Back in April, we spoke to Diane Kinney, Co-Director of Circle, a nonprofit that serves victims & survivors of intimate partner violence, about how the organization is coping during the COVID-19 crisis and why the number of domestic violence cases have been rising. We caught up with Diane to get an update on how Circle has been doing during the pandemic.
Kristin: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in April. What has the evolution been like of how Circle operates during the time between then and now?
Diane: Circle works within numerous systems, such as the courts and housing agencies. These systems have been changing their protocols as COVID continues to impact our communities. These changes have been difficult to navigate at times, but we work locally and statewide in order to do our best to stay on top of these changes so that we can support victims/survivors in helpful and accurate ways. Advocates are still available 24/7, but most of our work is done by Zoom, phone, or web chat, with the exception of court and shelter.
Our advocates are working diligently to provide the best supports possible to victim/survivors. We are also keenly aware that the need to be at least 6 feet apart and masked has impacted the emotional connection we normally form with people. We miss being able to be close enough to listen intently and to offer a hug or a gentle touch.
Kristin: What precautions are you taking to keep the people you serve, your staff, and the community safe?
Diane: We saw a large reduction in hotline calls early on, which we believe was due to survivors being with their abusive partners and unable to call us. We have seen a very steady increase in calls this fall leading into winter. We added a chatline to our website and a text phone. Our support group, being held over Zoom had no new members until this fall when folks realized this is going to go on for a while. We have nearly doubled the number of people in the group and will add a second Zoom support group if more folks are interested (as we cannot accept any more at this time).
Circle staff are working from home for the most part – our in-person services are still available but limited. We are rarely holding any in-person meetings – if possible, most conversations are happening over phone, video, or web chat. Staff continue to go to court to sit with victims/survivors in their final hearings and everyone is required to follow court safety procedures. Our shelter remains open, but we are limiting the number of families to try and keep residents and staff safe. All of our meetings, whether staff, board or community, are being held over Zoom. While we look forward to seeing our colleagues in-person sometime in the future, with the recent spike in cases, we decided to extend our remote work until further notice.
Kristin: What are your fears entering into the winter season?
Diane: Unemployment and school closings means that people are not going to have much of an opportunity to reach out for help. Circle is aware of these potential restraints and has tried to increase the ways people can reach us, by having a toll free hotline, email address on our web page, and a web chat option. While we have to limit the content when talking by email or web chat, it at least provides one more way to reach us. We are stocking up on nonperishable food items and hygiene items as well, knowing that this might be the roughest winter we’ve all seen in a while.
Kristin: How can people support Circle right now?
Diane: Gift cards for supermarkets, gas stations, Walmart or Visa cards are extremely helpful right now – cards can always be mailed so we can limit in-person contact, keeping everyone safe. If someone doesn’t have the financial resources to make this kind of donation, they can always give their time. We can always use more volunteers on the hotline, on our board of directors, and someday in the future, shelter visitors. People can visit our website – Circlevt.org – to learn more about volunteering. There you will find and application to volunteer. Interested folks can email us at email@example.com as well. Applications are being accepted thru January 22nd for our next training.
Kristin: Any exciting updates about Circle you’d like to share that you haven’t already?
Diane: In July, Circle became a dual program, serving both domestic and sexual violence victims. Up until this time, Circle was one of the two counties that had separate domestic and sexual violence programs. In order to better serve our community and to meet the growing needs, the staff and board of directors determined that it was time for Circle to take this step.
Back in April, we spoke to Kim Bent, Founding Artistic Director, and Kathleen Keenan, Producing Artistic Director, of Lost Nation Theater, about how the COVID-19 crisis has affected this Montpelier, Vermont arts hub. We caught up with Kim & Kathleen to get an update on how Lost Nation Theater has been doing during the pandemic.
Kim Bent & Kathleen Keenan:
When we last spoke in April about how LNT was dealing with the pandemic, I believe we were hoping to be able to salvage the last show of what was to be our 32nd season, “Ragtime,” in October, and follow that up with other programming at the end of the year; then continue with some kind of winter season to help make up for the four shows (and the education programs) that we had to cancel.
