CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- After 10 months of working to improve the lives of people devastated by last August's raging storm, the Southwest Vermont Irene Long Term Recovery Committee needed some new blood.
That's where Lara Langweiler and Ashley Bahlkow came in.
The two young interns brought renewed energy and enthusiasm to a group of individuals dedicated to getting Vermonters back on their feet following Tropical Storm Irene. Their internships have concluded and Chairwoman Sandy Daly decided to have a small-scale celebration to thank them for their service shortly before a volunteer coordination meeting on Thursday morning.
Though meetings are usually held at Marlboro College Graduate School, she thought it would be nice to do something special for her two interns and offered to host it in her home at Hallelujah Farm.
"One of the things that has been remarkable, I think, is how capable they have been right from the get-go -- not hesitating and stepping right up," she said, taking a break from the meeting. "I think both Ashley and Lara have been good at articulating what they see happening in the form of their own learning process."
Langweiler is an AmeriCorps member serving at the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust. Starting in February, she was assigned to get a hold of all the people in Windham County that had filled out one-page FEMA surveys.
"So we got these FEMA lists and my job was to call each name -- and there
"Each person had to be contacted three times by phone," she continued. "If I couldn't reach them, there was a letter that was sent out asking if their needs had been met. That took about two months."
She would then start assisting the case manager and even handle some of the smaller cases herself. She has also worked with local companies and organizations.
"A lot of local businesses have been really generous working with us, donating goods and in-kind services," she said.
A native of Brattleboro, Langweiler graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in 2005 and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Vermont in 2010. She majored in Russian and East European studies but her associate degrees in women's studies and anthropology helped train her to deal with social issues.
Bahlkow is studying sustainable development at the School for International Training and just finished her nine months of coursework. She found out about the internship through SIT's career portal.
She has supported case managers and volunteer coordination efforts during her six-week internship.
"It's really short. It's kind of unfortunate," she said on the porch. "What I didn't realize, and what I think maybe some others in the community don't realize, is that recovery takes a long time and there are a lot of people that still have needs and the LTRC wants to emphasize that.
"We know that the one-year anniversary of Irene is coming up," she added, "and town by town, the communities in Windham County are doing different things to support the effort."
The work associated with the committee hasn't been easy. Langweiler, who joined after attending some of the regular meetings, said telephone conversations with affected individuals were difficult.
"I think a lot of people were lonely to begin with and the storm made them feel more isolated and sometimes they were just so happy to have somebody to talk to. I would have 40-minute conversations," she recalled. "A lot of places in Windham County are far away and after the flood they were isolated completely. And if they're elderly and they don't have any close relatives, they're network is smaller. You just want to drive out there and go visit them."
She said a lot of people are still emotionally and mentally distraught -- even a year later.
Daly said the long-term recovery committee formed the week of the storm. As a minister with the United Church of Christ and the chairwoman of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association, she was one of several individuals asked to help come up with a plan for recovery.
She said it's great when new people come in and rejuvenate the effort.
"Lara has been very quick to do the background work. She's been very willing to do that and that's helpful because most of the other people on the committee have other jobs," she said in the house that was built in 1776, her cocker spaniel Nubby laying near her feet.
"Ashley came with a lot of computer skills, a willingness toward advocacy, which has been really helpful," Daly said. "If she's seen something that maybe needed to be changed, she'd say, ‘Well, let's write a letter to so-and-so and see if we can get it changed.' She just picks up the ball and goes ahead and does it."
Despite the committee's best efforts, Daly said some people's lives will simply never be the same. For those capable of fully recovery, she said the process typically takes 18 months to two years after a disaster. It is often more difficult for people with other pre-existing issues, such as poor health or chronic unemployment.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.