Finding Strength in Community After Disaster
On July 10, 2023, most of Central Vermont flooded as a result of two-months worth of rain that fell over only two days. Towns like Londonderry, Ludlow, Montpelier, Barre and others flooded over, causing a loss of homes and businesses across the state. In Burlington, the land tended by members of the AALV New Farms for New Americans program lost their entire crop.
Since the first week of the flood, VT PoC has activated our staff to support members of the community, and to collaborate with partners like ReLeaf Collective on relief efforts. Y’all may have seen some of our resources, and we hope that you’ll use and/or forward that information to those who are in need.
Not surprisingly, we have found that…
1. The BIPOC community is tired and there is significant trauma.
We have all just come out of COVID, and some of these members are still recovering from the trauma of Irene. They’re not ready to receive information yet, and they are making quick decisions about the future of their home and/or business based on their immediate reaction to recovery. They haven’t had a moment to pause. One business member has residual nightmares from not just this recent flood, but from three floods that hit downtown Barre since 2007. The trauma is real.
We have heard reports of Black and Brown bodies being threatened with eviction from their homes, sometimes with physical violence. Sue Minter talked about the need for short-term housing; we are seeing a need for SAFE places for BIPOC community members, meaning that they are able to find a place without the fear of being discriminated against or forced out.
2. The BIPOC community does not have ready access to information.
Counties impacted by the flood are down on internet service, and rural regions across the state are already burdened by lack of broadband. Despite the wealth of information about the flood as well as the grants and loans that are supporting flood victims, VT PoC knows that the BIPOC community are often the last to know; not for lack of trying.
Organizations like VT PoC and ReLeaf Collective are trusted organizations who have the ability to get the information out in a timely manner, yet we have been left out of the conversation. While some allies have started to include VT PoC in the various rooms, there are rooms we don’t even know about but it’s important for us to be part of the process, for all the reasons we understand.
3. Where access to existing resources is possible, the process of obtaining the necessary resource is hard.
VT PoC’s new Research and Technical Assistance Coordinator, Airon Shaw, has been working with business owners for weeks. Yesterday, my colleague Airon Shaw spent two hours on the phone with the Department of Labor to support BIPOC business owners to obtain disaster unemployment assistance. Last week, Airon supported Shaneall Ferron of CVEDC on site with a business owner with limited English proficiency to complete the SBA loan application. They spent most of their day putting work towards getting access to the application and ultimately they were unable to finish the form that day. Existing applications are hard.
We have also heard mixed reviews about FEMA experiences. Some have had quick turnarounds, and great experiences with FEMA staff. Others have encountered racism. These community members need to have the same opportunity to apply for these funds as others, full stop.
4. Many business owners and some community members have language barriers slows down the ability for resources to be reached.
While there may be some resources available for interpretation for federal programs, the US SBA has only presented information in English and Spanish, and their phone systems only provide Spanish interpretation.
Asking community members within these communities to support without payment does not consider that they may also be directly impacted by the flood, or that these individuals are taking time from their own work to provide an mentally and emotionally exhausting service. Professional interpreters will ensure that the full scope of the technical information within the various processes will be accurately relayed.
5. The BIPOC business community needs grant support for myriad reasons,
and taking out a SBA loan for this disaster is a long-term commitment, and can present long term liability challenges for new/small businesses owned by People of Color in Vermont. At the core, even if a small business succeeded in receiving an SBA loan, simply getting money for a business recovery is not enough. Vermont doesn’t have enough contractors available to address the immediate, short-term needs of these small businesses, nor does the state have “standards” for contractors, and we have also not developed a thriving marketplace for contractors, especially in central Vermont. Moreover, state operating regulations are extremely high.
For any business that would need to be recertified for occupancy after this flood, the existing occupancy requirements set forth by building standard codes and the health department are too complicated.
As funding is distributed, the state must give greater consideration to prioritizing funding BIPOC business needs; providing a 30-day priority period is not sufficient because the dissemination of information traditionally does not reach the BIPOC community in time for them to gather the necessary documents, and to apply. Outreach and technical assistance via BIPOC-led organizations like VT PoC and ReLeaf Collective is a critical need to ensure that the information is spread widely throughout the BIPOC community. Additionally, the application review process must include BIPOC identified staff are included in the decision-making process.
Many businesses may not be able to come back, and I wonder how the state can make the process of winding down an affected business easier, or make it easier for employees to receive unemployment benefits for as long as possible? Unless the state is able to support BIPOC owned small businesses, they will have to rely on grant opportunities, which are limited, or to shut down.
