December, 2007

Life on the Edge: What's Pushing More Vermonters to the Brink of Homelessness?

Each year Melissa Roy traditionally alternates with her parents in hosting holiday dinners: Thanksgiving at their house in Holland, Vermont; Christmas at her apartment in Lyndonville. But this year she'll be driving north for both days - provided she has enough gas money for the roundtrip. "I'll still make the cake, but I can't afford to [provide] a dinner," she said. "I discussed this about a month ago with my parents. Now, to pay for the gas to get from here to Holland, that will be the challenge."

Roy shared her story shortly before attending a local poverty forum at the Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) Parent Child Center in St. Johnsbury. She recalled attending a seminar last year called "Bridges Out of Poverty" and realizing, "I'm still in poverty even though I have a full-time job. And I don't think I'll ever be out of poverty - ever […]. If you go to my house right now, there's no food. It's a day-to-day thing with that. The kids will ask, what are we going to eat? And I answer, 'I don't know, I don't know'."


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Elizabeth Baker


Signs of the Season


On the morning I'm scheduled to write this year-end closing message to the readers of Vermont Woman, I've checked the weather report so I can anticipate any hazardous driving conditions for a trip I plan to make this weekend - I grumble as I notice that the temperatures have plummeted into the teens, with the wind chill enhancing the joy.

And then while en route to the office I see, at the intersection of 189 and Shelburne Road, the huddled, shivering figure of a woman at the side of the road, her life apparently at a bleak crossroads:


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Margaret Michniewicz

Norwich U Cadets Gear Up for Survival in the Snow


Cadets Jessica Corl and Alison Lanz, both sophomores at Norwich University in Northfield, look forward to spending winter summiting the peaks of Vermont mountains, building snow caves, and climbing to the heights of ice flows. They are members of the Mountain and Cold Weather Company (MCW), founded at Norwich University in 1947. They are two of just three women in the company of 100.

MCW was founded by Sergeant Leslie J. Hurley, a member of the 10th Mountain Division, "to provide the Army with a select group of officers trained in surviving in the mountains and in cold weather," according to Norwich's Web site. Their training includes outdoor winter sports, basic and advanced first aid, mountaineering, day and night land navigation, and cold weather injury care. The company trains three times each week and participates in rescue and operations demonstrations throughout the year.


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Jessica Corl (left) and Alison Lanz

Entrepreneur Ellen Dorsch - A Most Creative Woman

Some people start to dream about early retirement when they turn 60. Not so Ellen Dorsch, founder and owner of Creative Women, a Vermont importer of elegant hand-woven home goods and fine clothing accessories from Ethiopia and Swaziland. When she turned 60, Dorsch decided she would switch careers as a non-profit consultant in the public health sector to realize her dream of owning a business, particularly one that added to the world in a positive way. She just didn't know which business.

The idea for Creative Women was born during her travels to Ethiopia as part of her consulting business. She observed that many women were economically disadvantaged. She also noticed many beautiful embroidered goods in need of a more global market. The idea of importing these under marketed textiles to the rest of the world began to emerge.


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Ellen Dorsch

Katherine Bramhall: Vermont Midwife of Global Humanitarianism

Katherine Bramhall runs her own international disaster relief organization, works as a midwife, travels from Vermont to Bali twice a year to provide midwifery services to women who have no access to them, launches successful campaigns to supply families with much-needed resources, raises large amounts of money on behalf of those who need it, and meets the suffering of the world head-on. You, like others who meet her, might be tempted to think of her as a "legend." But Bramhall knows better.

"In [today's] culture, you can't just be someone doing good work," she explains. "You have to be a 'legend' for people to pay attention." Compared to those of so many of us, Bramhall's efforts do seem superhuman. "But," she cautions, "that [description] doesn't recognize the truth of the work I do: that it takes every person, no matter the role they play, to make what I do possible."


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Yayasan Bumi Sehat Birth Clinic in Bali

Dispatches: During Pakistan's Latest 'Emergency'

Deb Boyer of Monkton is a banker specializing in micro finance programs who has worked abroad for more than a decade. Her "Dispatches from Afghanistan" ran in Vermont Woman between 2004-2005, offering her often wry observations of both the personal and political scene in Kabul following the U.S. invasion. While there, she worked, as she described it, to "abate third-world poverty by administering economic relief and lending programs [through] women." Since her departure from Afghanistan, Boyer has worked on projects in Mongolia, Pakistan, and Egypt as well as enjoying stretches of time back in the Green Mountains. In early November, Boyer returned to Pakistan. "Not most American's idea of an ideal work destination, but after Afghanistan, it feels like a reprieve," Boyer commented. "I've got a new contract that has me working six week stretches with two to three weeks in Vermont between, until the end of March. I was hoping to spend more time in Vermont, but the weather is better here this time of year… The work is fun. I'm leading a team of consultants to help a non-profit transform its micro-credit operations into a microfinance bank. We get to help the organization develop strategies, new savings products, replace their computer systems, build new departments unique to banking, and run the project that makes it all happen. Cool stuff." Concluding an email to Vermont Woman in her typically understated manner, Boyer added: "Now, if the place doesn't implode, things are good."


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Ready for a hike? The mountains of northern Pakistan