If you can only remember one thing

Jan Demers

News from the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity by Jan Demers
There is a certain way I begin with all new staff at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity where we work with people with low incomes.

My first words go something like this: “I know that you will be laser-focused on learning everything you need to know about your new job and that most probably you will forget everything I say today. If you only remember one thing, please know that you are not alone. You have 150 people in four counties through nine different programs at CVOEO to back you up. We will be there to help the individuals and families you serve. The needs are great and the weight of those needs can seem overwhelming so remember, you are not alone.”

Our services focus on assistance in times of crisis, achieving stability and pathways out of poverty.

We can only offer long-term solutions when the short-term crisis is addressed. Many people who come to our Community Action Offices in Middlebury, Burlington, or St. Albans are there because of crisis. That need could be a lack of food, fuel, housing and for those in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties shelter from domestic or sexual abuse.

“Thank you for all the years of devoted service,” wrote one program participant. “It cannot be easy because when you do see us, let’s be honest, it’s usually because our ‘stuff’ has become unmanageable without help.”

To help stabilize families, the programs of Champlain Valley Head Start, Champlain Valley Weatherization, and our three statewide programs of Fair Housing, Vermont Tenant, and the Mobile Home Program address education and family life, energy efficiency, discrimination, safety, and the needs of renters and mobile home residents.

One participant from our Financial Futures program projected the light at the end of a dark tunnel when she said: “Before I was just a spender, which is no way to manage a life, or run a business.  Now I am a money manager! Because of the skills that I’m implementing, I am more stable financially, I save money, and I have confidence. I know that I can manage my own life.”

Our Financial Futures Program meets life change through setting goals and taking charge through financial capability. Another life-changing program is Community Kitchen Academy, which is part of the Chittenden Emergency Food shelf. Community Kitchen Academy is a 12-week culinary arts program with a recent employment rate of 100 percent. These two programs offer a path out of poverty for those we serve.

Last year CVOEO served 23,230 people. More than 4,000 of that number were children under the age of 11; 866 were people 70 years old and older. Of the total, 3,132 were of races other than Caucasian; 2,345 had post-secondary education.

Which brings to mind words of Vera Nazarian, an Armenian-Russian American writer of fantasy and science fiction: “A fine glass vase goes from treasure to trash, the moment it is broken. Fortunately, something else happens to you and me. Pick up your pieces. Then, help me gather mine.”

And remember, you aren’t alone.

Jan F. Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

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