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Sad news from our friends at Champlain Housing Trust

FROM OUR FRIENDS AT CHT: As posted on CHT’s website – On Friday, April 3, 2020 Susan Ainsworth-Daniels passed away following complications from a surgery. Susan worked at CHT for 30 years providing support for both residents and staff alike. It’s hard to overstate how much a loss for our community this is, and how many people’s lives are better because of Susan’s work.

Her career with CHT started with the Lake Champlain Housing Development Corporation before its merger with the Burlington Community Land Trust. She was a social worker in every sense. Approachable, never judgmental, creative, charismatic, a sense of humor, and with an understanding of the gravity of life’s challenges. She was a teacher, a mentor, and irreverent. She saw us in ways that made us feel connected, valued, and human. Her signature greeting was, “It’s YOU!”

Susan’s ability to help people through rough patches was a gift to us all. She especially loved supporting social work interns, and with the blessing of her family we’ve established “Susan’s Fund” to carry on her exceptional work by giving the next generation of social workers an opportunity to learn in the field, and in her footsteps. Susan’s obituary in Seven Days | Susan’s obituary on Davis Memorial Chapel’s Face Book page

On a personal note: I was shocked and deeply saddened by Susan’s sudden passing. Susan was one of the first people I met when I first started working in housing as a rehab specialist for the City of Winooski in 1984. It was my first desk job after working construction for a number of years during and after grad school. Susan was working with Kenn Sassorossi, who was then Executive Director at the Winooski Housing Authority. Susan was just the most incredibly supportive and welcoming person as I entered a completely new field, helping me understand the issues low-income, vulnerable Vermonters faced and, more importantly, the compassion, understanding and sense of humor that were needed to be helpful.

My favorite memories of working with Susan were when we conspired with Brian Smith, then with the Howard Center, to save the Allen House, an old SRO-style boarding house that was home to over 30 people, almost exclusively men, with a broad array of mental health disabilities, usually combined with substance use disorder. The Allen House was up for sale and its residents in danger of displacement. The building was in a state of severe disrepair and owned by a landlord who was pretty rough around the edges and, needless to say, did not approach residents with the kindness and understanding for people’s foibles with which Susan approached all her work. We convinced Lake Champlain Housing to buy the property, applied for grants, planned renovations, and worked hard to make the place a more livable home for men who, but for the Allen House, would have been on the streets. The work generated a bond that lasted for years as we traded stories about our experiences with “the boys” whenever we ran into each other.

A few years later, we worked together to provide support and technical assistance to the low-income residents of the first housing co-ops in the Burlington area. Susan’s ability to help people through challenging, often emotionally charged group situations with pragmatic solutions, respect for all involved, and with her characteristic sense of humor was unparalleled.

While Susan’s passing is a huge loss to CHT and the area affordable housing community, it is an even greater loss to all the hurting, vulnerable Vermonters whose lives she might yet have changed with her compassionate advice and support. My thoughts and sympathies are with her family and the CHT family that worked closely with her for the last 30 years. It’s hard to put in words just how dearly she will be missed.

Erhard Mahnke, Coordinator Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition

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