Vermonters of the Month: Court Diversion Program Volunteers

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Anne Conway, Lamoille County Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

We are honoring, as our February Vermonters of the Month, the 271 volunteers who generously give their time to Vermont’s Court Diversion programs. This year, Vermont Court Diversion programs celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Court Diversionis a restorative alternative to the traditional criminal justice system for individuals charged with a crime. After police issue a citation for violating the law, the state’s attorney decides whether to refer the person out of the court system to the community-based Court Diversion program. Volunteers are a critical component of this program’s success. They meet as a restorative panel to hear the needs of victims, learn the underlying factors in the individual’s life that contributed to the crime, and create an opportunity for the individual to take responsibility for their actions, repair harm to victims, and rebuild connections to their community.

 We had the pleasure of speaking with two amazing volunteers, Anne Conway of Lamoille Restorative Center and Linda Brown of Windsor County Court Diversion,  about their experiences with Court Diversion and to learn about what drives their passion for volunteerism.

Anne Conway

Born in Hardwick, raised in Morrisville, transplanted to Boston—Anne Conway returned to Morrisville after 28 years away from her home state of Vermont. Anne has been actively volunteering in different capacities for nine years and was honored in February as Lamoille County Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year.

Court Diversion follows a restorative justice model: what does restorative justice mean to you?

I’ve seen people who’ve made unwise decisions and hurt others, as well as themselves, take responsibility for what they did and then repair that harm. To me, that is restorative justice.

How has court diversion/restorative justice impacted your community?

Ultimately, it helps to make our community safer. I have personally witnessed individuals who have valued this second chance provided by Diversion and moved forward in their life on a positive path.

Can you share a story of a memorable panel meeting or related-experience that has had a lasting impact on you?

I remember one participant who had allowed alcohol to become foremost in their life – this led to an arrest, an unpleasant divorce, divided custody of children, and the destruction of their career.  One part of the person’s agreement was to write a letter of ‘apology’ to their family. When the participant returned for the second visit, they read a very sincere and touching letter of apology, regret and resolve. In addition, the person had found a part-time job and was in recovery. As a panel member, I valued seeing the positive results of our program.

Reflecting on your experience as a volunteer, have you observed a change in the program over the course of your experience? 

I have seen more creative ways for an offender to correct the harm they did and improve their view of themselves and the community in which they live.

What impact, if any, has being a Court Diversion volunteer had on your life?

The most satisfying aspect of my panel participation is that I am reminded that we are all in ‘this’ together and that we can make a difference in the lives of others.

Linda Brown

Like Anne, Linda Brown was born and raised in Vermont but left the state as a young adult to pursue a career in New York City. Linda returned to her hometown of Springfield after 30+ years away to care for her mother. Since then, she has been volunteering with the Court Diversion program for more than 15 years.

Can you share a story of a memorable panel meeting or related-experience that has had a lasting impact on you?

Panel meetings are all very interesting, but the thing that had the most lasting impact on me was a dynamic class given to us volunteers called “Bridges Out of Poverty.” It helped me to understand many of the people who come to Diversion and increased my level of compassion for them. I truly believe we must have compassion to work well with people.

Court Diversion follows a restorative justice model: what does restorative justice mean to you?

Restorative justice means to me that a client admits his or her mistake and does something, such as repaying victims or writing an apology letter, to make things right as best they can. I believe all these actions can imprint in a person’s brain and reduce recidivism. And, it certainly helps reduce the backlog of cases in the State of Vermont’s court systems.

Reflecting on your experience as a volunteer, have you observed a change in the program over the course of your experience? 

The most notable change in Court Diversion for me was when participants started to stay in the room while we discussed the restorative agreement. When I first started to volunteer, after we had met with the person, they would step out while we developed a preliminary plan. At first, I did not like this new way. However, I now feel that the participant is more apt to complete the contract that he or she was involved in making.

What impact, if any, has being a Court Diversion volunteer had on your life?

My advice to others looking to make an impact in their community is to volunteer!

Are you interested in becoming a Court Diversion program volunteer? Contact your nearest program to learn more.

Vermonter of the Month: Kim Souza

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Our January Vermonter of the Month is Kim Souza, founder and co-owner of Revolution, a consignment and thrift shop in White River Junction.

