WILMINGTON >> The downtown organization here has hired a man who previously assisted Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark with his justice center project.
"I'm just excited. So far, I'm enjoying working with everyone in the town," said Wilmington Works Project Coordinator Jesse Roaza, who's currently living in Brattleboro and finishing classes at SIT Graduate Institute. "I'm hoping to be here for a while."
Roaza replaced Sen. Jeanette White, D-Putney, as program coordinator for the Liberty Mill Justice Center. The idea had been to turn a Bellows Falls building into a space with support services for prison inmates who are going back into the community, training space for law enforcement, regional emergency dispatch services and more.
Most of Roaza's responsibilities on the project entailed communication and planning. He worked on the proposal for a year. He is interested in restorative justice.
"I understood the community's concerns, and the miscommunication between my project and the community was frustrating," Roaza said. "It was kind of frustrating when we couldn't get funding for it but it was a good experience for me. I enjoyed working on it but I was sad that I had to leave that project."
Roaza began the Wilmington Works gig at the end of July after finding a posting for it online. He said when the sheriff's project fell through, he was looking to find something else in project management.
Finding the downtown organization's website and knowing a little bit about the town, he did some research.
"I've always liked the community. I was like, 'O.K. This will be interesting to work for the downtown,'" said Roaza, who was interviewed by Wilmington Works Board co-chairman John Gannon and co-chairwoman Lisa Sullivan. "We really hit it off. They decided to hire me."
Since former Wilmington Works executive director Anna Drozdowski left in March, the title for her role was changed to project coordinator. But for all intents and purposes, Roaza said, "I handle day-to-day operations, mostly focusing on their annual appeal campaign and social media."
Every year, the downtown organization sends letters to residents and second homeowners seeking donations. The money is used to cover overhead costs for activities and committees, said Roaza.
Currently, Roaza is focusing his energy on strategic planning. Wilmington Works was involved in several summertime events. Beautification projects and multi-year plans for sidewalk improvements on Main Street take up a significant portion of the group's time.
"I'm still orienting myself with organization with the town. So far, I've really been impressed with how active the community is. The committees are very active," Roaza said. "They give a lot of feedback about how they would like to improve the downtown. I've really been impressed with the organization's activity and the board and its volunteers."
As a community and economic development volunteer with the Peace Corps, Roaza mostly collaborated with organizations that served disabled children. Making organizations more sustainable was another aspect of the job.
In villages within North Tanzania, he said he helped people think through business ideas that might attract visitors. He also assisted in setting up a lending process there to support women's groups so they could get their businesses off the ground.
Every community is different, Roaza said, because each one has its own set of issues and personalities.
"But a lot of the underlying community issues, such as how to better market our communities and bring in new people, there are similarities between small communities," he said. "One of my roles as project coordinator at Wilmington Works is creating a better communication plan to help attract new people to Wilmington."
Drozdowski and Wilmington Works' split was amicable, according to Gannon. The organization changed the title to better describe the job, he said. The position is now for an employee rather than an independent consultant, and Gannon and Sullivan serve as the spokespeople for the group.
Roaza's qualifications, both local and international, were pointed out by Gannon, who called Roaza's experience "incredible" and the references from White and Clark "tremendous."
"It was a no-brainer, after we spoke with them and talked with Jesse (Roaza), to hire him," said Gannon.
Wilmington received its downtown designation from the Vermont Downtown Board in March 2013. Gannon hopes to increase the number of activities Wilmington Works is involved with or sponsors. The winter is the one season "we really haven't been focused on," he said.
"People are skiing but we want to bring people downtown," Gannon said, noting his group's shop local campaign during the holidays. "After that, it's just like we don't have much going on. We had a small series of events last year but it would be good to continue focusing on that."
Wilmington Works recently received a shot in the arm, however, details on the donation are sparse.
"We just got a large contribution from an organization and we're working with them to figure out what they want to do with us in respect to that. So that's something we're really focused on right now," Gannon said. "It's a significant contribution to our organization. It's an exciting opportunity for Wilmington Works."
More information would be shared in the next few weeks, he said.
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.