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Stimulus+ Plus Plan for Jobs, Education, Refuge, Energy, Housing

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“It takes a village to build a village.”

Needs

Housing, Jobs, Education, Immigration, Environment  

The Plan

To provide employment and education opportunities for teams of native Vermonters and new Vermonters while building energy-efficient, affordable housing for those in need.

Steps

1. Pull together a pool of local housing specialists: architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, energy experts, realtors, accountants (as well as translators) who are willing to mentor or provide apprenticeships or internships to other folks (both native and immigrants) in designing, building, and managing small, affordable housing projects, either renovations to existing buildings or new buildings using the most environmentally friendly and sustainable designs (Consult Net Zero design competition plans for ideas about converting existing spaces into smaller living units. Connect with related non-profits.)

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2. Identify potential learner/workers from both immigrant/refugee communities and from local communities who need jobs and would like to combine skills training with educational opportunities. This should include a balance of genders, abilities, and origins in small teams, partnering natives and newcomers with mentors as part of a potential CCC (Climate Change Corps), whose skills could be used in connection with state energy groups to help make existing homes more sustainable, while, at the same time, helping the workers become independent contractors or enrolled in local colleges for degrees. 

3. Design some affordable and energy-efficient communal housing that meets the needs of both new and rooted Vermonters as well as reduces our carbon footprints — drawing upon research and designs already known to builders such as Yestermorrow and following the Habitat for Humanity model by which potential future owners of a home can help design and build it. Whether or not they are future inhabitants, these workers should be paid a living wage for their participation in this project and be given opportunities to make further progress in their personal growth.

4. Offer APL (Assessment of Prior or Planned Learning) college guidance/ credits for these workers, so they can, if they wish, eventually earn college degrees for this work through Goddard, CCV, or Sterling College — guided by both APL experts as well as academic mentors, plus folks from our community with the necessary skills and experience, who are retired or otherwise willing to help individual workers/learners translate their experiences into academic English language.

5. Offer other educational training/learning opportunities in such areas as leadership, teamwork and collaboration, cross-cultural dialogue, ecological design and planning, economic models, energy systems, health, education, legal dimensions, policy dimensions, legislative dimensions, anthropology, narrative theory and practice, communication and arts, or whatever any individual learner wants to focus on. (These opportunities could be offered for both workers and mentors). Again, in addition to workshops, films, and lectures, this system would use one-to-one mentors from a list of community volunteers, drawing upon a learner-centered design which has been nourished to fruitfulness in Central Vermont. (We may also need a volunteer with administrative experience to help match each learner with the additional academic mentor — or use an existing system).

6. Seek funding sources for a pilot project: One suggestion from John Vogel of Dartmouth is to apply for a Housing and Jobs grant from the State of Vermont, which has a high credit rating. He cites the “Building Homes Together” project in Chittenden County as an example. Another option for financing is to form a coalition to seek private funding from generous, visionary sources. A third would be a system of sponsors offering “sustainerships.” Potential partners for funding or expertise could be Habitat for Humanity, Vermont Interfaith Action (Debbie Ingram), Downstreet Housing, the Montpelier Downsizing Group (Phil Dodd), Homeshare, and Vermont Works for Women. Or individual home owners could simply pay for renovations to their houses (as they do now), gaining equity from the upgrades. All the mentors, housing as well as educational, would be volunteers.

7. Start with one sample project, sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Montpelier and other sanctuary congregations, as well as the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network, after soliciting project proposals and choosing one. Hopefully the publicity from this pilot project, once completed, could attract additional teams and proposals.

Rationale

1. Diversity is a value (key to environmental health and to democracy), particularly in Vermont, where minorities are scarce or less visible. Working together like this can help teach tolerance to the larger community. Developing friendships and mentorships can deepen connections that radiate through families and communities. Whether we are woodchucks, flatlanders, or newly arrived Americans, there is much we could give each other.

2. The outflow of young folks from Vermont, combined with an aging population, is not healthy for Vermont’s future. The development in youths of survival/sustainability skills will benefit the whole community. And the educational component could open up opportunities for advancement they would otherwise be seeking elsewhere. And for the new Vermonters, additional opportunities for their youths could help keep their families together.

3. Providing parity: It would be unwise to provide goods to “outsiders” when those goods are not readily available to or affordable by local residents; whatever is offered should be equally accessible to native Vermonters as well as to new Vermonters (a plus/plus approach, rather than an either/or).  We need to balance a local question, “Why not take care of our own first?” with “Why should love stop at the border?” (Casals). We need to take care of our own AND welcome the stranger with the understanding that many friends were first strangers, including our own selves.

4. Finding common ground: In some ways native Vermonters have much in common with immigrants (extended families; traditional values; spiritual commitment; sense of community; value of cross-generational contact; and the strength to survive, be resilient, and sometimes, to thrive.).

5. Building bonds: Bringing together teams of designers and craftspeople consisting of both native and new Vermont workers and learners will strengthen ties between our different cultures and expand options for design, technique, and vision.

6. Giving as well as receiving: By giving back from their own cultures to meet both their own and others’ needs, immigrants and refugees as well as other recipients can feel pride rather than dependency, indignity, or inadequacy. We might also learn from other cultures how they would deal with some of our chronic problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, hunger, domestic violence, care of children and elders, the arts and ritual, alternative healing. (How, for instance, might they address the needs for our community lunches?)