30 years. $100 million. 6,100 jobs. 4,000 safe, affordable homes. 4,000 children & families served by quality early care & education. ”‹The statistics are impressive, but it's the stories, and the people in them, that really count. Here are a few of them.
VERMONT WOOD PELLET COMPANY
“We work on a community scale, and so does the Loan Fund. Their decisions are made for the benefit of the community. Ours too.”
“We hear a lot about eating local. At Vermont Wood Pellet, we want to heat local,” says Chris Brooks, co-owner (along with Katie Adams) of North Clarendon’s Vermont Wood Pellet Company.
A fifth generation lumberman, Brooks came to Vermont following timbering stints in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Georgia. Right from the beginning, they wanted to do things more sustainably, sourcing their wood from within a 30-mile radius. Their niche also included “being the best” according to Brooks: they came up with a pellet composition that was more energy- and cost-efficient, burning longer, warmer and with less waste.
In VCLF, they found a lender with a similar ethos. “We work on a community scale,” Brooks says, “and so does the Loan Fund. Their decisions are made for the benefit of the community. Ours too.”
Now in its third year, Vermont Wood Pellet has grown steadily, now employing 24 workers in its mill, “and for every one of them, there are four in the woods,” he says. Most tellingly, they’ve also completely sold out of last year’s pellets and are hard at work on getting ready for next winter.
“VCLF played a critical role in our success,” says Brooks. “VCLF sees value, where other lenders might not.”
VERMONT BEAN CRAFTERS
Crafting a Better Business
Waitsfield & Warren
“The Loan Fund isn't just looking for ways to make a buck off business people. They're looking for what what's good for Vermont.”
Joe Bossen has a lot on his plate. He’s the founder, owner, chef, delivery man, marketing guy and more at Vermont Bean Crafters. “I wear a lot of hats,” he says, laughing.
Begun in 2011 and based in Waitsfield’s Mad River Food Hub, Vermont Bean Crafters makes bean burgers, bean balls, soups and even cookies. These bean-based products are distributed at grocers, coops, restaurants, hospitals and schools. Beans are sourced locally, as are additional ingredients such as sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and grains.
After graduating from Green Mountain College, Bossen worked at various jobs including a stint in at Boardman Hill Farm, where Vermont farmer Greg Cox mentored him in sustainable agriculture. “Our food system uses so much of our energy,” Bossen says. “Even local agriculture can require huge amounts of energy to grow. Beans are different.” Beans, he explains, are nutrient-dense, shelf-stable, and require less heat and water to grow than other crops.
Bossen was referred to VCLF by the Carrot Project, which helps smaller food producers find financing and technical assistance services.
“The Loan Fund isn’t just looking for ways to make a buck off business people. They’re looking for what’s good for Vermont,” he says.
COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS OF BURLINGTON
Every Step of the Way
“VCLF was committed to our mission. That was what mattered to them, and that made all the difference.”
At the Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB), Executive Director Jack Donnelly and Community Relations Director Alison Calderara are happily seated amidst a sea of half-unpacked boxes ”” thirty-six thousand square feet of half-unpacked boxes, to be exact.
CHCB has just relocated to its brand new home at 617 Riverside Drive, in Burlington. After three years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the new center is ready to serve a patient base that has soared to 14,000 ”” or 550 patient visits per day.
From its humble beginnings in a tiny storefront in Burlington’s Old North End four decades ago, CHCB’s progress is arguably one of the most impressive community health care success stories in the country.
The People’s Free Clinic, located on North Street, was founded in 1971 with a mission to serve patients regardless of their ability to pay. As groundbreaking as that concept was, perhaps even more remarkable was the fact that the original clinic was staffed entirely by volunteers. By the end of their second year, the clinic had become so busy that 50 patients per week were being seen and treated. As the patient base grew and grew, the clinic changed its name to the Community Health Centers of Burlington to reflect its expanded vision and mission to the larger community.
But a larger community required a larger space. Enter the Vermont Community Loan Fund, which believed in the Center's mission and in the vital importance of its health care services.
“The clinic had grown so quickly, it was bursting at its seams,” recalls Brian Pine, Housing Director for the City of Burlington. “They needed support, and the Loan Fund got involved to help with the expansion."
Calderara recalls the details of the loan. “The facility needed room for administrative space upstairs in the building,” she remembers. “VCLF was committed to our mission. That was what mattered to them, and that made all the difference.”
