Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
FLETCHER — Grant Weier, 74, lives on a dirt road in the hills of Fletcher. When he opens his door on a snowy, January day, he and his large golden lab, Ziggy, greet you enthusiastically. Ziggy is perhaps a bit too enthusiastic – he can be a lot at first, loud and mouthy – as he tests to make sure you are not a threat.
Once you enter through Weier’s kitchen, you see his open-concept, bright living room. Travel books lie on the table, hinting of Weier’s past as an employee for Delta airlines and an avid traveler. Large windows give a view of the outdoor deck and the meadow beyond, which Weier loves to mow in summertime. Personal possessions dot the home he designed and had built 44 years ago.
Country quiet ensures a peacefulness about the home, though Ziggy is still unsure of who his visitor is, and can’t stop barking about it.
“Enough!” Weier says to Ziggy, trying to tell him that you – the reporter – are supposed to be there. “He’s your typical alpha male yellow lab – he runs the house,” he added.
Weier – and Ziggy of course – are looking for the right person to come live with them. Weier is a client of HomeShare Vermont, and he’s offering up the opportunity for the right person to come enjoy his rural home.
He has two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs he doesn’t use and rarely visits, waiting for someone to occupy.
“It would definitely have to be somebody who likes dogs,” said Weier.
A dog-lover and walker, someone younger and able to shovel the driveway and willing to offer occasional help with chores, a good conversationalist – these are all qualities Weier thinks would make a good “match.”
In exchange, Weier would be able to stay in his home with peace of mind.
“It’s very important for me to be able to stay in my own home,” he said. While he has a brother in Florida, most of his family is no longer around, and despite a number of friends who come to visit at times, he sometimes needs neighbors’ help.
In addition, Ziggy might benefit from a little more exercise and attention from a second person.
“An animal is family to you – you don’t want him penned up too often,” Weier said.
Because Ziggy is his family and his Fletcher home is his familiar, safe space, Weier is depending on HomeShare Vermont to help him find the right person to live there. Fortunately, he knows he’s in good hands.
“HomeShare Vermont has a great track record,” Weier said.
He said he looked into it at the urging of friends in Burlington, who knew others who found good co-housing matches in Chittenden County.
“They have been dropping hints for two years now,” said Weier, chuckling.
He has also had several medical emergencies recently that made him consider the idea more seriously. “It’s scary, and it creates an awareness,” Weier said.
So, Weier applied in late December, becoming one of the first HomeShare Vermont clients in the area. The service expanded into Franklin County in September of last year. HomeShare Vermont, which also serves Chittenden, Grand Isle and Addison counties, has been looking to grow its reach.
“We’ve wanted to come up to Franklin County for awhile,” said HomeShare Vermont executive director Kirby Dunn in a recent interview. “We know there’s a need for services and affordable housing.”
Dunn added that the organization has done its expansion with existing staff, and it is also relying on local volunteers to help do the home inspections, reference and background checks, and other tasks associated with making a match.
“They actually do everything with our clients,” she said. St. Albans resident Kaki Hutchinson, the Franklin County HomeShare volunteer, is in the midst of her three- to six-month training, Dunn added.
“Our goal is to have several folks up here that can help us serve everyone,” she said. Dunn added that local volunteers can really be an asset to finding good matches.
“The matching process does sometimes come down to, who do you know,” she said.
While Weier and the five or so others in Franklin County have not found HomeShare matches as of yet, Dunn said that’s likely to happen when more people – homeowners and those looking for housing – sign up and enter the pool.
“I think it’s harder in rural areas,” said Dunn.
Even though Vermont is largely rural in general, Dunn said the program has been very successful in the three other counties is serves – perhaps because the state also has both older and low-income demographics.
Between July 31 and Dec. 31, 2014, for instance, 62 people looking for housing were matched while 63 home providers found matches. A majority of those people were female, low-income, and between the ages of 45 and 70, though there is a range.
“It’s a real mix [of people],” said Dunn.
Though the program certainly serves certain demographics in Vermont more than others, Dunn said that HomeShare Vermont is successful because of the general neighborly, community-oriented nature of the state.
“I think it’s a very Vermont model,” said Dunn. “Vermont is all about neighbors helping each other.”
While Weier has not found his match yet, he said he’s optimistic, and isn’t in a hurry.
“I’m in no rush to have somebody here,” he said. “I’ve told them that.”
HomeShare Vermont won’t rush it – they wait for the perfect person to come along, said Dunn, and sometimes, if that doesn’t happen, matches are never made.
“Really matching is so much about the right set, the right person,” said Dunn. “Compatibility is really an important part, and trust.”
While that can take time to find, she said, some matches happen right away.
In Weier’s case, it seems to be taking some time, but he’s OK with that, and it may also be the best approach for finding a human match for Ziggy the dog.
He may be a lot at first, but after an hour or so of watching you sit and chat in the living room, following you around the house, and even allowing you to scratch him behind the ears, Ziggy – most likely deciding he likes you – does comes around, and while excitable, is pretty darn friendly.