Business owner, select board member, community activist, and all-around dedicated neighbor, Kim Souza started Revolution in White River Junction, Vermont 17 years ago. Kim was makes running a small business in rural Vermont look easy. Kim’s creativity in expanding her business, perseverance, and commitment to the wider Hartford community is why she is our January Vermonter of the Month.

Through Kim’s community engagement, her business has become a cornerstone of the downtown life of White River Junction. Community members often drink a cappuccino at the small counter at the back of the store while consigning clothes or stop in just to say hello over a cup of coffee. Revolution regularly hosts neighborhood events including their First Friday parking lot parties and community fashion shows. See what Kim had to say in our interview with her below:

How did you end up in Vermont and what made you stay?

Born in Rhode Island, and raised in Canaan, New Hampshire, I developed ‘Vermont envy’ in my teenage years.  Having grown up in rural New Hampshire, I embarked on the classic early 20s cross country adventure, only to be offered the most promising professional opportunities right back here in the Upper Valley.

What have you learned from your work as a small business owner? Has it changed your perspective on your community?

I’ve definitely learned that operating a small business is more about maintaining a wonderful quality of life than it is about financial security.  My previous career path had been satisfying and fiscally sustainable, but something was missing.  In that experience, I was selling my time in exchange for a sense of security for my family.  What I was lacking was precious time with my new child and a sense of joy in my day-to-day movements. In the small business world, eventually, I was able to coordinate a schedule that allowed me to spend more time with my son and to connect, face to face, with the charming White River Junction community.

After 16 years, I still love coming to work every day!  That is my personal success.

What made you start a small business in White River Junction Vermont?

I returned to New Hampshire from Los Angeles with two job offers and chose one that I enjoyed for 12 years.  I worked with a fledgling educational travel company as an administrative assistant in a company of two employees; myself and the owner.  Ultimately, I learned every aspect of that small business, from bookkeeping and marketing, to sales and program development as we grew the company together.  I considered my experience there to be the equivalent of an MBA when I left the position of Senior Vice President in 2002 to pursue something more suited to my creative social strengths.

With the guidance of a friend and business mentor, I brainstormed several potential career paths and settled on the idea of a ‘hip vintage thrift boutique’ in the style of my favorite shops in Montreal and New York City.  I was negotiating a very expensive lease in Hanover, New Hampshire, when my mentor suggested that I take a look at White River Junction.  I thought he was nuts but trusted his instincts and spent some time in the downtown of 2002 when things were still pretty ‘gritty.’

Briggs Ltd Department Store closed after 50 years of retail operation in April of 2002, and I opened Revolution that June in that location– across the street from one of the two White River Junction strip clubs!  With my first business plan complete, I was convinced that what I would save on rent, I could spend on marketing and become a destination location.

The strip clubs have since closed, and after many years of ‘one-step-forward-two-steps-backward’ development, our village has grown at a healthy pace with attention to keeping our ideals at the center of our goals.

I have never regretted the decision to open my small business in White River Junction!

We love your “White River Junction- It’s Not So Bad” T shirts. What is the story behind this?

A lot of organic idea sharing happens around the espresso counter at Revolution.  I’m pretty sure it was one of the stream of consciousness taglines that friend and local developer, Matt Bucy coined.  Another one of my favorites of his is “White River Junction… Coming Soon!”.  The ‘…Not So Bad’ tagline just kind of caught on.  One common thread among the downtown White River Junction community members is that we like to do things because they feel good and we try not to take ourselves too seriously.  I think the tagline sums up that sentiment.

What impact has your store had on your community?

One surface impact that Revolution has on the community is simply our willingness to hang in there.  The store was notfinancially sustainable in the early years, and I planned to close in 2006.  Again, I felt as though my experience had served as a supplement to my ‘education’ and looked forward to my next move.  I was fortunate to have been offered some decent positions as a result of working multiple part-time jobs while attempting to raise my son and keep my business afloat. I had options.

And then… A local family approached me and asked, “What would it really take to keep Revolution open?”  This was pretty remarkable considering that this was simply a funky little used clothing store in the middle of a defunct railroad town.  After many cups of coffee and various spreadsheets and projections, we came up with a figure.  The figure was substantial and, I asked, “why don’t you just buy my business from me instead of investing in one with a partner (me) who brings only debt to the table?”  My (now) business partner noted that she didn’t want to run the store and that she didn’t want to own one unless I was the one operating it. She recognized my entrepreneurial enthusiasm and my willingness to step up to the challenge of evolving a little consignment shop into something special.