When it became clear in late summer that it would be impossible to follow through with that plan, we started thinking in terms of staging outdoor events and then, when the weather got colder, doing some occasional, one-time-only special events in our chamber theater for masked, socially-distanced audiences. That plan, too, had to be modified when Covid numbers started to spike, so we took those planned in-door events on-line.
Here’s what we’ve done:
1) “Shakespeare on the State House Steps”: a fully staged, cue-script reading of “Midsummer Nights Dream” which featured 17 actors, two musicians, 2 sound engineers, and of course our director Ann Harvey (who doubled as our props designer). It was recorded by ORCA so we hope to be able to share that event online soon!
2) Multiple Readings of E. A. Poe’s “The Raven” from atop the City Hall portico – a Montpelier Madness pop-up event.
3) Songs from the City Hall Steps: Four singer-song writers performing tunes from past LNT shows and from shows yet to be staged – a Montpelier Madness wrap celebration.
4) A new play reading of Eric Perterson’s adaptation of Yvonne Daley’s book “Going Up the Country,” via Zoom.
5) Story Telling Mentorships for Young People: Private on-line coaching sessions – The private coaching workshops were for ages 8-adult, and were made available pro-bono for students from Montpelier thanks to a grant from the Montpelier Community Fund.
6) Stage Management Masterclass Series: Four, one and a half hour on-line sessions with a professional stage manager.
7) On December 18, Willem Lange performed his 46th annual reading of Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol,” which live-streamed via YouTube, followed by a post-show party via Zoom. We were really in the theater!! No audience. And strict protocols in place. But we were there – showing off the lighting improvements and rep plot that were put into place just before (literally minutes) the lockdown; and thanks to our partnership with Theatre Engine and Matthew Bingenot Creations – you saw it all from multiple camera angles. It was free, though donations were gratefully appreciated for LNT and for The Haven in the Upper Valley – a cause close to Willem’s heart.)
How can people support Lost Nation Theater:
LNT may not be selling season tickets for 2021 – at least not right now – but we will be creating theater events and education programs in 2021, so purchasing gift certificates, or if you are in the position to make a donation (so that LNT can be positioned and resourced as best as we possibly can when we do get back to production) would be a great help. (www.lostnationtheater.org or http://sforce.co/3oPk9si)
Another purchase option is to join our Patreon page. Special content including interviews, concerts, and readings compliment releases of archive productions. Shows coming up include 2010’s world premiere of David Budbill’s “I Never Sang for My Father,” 2012 Katherine Paterson’s “Lyddie,” and we just posted our community favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
LNT could use your vote! Broadway World (on online industry magazine & service org) is once again awarding “Best of” Regional Theatre Awards – and Lost Nation Theater is nominated! Folks can vote for us (or their other Vermont theater favorites, here.
Please stay in touch! Open our emails and spread LNT news, opportunities and needs with family and friends!
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Be patient with us! While LNT is temporarily closed, the artistic directors and many others are volunteering for the theater to keep you entertained, and your spirits lifted. The best way to reach us is via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What exciting things are coming up?
Our artists friends – and lighting designer Sam Biondolillo – are making it possible for Lost Nation Theater to keep up its annual event “Stories for the Season.” But in 2020 it was “Stories For The Season Goes Virtual!“ Each week, now thru mid-January, LNT will post at least one story celebrating winter holidays (curated from traditions around the world), that are recorded on the LNT Stage. This is our gift to the community. Stories are right on our website.
As a final kind of celebration of, or nod to our 2020 Season that wasn’t – a season that was to celebrate the accomplishments of women (or women playwrights) in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment – LNT split its donations received on Giving Tuesday with Circle – our local organization that advocates for and serves victims & survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. LNT will be sending a check of $500 to Circle. It is the season of giving, after all!