Kevin Chu of the Vermont Futures Project helped provide estimated economic impact figures from all counties using ACS data. The BIPOC community contributes over $1 billion dollars to the economy according to estimates based on ACS data. I’ve select to present three counties figures here:
Washington County: $92 million dollars
Windsor County: $77 million dollars
Lamoille County: $27 million dollars
BIPOC businesses may make up only 20% of small businesses in Central VT, but they represent some of the most utilized sectors. None of the businesses that we have visited have flood insurance. All of them are working hard to push forward to get their businesses going again because they are dedicated to their work, dedicated to contributing to this state’s culture and economy.
VT PoC will continue to work across the community, and invite y’all to support either by donating needed goods, like food, water, and a helping hand to community members, or to talk to you legislatures about the importance of providing state assistance to the BIPOC community through this hard time.
Additionally, VT PoC will be hosting our annual August Kickback at the Alchemist Brewery this year as a community gathering to support those whose lives were impacted by the flood. If you were affected by the storm, please come to receive a hot meal, supportive services, and to be in community together. For those not affected by the storm, we encourage you to attend to support others through this time.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the entire VT PoC organization for pivoting so quickly in response to the flood. The entire staff: Krystal Sanchez, Mimi Duong, Airon Shaw, our part-time crew: Julianna Luna Vasquez, Jasmine Perez, Nyasha Rutanhira, and Angelina Woychosky. Thank you to our incredible board members, chaired by Tino Rutanhira for supporting the changes that we’ve made to our summer plans in order to support flood recovery. I’m so grateful for such an incredible group of people who passionately give back to the BIPOC community every day.
Hope to see you on August 12!
Co-Founder and Director of Operations and Development
Our member spotlight is on Harmony Edosomwan, a chef based in Burlington, VT, who relocated from New York to attend school at the University of Vermont. She loves the natural beauty of the state and felt supported by the people when she first started catering.
In this spotlight, Harmony shares her background, her catering business, and being a BIPOC in Vermont.
August 12 – August Kickback! (12 – 6 PM)
Pivot alert! Given the recent flooding this month, we’re focusing August Kickback on supporting recovery efforts. It’s essential for us to come together as a community during this time and provide accessible resources for flood relief.
Our Kickback will be held at the Alchemist Brewery in Stowe. This way, we can accommodate more of y’all who might be coming from areas affected by the flood. Instead of the housing fair, we’re offering a technical assistance fair to help with flood recovery.
Thank you all for your resilience, patience, love, and understanding during these challenging times. We can’t wait to see y’all there!
Champlain College Fall 2023 Career Fair: In-person and Looking for Employers!
Champlain College is currently looking for organizations to participate in their in-person Fall 2023 Career Fair on October 18, 2023! Follow the link above to learn more.
August 9 – Mercy Connections Presents Watermelon Wednesdays (12 PM – 2 PM)
It’s hot out there, Burlington. We invite you to join us for watermelon and sandwiches every Wednesday. Staff will be available during this time to answer programming questions and provide support.
August 11, 12, 13, 14 – The Education Justice Coalition of Vermont – BIPOC Summer Camp (11 AM – 3 PM)
Join us for our first annual overnight BIPOC Summer Camp at the Common Ground Center in Starksboro! The Educators of Color Association has organized retreats for educators of color. They have been generative times for educators to connect, heal, and have fun. At each of these retreats, someone has mentioned how incredible it would be if we were to organize a summer camp for BIPOC students where they can connect, heal, and have fun with us. We’re finally organizing it!
August 11 – Safe Spaces – BIPoC Game Night (7 PM – 10 PM)
Sometimes we just need a night out without going out. So throw on something comfy and let’s have a game night! Donations welcome and help cover the cost of childcare, food and drinks. Feel free to BYO drink, snack or something to share.
August 12 – Fletcher Free Library Presents: Black Is Beautiful Film Series – Quincy (3 PM – 5 PM)
The Black Is Beautiful Film Series is curated and hosted by poet Rajnii Eddins. The series features monthly films by Black film directors. The films range from the well-known Hollywood blockbusters to award-winning independent films. Please join us for an afternoon of entertaining and engaging movies!
August 13 – Voices for Inclusion in Essex and Westford Presents Caribbean Carnival 2023 (2 PM – 6 PM)
We had SO MUCH fun last year and look forward to you joining us again for this year’s VIEW Caribbean Carnival! This event is family-friendly and free to attend! Come with your family and friends to enjoy this incredible event and learn more about Caribbean culture! DJ Syxx Figgaz and Soca Chris will bring their amazing energy and have you dancing for hours! Delight your taste buds with local, authentic Caribbean eats and treats from Jamaican Supreme, Kay Chèf Tèl, Miami Mami, and Calito’s Popsicles! This is an event you don’t want to miss! We’ll see you there!