That expansion was only the first of many. In 1989, CHCB was awarded a federal Health Care for the Homeless grant. In 1993, CHCB was designated as Vermont’s second Federally Qualified Health Center, which ushered in a significant expansion of services including social work, a prescription assistance program, an obstetrical and prenatal program, the region’s first paid professional staff interpreter, and a new sliding-scale payment plan. By 2001, another expansion was in the offing, resulting in the construction of CHCB’s 10,000 square foot main facility on Riverside Avenue. Next followed the CHCB Pearl Street Clinic, offering primary and preventive health care, dental care, mental health and substance abuse counseling to homeless persons and at-risk youth, and Housing First, which provides housing for homeless patients with chronicmedical conditions. Next, a dental center was added to the Riverside location, and in 2002, behavioral treatment services were added.
The staff of 135 now provides an estimated 55,000 patient visits per year. Patients include refugees, for whom there is a special translation service that can translate from 22 languages. Medicaid patients, the uninsured, the underinsured, the low-income and homeless make up a significant portion of the patient base.
CHCB's Executive Director Jack Donnelly sums it up: “Once we had so little space. Now, we have the Safe Harbor Center which does dental and medical. We have the Pearl Street Youth Center for those aged 26 years and under. We do outreach to family shelters, onsite, and we have nurses going to homeless camps, and outreach at the Howard Center. With this new facility, it's a whole new phase.”
CHAMPLAIN HOUSING TRUST
It Takes A Village
Chittenden, Franklin & Grand Isle Counties
“This was a more complicated project than usual, but VCLF always flexes to help us come up with a workable solution.”
As the saying goes when raising children: “It takes a village”¦,” The same can be said of working to create affordable housing in Vermont. The Loan Fund has many partner organizations with whom we work; the Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington is one of our oldest and strongest partners.
CHT was born in 2006 as the result of a merger between the Burlington Community Land Trust and the Lake Champlain Housing Development Corporation which were both established in 1984. CHT, a membership-based, nonprofit organization committed to creating and preserving perpetually affordable housing and vital communities in northwest Vermont.
Most folks think that “affordable housing” only consists of creating multi-family residential developments or apartment buildings, but in Vermont, with our small towns and villages, it often also takes the form of rehabilitating older single-family homes for sale at an affordable price and in perpetuity. The Champlain Housing Trust is one of many regional housing organizations that specialize in putting families in safe and affordable homes.
Vermonters' need for affordable housing eclipses production annually, creating a persistent shortage of affordable homes. Median home cost in 2011 rose 3% from 2010 with a staggering 64% increase since 2000. To purchase that median-priced home (30-year mortgage with down payment and closing costs), a Vermont household would need an annual income of more than $58,000; 81% of the state's occupations have a median wage below that figure. Furthermore, a persistently high proportion of Vermonters devote too much of their income to housing costs, including heating: 63% of renters and 38% of owners with mortgages pay more than the recommended 30% of their income for housing costs, ranking Vermont the 17th worst state nationally. We also have the 4th-tightest rental housing market in the US. 33,000 renting households are cost burdened, or paying more than 30% of their income for housing costs. This is 48% of all renting Vermonters, ranking the state 7th worst in the nation.
In 2008, VCLF made a loan to CHT to purchase a couple of older single-family residences in Chittenden County. One, near Battery Park in downtown Burlington, has been recently renovated from its original status as a duplex into a roomier, energy efficient single-family home. The 100-year-old home had been through many additions and was not maintained well by its previous owners.
CHT did something they don’t often do with such a property: they bought it outright, made the appropriate renovations and hope to sell it this spring or summer. “Normally we find a buyer first,” explains Rob Leuchs, CHT’s Shared Equity Programs Manager, “but this time we took the risk and bought the property first, thanks to the Loan Fund.” CHT needed capital to make the necessary repairs while keeping the property affordable when it came time to put it on the market.
“The easiest part was working with the VCLF because they are very flexible,” Leuchs says. “This was a more complicated project than usual, but VCLF always flexes to help us come up with a workable solution.”
Typically, CHT will take the time to find an eligible family for a home or affordable housing community that already exists. “VCLF also helps us buy time so we can find eligible families,” says Community Relations Director Chris Donnelly. “We have literally found hundreds of low- to moderate-income Vermonters directly because of the help we receive from VCLF.”