And before we announce what will be live-in-person in 2021, LNT is really excited by the possibilities we’ve discovered partnering with Theatre Engine and Matthew Bingenot Creations while working on “A Christmas Carol.” So, look for two more live- stream events, fully-staged, around Valentine’s Day and April Fools holidays! We are working on more online education programs with our colleagues across the country and Vermont as well – more craft/tech skills in addition to performance masterclasses.
And as we look to 2021, there’s still a lot of uncertainty, and we’ll be continuing to stay fluid about possibilities, scheduling and where/how we share our work with folks. But we wouldn’t have made it here without our community, our season ticket holders, donors, sponsors and friends sticking with us. We know how incredibly lucky we are, and are doing our very best to keep uplifting, meaningful and resonant events and content flowing!
Back in May, we spoke with Arealles Ortiz, owner of Curly Girl Pops, about how her business has had to pivot during the COVID-19 crisis. We caught up with Arealles to get an update on how Curly Girl Pops has been doing during the pandemic.
Kristin: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in May. What was your season like and did the way you thought you’d operate change at all?
Arrealles: Our season was definitely not as expected. We started out the season making local deliveries. It quickly became unsustainable as I took on all responsibilities of the biz amidst a very fresh pandemic. Luckily, we were able to pivot to wholesaling & worked with some awesome local businesses and food distributors.
Kristin: What precautions did you take to keep customers, staff and the community safe?
Arealles: To keep our customers and community safe, our operation moved from previously, my parents kitchen in Marshfield, to my home kitchen in Montpelier. I wore gloves and masks during production and even resulted in packaging our goodies to be completely sealed in popsicle baggies for wholesale orders.
Kristin: Do you have any fears moving into the season for next year?
Arealles: Wholesaling was a perfect pivot, yet also more demanding. I know next year we will be increasing our shelf presence at local markets & coops. I often think about how I will be able to juggle this new pace of producing more as a solopreneur with a limited budget to hire an employee.
Kristin: How can people support Curly Girl Pops right now?
Arealles: Although we are off season until spring, it would be important for folks in the community to continue to share their positive experiences tasting our pops by word of mouth, following us on social media & liking our photos. On our website there is a ‘make a contribution’ tab where folks who want to continue to support our business can make a contribution & support this growing Latina Owned Business.
Kristin: Any exciting updates about Curly Girl Pops you’d like to share?
Arealles: During this turbulent year, we have been awarded a couple of local grants that will go toward our next venture. Curly Girl is working toward building a mobile creation space not only for pop making & birthing new products, but our hope is to open up the space to local plant based makers that can call it home as well. Another great reason to make a contribution via our website today!
Hi – Kristin, here! We wanted to let you all know about a program that just launched. Over the last year, I’ve been working in partnership with ElevateHer Vermont to create a Mentorship Program. ElevateHer Vermont is local women’s networking group and social club that creates opportunities for professional women. The Mentorship Program we’ve created is a 3-month commitment designed to help women reach their professional goals.
I am truly passionate about collaborating with and creating community among entrepreneurial and professional women. I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to collaborate with the ElevateHer Vermont founders to create this Mentorship Program. Mentorship has so many great benefits, especially for women. It helps us articulate our professional and personal ambitions, helps keep us accountable through our actions, and helps us build our networks.
Being a mentor is also an incredible way to give back to the community. As a community we have so many valuable insights and talents we can offer each other. I’m happy to field any questions you have about this program.
Back in April, we spoke with Gretchen Elias, executive director of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont, about how this nonprofit has had to adjust the way it serves its community during the COVID-19 crisis. We caught up with Gretchen to get an update on how Good Beginnings has been doing during the pandemic.
Kristin: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in April. What has the evolution been like of how Good Beginnings operates during the time between then and now?
Gretchen: The past eight months have been a time of constant adaptation. It is quite striking to think back to our operating mindset in April/May, vs in July/August, and finally to how things began to change rapidly again in October. The spring was definitely crisis mode on all fronts – figuring out how to adapt our programs and continue to support families, while also figuring out how to keep our own organization functioning smoothly, in an environment where we had so little information about the actual level of risk and how best to take precautions.
