Shortcake and economic opportunity: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

By Jan F. Demers

Fresh, firm, red strawberries spooned over a warm, flaky, homemade biscuit, topped with whipped cream.   Strawberry shortcake: perfect for any time of year but especially nice in the summer. Each component is good by itself, even the whipped cream. Together they are a spectacular offering.

Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity is piloting the new SELF program. SELF stands for Safe and Efficient Living Futures. SELF is a perfect match of our vision to bridge gaps and build futures. The program utilizes the strengths of three CVOEO programs: Weatherization, the Mobile Home Program, and the Financial Futures program. Like the ingredients for strawberry shortcake, each program is strong individually and can stand alone; together, they can open up great opportunities for the people we serve.

Weatherization in Vermont works with the second-oldest housing stock in the nation: old homes that need more than insulation and efficiency services. These homes may have a leaky roof, or nob and tube wiring that puts them in a deferred status, stopping the work of weatherization. The Argosy Foundation from Milwaukee has been a champion in helping to meet this need and now one-time funding from the state legislature will combine the power of the Mobile Home and Financial Futures programs to return homes that are deferred to the Weatherization queue.

Weatherization staff will identify 25 homes that have been or are out of the queue. Staff from the Financial Futures Program will provide education and coaching to assist the homeowner to apply for USDA low-interest loans or other grants to address the needed repairs. Five of those homes will be mobile homes. The Mobile Home Program’s resident organizer will be available for those homeowners as they move through the process.   One mobile home that is beyond repair will be identified for replacement with an energy-star rated mobile home.

Working together in this way gives us more extensive solutions for particular homeowners who have been faced with repairs they may have put off for a very long time, resulting in ever-worsening conditions.

The Financial Futures staff will pull credit reports and have conversations about protecting the investment of a home and the increased value that the repair brings. They are ready to speak with people about their personal finances and ways they can grow their assets. For those who worry whether they may be eligible, the conversation may be even more important if they end up needing to find another solution.

One of CVOEO’s Weatherization clients recently summed up this effort so well: “I would like to say if I didn’t have Champlain Valley Weatherization Services I would have to sell my home. By their work I’m saving several hundred dollars a month.”

Erin Morgenstern, American multimedia artist and author, puts it another way: “You don’t have to be a chef or even a particularly good cook to experience proper kitchen alchemy: the moment when ingredients combine to form something more delectable than the sum of their parts. Fancy ingredients or recipes not required…”

Jan F. Demers is executive director of Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity 802-862-2771 ext. 740 and jdemers@cvoeo.org

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