This partnership impacts families and communities in all corners of our state. “VCLF’s thorough understanding of our work, commitment to our mission and appreciation of our track record makes them a valued partner to us,” says CHT Executive Director Brenda Torpy. “And because of that, people have places to live that are safe, secure and affordable.
MUD CITY KIDS CHILD CARE CENTER
Committed to Care
“Providing quality care for Vermont’s kids is among the most important work to be done in ourstate. Thanks to the Loan Fund, I’m able to do just that.”
Tracy Patnoe knows about the need for quality childcare. “There are children on the waiting list that haven’t even been born yet! Almost every day I get calls from parents.”
“After my second child, I visited daycares, but I couldn’t find any I really liked.” So Tracystarted Mud City Kids Child Care in 1999. The plan was to run the child care program out of her family home until her own child was ready for school. “But by then, I had taken a lot of classes, and had a bunch of credits towards a degree. And I liked it!”
After a couple years, recognizing the need in the community, Tracy and her husband Ernie decided to move the program into a larger space. The challenge was financing the expansion. “Our bank was hesitant. Early care and education is not a big moneymaker. We looked around, but I don’t think I would have found a bank to make the loan.”
The Patnoes received a loan from VCLF for the purchase and renovation of a single-family home”¦and what a renovation it was! “It was affordable because we did nearly all the work ourselves,” says Tracy. “I bet I’ve spent at least 600 hours on this place.” laughs Ernie. “We were here Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve that year too!”
Their commitment shows. Today, Mud City Kids Child Care Center provides high-quality early care and education to 60 children from infants to age 6. The expansion also created 16 full-time jobs. “The kids really benefit from the bigger space.” says Tracy. “The (age) groups have their own separate spaces. The parents have been very happy.”
“With financing from VCLF, I’ve been able to expand my program, increase the number of kids and families I serve. I’ve been able to make quality improvements, increase my STARS rating and pay a higher wage. They’ve helped me to run a business that is sustainable.”
“I believe that providing quality care for Vermont’s kids is among the most important work to be done in our state. Thanks to the Loan Fund, I’m able to do just that.”
Outdoor Gear Exchange
“VCLF looked forward. They saw what we could become.”
In 1993, Outdoor Gear Exchange was a small start-up business with a big idea - owner March Sherman would sell high-quality new, used and discounted technical outdoor equipment, accessories and clothing, reaching out to the sizeable and growing number of outdoor sports enthusiasts in the Burlington area and beyond. Customers could even trade or consign their used gear.
The big idea grew. Customers responded, sales jumped, and OGE decided to focus on the demand for new rather than used merchandise. Increased sales led to increased inventory; within its first five years, OGE had expanded its retail square footage by 500%. With the level of growth now clearly indicating a need for additional working capital, Sherman set out to find financing.
“I met Will (Belongia, VCLF executive director) at a Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility training session on small business funding,” Sherman recalls. While traditional banks were wary of the relatively new business, Sherman remembers Belongia’s strong interest in OGE.
“VCLF sees value in socially and environmentally responsible businesses,” Sherman says. “Will focused on our strengths more than our challenges.”
Indeed, as a socially responsible employer, OGE offers an employee-funded retirement plan, medical and dental benefits, career training, profit-sharing and more. OGE jobs offer a livable wage and other pluses that linked directly to the Loan Fund’s quality job creation and transforming Vermonters’ lives.
“Marc’s commitment to his employees, to creating quality jobs has been a huge success,” Belongia says.
The first loan from VCLF helped with inventory at a critical juncture. By 2005, both sales and staff had jumped again.
Over the next six years, additional loans would follow, each helping expand OGE, step by step, ultimately bringing the retailer to larger and larger retail spaces and opportunities.
“At the beginning, we had two and a half employees; now we have 90. And since 2003, sales have increased between 500% and 600%” Sherman notes. Those numbers, he says, correlate exactly with the infusions of support from the Loan Fund. “The number of jobs we have created absolutely links to the support from VCLF,” he adds.
Today, the new Church Street location attracts hundreds of shoppers per week. Employee retention, perhaps the best indicator of a valued employer, is remarkable. The average length of employment for staffers is 6 years ”“ nearly unheard of in the retail world.
“Traditional banks looked backward,” Sherman says, recalling his first attempts to find financing. “They looked at the challenges we had faced. But VCLF looked forward. They saw what we could become.”
