Group fundraising for Vergennes green space project hopes to win state match

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 3:25 PM EDT
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VERGENNES, Vt. (WCAX) - A community group in Vergennes is rallying to revitalize a green space. And if they’re successful with their own fundraising, they’ll get a payout from the state, too.

A community group in Vergennes is rallying to revitalize a green space. And if they’re successful with their own fundraising, they’ll get a payout from the state, too.

In the heart of Vergennes lies a beautiful plot of green space. On the corner of Main Street and Park Street, a west-facing lawn hugs St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“Right now, the elevation of the space is a little wonky, so that we actually have water draining into the foundation of the building, which is bad for the church. But also, it’s a little steep for people to sit and enjoy themselves,” Sarah Stroup said.

Stroup is a member of the church and a leader of the Park Street Community Project, a nonprofit working to better that space. She and fellow group member Bo Price are spearheading a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $20,000.

“We have been looking for ways to better serve our community and one of the things we have going for us is this wonderful, west-facing lawn. It has great sun, beautiful stained-glass windows behind it,” Stroup said.

The two envision new gardens and benches-- a nice place for people to sit outside and enjoy, as they say the adjacent City Park fills up quickly.

“Just will give them a place to be able to sit and enjoy themselves,” Price said.

If they hit their $20,000 goal by Oct. 15, they’ll get $40,000 from the state, too. A new program called “Better Places” is empowering communities to make changes they want to see in their small towns and cities, through a “crowdgranting” process.

With $1.5 million allocated to the program in June 2021, the goal is to revitalize and re-energize Vermont’s downtowns.

“Really just bring Vermonters together to enjoy one another by expanding opportunities to access green space and public spaces in the communities,” said Richard Amore of the Better Place Program, which is headed by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development.

I asked why people need to crowdfund in order to better public spaces in their towns.

“Rather than being a competitive grant program where communities are competing with other communities for limited grant funds, this program is all about empowering communities rather than folks in Montpelier making funding decisions and disconnected from project realities on the ground,” Amore explained.

Amore says any community group with a fiscal sponsor, nonprofit or municipality can get in on it, as long as it’s a designated downtown or community development area.

Despite the crowdfunding hurdle, Amore says things have been going well, with 10 successful projects done and three now underway

“So far we’re hitting 100% success rate on crowdfunding,” Amore said, “and I have no concern about Vergennes hitting it, they came out of the gate with nearly $5,000 in the first week.”