Then during the summer months, there was this period of relative stability that was a godsend to us, organizationally. Summer is usually our slowest time of year at Good Beginnings – families tend to reach out to us less over the summer months, for a variety of reasons, even in normal times. And this summer, we used that time to take a breath and think about what we wanted to have in place for the upcoming winter. Top priority was to flesh out our remote support model for Postpartum Angels so that volunteers would feel equipped to work with families this way. Ana has so much experience and professional knowledge related to providing high quality phone-based emotional support to families. And never before has there been pressure to transfer that knowledge to our volunteers at this scale. She did a great job accomplishing just that over the summer: building out new orientation and training materials, developing a ‘flow’ for phone check ins that is analogous to the flow of in-person visits, and offering volunteers a range of different options for developing this skill set. Whereas in the spring it felt like we were just tapping any volunteer who was willing to dive in and call families, now we have an established program model for them to use, with a structure to follow, and guidelines and expectations for what phone-based support involves.
Those months of reflecting on what happened in the spring, regrouping, and building out systems and supports for volunteers and families alike based on what we’d learned – that was invaluable and we all agreed at the end of the summer that we felt surprisingly prepared for the months ahead. But at the same time, staff had been functioning for nearly six months without any child care, and honestly, morale was quite low. I think that Good Beginnings has worked really hard to support staff and be as flexible as possible – but weeks and weeks of simultaneously parenting and working from home just takes a toll. There’s no way around it. I noticed such a difference in mood and energy level as soon as our kiddos were back in school. And then of course, the numbers in Washington County had been so good for so long, that we were feeling really optimistic in September and even into October about being able to cautiously continue with limited face-to-face programming through the fall. And then the surge happened. The difference was that this time, we were prepared to switch back. So organizationally, it felt much smoother and less disruptive. On a programming level, though, there’s a lot of sadness that we’ve had to discontinue some of that face-to-face work that we were so hopeful about.
Kristin: What precautions are you taking to keep clients, staff and the community safe?
Gretchen: Primarily, we are being very, very careful and deliberate about whether and how we provide in-person services. We expanded in-person services over the summer when the low case numbers in our region meant it was safe to meet with families outdoors for walks or masked backyard visits. We also offered weekly Stroller Walks so that families had safe, distanced options for social connection. Earlier in the fall, we did develop systems for how Good Beginnings might offer limited in-person services safely indoors through the winter months – for example, baby carrier fittings by appointment only at the Nest. Among other things, we stocked up on PPE equipment to offer families and volunteers, and we also developed new health and safety screening protocols both for Nest visits and for volunteers meeting families. However, the surge in cases starting in October has really taken things out of our hands for the time being. The silver lining is that we are prepared this time, and I’m confident that we will be able to offer in-person options safely when the time is right.
Kristin: What are your fears entering into the winter season?
Gretchen: My biggest fear is probably related to those families for whom some form of in-person support really is essential. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to support them as much as we would under normal circumstances. Another related fear is actually that families won’t reach out and ask for help – a surprising number of postpartum families feel uncomfortable asking for help even in the best of times, because of the stigma or a sense that “other families” need the help more. So I worry about the current situation contributing to both of those reasons why people feel that they can’t, or shouldn’t, ask for help. When in reality there is still a lot that we have to offer. It looks different, yes, but there are a number of ways that we can still be a part of your postpartum support network, and every family still needs and deserves that help. I hope that message is still getting out there!
Kristin: Tell us about receiving the Emergency Technical Assistance grant and your plans/hopes with that.