FOR ART’S SAKE
“VCLF was our knight in shining armor. The Loan Fund made the purchase of our building possible.”
An elaborate palace, replete with columns, constellations, and images of gods and goddesses, Brattleboro’s beloved Latchis Theater opened in 1938, an art deco movie palace with hotel, eateries, retail establishments and more. The Latchis family owned and operated the business for over six decades. In 2003, the Brattleboro Arts Initiative (now Latchis Arts) was looking for a home, and was steered by Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, to meet with the Latchises, who were ready to sell. When discussions turned to financing, Bruhn suggested the Vermont Community Loan Fund.
Latchis Arts’ former Managing Director Gail Nunziata recalls the excitement of finding the landmark future home - and the Loan Fund. “VCLF was our knight in shining armor,” recalls Nunziata. “The Loan Fund made the purchase of our building possible. It was an amazing collaborative effort.”
In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused $650,000 worth of flood damage. The screen went dark and the hotel was shuttered temporarily, but Latchis made it through, reopening in just two months after an intensive clean-up and restoration. For 2013, their 75th anniversary year, a capital campaign is underway to replace aging seats and restore the beautiful zodiac-themed ceiling in the main hall.
Latchis now employs 20 full or part-time staff, and leases 14 separate spaces in the main building and annex, providing storefronts and homes for a jeweler, boutique, a hair salon, an attorney, and a handful of artists who rent studio space.
Nunziata also notes the vital part that the Latchis plays in supporting the local economy, arts and otherwise. “At Latchis, we host a number of local cultural and arts festivals and events for other local organizations. Whenever possible, we purchase local goods and services. And we bring in all those tourists who eat shop and celebrate the arts in Brattleboro. Thanks to VCLF, Latchis is a wonderful community resource.”
“Making a farm financially viable is so challenging. But that's where VCLF comes in.”
“Making a farm financially viable so challenging. What our population spends on food doesn’t relate to the cost of producing it,” says Marie Frey of Hudak Farm. “But that’s where VCLF comes in,” she adds.
When Marie and her husband Richard Hudak met up with VCLF, they were happily surprised to discover the various skills, tools and methods that could help them with those aspects of the farming business that they could control.
Hudak Farm was a dairy operation when Richard and Marie took over from his parents in the 1970’s. The new couple switched to farming vegetables and fruits. Years later, wanting to keep diversifying their operations, they came upon two answers: compost, and the Vermont Community Loan Fund.
“VCLF helped us put together a plan for our compost production,” Frey says.“It’s critical to have lenders like VCLF in support of Vermont farms, whether they’re diversifying like we were, or brand new. That’s what the Loan Fund does so well,” she adds.
THE GRAY BUILDING
Shelter From the Storm
“The Vermont Community Loan Fund helped us to restore a beloved community building and return it to service for the people of Northfield.”
The Gray Building in Northfield has had many ‘lives,’ serving many purposes and people over the course of its 130-year-plus history. Today, that legacy continues on as the Gray Building assists community members hurt by 2011’s Hurricane Irene. It’s a special story for Northfield, a town that has come together to support each other in the face of a devastating crisis. It’s also a special story for VCLF too, an opportunity for our borrowers and investors to, quite literally, work together to make their community stronger.
The Many Lives of the Gray Building
Constructed in 1877 as a multiple classroom schoolhouse, the Gray Building operated continuously as the Northfield Graded and High School building until 1994. But after closing its doors as a public school, the building fell into disrepair. That is - until a team of dedicated volunteers and donors came together to restore the landmark as a community center and home for local businesses and organizations. The nonprofit Gray Building Coalition was founded and purchased the building in 2003.
Not surprisingly, a nearly 130-year-old building that had been vacant for the better part of a decade, and was being re-imagined with a completely new purpose in mind, needed some help to begin this new life. Planning for preservation, remediation and renovation would involve developers, engineers, architects and contractors, so a capital campaign to support the Gray Building’s rebirth was launched.
That’s when VCLF got involved. Our first loan to the Gray Building Coalition helped them fund early planning and construction costs, meaning that the project could move forward well before the campaign reached its fundraising goal. With restoration completed in 2004, the historic structure was made handicapped accessible along with a host of other retrofits, structural repairs and more.
Since the building’s restoration, long-term tenants have included the Northfield Boys & Girls Club and the Women’s Health & Fitness Center ”“ both still tenants. Additionally, the local HeadStart child development and family services program used the space, as did an alternative middle school and a youth dance studio among others.