On a similar note, I said that if they were expecting some great financial return on their investment, we should probably skip the endeavor, but if they were interested in investing in a genuine sense of community, then we could do great things together!  They opted for the latter and we have strengthened the community in many ways since.

Over the years, it’s been fascinating to watch the changes in the Town of Hartford.  My willingness to stay anchored on the corner of North Main Street has inspired others to consider dipping their entrepreneurial toe into the White River Junction commercial waters.  I recently did an informal count of over two dozen woman-run businesses, just in the downtown White River Junction area.  To me, that’s amazing!

It’s true what they say…. Artists will go where the rent is cheap. The artists make the landscape more interesting and attractive.  Then, the developers come in, build and gentrify, and then the artists can no longer afford to live there.  I’d like to think that Hartford values its arts community and recognizes that keeping our village centers affordable and accessible is a priority in economic development.

Being on a first name basis with at least five of the developers in our area is something worth noting.  They are accountable to their community because they live here, and they too appreciate this quality of life.

What are some of your goals for the coming year in terms of your work in the community?

I’m always interested in healthy and equitable economic development.  We are fortunate in the Town of Hartford to include five distinct villages which complement each other in terms of their residential/rural character and connectedness to industrial and commercial areas throughout the Upper Valley.  In 2019-20, I’ll be focused mainly on infrastructure improvements within the downtown White River Junction area in order to attract more independent businesses and accessible affordable housing.  We’re implementing plans and funding for improved distribution of water, wastewater and sewer in the downtown area, and funding preliminary engineering studies for increased parking capacity.

I will continue to seek input from our most vulnerable community members and be sure that their wellbeing is considered each time decisions are made in the context of our municipal accomplishments.

My immediate goal as a business owner is to increase our exceptional team of employees to allow me to spend more time working with grassroots organizers and take advantage of educational opportunities to become a better citizen.

What are ways small businesses can be better supported by state government?

Capital, capital, capital!  I’m not sure if state government has the answers but bridging the gap between folks with resources and folks with the ‘fire in the belly’ kind of spirit that it takes to really cultivate a culture of Vermont business is something that I think could be less rare.  Sure, there are venture capitalists and networking opportunities, but somehow I envision a platform through which investors (such as the family who reached out to me) and entrepreneurs could engage and form relationships that are mutually beneficial, even if not financially lucrative.  Community Investors, so to speak.  Idealism is both my strength and my weakness!

What advice do you have for others looking to start a small business?

Start a small business only IF IT’S SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVE DOING.  In my business, it’s not about pop culture or fashion trends.  I couldn’t care less about those things.  For me, it’s about inviting people in to my beautiful space to drink tea, try on clothes, and make genuine connections.  I feel very lucky to be here.

Revolution business card

Kim Souza with TJ Donovan at Revolution

Revolution's exterior sign

 

Vermont’s Top Scams of 2018

Top 10 Scams of VT 2018

Vermonters filed 5,471 scam reports with the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in 2018 according to the Attorney General’s list of top 10 most commonly reported scams of the year. This amounts to a 4.55% increase in scams from 2017. As new scams emerged, old scams persisted. The IRS scam, which involves scammers claiming to be government officials collecting back taxes, was the most common scam for the fifth year in a row. Vermonters filed 1,429 reports regarding the IRS scam.

Spoofing, when scammers falsify information on Caller ID to appear as though the call comes from a local number, is on the rise. One type of this call is the “reflector” scam, which involves repeated calls coming in from ones’ own number. Another new scam this year reported by more than 100 Vermonters was a threatening email containing an old password and demanding money. The number of social security number phishing scams also increased, rising sharply at the end of the year.

“Scam calls are everywhere and affect everyone,” Attorney General T.J. Donovan said. “I urge Vermonters to stay alert and know the common scams. And please continue to report scams to my office so we can work to educate and protect Vermonters.”

