Blog: Spotlight on Natanya Vanderlaan & Jake McBride

Natanya Vanderlaan and Jake McBride

 

Name: Natanya Vanderlaan

Current Town: Burlington, VT – Land of the Abenaki

Years in VT: 5

Industry: Non-Profit/Wellness

Business name: WholeHeart Inc. Business

Website: https://wholeheartinc.org/ , https://www.vtreleafcollective.org/

 


Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT and what brought you to the state.

I came to VT ready for a slower pace and more green. I was working and living in Boston for three years after having lived 3 years in Tel Aviv, Israel before that – where I would walk or bike most places and went to the beach every day. I am nature and need nature to thrive. I knew my body was craving a change.

What do you enjoy about being a professional in VT?

What I love about being a professional in Vermont right now is the possibility to change what being a professional in VT has looked like for a very long time. I currently work at WholeHeart Inc. as Director of Development and Community Engagement and I find so much joy in all the connections and practices I’m able to hold and support through my work. I’ve never worked in such a healthy and affirming workplace and feel loved, supported and seen as a Black woman in a way that gives me so much hope for what working as a professional in VT can look like for BIPOC in the future.

The pandemics of this past year have fostered an environment for change and a deep need for restorative space and community – specifically BIPOC community. I would have never imagined 5 years ago that I’d be on this journey here in VT in fellowship with so many BIPOC folx! We’re finding each other; we’re building and healing and growing each other and it’s so incredibly beautiful.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a professional since living in VT?

As a predominantly white/progressive state, I’ve experienced an unwillingness to name the toxicity and harm of white supremacy culture as it shows up in the workplace. Racism, misogyny, fear of conflict, urgency, the illusion of perfection, etc. seem to be masked by a narrative of an open-minded, well-meaning population that just happens to be majority white. VT is not white by accident.

As a Black woman, hard worker, and deep lover of people, community and authentic connection, I found myself challenged by the constraints of a system that was systemically wired to cater to white comfort.

In my early experiences in Vermont, I encountered persons intimidated by my drive and shine, my expertise, my joy. This often presented tension particularly when I exceeded expectations or failed to remain within certain parameters in ways that tipped the power dynamic. I’ve experienced blatant racism, misogyny, colorism, and other forms of discrimination. I know I’m not alone in this, and think it is important to name the traumas I incurred in my early experience working in VT.

I also think it important to name that this is exactly why the Vermont Releaf Collective was founded by Olivia Peña(little shout out!) – to create a collective of support as a network by and for BIPOC advancing racial equity in land, environment, agriculture and foodways. More on that in the next response…

How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

As a first generation Haitian-American my mother would constantly tell me “remember who you are”. I was rooted in love and purpose and history that I was really proud of. As a person of faith, I believed then, as I do now, that I am infinitely capable – that we all are. And that my very nature is to overcome and surmount challenges through the power of Love in me.

I have prioritized my spirit and wellbeing, and rejected the abuse of harmful systems that did not serve me. I have found work, organization and community that align with my vision and values. Enter, WholeHeart Inc. and the Releaf Collective! I am daily growing, learning and re-learning that I don’t have to face challenges alone; that I can ask for help, that I can put things down and rest, that it’s ok to not not be ok. And I believe that’s been the greatest work.

What opportunities do you see for your sector in the future?

I see a horizon where wellness is centered around reciprocity with the earth and living things.

At WholeHeart, we envision a global operating system based on love and wellness that considers the whole. For me, this plays out in deep connection with our communities of practice, and serves as a platform for ongoing restorative spaces. We are building containers that center deep listening and connection in open and anti-racist community.

I see opportunity for the nonprofit sector to decolonize relationships with funders and redistribute wealth in a way that serves the healing of land and people. I believe this begins with listening to what’s needed and what serves the whole.

In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC professionals?

Through WholeHeart, I’ve hosted multiple affinity spaces for BIPOC. We also very intentionally center BIPOC voices and stories, seeking opportunity to collaborate with or support BIPOC work. The Vermont Releaf Collective is a great example of this. WholeHeart supports much of my facilitation for The Vermont Releaf Collective, where I serve on the organizing team as the Facilitator Organizer.