“We’re a long-term rental space, but it has always been our goal to serve the local community whenever we can,” said Annie Gould, Treasurer and board member of the Gray Building Coalition.
It’s that philosophy that has continued to create another new life for the Gray Building in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
Irene and Beyond
When Irene pounded much of downtown Northfield in August and various businesses and community organizations were suddenly left homeless in the aftermath, the Gray Building Coalition again extended themselves to local community businesses and organizations, large and small.
When corporate furniture manufacturer (and past VCLF investor) WallGoldfinger needed temporary space for its 20-plus office staff, the Gray Building was there for them. Moving right into available space, WallGoldfinger was fully operational again within 48 hours after the storm. Amazingly, they didn’t miss a single production or delivery deadline, and, thanks in part to the Gray Building, continue to manufacture the highest-quality product.
Because of Irene, Northfield-based quilters group Vermont Quiltsearch was displaced from the space they were to use for their important annual quilt appraisals. Gould and her team made room for them at the Gray Building.
“The Gray Building was restored so it could be a community space,” says Gould, which is precisely how it has functioned in the wake of Irene. “The Gray Building has turned into a great place for the community to come together,” she adds. “But none of this could have happened without VCLF. VCLF helped us to restore a beloved community building and return it to service for the people of Northfield.”
RUTLAND COUNTY PARENT CHILD CENTER
“If VCLF hadn't stepped in to help us out, we'd be talking about closing instead of where we want to be in three years”
As Executive Director of the Rutland County Parent Child Center (RCPCC), Caprice Hover is focused on improving quality of life for families in her region of the state. She also chairs the Vermont State Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and is Vice-Chair at the Agency of Human Services’ Children and Family Council for Prevention Programs.
“I always wanted to work with kids, to be involved in work that had long-term and true impact,” says Hover. To that end, she now oversees 15 RCPCC educational and support programs, services and workshops including child care services, mentoring, budgeting, health and nutrition classes, parenting classes, high school equivalency, career readiness and more. RCPCC’s 42 employees serve over 3,000 Rutland County residents, sixty percent of whom meet the federal low-income standards.
Among the RCPCC success stories Hover likes to tell is that of the “Learning Together” Program that focuses on pregnant and parenting mothers up to age 21, who are working toward their GED. “The curriculum includes life skills, parenting, health, job readiness, and emotional wellness along with state-required high school courses,” Hover describes. Classes run year-round, with housing and child care available to students. Currently, 20 young women and teens are enrolled.
A Little Showmanship, A LOT of Craftsmanship
“I'm just an old-fashioned toymaker preparing for the future of my craft”
Downtown Rutland hasn’t looked the same since Michael’s Toys set up shop on Merchant’s Row, the city’s staid, traditional business district. What’s the difference? Proprietor Michael Divoll calls it his P.T. Barnum act.
“I’ve got [wooden] animals hanging on my building, rocking horses and cows on the sidewalk. It creates an ambience that draws customers into the shop. I’ve got to do more than just hanging up a sign because that doesn’t provide people a frame of reference. So I engage in a little P.T. Barnum, but without the phony glitz and glamour.”
The sidewalk experience is just the beginning. Michael’s Toys elicits spontaneous comparisons to Santa’s North Pole workshop, and Divoll himself, with his pipe, apron and graying beard, surrounded by the materials and tools of his trade, makes a convincing elf. Except that he does this year round, and he adds other elements to his work: Divoll is a gifted carver who produces artistic Vermont tableaux in relief, as well as custom wooden signs for homes and businesses. These also are on display in his shop.
“When people walk in and see the horses and cows and deer and moose and planes and trains the way I build them, it’s like stepping back in time. My workshop is in back of the showroom, which is key. If people say ‘Did you build this?’ and you can say ‘Yes,’ it’s a way of connecting to the customer; you’re doing something for them personally, other than just taking their money.”
A little showmanship, a studied approach to identifying and marketing to his customer demographic, and the exposure that comes with his new digs on Merchant’s Row have provided immediate results for Divoll. Since taking occupancy of the two-story building last May, with the support of a business loan by the Vermont Community Loan Fund, he could already report in November that 2005 would be by far his best year since he went into toy making in 1985.
That comparison is mitigated by the fact that Michael’s Toys had been pretty much of a shoestring operation for a number of reasons, location certainly among them.