Scam reports total over one-third of all contacts to CAP, making them one of the most common consumer issues affecting Vermonters. To counter the overwhelming number of scams, Attorney General T.J. Donovan, in partnership with the Department of Public Safety, launched a new scam alert system in 2017 to warn Vermonters about new or widespread scams. Vermonters can report a scam or sign up for the Scam Alert system by going to ago.vermont.gov/cap or by calling CAP at 1-800-649-2424.

The top 10 scams of 2018 are:

  1. IRS imposter
  2. Social security number phishing
  3. Computer tech support
  4. Grandchild imposter
  5. Debt collection threats
  6. Spoofing
  7. Reflector (claim to be Microsoft)
  8. Email extortion
  9. Publishers clearinghouse sweepstakes claims
  10. Sweepstakes claims (general)

Information about each scam:

  1. IRS Imposter

 The scam: A phone call claiming you owe “back taxes” or payments to the government allegedly from the IRS or “US Treasury and Legal Affairs.” They may threaten you with arrest or investigation.

How to ID the scam: The IRS will never call you at home to threaten legal action.

What to do: Don’t respond to these callers. If you think you may actually owe back taxes, hang up and contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.

  1. Social Security Number Phishing

The scam: An attempt to obtain your social security number by posing as the Social Security Administration or a business. They may try to get access to your social security number by telling you it has been compromised or stolen.

How to ID the scam: If social security (or any official agency) wanted to contact you, they would not call to ask for your personal information, especially your social security number, over the phone.

What to do: Be wary responding to unsolicited contacts and never provide personal information to unknown contacts.

  1. Computer Tech Support

The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft/Windows or another well-known tech company. They will say that there’s a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue.

How to ID the scam: Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google do not call you to notify you of malware on your computer.

What to do: Never provide remote access to your computer to a stranger or click links from an unknown sender in an e-mail or pop-up message. If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support numbers online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate company numbers.

  1. Grandchild Imposter

The scam: Scammers pose as grandchildren and claim to be in serious trouble, such as in prison or at the hospital. They urgently request money in the form of wired funds or prepaid gift cards.

How to ID the scam: Call your grandchild or family members on known phone numbers to ensure your grandchild is safe.

 What to do: Never wire or otherwise send funds unless you can verify the emergency.

  1. Debt Collection Threats

 The scam: Scammers pose as a debt collector or government official and say legal action will be taken against you if you don’t pay them what you owe.

How to ID the scam: If you did owe a debt collector or official agency money, they are not allowed to threaten you with arrest over the phone.

What to do: Hang up the phone, and if they call again let it go to voicemail. If you think you do actually owe money to a debt collector or other agency, make sure you call and check using a trusted number.

  1. Spoofed Calls

 The scam: Spoofed calls come from a number that appears local to Vermont – or even your town. But in reality, the scammer is often calling from overseas, and “spoofing” the number to make it show up on caller ID as a neighbor so you’ll be inclined to answer.

How to ID the scam: The call comes from a number you don’t recognize and/or happens repeatedly at all hours. It may be your own number.

What to do: Ignore the call. Don’t call the number back – chances are the person you are calling has nothing to do with the scam.

  1. Reflector (claim to be Microsoft)

 The scam: Similar to other spoofed calls, these scammers will call you on what appears to be your own number. Upon picking up, the scammer tells you that your Microsoft software or your computer IP address has been compromised. They will ask you to pay them immediately over the phone to protect your computer data.

How to ID the scam: Nobody from Microsoft would call you to say that your data has been breached or your IP address compromised. They especially wouldn’t ask you to pay immediately using Google Play gift cards or your credit card.

What to do: Never give personal or financial information to an unverified person or service that contacts you.

  1. Email Extortion Scams

The scam: You may receive a threatening email from a person you don’t know saying that they have an old password of yours or some other personal information. They use that against you in order to scare you into paying them.

How to ID the scam: Legitimate actors would never threaten you, even if they had access to your old information.

What to do: Never click on links that are in the email because they may give the scammer remote access to your computer or download viruses. Don’t reply to the email or interact with it in any way and delete it from your inbox. If they refer to a valid password, go to your account directly and change your password.

  1. Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Claims 

 The scam: A call, email or letter claiming that a consumer has won big from Publisher’s Clearinghouse and needs to pay a fee to collect winnings. Sometimes this will include a realistic-looking check.

