Q&A: Boston Fed-supported community development team talks early challenges, lessons
Vermont Working Communities Challenge team balancing big goals with new approach
Peter Nalli is a leader of the Working Communities Challenge, a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston initiative that mobilizes residents in northern New England to build stronger local economies. The WCC awarded three-year, $300,000 grants to eight teams in Vermont, including one in Lamoille County. Among the team's aims: increase employment opportunities by helping diversify the region's tourism-dependent economy.
Nalli recently interviewed the WCC’s initiative director there, Emily Rosenbaum, along with Clarissa French and Ellen Hill from the United Way of Lamoille County – the “backbone” partner for the WCC team. They talked about early challenges, major lessons, and what they hope is ahead.
Here are some excerpts:
What does “sharing the work” look like in your context? And when has that felt successful, and when has that felt hard?
We had kind of some challenges at the beginning of our WCC project because we were considered pretty broad in our scope. We have a lot of different focus areas. And that can be extremely challenging when you're trying to herd all the cats. But we seem to be making it work pretty well and balancing all the things. By asking for help in specific areas … and reaching out to the experts, instead of being the expert, or trying to be the expert, we're actually able to achieve more and look at things from a larger perspective.
Clarissa or Ellen, can you share a little bit about what steps you've taken as the backbone organization to make sure that this is not just a United Way of Lamoille County project?
Well, we have a bit of a funny origin story. We actually were not a part of the original writing of the grant. It was a year-long process, and we did not get involved until about month nine. … It was collaborative leadership from the beginning, with ourselves and another organization called Capstone Community Action. We pretty quickly started discussing our systems and what systems we needed in place for governance for financial management for, you know, hiring new members or asking the members to come on board. And I think really having a structure from the beginning that we can adjust as we go, that grows along with us, has been really key to helping Emily be successful.
Can you speak to how you've balanced process – having the right process as you build out your team – with kind of trying on different ideas towards “the what” of what you're doing?
Everyone knows that community organizing is very messy work, and it's organic. So, I think in the first year and a half, we're creating the conditions to get to “the what.” … And this work is so important. It's so vital, and it's really a game changer. … But three years is such a short period of time to change conditions and community, especially of this magnitude. We're talking about economic development and health and prosperity and justice. And that's not something that goes, you know, that can happen in three years. So hopefully we've created a foundation that will remain. One of the great things about the (WCC’s recent) summit, the statewide summit: there were funders there. And to have the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston at the table, that just adds so much clout and recognition for us. And this is a journey. We know people have done a lot of work before us, and hopefully we're laying ground to have a lot more people follow in and step into this work.