an opportunity to end poverty when we can collaborate with partners, and stop the territorialism and duplication.” One recent example of CVOEO’s collaboration is its work with partners to manage Community Housing Grants from summer 2013 to summer 2014.

These grants were made available by Vermont’s Department for Children & Families, with the goal of community partners working jointly to develop and implement coordinated responses to prevent and address homelessness.[4] Demers explained that this grant program allowed CVOEO to collaborate well with organizations like the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) and Women Helping Battered Women (WHBW).  Jennie Davis, WHBW’s Director of Programs explained, “We refer clients to CVOEO’s services often, and we most recently worked with them to house the Safe Home program, which provides case management and long-term services for women and families.” The Community Housing Grants made CVOEO’s and WHBW’s case management services possible, enhancing their collaboration.

CVOEO continues to fight hunger, poverty, and housing problems through multiple approaches. According to Demers, “I work with some incredibly creative people who believe as I do that there are solutions to the problems of today’s society that can come to fruition.” The Argosy Foundation is proud to call CVOEO a partner in the search for these solutions.

For more information about CVOEO, please visit http://www.cvoeo.org/


[1]  “CVOEO Annual Report: Impact 2013.” CVOEO, accessed June 3, 2014. 2. http://www.cvoeo.org/fileLibrary/file_1.pdf

[2] Mission.” CVOEO, accessed June 3, 2014. http://www.cvoeo.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=menus&menu_id=15&pId=2

[3]Erica Campbell. “Trained Culinary Students Ready for Employment: Community Kitchen Academy Graduating Students.” Vermont Food System Atlas. February 5, 2014. http://www.vtfoodatlas.com/announcements/trained-culinary-students-ready-for-employment-community-kitchen-academy-graduating-students#.U6rszfldVHM

[4] “Community Housing Grants—Funding Opportunity.” http://www.vtaffordablehousing.org/news/2013/03/community-housing-grants-funding-opportunity/

 

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