How to ID the scam: If you actually win a major prize from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, they will contact you in person. For smaller prizes (less than $10,000), winners are notified by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS), certified mail, or email in the case on online giveaways. They never make phone calls.

What to do: Never pay an upfront fee to receive winnings. If you win something, they will pay you – not the other way around.

  1. Sweepstakes Claims (general)

 The scam:  A phone call or mailing claiming that you won money or a prize but have to make a payment in order to receive it. Sometimes the outreach includes a realistic fake check. The check bounces and no “winnings” are ever dispersed.

How to ID the scam: If it is a well-known organization, try contacting them to verify the information. If it is an unknown organization, chances are the winnings are fake. An unsolicited check in the mail from an unknown sender is usually a scam.

What to do: Never pay upfront to receive winnings. If you win something, they will pay you – not the other way around. No actual contest or sweepstakes would you make you pay first to receive money.

Contributing Writer: Sarah Anders

 

Vermonters of the Month: Matt Kehaya and Steve Gagner

TJ Donovan, Matt Kehaya, and Steve Gagner at 14th Star Brewing CompanyThis is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Through the “power of great beer” Matt Kehaya and Steve Gagner, our December Vermonters of the Month, are proving that “a company can create positive outcomes in our community and show other businesses that there is a tangible benefit to serving others before serving the bottom line.” When Matt and Steve founded their company 14th Star Brewing Co. in 2011, they knew that they wanted their beer to be “brewed with a mission” which is why these Vermont-natives and Army veterans founded the business on the principles of “improving our communities and inspiring others to put their neighbors first.”

The business plan for 14th Star was drawn up on the back of a notebook while Matt and Steve were deployed together in Afghanistan. When they returned home, they decided to take the leap from homebrewers to entrepreneurs with the mission of continuing to serve others. Since opening 14th Star in 2011, the St. Albans-based business has grown to 24 employees and distributes their beer in 5 states. In keeping with their mission, the business gives back to organizations like Purple Hearts Reunited, the Josh Pallotta Fund, Make-A-Wish Vermont, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, and Martha’s Kitchen, while also hosting community events at their Taproom.

With 20(+) years of service, Matt (20 years) and Steve (23 years), attribute much of their success as business owners to skills they learned from the Army. Leadership, strategic planning, safety, mentorship and teamwork are all skills that they have applied directly to entrepreneurship. Now, Matt and Steve (along with partner Zac Fike) have made it their mission to share this knowledge with other veterans. Their latest venture, Danger Close, is a whiskey-distillery that teaches other veterans to draw on skills they learned through service to start their own businesses.

We visited Matt and Steve at 14th Star’s Brewery and Taproom in St. Albans to learn more about the inspiring work they’re doing.

Brewed with a Mission logo on t-shirt

 

Tell us a little about yourselves (What are your official titles? What have been your career paths? How did you get to where you are?) 

(Matt): I’m from Burlington, Vermont and currently live in Swanton. I am married with two wonderful boys. I am a platoon sergeant in the Vermont Army National Guard’s Mountain Infantry Battalion and have served in the Army for 20 years. I have two deployments (Iraq and Afghanistan – both with Steve) and we founded 14th Star Brewing together in 2011. Steve and I met in late 2000 and we knew early on that we wanted to continue to find ways to work together. After our 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, Steve and I decided to put the brewery business plan we wrote overseas into action. We never envisioned the brewery to grow as big and as fast as we did, but we find that our military experiences have helped us grow the business.

(Steve): I am originally from Highgate, Vermont and live in St. Albans with my wife and two children. I am the executive officer for the Army’s Mountain Warfare School in Jericho, Vermont. I have served in the Army for almost 23 years. I think our time in the Army, and the Vermont Army National Guard in particular, has helped us as entrepreneurs. As full-time guardsmen, we assist the traditional guard leaders who work the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” schedule in completing their goals and training objectives. Since we aren’t at the brewery full time, we use the very same tactics in leading the organization: We have a talented team of full-time staff and leaders at the brewery and simply provide them guidance and direction and let their natural talents shine.

What inspires your work with the Army, 14th Star Brewing, and in the community?

