Before a crowd of roughly 100 people gathered in the Brooks House atrium on Friday morning, Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center publicly announced that they are merging to form a single organization under a new name: Groundworks Collaborative. The Boards of Directors formally agreed to the merger at a joint board meeting on Tuesday, May 19. The organization will be fully functional under the new name as of the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2015; at that time Groundworks Collaborative will step into FY ’16 with a nearly $1 million budget. No staffing changes are planned at this time, as the organization is focused on maintaining all services currently provided by the two former organizations. However, growth is on the horizon for the new organization, which is currently finalizing its strategic plan for the next three years. Groundworks’ Board President, Carla Lineback addressed the gathering, explaining that the unanimous decision to merge has come after a three-year process of working in collaboration to achieve improved services for clients of the two organizations. She described the journey, which has led the two Boards of Directors to hold joint Board meetings for the last five months in preparation for the merger. Lineback introduced Lucie Fortier (former Executive Director of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, and the new Associate Director of Groundworks Collaborative) and Josh Davis (former Executive Director of Morningside Shelter, and the new Executive Director of Groundworks Collaborative) and invited them both to speak about what each organization does, because she often hears people say, “I didn’t know you did all that!” Fortier spoke about the growing numbers of Brattleboro area households utilizing both the Food Shelf and the Seasonal Emergency Shelter. She confirmed that the merger would strengthen client service by reducing gaps and streamlining services. Davis reiterated the improved services, stating that, when these two organizations come together, “One plus one can really make three or more.” Davis thanked the staff of both organizations, saying, “The staff are just incredible and have been so supportive of this process.” Additionally, Davis had the honor of unveiling the name, Groundworks Collaborative, and the logo that will identify the new organization. One of four guest speakers was Paul Dragon, Chief Administrator of the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, who quoted a compelling point outlined in Groundworks’ draft strategic plan that there is “consensus between clients, staff, and the community,” that the merger will improve services for the greater Brattleboro area. Dragon, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer having served in the west African nation of Mali, related stories of malnourished children and wells that had gone into disrepair, where a lack of coordinated efforts kept families in poverty with little change in their standard of living. “I believe the exact opposite will be true for Groundworks,” said Dragon, who reported he sees Groundworks as a visionary organization, well on its way to solving the problem of homelessness in this community. Whitney Nichols, a former client of both organizations, and former member of the Drop In Center’s Board of Directors, told his story of being homeless while struggling with mental health and alcoholism. He spoke of the challenges he faced prior to finding affordable housing with the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, and how pleased he is to see these two organizations come together to reduce gaps in services. Connie Snow, Executive Director of the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, an organization having recently completed a merger in 2011, reminded the leadership of Groundworks Collaborative that what matters most is not how big or small an organization is, but the focus on the mission and providing the highest level of service possible for the community. Kate Ash, a Field Representative from Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, also addressed the attendees. She emphasized the work Senator Leahy has done for the past forty years to fight for the needs and well being of low-income Vermonters. Davis fielded questions – including discussion of plans to seek an additional location to provide adequate space and improve services. Groundworks continues to work to find a permanent location for the seasonal emergency shelter, which will open again this coming November. Davis also reminded all present that the third annual Camp for a Common Cause, a joint-fundraiser the two organizations have partnered to put on for the last two years, will take place this Friday, May 29th on the Brattleboro Common, and will double as a public celebration of the merger. The entire community is welcome and encouraged to attend.
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