Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
‘It’s about community service partners coming together.’
ST. ALBANS — Doesn’t everyone want a successful, healthy community?
In Franklin and Grand Isle counties, there are many signs that indicate yes, people do want to live in a better, stronger place. One of those is the Franklin/Grand Isle Community Partnership, or FGICA, a once-a-month meeting among various organizations and service providers that addresses tough issues in the area and looks to improve outcomes for individuals’ social wellbeing.
Between 20 and 40 group representatives attend the meetings each month, and the partnership is always looking to grow. The meetings begin with a networking session, include one presentation by an organization and a following discussion, and then give participants more time to mingle at the end. The theme of each meeting is centered on the presentation, although every meeting inevitably addresses opportunities for collaboration.
Before 2010, Community Partnerships existed in the state’s 12 districts, run by a state-funded coordinator from the Agency of Human Services. Now, without funding or a coordinating force, FGICA is the only regularly operating partnership in the state.
A board of four volunteers runs the meetings at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services: NCSS Community Relations Director Joseph Halko; Agency of Human Services St. Albans Field Director Kristin Prior; Franklin Grand Isle Bookmobile Director Deb Grennon; and Franklin-Grand Isle United Way Executive Director Sally Bortz.
They form the Partnership Executive Leadership Team, or PELT, which meets once a month to discuss the next meeting. At their most recent session on Wednesday, they spoke about why they feel community partnership is so important and how they would like it to grow.
“It’s about community service partners coming together,” said Prior. “It’s very positive.”
Halko added, “There are a lot of people that would like to talk about their organization.”
“That is the point of the meeting,” said Grennon.
The PELT group often asks the partnership group what it wants out of meetings, and surveys participants at meetings and online. In January, the regular meetings switched from two presentations to one during each meeting, as many members wanted more time for discussion.
Often in meetings, talking leads to more questions and also new opportunities to do good work.
“The questions are just as interesting as the presentation because they open up a new avenue,” Bortz said. She added, “I think the most exciting part is the partnerships that happen right then and there. It’s really powerful.”
PELT works to set up presentations for an appropriate time of year, like, for instance, a presentation by Northwest Family Foods at a low-donation time, or a presentation about sexual assault during April, which is sexual assault awareness month.
“We try to find linkage so it makes sense,” said Halko.
While many non-profit and service providers groups are currently represented at the meetings at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, Community Partnership would like to see more attendees, including local businesses and schools.
“We’re always trying to figure out how to bring in more people,” Prior said.
Bortz added, “We all want the same thing: a healthy, productive community.”
The PELT members talked about how social stability would provide better economic stability for employers – mainly, workers who were more reliable and productive – which is why local businesses could and should be in the partnership. In turn, economic stability through those businesses also benefits the community at large.
“It would be a nice layer to add,” Bortz.
The partnership would also like to see school representatives at their meetings, tying in those working so closely with children and the community’s education system. At the moment, a lack of time seems to be the issue for school representatives in terms of meeting attendance.
“That’s where the rub is,” said Grennon.
For now, the partnership is capitalizing on the members that do attend meetings, and perhaps in the future, more funding will be available. Bortz said that she could see collaborations on funding opportunities down the road.
All meetings are open, and becoming a “member” is as simple as attending a meeting. The next one will be held June 4, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., at NCSS. Its presentation will be replaced by an open discussion with local legislators.