The desire to serve others and our community not only led us to joining the military, but to continue that service through our business. We believe that leaders should show others what right looks like and inspire them to “Follow Me.” We look for those very same characteristics in our employees and partners because we know that our efforts as a company can create positive outcomes in our community and show other businesses that there is a tangible benefit to serving others before serving the bottom line.

What sets 14th Star Brewing apart from other brewers? What’s its mission?

Well, we can start with amazing beer! But seriously, there is some fantastic beer being made throughout Vermont. We think the thing that sets us apart is that we have a reason for doing what we do—beer happens to be the product we create. This translates directly to our motto of “Brewed with a Mission.” This means that we work to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans and our local communities through the power of great beer.

You give to so many organizations, is there a cause or organization that you are most proud to support?

We are proud of all of our efforts in working with organizations dedicated to doing good and helping others. From the very beginning, we have been a supporter of Purple Hearts Reunited and their mission of return lost or stolen purple hearts and medals of valor to veterans and their families. We also have a very deep connection with the Josh Pallotta Fund, founded by Valeria Pallotta, the mother of a Soldier who deployed to Afghanistan in our Brigade and who took his own life after struggling with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Outside of the veteran organizations, however, we are pursuing projects like Vermont’s first “The House That Beer Built.” Working with the Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity and gathering support from other Vermont Craft Brewers, we’re working to fund the building of a home for families in need – simply through the power of great beer. Helping these organizations certainly keeps us busy, but it is the kind of work that the brewery was founded on: Improving our communities and inspiring others to put their neighbors first.

What advice do you have for other businesses looking to impact their community?

It’s not as daunting as you think it is. The return on investment in terms of goodwill and community engagement you’ll receive from your efforts, no matter how big or small, is infectious and you’ll find that it eventually makes its way into your financials. The important part is not the size of your efforts or contributions, but the fact that you’re engaged. “Many hands make light work” and if every business were involved in the improvement of the community as a responsible corporate citizen, our little corner of the world would be a far better place!

 

Matt Kehaya, Steve Gagner, and TJ Donovan at 14th Star Brewing Company brewery14th Star Brewing Company glass with logoSteve Gagner speaking with TJ Donovan14th Star Brewing Company taproom and brewery sign

Winter in Vermont: Fuel Costs and Staying Warm

As Vermonters, we are familiar with cold temperatures. It gets cold here in the winter. Propane tanksThat’s why access to heat is so important. The Vermont Attorney General’s office is charged with seeing that companies remain in compliance with Consumer Protection Rule 111: Regulation of Propane. Our Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) receives propane complaints each year. Since 2011, there has been an overall decline in propane complaints which is good news.

However, Vermonters contact us more and more about heat insecurity and their inability to afford the lowest cost delivery option of fuel. The Vermont Department of Health recently warned that between 2008 and 2016, 26 Vermonters died from hypothermia. That is 26 too many. VDH advises “Hypothermia happens when your body temperature is abnormally low. It is caused by being in cold temperatures for an extended period of time…Older adults, infants and people with chronic medical conditions are especially susceptible to hypothermia, even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a small drop in body temperature.”

When consumers can’t afford the cost of fuel or energy to heat their homes, there is a severe risk of hypothermia, especially during such cold winters here in Vermont. People often turn back the dial on their thermostats in order to preserve fuel to forgo the added expense. The CAP hotline has heard stories of families in need of fuel, living on low to no heat in the middle of winter. Lack of fuel is beyond a consumer protection issue; it’s a health risk.

Fuel Truck in the WInter

If you or someone you know is having trouble affording heat this winter, here are some programs that can help: Vermont has the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program as well the WARMTH Program to help. We encourage people who need heat to seek out Vermont Fuel Assistance. Vermonters can call 1-800-479-6151, visit their local Department of Children and Families or Community Action.

Don’t qualify for fuel assistance? Your Community Action office may have a supplemental program, like Fuel Your Neighbors that may be able to help. Also, check with your fuel dealer. The Vermont Fuel Dealer’s Association has “Split the Ticket Program” that delivers free heating fuel to individuals through donations from fuel dealers, local businesses, organizations, and private donors.

For those who agree that going without heat in Vermont is unconscionable, please consider making a donation to support your neighbors in need. Can’t afford it? You can commit to performing wellness checks on people who you suspect may be keeping the dial back. Your neighbors will appreciate the warmth.

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin