Saturday February 23, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- A grant is providing a big boost to a new organization that aims to improve the health and wellness of West River Valley youth.

The fledgling West River Valley Thrives coalition will spread $139,804 in grant funding over three years to provide programming on topics including drug-abuse prevention, nutrition and physical activity.

The group was born last year but has been organizing until now.

"The first year was just trying to figure out who was interested and getting people to the table," said Cindy Hayford of the Brattleboro-based Center for Health and Learning. "We’re really trying to take off from here."

The nonprofit Center for Health and Learning pursued grant funding for West River Valley Thrives and will mentor the new organization, Hayford said.

She envisions the group fitting in with other Windham County organizations such as Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, Greater Falls Prevention Coalition and Deerfield Valley Community Partnership.

"The West River Valley has kind of been the missing area," Hayford said.

The new grant comes from the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund, which bears the names of sisters who were long-time Grafton residents. Their fund focuses on providing financial backing for health and medical services in the Grafton area.


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"We are very pleased to receive notice that the Holt Foundation has chosen to support the prevention work of the West River Valley Coalition," said JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, Center for Health and Learning’s executive director.

Tarallo-Falk added that there is a "critical need" for such work in the valley and said Hayford has a "track record for community development in the Deerfield Valley and mentoring support for the West River Coalition."

Hayford said West River Valley Thrives has established a mission and has hired a coordinator, Jennifer Esposito.

Collaborators include Windham County Sheriff’s Department, Windham Central Supervisory Union, Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, Grace Cottage Hospital, Vermont Department of Health and Youth Services Inc. along with other community members and parents.

The coalition will work generally in the towns that feed students into Leland & Gray. It is designed in part to address community factors that increase the risk of substance abuse and mental-health problems, organizers said.

But that won’t be the group’s sole focus. Hayford said the idea is to take "a really comprehensive look at trying to keep kids safe and healthy."

That includes topics such as nutrition, exercise, alternative activities for kids and parenting programs. The group also will examine the area’s opportunities for healthy eating, physical activity and other factors in healthy living, Hayford said.

"The biggest thing is looking not just at individuals but also at the environment," she said.

West River Valley Thrives meets monthly at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend. The next session is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26, and Hayford is encouraging residents to attend.

Those who can offer ideas or volunteer time -- "even people who just want to find out about us," Hayford said -- are welcome at that session.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.