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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Northeast Kingdom Giving Recommendations

Posted by: Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup on 4/22/2016

Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup is Senior Philanthropic Advisor for the Northeast Kingdom Fund and Program and Grants. 

The EB-5 scandal is a peculiar kind of disaster. It’s man-made, slow-motion, and largely devoid of sound. But the ripple effects of what is unfolding in that beloved corner of our state could have far-reaching implications for the health of its communities.

Many people are wondering what—if anything—they can do to help, so we wanted to share some recommendations with you.

But before we dive in to these recommendations, we should remember that the Kingdom has both struggled and triumphed long before the basic elements of this scandal were being put into place. Many of the assets that existed before the news broke are still there and are still very much viable.

We need to remember that Jay Peak development is open, and will likely stay open. Burke is mostly built and hopefully the receiver will be able to figure out how to get it open. Yes, AnC Bio and the downtown Newport redevelopment are potentially big losses but overall, the pieces of the Kingdom's economic development strategy are still largely intact.

The question is how to continue to make the most of those assets while tending to the gaps that will soon appear. To that end, one of the best things we can do for the Kingdom right now is to provide support for NEK nonprofits in general, and especially for those that offer job training, workforce development, comprehensive case management, and mentoring programs for youth. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) is an anti-poverty program that supports communities across the Kingdom. The massive job-growth promised by the EB-5 development projects now seems less likely to occur in its promised form. NEKCA offers services and programs—including some that are related to job training—that will help those in the region who will be struggling in the coming months and years. 
  • Umbrella is an organization that aids survivors of sexual and domestic violence and empowers women and families in the Kingdom. Umbrella has developed economic empowerment programs, including the “Cornucopia” program which offers training in the hospitality industry to women in transition. Many of the EB-5 development projects were creating service jobs that might have been filled by the women trained in Umbrella’s programming. Umbrella will adapt and continue their economic development programs to help women become financially self-sufficient in today’s reality.    
  • Northeast Kingdom Learning Services helps adults in the Kingdom without high school credentials to continue their education, to build literacy, and to develop valuable soft skills that will aid them in the workforce. Even though the Kingdom will not likely see the immediate influx of jobs at the scale that was promised to accompany the EB-5 projects, workforce development and lifelong learning are still critical pieces of the Kingdom’s on-going recovery process. 
  • Northeast Kingdom Youth Services (NEKYS) provides comprehensive case management and mentoring programs for at-risk youth living in the Kingdom. NEKYS is helping the Kingdom’s youth develop skills now in order to prepare them for independence when they do enter the workforce. Local employers often note that young people are not leaving school ready to take the jobs that are available; NEKYS is one organization working to bend the curve and to help local youth build skills that will serve them over the long term. 
  • For those who are interested in supporting the region’s current and long-term needs, the Northeast Kingdom Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation was established “for the Kingdom, by the Kingdom.” A grants committee with local representatives awards grants to projects that benefit communities in Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia counties.

Finally, Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) serves the Kingdom as the Regional Planning Commission, assisting with land use and transportation planning. It’s a federal- and state-funded program that doesn’t accept contributions from donors, but deserves a shout-out for its great work. NVDA works with employers to start and maintain local businesses, large and small, while providing individuals with the training they need to work at these businesses. With a long history of helping to create jobs in the Kingdom, NVDA will continue to be a vitally important part of the mix as the region and its residents move forward.

The inhabitants of the Kingdom have weathered adversity before, and they’ll weather it again. But in the meantime, let’s do what we can to bolster the Vermont-bred resilience that is a hallmark of the region.

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