Gretchen: We were so fortunate to get an eleventh-hour invitation to participate in this program. As I mentioned above, we’ve had to suddenly transition our programming to an all-remote model, which means thinking about technology, social media, and principles of remote audiovisual communication in ways that staff has never had to do before. And with higher stakes. At the same time, it represented an opportunity for us to build out a new option for families to access support going forward. So this technical assistance grant meant that we could really do this right, instead of in a harried and ad hoc way relying on frantic internet research! We’re getting high quality advice from someone who knows all the options and is steering us in directions that will make sense for our organization in the long term. It has also been a wonderful morale boost for staff to have an unexpected opportunity to learn and explore and expand their professional horizons in the midst of all this ‘crisis’ work. I’m really excited about emerging on the other end of this with a nice new set of tools in our toolkit that will hopefully mean that more families can get better support in the format that best meets their needs.
Kristin: How can people support Good Beginnings right now?
Gretchen: Even during the pandemic, families have been welcoming new babies into the world and needing support during this important, and often intense, phase of parenting. And babies will continue to be born this winter, and all through next year and the years after that. Families caring for new babies will always need support from their community. That is a constant. And our goal is to be constant as well – to always be there for families – both in the short term during this crisis and in the long term. So the biggest thing people can do for us is to stay the course with us and be consistent in their level of financial support, if they are in a position to do so. We are so grateful for the support we receive from the community and for our donors who are standing by us during the pandemic and helping us maintain financial stability.
Another really valuable form of support in the short term would be to volunteer with us! As I mentioned above, we have a sudden need now for volunteers with somewhat different skill sets and interests. So if you are a person for whom the traditional Postpartum Angel role was not very appealing, but who has the capacity to volunteer now, we would love to talk to you about the specific volunteering needs we have in the coming winter months. For example, weekly ‘door drops’ of meals, groceries, or other supplies. Or weekly phone calls with a postpartum parent to chat and be a lifeline to the outside world.
Back in April, we spoke with Kate Whelley McCabe, of Vermont Evaporator, about how the COVID-19 crisis has affected her small business in Montpelier, Vermont. We caught up with Kate to get an update on how Vermont Evaporator has been doing during the pandemic.
KC: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in April. What has the evolution been like of how Vermont Evaporator Company operates during the time between then and now?
Kate: March, April and May were bleak, but due mainly to help from the federal government, our lenders, and our own scrappiness, hard work, creativity and not-giving-up, we’ve passed the deep off season (warm weather months of May through August) with flying colors by rebranding some of our product offerings and successfully moving to 100% online sales. We hired in November, bringing us to full pre-pandemic staffing, and are charging into the high season early, it seems, as consumers worry how long they’ll be able to source the goods they are looking for and shop early for the holidays.
KC: What precautions are you taking to keep customers, staff and the community safe?
KC: What are your fears entering into the winter season?
Kate: Getting our manufacturing done before any stay-at-home orders are handed down is a big worry. We’re expecting a surge-on-a-surge to emerge in mid-December and we need a bit more time to get everything done. Even if businesses aren’t shut down, if daycares or schools are, we will have a major staffing problem. And although we are a family business, we also follow the rules, and without the Governor’s OK to pod with a trusted family, my husband and I will have to do the work of 5 or 6 people with only us two. Not sure how we can sustain that, as well as parenting and keeping a home (and my husband’s day job) as well as teaching our kids, and staying healthy ourselves. Best not to think about it. One day at a time. It is also difficult to source components in a timely manner, but we’ve mainly planned around that. Just hoping I can get the bits and pieces I need as we go.
KC: How can people support Vermont Evaporator Company right now?
Kate: Check out our product offerings and buy something, or refer a sugar-making friend! Believe it or not, even if you don’t make maple syrup, there may be something there for you! We carry fancy bottles, high quality fire grates and pokers, t-shirts and maple antiques in addition to our maple syrup making supplies and equipment!
KC: Any exciting updates about Vermont Evaporator Company you’d like to share that you haven’t already?
Kate: We now carry buckets and spiles, filters, thermometers, hydrometers, drill bits, and a starter kit. Everything for the hobby sugar maker.
Back in August we spoke with Jess Turner, owner of Capital Kitchen, in Downtown Montpelier about how her businesses has been coping during the pandemic. This small business has made the decision to keep its storefront closed to the public and only operate online – offering curbside pickup and shipping.