August 15 – Community Meditation and Teaching w/ Lama Rod Owens (6 PM – 8:30 PM)
We are living through an apocalypse struggling to learn lessons, heal and envision and different future through a pervasive pandemic, economic instability, political unrest, climate change, and various forms of systematic violence. We can’t do this alone and we need support. Join Lama Rod in this community teaching and meditation practice as we engage in contemporary tantric practices that incorporate not just profound and accessible tools for liberation, but also link these practices with current justice movements. This night will include snacks, an interactive talk with Lama Rod, and guided meditation practice. No experience with meditation is necessary to attend. All are welcome!
August 16, 17 – Liberation and Magic: Practices for the Apocalypse w/ Lama Rod Owens (9 AM – 5 PM)
We are living through an apocalyptic time of global pandemic, economic instability, political unrest, climate change, and systematic violence. How do we practice liberation in this time of instability? Tantra is a system of profound spiritual practice that uses meditation, magic, prayer, and ceremony to awaken space and unconditional love for ourselves and all living beings without exception. Throughout this two-day retreat, there will be meditation practice, dialogue, discussion, Matrix references, and chanting. BIPOC have priority registration through July 15th, at which point registration will open to everyone on the 16th. If you do not identify as BIPOC, please wait to register until July 16th. Thank you for helping us create a more equitable process.
August 17 – Vermont Wild Kitchen Presents: Let’s Go Fishing and Arepas with Nando Jaramillo (9 AM – 1 PM)
The Vermont Wild Kitchen will be live and in-person on Thursday, August 17th at the beautiful Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford VT. The day will begin with a Let’s Go Fishing Clinic, followed by a cooking program led by Nando Jaramillo of Moon & Stars. There are two registration options: (1) fishing clinic and cooking program; or (2) cooking program. Please note registration is required and space is limited.
August 17 – Cafe Mamajuana x Summervale (5:30 PM)
See you at Summervale for two dates this summer! July 27th & August 17th. I’ll have empanadas made with local ingredients, fresh salads, canoas & desserts galore! Come say hi, get your fix. I look forward to the faces 🌸
August 17 – Jason Cheny Standup Comedy Show (7:30 PM and 9:15 PM)
Jason Cheny is a Taiwanese American standup comedian based in Los Angeles. Jason has toured all over Asia including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and in comedy clubs all across the US. He is a regular at the Comedy Cellar in NYC, and he has featured for Iliza Shlesinger, Ronny Chieng and Phil Wang.
August 21, 28 – The Root Social Justice Center x Hatch Space – Free BIPOC Woodworking Affinity Spaces (5:30 PM – 8:30 PM)
Summer empowerment zone – join our summer BIPOC affinity spaces! If you identify as Black, Indigenous, Person of Color feel warmly welcome to find and build community around woodworking. Bring something to fix, make, or share. All skill-levels welcome, and older kids too. Hosted by the Root Social Justice Center.
August 26 – Fletcher Free Library Presents: The Poetry Experience ft. Rajnii Eddins (1 PM – 3 PM)
Check out this local writing/sharing circle (held every 2nd and 4th Saturday). The Poetry Experience is hosted by Rajnii Eddins! Please spread the word and feel free to invite poets, writers, teachers, emcees, creative people and arts enthusiasts of all ages!!!!
September 1 – VT Racial Justice Alliance – Black Artist Showcase (6 – 8 PM)
The Black Artist Showcase will be held at The Richard Kemp Center on September 1. Enjoy music and spoken word from local Black artists.
FLOOD RELIEF GRANTS
Main Street Flood Recovery Fund
Currently accepting applications on a rolling basis, max grant award of $2,500. For Vermont’s small business owners impacted by the flood.
Vermont Arts Council Grants
• Artist Development Grant: Deadline is Sept. 26, 2023 and Jan. 30, 2024 by 1 p.m., max grant award of $2,000. For artists at all stages of their career, can be applied with the Flood Relief Funding using separate applications for each.
• Flood Relief Funding: Currently accepting applications on a rolling basis, max grant award of $3,000. For artists negatively affected by the flood and require immediate relief funds, can be applied with the Artist Development Grant using separate applications for each.
Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program
Currently accepting applications on a rolling basis, max grant award of $20,000. For businesses, nonprofits, and farms that sustained physical damages to their business location during the flood. It is not for those who operate remotely or don’t have a brick-and-mortar at the moment.
Farm Credit East Cares Flood Assistance
Currently accepting applications on a rolling basis through September 15, max grant award of $500. For farmers and forest products producers who were directly impacted by the flood.
NOFA-VT’s Farmer Emergency Fund
Max grant award of $5,000. For Vermont certified organic and NOFA-VT member commercial farmers who were directly impacted by the flood—farmers must be a member to apply. If you cannot afford the membership fee, please reach out to Weiwei at firstname.lastname@example.org OR Jennifer Morton from the Vermont Releaf Collective at email@example.com.
If you are a BIPOC business or community member in need, please visit VT PoC’s flood resources page. If you need technical assistance, please email Airon Shaw, Research and Technical Assistance Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.