COTS honors volunteers, community partners

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Tue, 10/31/2017 - 2:29pm -- Denise Sortor

The Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) hosted its Annual Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast on Friday, Oct. 27, at the First Congregational Church of Burlington. The event is an opportunity to honor the extraordinary contributions by volunteers, community partners and local businesses that support COTS work to end homelessness. The recipients were chosen for their outstanding service and commitment to assist and advocate for our neighbors struggling with homelessness or those who are marginally housed.

The honorees for 2017 were:

·         Leahy Leadership Award: Governor Phil Scott

Gov Phil Scott was recognized for his work proposing, advocating, and supporting the $35 million housing bond included in this year’s state budget. This initiative will result in 550-650 new units of housing over the next two three years, creating rental opportunities and homeownership opportunities for low- and middle-income Vermonters. The bond addresses the significant need for affordable housing in Vermont, and will help alleviate homelessness and create workforce housing. Overall, the Governor’s priorities are geared toward helping the most troubled and disadvantaged Vermonters secure a better and healthier life with housing being at the center of those initiatives.

“When workers are unable to find adequate, affordable housing, economic growth is constrained. Vermont has a very low rate of rental vacancy, and we need to increase access to homeownership. This effort will ratchet up the production of new housing to serve households at a wide range of incomes, spur economic growth, create jobs, and have a significant impact on Vermont’s supply of housing,” Gov. Scott said in a Vermont Housing Conservation Board media after signing it into law.

The Leahy Leadership Award was created in honor of Sen Patrick Leahy to acknowledge advocacy and leadership on behalf of those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

·         Community Partner Award: The Church Street Marketplace

The Church Street Marketplace is a community champion in a multitude of ways. The team at the Marketplace – from executive director Ron Redmond of Essex Junction, to Becky Cassidy of South Burlington, to Jenny Morse of Burlington – support COTS and the people we serve again and again. They were key partners when COTS launched the #172vt campaign to raise awareness about homeless schoolchildren in 2015. They support COTS through Champ and Champette, the coin collecting lake monsters that have raised thousands of dollars for COTS services. Their efforts help make the Candlelight Vigil, the Coolest Lunch, and the Days of Giving possible. They provide guidance, insight, and perspective to our leadership team. More than that, they are there -- every day -- for the people facing homelessness, or mental health and addiction struggles. They support businesses by helping them navigate challenges with compassion, understanding, and in partnership with our community’s service providers, including COTS.

·         Corporate Hero: Westport Hospitality’s Hotel Vermont 

Westport Hospitality’s Hotel Vermont has supported COTS by sharing their talented staff, beautiful space, and creative generosity with us. Tori Carton, formerly of Williston, from their marketing team volunteered her time to design posters and marketing materials to help promote COTS’ Phonathon, The Coolest Lunch, and the COTS Walk. Hotel Vermont has hosted the Coolest Lunch and the COTS Walk kickoff. Juniper created a flatbread fundraiser to support veterans (which they are doing again this November). And, for the past two years, they have provided fully stuffed backpacks for our back-to-school campaign. Colchester resident Michell Langlais, vice president of sales for Westport Hospitality, accepted the award.

·         Wilma Rayta Volunteer of the Year Award: Hannah Woodruff 

Chris Bohjalian for a 2015 Idyll Banter column in the Burlington Free Press, Hannah Woodruff of Waterbury and her classmates had been asked to “change the world. Or, at the very least, they were supposed to try.” Hannah decided she would accept that challenge and began volunteering with COTS to help people who were homeless. That was 2006, and Hannah was just 12 years old, over the years her connection to – and longstanding relationship – with COTS continued into her college years at the University of Vermont and now in medical school. Over time, Hannah has volunteered to do a little bit of everything to support COTS, including being a regular at the COTS Walk. Most recently, you would have seen her reading and engaging in fun activities with children in our family shelter, where COTS staff, not surprisingly, said she was a “joy” to have around. Hannah did, in fact, change the world; she’s actually done it one child at a time, starting with herself.

·         Youth Hero Award: Charlotte Central School

Charlotte Central School prides itself on creating a positive learning environment. This past year, they implemented a school-wide “Be the Change” program, building upon that call-to-action. “Be the Change” was about recognizing that students’ positive behavior not only affects us as individuals, but has a positive impact on the school and the greater community. Throughout the 2016-17 school year, a student’s positive action was acknowledged by a penny. Pennies were then added to a classroom collection jar, and then ultimately the school-wide “penny bank” in the main lobby. Over the weeks and month of the school year the level in the jar grew and grew. This past June, all those positive pennies were donated to COTS at a year-end assembly. The students wanted to show that “a little goes a long way.” In fact, it has!

·         Samara-Anderson Walk Award: Bob Duncan, Joyce Hagan, Michael Lipson, Lucy Samara

Twenty years ago, a kind and generous anonymous donor asked our community to take the “challenge” and raise at least $1,000 for the COTS Walk to help end homelessness in Vermont. If a walker reached this goal, their donations would be matched. Thanks to this incredible donor, many walkers have taken that challenge each -- and four walkers have taken it every single year: 20 Challenges completed, and often exceeded. These four Walkers are some of COTS’ greatest champions. All are former Board members; all are committed volunteers; and all remain engaged with COTS to this day. COTS salutes Bob Duncan of Burlington, Joyce Hagan of Burlington, Michael Lipson of South Burlington, and Lucy Samara of South Burlington, and we share with them our sincerest gratitude.

Founded in 1982, COTS provides emergency shelter to homeless families and individuals, homelessness prevention, case-management and referral services to those who are homeless or marginally housed, and permanent housing to low-income families and individuals.