We first spoke with Mary Margaret Groberg, owner of Notion Fabric & Craft, back in April about how her business was faring during the COVID-19 crisis. We caught up with again back in August for an update.
Back in March, we spoke with Sky Barsch, owner of Alpenglow Fitness, a small business based in Montpelier, Vermont about how the COVID-19 crisis has affected her boutique fitness studio. We caught up with Sky to get an update on how Alpenglow Fitness has been doing during the pandemic.
KC: A lot has changed since we first spoke back in March. What has the evolution of Alpenglow looked like during the time between then and now?
Sky: We closed the studio for three months and reopened a few weeks after the state gave the green light. During the closure, we held a variety of online classes, challenges, and offered DIY workouts so our clients and instructors could stay connected and physically active during those extremely challenging days. Once we got the OK to reopen, we did so at limited capacity. Our senior instructor Zea Sands’ husband built these ingenious plastic protective pods for each bike, that way we don’t have to wear masks while exercising. The plastic shield is like a giant version of the plastic face shield, offering a lot of protection between each client. They are AWESOME.
In addition, our clients came to support us like only the Montpelier community can. They were extremely generous and kind about not asking for refunds or make up months to cover the months we were closed. They even supported us above and beyond their membership with generous reopening donations. This was incredible because we had ongoing expenses and no revenue coming in and there were a few times when I couldn’t figure out how I could continue financially and one consultant even suggesting it might be a good time to “cut my losses.” When everyone rallied, it allowed us to continue operating, plus it gave us all an emotional boost when we really needed it.
KC: What precautions are you taking to keep customers, staff and the community safe?
Sky: In addition to the pods, we require masks on anytime anyone is not in a pod (so before and after class). We have three air purifiers running and we disinfect all equipment after each class. We are not allowing anyone from out of town to take classes right now, and if I see someone signs up with an out-of-state address, I contact them. We keep records of every class so if we need to do contact tracing we have all the information available. I’ve also done a ton of work educating myself about the racial injustice pandemic, and have been taking steps to speak up, donate to organizations doing racial justice and anti-poverty work, and to be more aware of my actions and my privilege and how this affects marginalized people. I have a long way to go and I want to do my part as a business owner and citizen to make the community safer for BIPOC and other people whose lives are at risk because of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
KC: What are your fears entering into the winter season?
Sky: My biggest fear is anyone getting seriously sick. In connection to the studio or not. I want everyone I know and love and everyone they know and love to make it through this winter. Also I’m worried about closing again. It was difficult for us to pivot to all virtual because not everyone has a stationary bike at home, and piping music is difficult over Zoom. We rely on the precise beat of the music for effective classes and it just didn’t translate well online.
KC: How can people support Alpenglow right now? Both for those that are comfortable coming in to take a class and those who aren’t.
Sky: I think the best thing people can do to support us and other local organizations is write to their state and federal representatives and tell them that small businesses need continued support over the winter. Gyms/fitness studios are a lot like restaurants in that we were required to close for several months and operating at low capacity just doesn’t really work financially. Operating margins are thin in the best of times. We’re doing the best we can but we’re still under serious duress.
KC: How are you doing? Any fun personal updates you’d like to share?
Sky: I’m hanging in! Getting to see people in class is a huge bright spot. I finished writing a novel over the summer and while the quality is questionable, it was a lifelong goal of mine, and I’m proud I did it! I’m not sure I would have done that during “regular times.”
In August, we spoke to Onion River Outdoors owners Jen and Kip Roberts about how their small business has been coping during the pandemic. Onion River Outdoors is on historic Langdon Street in Downtown Montpelier and offers gear, clothing, and expert advice for all your hiking, biking, running, camping, skiing outdoor adventures.
In August we spoke with Brad Carey, new owner of The Book Garden, about how this business has been operating during the pandemic. Watch to see how you can support The Book Garden, which specializes in new and used books on nature, sustainability, gardening, spirituality, cooking, brewing, graphic novels, and more. The Book Garden also carries a selection of board games, role playing games, card games, comics and records.