Life after Vermont Yankee: Last fundraiser for some employees

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VERNON — A total of $16,900 raised by nuclear plant Vermont Yankee employees is going to local programs and nonprofits aimed at everything from combatting hunger to environmental education.

Employees purchased raffle tickets for office equipment and furniture which was sold off as the plant goes through its decommissioning stages.

"We're collapsing certain buildings. We're shrinking our footprint," said Martin Cohn, spokesperson for plant owner Entergy. "As a result of closing down buildings, we have a lot of stuff we no longer need."

Entergy allowed Vermont Yankee employees to buy things like desks, chairs, tables and book cases. Due to there being "a glut," Cohn said the company saw no use in trying to sell the items off. Plant employees were able to name their own price. The money raised went to nonprofits earmarked by recommendations from the employees. Nonprofits came by Entergy's corporate office in Brattleboro and took equipment they needed.

The fundraising program began six months ago and the last raffle was held last week.

"What we had was really a win-win-win scenario," said Cohn. "For Entergy, we were able to get rid of all these surplus materials without having to spend all this money to get rid of it. Employees were getting some real bargains. There was also employee morale. People felt good about what we were doing. We felt we were able to give back to the community."

When Entergy made the announcement it would be shutting down Vermont Yankee back in 2013, about 609 employees were working there. That number dwindled to 136 employees Thursday, when nearly 100 more people are expected to leave the plant.

"That's 473 folks who have separated from Vermont Yankee," said Cohn.

The next layoff will occur in 2020. By then, Cohn said all the spent fuel will be in the storage pads.

Entergy had 50 employees from Vermont Yankee transferred to other Entergy facilities between January 2015 and April 2016 and 64 left Entergy, according to a press release.

Then 80 Vermont Yankee employees retired on Thursday and 13 went off to work at different Entergy sites. Of those 93 people, 33 are Vermonters, 36 reside in New Hampshire and 24 live in Massachusetts.

Departing employees Larry Doucette and Becky Josey recently sat down with Cohn on his "SAFSTOR Matters" television show. The name of the show has to do with the decommissioning process.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Josey, an employee for almost 28 years. "It's gone by very fast."

She started at a time when computers weren't on everybody's desks. She was typing out letters, memos and reports, then she was transferred to the maintenance department. She was promoted to a senior administration position then she worked alongside the plant manager of operations.

Josey is the former state representative for Vernon Irma Puffer's granddaughter. Puffer was crucial in bringing Vermont Yankee to Vernon in 1972.

"It was a toss up of Hinsdale, N.H., or Vernon," explained Cohn. "Through her efforts, Vernon won out."

Josey's mother, father, brother and uncle all had jobs at the plant.

"Not to mention, we've all lived in Vernon for all these years," Josey told Cohn. "It's such a great place to work. Everyone gets along so well. We've had a lot of fun over the years."

Josey ended up meeting a contractor on the job who she later married. To this day, she said, he's her best friend.

Recalling the announcement about the closure, Josey said it was a very sad day and she wondered what everyone was going to do. She had plans long before the news to move to a new location "just to experience something new" once her daughter was in college, she said. She's heading somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line where winters won't be as cold.

Doucette, a systems and design engineer at the plant for about 19 years, started off as an intern in college. He went to work in Connecticut but returned after getting at job at Vermont Yankee in 1997.

"It's the best job I ever had. I really enjoyed it," he said. "I've totally appreciated the last almost two decades of being able to live in one place, have a great job with incredibly nice people and a family-friendly organization that helped me doing everything I was doing in the community."

Doucette will be leaving the area now for a job at Maine Yankee. He said he was sad when he heard of the closure.

The biggest challenge was being disliked in the community, Doucette said, "not the immediate community" but the anti-nuclear plant community. His best memories involved helping organizations like the recent fundraising efforts have.

Equipment from the plant was given as in-kind donations to places such as the American Legion, the Boys & Girls Club, Brattleboro Area Hospice, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Brattleboro Rotary Club, Carenet, Franklin County Fire Chiefs, Groundworks Collaborative, Montessori Hilltop School, Rescue Inc., St. Michael's School, Strolling of the Heifers, Vernon Elementary School, the Windham County Sheriff's Office, and the towns of Vernon and Whitingham,

Food Connects is taking away the most money of the bunch. The nonprofit aimed at establishing and enhancing relationships between farms, communities and schools is set to receive $4,300.

