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On My Way Out...

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 1/21/2016

As I finish my time with the Vermont Community Foundation, many of you have asked for my closing thoughts. There are far too many to share, and I did much of that in my previous blog. But on further reflection, there are a few more things I’d like to say. As I leave the state, I am struck by four over-arching questions. They are questions we’ve been thinking about at the Foundation, and they are the same questions I posited in the introduction to our new Opportunity report. They are questions worth repeating.

  1. How will Vermont address the state’s expanding “opportunity gap?” If you joined us for Bob Putnam’s speech at the 2015 Annual Meeting, you heard a lot about this. It’s not a question that is unique to Vermont, of course; it is a problem with which all of America needs to wrestle. The opportunity gap concept captures the reality that it is simply too hard for many people to break out of their disadvantages. In Vermont, there are 46,000 working families who do not earn enough to make ends meet. It is a fundamental tenet of America that with hard work and perseverance, one can get ahead, but for too many people that is no longer true. That is not right. How will Vermont—how will all of us—begin to find solutions that open the doors of opportunity again? This matters to our economy, to our society, to our very idea of who we are. We’ve got to figure this out.  

  2. How can Vermont re-energize civil society? It’s not news to say that Vermonters don’t attend town meetings in anything like the numbers of the past. It’s not news that some towns struggle to find candidates for town boards and committees. Our volunteer rate is not as strong as it once was. As some of our smaller schools close, residents of those towns will lose institutions that have had much to do with their community’s identity. We in Vermont are rightly proud of our strong civic traditions. It is truly a special place—unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. But all Vermonters need to pay attention to the loss of civic traditions, and work hard to find new places to meet, volunteer, work together, and build community.  

  3. The country is becoming more diverse. Vermont is not. What does that mean for Vermont’s ability to thrive in the 21st century? I’ve attended far too many national meetings where demographers talk about the rapidly changing demography of America—a rapidly growing diversity among the young, new energy from growing immigrant communities, and an aging white population that will no longer be the majority by the year 2040. And then they point out Vermont on the chart and say something like, “of course, Vermont won’t have any of that diversity and youth.” This brings much laughter, but it’s true. All of northern New England struggles with a loss of young people. Vermont is the second oldest-state in the country. What will Vermont do to become a more appealing state for people of all ages and backgrounds?  

  4. Finally, what is Vermont’s role in this era of climate change? It is a global challenge. On this one, Vermont has the chance to play an outsized role. The state believes in a green and sustainable future. The Vermont Council on Rural Development will soon release its report on a future “Climate Change Economy” for Vermont. But we cannot wait. How will we address our energy needs and the incredible transportation challenges of a rural state—and model that for the country? How will Vermont ensure that excellent practices are modeled here, and shared everywhere else?

I will confront some of the same issues (though not all of them) in Delaware. And there will be new ones. But for Vermont, these are the issues on my mind, and I’m eager to see how the state wrestles with them.

And with that, I bid a fond farewell to this unbelievable, fabulous, warm, engaging, creative state. I’ve loved my time here, the close friendships my wife Lucy and I have developed, the beauty of the state, and the fact that you really can do big things in this place. 

I hope you will stay in touch. I’ll be easy to find at the Delaware Community Foundation. This blog—“What’s Stu-ing?”—will be revived in Delaware once I’m there. And I also hope you’ll let me know what you’re up to. I’ll certainly be watching Vermont.



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