I would like to see more organizations looking for creative ways to support and uplift BIPOC spaces without asking for anything in return. We need space and time to connect, heal, and reclaim our rest. I’d also like to see more funding made available through the state and local community for our various projects and initiatives.

What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?

The joy of being with BIPOC community in Vermont is happening and here to stay! If you have any doubts, join the VT Releaf Collective!! I also had no idea VT had so many incredible swimming holes!!

Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?

Every week, WholeHeart facilitates free virtual wellness calls. Check out our website for current and upcoming events.

The Vermont Releaf Collective also does a monthly (BIPOC) virtual community dinner discussing different aspects of racial equity in land, environment, agriculture and food systems. Check out our website and become a member to join our listserv for upcoming events.


Name: Jake McBride

Current Town: Montpelier, VT

Years in VT: 1

Industry: Outdoor Education, Mental Health

Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT and what brought you to the state.

I was born in Harlem, New York City and moved to northeastern Massachusetts as a young child where I was raised on the edge of 300 acres of preserved land. My childhood was spent in the woods, Meadows, and creeks behind my house. On weekends when my siblings and I weren’t playing hockey, my family would travel back to Harlem, visit my grandmother in rural New Hampshire, or head to Vermont to see friends. My early exposure to the outdoors cemented my need for open space and an active lifestyle. After graduating high School and craving a taste of city life, I moved to Hartford Connecticut where I attended Trinity College. I graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. I moved to Vermont post-grad to start a job in Wilderness Therapy.

What do you enjoy about being a professional in VT?

I have lived and worked in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Louisiana and so far my workplaces In Vermont have been the most socially progressive and the best at caring for the needs of their employees. While there is still lots of work to be done, I feel better represented and respected at my workplace here than I did at my workplace in Louisiana. I have been lucky to have had welcoming and kind coworkers.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a professional since living in VT?

Although many companies in Vermont talk the talk around diversity, not all walk the walk. As we all know, this is not Vermont specific, but Vermont is certainly not the exception either. Because Vermont is one of the whitest states, the workforce is primarily white as well. The majority of people I have worked with have been white and I am often the only person of color in the room. Companies need to remember that hiring one POC doesn’t make them diverse. It simply means there’s one POC who feels isolated and uncomfortable.

How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

I have done my best to connect with coworkers of color and build community in the workplace and outside of it. I am currently working with organizations that support BIPOC Vermonters and businesses to ensure that Vermont is a safe and comfortable place for all people of color moving forward.

What opportunities do you see for your sector in the future?

I love working in Wilderness Therapy because I think both components of it, Wilderness and Therapy, are important parts of living a happy, balanced life. However, most of my students and

coworkers are white. My hope is that professionals of color can be appreciated and hired for the unique skill set and experiences they possess and that more students of color can access therapy if they need it.

In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC professionals?

The state could provide incentives or grants for professionals of color to work and live in Vermont or for BIPOC business owners to put down roots in Vermont. The community, both BIPOC and non BIPOC must continue to support local BIPOC owned businesses.

What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a BIPOC professional before arriving in VT?

I have worked in very white spaces but my workplace in Vermont was the whitest I’ve ever encountered. I wish I had known that before arriving here.

What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?

There is a strong and powerful BIPOC community in this state and many willing allies and accomplices. There will always be someone there to help you if you need it and the small-town feel of the state only further strengthens the community. Everybody knows everybody and friendships and opportunities are often only one person away. In my opinion, the quality of life in this state, both in urban and rural areas, is much higher than in Connecticut or Louisiana.

Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?

I am the Social Media Coordinator for the Vermont Releaf Collective. We are a “budding network of BIPOC in Vermont who enjoy, work in, lead in, benefit from, and contribute to the four focus areas of Releaf: land, environment, agriculture, and foodways.” Releaf is an incredible community that has provided me with countless learning opportunities, processing spaces, important conversations, outdoor recreation activities, and friendly faces. Do you like good food? Love to hike? Want to learn how to ski? Forage? Mountain bike? Garden? It’s free to become a member and we are always looking for new participants!

Find us at https://www.vtreleafcollective.org/ or @vtreleafcollective on Instagram.