"We're incredibly grateful to the employees there," Katherine Jandernoa, the group's farm-to-school program manager. "Their donation through the raffle program is really going to help enable us to see more hungry children through the three school vacation weeks next year. We're so touched that the employees recognized this need in the community."

Hunger is a big issue in the community, Jandernoa pointed out. One in four children in Windham County are food insecure. That makes school meals "a vitally important resource for all those children," she said.

Her group helps support various meals in the summer.

"But there's this key gap in our programming and in the community that this funding will help us address," said Jandernoa, referring to school breaks in December, February and April. "Our hope is to work with community partners and coordinate a system where there are more meals available those children during those three vacation weeks."

Details are still being worked around that and some of the money will assist Food Connects with getting more healthy, fresh food from local food producers into the school meal programs.

"This came as a surprise. We weren't expecting this at all," Jandernoa said. "The timing of it will really enable us to start planning for next school year."

A donation of $1,100 to the Brattleboro-based Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center will support its summer camp scholarship program.

"We have a very vibrant summer camp program for different ages that goes for six or seven weeks throughout the summer as well as the spring and winter vacation camp," said Belle Coles, director of the center. "Very often, families come to us and can't afford the regular price so we try never to turn anyone away."

Andrea Livermore, director of development and community outreach at Brattleboro Area Hospice, called the program "a nifty idea." Her group's getting $1,250 would help with the services, which are free to anyone who wants or needs them, she said.

"We're not funded by any kinds of grants or any sort of public monies," Livermore said. "We're raising money all the time. For Entergy to do this, it's a very generous and lovely donation to the whole."

Only money from a thrift store and local donors assist with operations there. So when Cohn told Livermore about the program, she was all smiles.

"This was a delightful surprise," said Livermore, noting that with the closure of Vermont Yankee, a lot of nonprofits in the area would be affected as they had "benefitted tremendously" from Entergy's corporate contribution over the years.

Feed the Thousands, which helps feed the hungry in Vermont and New Hampshire, received $3,100 through the employees' donations. That was in addition to the $20,000 corporation donation from Entergy.

"I think that's great they're continuing to support us. We feel very fortunate that they're continuing to do that for us as they wind down," said Jeff Morse, co-chairman of Project Feed. "I think they understand just how important the Food Shelf is and just how great the need is."

Morse, expressing concern about the closure of the plant, said Entergy provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to area nonprofits throughout the years.

"It's going to hurt," he said. "It's going to be a big dent in the budgets of a lot of the nonprofits."

Next year, Project Feed is expected to receiving $10,000 less than it did this year. Then "basically, it's done," said Morse.

An organization aimed at inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident through programming that includes running, also saw some funds.

"We're thrilled," said Susan Mula, director of development at Girls on the Run, who recently found out her group would be the recipients of $750. "It's great to be able to have support especially since Brattleboro is our flagship for the organization. That's where it was created and started 17 years ago. To have support in that community is so wonderful."

The group's Every Girl Fund, which provides scholarships to girls around the state to reduce the program fee or take care of it altogether, was given a boost.

Vermont Yankee's contribution will go to "girls in that specific area," Mula said. "So they can have the program and so they don't have to pay for it."

Southeastern Vermont Community Action's Fuel Assistance Program was given $1,250 and it already helped residents, according to SEVCA Executive Director Steve Geller.

"I think it was just prior to the fuel season," he said. "It's part of our local fund. Particularly for one reason or another, people are not eligible for the state fuel program. We try to help people who are just beyond the income limits or for whatever reason they don't meet the technical qualifications for the state program. The program's become much stricter in the past few years."

Geller said his group served a little less than 1,200 households or 3,000 people through the program over the last fiscal year. Altogether, that cost about $17,395.

"Every little bit helps. It all adds up to help somebody," said Geller, estimating Entergy's donation assisted about three to five households.

In Massachusetts, LifePath will be getting $1,450 and United Way of Franklin County's set to receive $1,900. The New Hampshire-based Southwestern Community Services Fuel Assistance was given $1,800.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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