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CVEDC Awarded $100K to Support BIPOC and New American Businesses Impacted by the Flood

Sunny Singh, left, and Kamal Sherpa, owner of K Sherpa Dinner House in Montpelier, at the Statehouse listening sessions. Photo by Melissa Bounty.
Vermont’s iconic rock band Phish recently awarded Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation (CVEDC) $60,000 through its philanthropic foundation, the Waterwheel Foundation Fund. The grant will fund the “Small Business Uplift” program to support BIPOC, New American/immigrant, and low-income business owners who were impacted by the July 2023 funding. A $40,000 grant to further expand the program was also provided by the Vermont Main Street Flood Recovery Fund.

CVEDC, a Montpelier-based nonprofit that has worked since 1976 to support businesses and employers in central Vermont, created a drop-in flood recovery center that moved through three locations to offer in-person counseling and support to business owners for the first 90 days following flooding. 

“During our work, we noted a disproportionate number of flood victims were from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. Twenty percent of those impacted were Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), including many immigrants or new Americans with language barriers,” said Melissa Bounty, Executive Director of CVEDC.

Noting that these barriers created difficulty in the immediate and long-term recovery process, CVEDC developed a three-part secondary recovery plan. 

“Melissa and her staff were great. They helped me with every step of the way. I felt I was heard, loved, and understood. I thank them so much for everything,” Nhi Vo, owner of Lotus Day Spa said.

The program will include a professional general contractor and project manager to support those working through construction projects; photographer Isora Lithgow, of Isora Lithgow Creations, will facilitate workshops on marketing and branding and document the successful reopening of businesses with her photography; and restaurateur and restaurant consultant Brian Lewis of Restaurant Evolution Consulting will provide guidance on all aspects of re-opening restaurants successfully after the financial and physical losses faces by business owners. By bringing together the impacted community in a cohort model with the same trusted counselors with whom they had worked through the immediate recovery, CVEDC hoped to foster additional support for its impacted clients.

Though the project was developed in October, funding was difficult to source as the flood-related need was so pervasive. However, reporting in The Bridge and VTDigger increased awareness about the challenges and barriers being faced by marginalized community members. 

The Vermont Community Foundation ultimately brought the project proposal to Phish for consideration by its Waterwheel Foundation Fund. The CVEDC was surprised to hear the project had been funded just before Thanksgiving, and quickly learned Vermont Main Street Flood Recovery would be able to supplement the award to fully fund the project. 

This project is also supported by fiscal agent and project liaison Jess Laporte of Community Resilience Organizations. Laporte offered both fiscal and grant management to CVEDC as well as guidance during the flood recovery. Community Resilience Organizations works with individuals, organizations, and coalitions to build networks of care and repair that center on the frontline communities most impacted by climate change. They operate from the base understanding that we cannot build climate refuge without the leadership of BIPOC, trans, queer, disabled, neurodivergent, low-income, survivors, immigrants, and undocumented people.

The program hopes to serve 45 businesses with marketing, photography, restaurant, and contracting support. Those interested in participating may contact CVEDC Executive Director Melissa Bounty by email or phone. Based on response, a formal application may follow.