ST. ALBANS — The Franklin-Grand Isle Community Partnership has continued meeting long after a loss of state funding led to the end of similar group sessions in other areas of the state.

In fact, its members are so sold on the benefits of their interactions that they welcome new members, including the involvement of local businesses and educators.

The first Wednesday of every month marks the Franklin-Grand Isle Community Partnership Meeting, which is held at 8:30 a.m. at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS) in St. Albans.

The Franklin-Grand Isle Community Partnership is a network of human service providers serving Northwest Vermont. Its mission is to work with residents of Franklin and Grand Isle County communities, as well as with the Vermont Agency of Human Services and other service providers, to help improve the social well being of area children, families and individuals.

When the Partnership began in the early 2000s, it was part of a State of Vermont initiative. There were 12 partnerships around the state, but in 2010, the program was de-funded and lost its paid coordinator from the Agency of Human Services. The Franklin – Grand Isle Partnership decided to move forward and continue to meet, despite the loss of funding.

“Everyone in that room is there out of a willingness to be there,” said Joe Halko, director of community relations at NCSS. The Franklin – Grand Isle Community Partnership is the only one in the state that still meets on a regular basis.

“I am a big believer in what the group does and what it can do for the local community,” he said. “Franklin County is an area where there is more collaboration than anywhere in the state and that is something to be proud of.”

During Community Partnership meetings, members share events and updates from their organizations and discuss possible collaborations. Organizations want to combine efforts and save money to better help the individuals they serve. A typical meeting has around 22 to 25 attendees, said Halko.

The Partnership is always looking for more involvement, and Halko said members would welcome representation from the local business community. He understands that businesses may not see how they fit into the group, but Halko thinks their involvement could be beneficial in many ways.

“The non-profit and government organizations could learn a lot from (the business community) and vice versa. The value from both sides is incredible,” Halko said. Employees miss work for mental health reasons such addiction or depression more often than for physical problems, he said, and the organizations in the partnership can help employers handle these situations and help get their employees back on track.

Halko also feels the Partnership could benefit from having education better represented in the group. “Every day in schools, educators try to provide young people with tools to succeed. The organizations in the room can help with those efforts,” he added.

Deb Grennon, director of the Franklin Grand Isle Bookmobile, explained why organizations attend meetings even though there is no monetary pay-off. “The benefits are exciting, both immediate and long term. They ultimately increase the resources and capacity of critical work, but more important the Partnership lifts the spirits of those at the meeting.  Every voice at the table is heard,” she said.

For Bookmobile staff specifically, Grennon said Partnership meetings act as updates on local events and projects, and allows them to share their programs and plans, too. “As an outreach library it is critical to know what is going on throughout the region. Utilizing partner strengths allows dwindling resources to be maximized without duplication,” Grennon said.

The atmosphere of the meetings is inviting, Grennon adds, which is another draw for members. “The group dynamic here is positive and sensitive to families and hardships in the region.  The agenda almost always includes a networking break to connect with key partners,” she said.

Each partnership gathering includes two half-hour presentations from various organizations. At the Sept. 4 meeting, Chad Spooner of the Vermont Dept. of Health gave an interactive talk on emergency preparedness in conjunction with Disaster Preparedness Month. Following Spooner’s presentation, Ted Mable of NCSS provided an overview of Mental Health First Aid, a public education program that helps people identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

At the Oct. 2 meeting, Dave Southwick, of the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce who is also an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) program navigator began the presentations with an introduction of the new Vermont health plans and monthly premiums from Vermont Health Connect.

Afterwards, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Gwen Lavoie and Kris Lukens from Voices Against Violence showed a movie about the damaging effects of domestic violence on children. The presentation started a discussion among the partners regarding what the community can do to help families suffering from Domestic Violence.

“Every organization is addressing a segment of the population,” Halko said. “By being involved in the partnership, you get an in-depth understanding of how organizations can work together.”

The next meeting is Nov. 6.

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Natalie Handy is Messenger community news editor.