Project in Swanton spreads awareness about poverty

Published: Aug. 20, 2023 at 8:07 PM EDT
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SWANTON, Vt. (WCAX) - According to one of Vermont’s largest anti-poverty organizations, about one-third of Vermonters fall below the poverty level. To help spread awareness, an art project depicting personal stories is being shared with communities across the state.

“In the past I have, and it was great that CVOEO was there to give me a hand. So I was definitely drawn this way when I saw that,” said Burlington resident Danny Kissell.

When Kissell was walking through Village Green Park in Swanton and saw a line of faces displayed on the lawn, she decided to check out the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity’s new project called “In our words, in our community.”

It’s an entire series of pop-ups across the state filled with the pictures and voices of people who live in Vermont and have experienced some form of poverty or seen it firsthand. It’s an effort to raise awareness.

Kissell says projects like this are important to remind people that homelessness is a huge problem no matter where you are.

“We definitely need to know when people are struggling, so that way we can lend them a hand if we need to. CVOEO definitely helps a huge range of people, it’s changed a lot of people’s lives. In some cases, they saved their lives and made it so they can get along day to day again,” explained Kissell.

That’s exactly what people like Travis Poulin want to do. He’s worked with CVOEO for over 30 years and says the homeless and poverty problem isn’t getting any better.

He decided to share his story in the lineup, talking about the small impacts he’s made in the lives of people struggling with poverty. He says when you see people struggling firsthand, it makes you look at life a little differently.

“To live my own life with gratitude first. To be thankful for both the little things in life, as well as financial stability, as well as having a roof over your head. Which aren’t so little when they are really feeling out of reach for a lot of people we are working with,” said Poulin.

Vermont Folklife, which helped create the project, hopes the exhibit helps people see other people going through poverty in a different light.

“They may understand that person who’s down on their luck or who’s standing on the median as traffic is going by. See them as people, and not as problems,” said Andy Kolovos, Vermont Folklife’s associate director.

The project is going to the Alburgh Public Library in September.