Most recently the former canoe maker had worked out of a second-story apartment on nearby Center Street. In 2004 the Rutland Community Land Trust purchased and renovated that property to create affordable housing, with retail space on the first floor. Obligated to relocate the displaced tenants, the Land Trust and Divoll together identified the vacant building just around the corner on Merchant’s Row, which had once housed a Chinese restaurant. The Land Trust put up money for renovations, and in return the owner gave Divoll a 15-month option to purchase the building at a favorable cost.
However, Divoll needed a loan for the purchase, and as a 61-year-old self-employed craftsman with a limited credit history he was not the ideal candidate for traditional lenders. The Land Trust referred him to the Vermont Community Loan Fund, where Director of Business Lending Sam Buckley saw in Michael’s Toys a golden opportunity.
“To me, this epitomizes the kinds of loans we like to make,” says Buckley. “It meets our mission in a number of ways: It provides someone with employment, it makes the downtown more vibrant and contributes to its revitalization, and it provides Michael a home as well, on the second floor.”
The stability of owning his highly visible business location and his residence enables Divoll to invest his energies not only in making new toys, carvings and signs, but in honing his marketing strategy, which he does with enthusiasm. Specifically, he strives to capitalize on Rutland’s proximity to Killington and other southern Vermont ski areas.
“The ski experience has changed,” Divoll says. “It’s vacation more than recreation. It attracts family contingents, but not all of them ski; the elders and adults go shopping.”
When they enter his store, he says, the toys they see ring familiar. They’re not the plastic “interactive” toys that dominate today’s commercial market, but wooden animals, vehicles and riding toys like the ones they played with in their youth. Nostalgia, craftsmanship and the uniquely Vermont character of his toys (rocking cows) are his stock in trade.
Interestingly, Michael Divoll sees the future in these reminders of the past.
“My industry ”“ the industry of people making objects with their hands from natural materials ”“ has been in the closets, basements and garages for 40 years,” he says. “Now is the time for it to bud, like a flowering rose.”
SUZY'S LITTLE PEANUTS PRESCHOOL
Do More, Do Better, Serve More
“Hope went through everything with me, helping me figure out funding, budgeting, the remodeling process, getting licensed, all of it.”
To chat with Susan Coutermarsh on the phone is to get just a glimpse of her active, high-energy days. Children laugh excitedly in the background and she rushes to the phone, catching her breath as she answers. The founder and director of Suzy’s Little Peanuts Preschool in Springfield, Coutermarsh is not one to slow down.
Since 1999, when she opened her first home daycare, she quickly realized that to make the business stand on its own, she’d need to expand into a licensed center with increased capacity. She met with the Loan Fund’s Director of Child Care Programs Hope Campbell. “Hope went through everything with me, helping me figure out funding, budgeting, the remodeling process, getting licensed, all of it,” Coutermarsh recalls.
That first VCLF loan bolstered Suzy’s Little Peanuts in many ways. “I’ve always been committed to serving our community,” she says. Early on, the center enrolled in the state's STARS quality recognition program. “Hope helped me out with that, too,” she recalls, “and we got up to a four-STAR rating! “As soon as we expanded, we had a big waiting list of families wanting to bring their kids here,” she adds.
Fortunately, Coutermarsh is not the kind to back off a challenge, especially where the needs of kids and community are concerned. After twelve years in her original space, after much planning, she was ready to take it to the next level. She called VCLF, and spoke again with Hope.
“We weren’t in the best location in order to serve the full Springfield area community. We wanted more access and we wanted to do more collaborative partnerships with other school districts’ publicly-funded programs,” Coutermarsh says.In 2011, a second loan from VCLF was made to purchase a building in a more accessible location, with additional space to serve more kids and more families. The new center is licensed to serve up to 45 kids. They have a garden where fresh foods are grown and picked and then brought to the kitchen where all meals are cooked. “We have an infant room, a separate toddler room, two preschool rooms and 12 staff,” Coutermarsh says proudly. “And now we have five stars.”
And it doesn’t end there, because Coutermarsh is already thinking ahead to how she can do more, do better, serve more families. The list goes on, and the children beckon, and Coutermarsh is off and running, again.
Keeping the Community in Art
“Everybody’s willing to do something. That’s how we’re going to do this”
A community’s character, its history, and identity often reside in its older buildings. If they are left to deteriorate and become eyesores, they reflect negatively on the community’s character and sense of itself. But if they can be restored and renewed, even for a wholly different purpose, they help to revitalize a town. Often, that’s one of the great benefits of a facilities loan from VCLF: it strengthens a vital local organization, while also preserving an historic community landmark.
An excellent example of the dual impact of our program is VCLF’s loan to St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Arts. Added to generous contributions from local financial and community institutions and an outpouring of citizen commitment, the loan will ensure that St. Johnsbury’s grand Masonic Temple will remain intact and alive for generations to come.
“The Masonic Temple was one of the central buildings in St. Johnsbury,” remembers longtime resident and Catamount Arts Artistic Director Jerry Aldredge. “They held proms, weddings, funerals there”¦ all kinds of community events.”
Sadly, though, as membership in the Masonic Association began to decline, so did the remarkable building. “The Masons were no longer able to keep up the building, and began looking for another organization that could use it. We were right next door and bursting at the seams,” says Aldredge.
Catamount Arts was started in 1978 by Reg Ainsworth and Jay Craven as a rotating film series. Since launching its first performing arts showcase in 1980, Catamount Arts has presented over 1,000 world-class performing arts events. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people annually are reached by the organization’s films, concerts and educational events.
“Catamount is the only full-service arts organization in the state,” says Aldredge. “It’s the only one that does everything: films, concerts and live performances of all shapes and sizes, programs in and after school and in the community. “It takes all of that to stay in business.”
In 1985, the organization moved to the old post office building.
“Our problem was that we didn’t own the building,” Aldredge explains. “There were a lot of things we couldn’t do. To apply for a lot of arts grants, we needed to own the property we occupied.
“In the fall of 2005, the St. Johnsbury Masons offered us the building free of charge, with the stipulation that they would have lease-in-perpetuity of the third floor. We jumped at the chance and had public forums to see what people wanted to space to look like.” While the building was in excellent structural condition, there would be significant expense to rehabilitate the building and make the space useful for Catamount.
“We approached Jerry Rowe, the president of Passumpsic Savings Bank, and told him we needed at least $1 million. He didn’t yell and scream,” laughs Aldredge. “He had faith in us.”
Recognizing Catamount as an invaluable part of the community, Rowe organized a meeting of banks serving the community, with the goal of each taking on $200,000 of the debt.
“Four local banks agreed to come in,” says Aldredge, “but we needed five. Jerry Rowe called Paul Hill (VCLF Director of Housing & Community Facilities Programs) to see if the Community Loan Fund could help.”
“The rehabilitation of the old Masonic Lodge is a win-win for the St. Johnsbury community,” remarks Hill. “It’s preserving a historic gem of a building while expanding the capacity of Catamount Arts and its venue for accessible, affordable arts in the Northeast Kingdom. VCLF is proud to be one the five local lenders supporting this project.”
“We tried to be as cost- and community-conscious as we could be,” Aldredge says of the Masonic Temple's renovation. “The St. Johnsbury Academy Building Trades Program agreed to be in charge of construction, and they’ did an outstanding job. Because of this, we were only charged for materials.”
Upon moving to the Masonic Temple, the organization’s offerings were greatly expanded: two movie theaters presenting foreign-language and independent films, two classrooms for art and music education, a 125-seat performance space, a video library, an art gallery, and even a small museum of contemporary Northeast Kingdom memorabilia.
Catamount’s programs not only enrich the area’s cultural life, they also offer unique services for people seeking education and instruction in the arts. “Almost every day we get a call from someone who needs cultural lessons ”“ dance, piano, theater” explains Aldredge. “The public school’s music programs were cut recently, and there’s a real need.”
At the heart of the effort is tremendous community support. Fundraising programs have been met with unprecedented enthusiasm and involvement. “Some people give $5," Aldredge says. “Everybody’s willing to do something. That’s how we’re going to do this."
“St. Johnsbury is at a critical time,” he adds. “It’s making economic progress and can be reinvigorated through the creative economy.”
Catamount Arts at the Masonic Temple will truly be a showcase of community arts ”“ created for and supported by a dedicated public in one of the crown jewels of St. Johnsbury’s historical district. The Temple, which is listed in the federal historic register, will be revitalized and play an important new role in the life of this Northeast Kingdom community.
"If VCLF hadn't stepped in to help us out, we'd be talking about closing instead of where we want to be in three years." ”“ Caprice Hover, Rutland County Parent/Child Center